Meet the Press - September 1, 2019

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, another mass shooting in Texas.

911 CALL:

OPD is advising they have an active shooter.

CHUCK TODD:

A man goes on a rampage shooting at people from vehicles in Midland and Odessa.

MICHAEL GERKE:

The subject stole a mail truck, ditched his car and there were other victims after that.

CHUCK TODD:

We'll have the latest. Plus, Tracking Hurricane Dorian.

MARIA LaROSA:

What you’re looking at right now is a horrifyingly perfect tropical machine, there is nothing in its way.

CHUCK TODD:

The hurricane charting an uncertain path.

FLORIDA RESIDENT:

If you've lived in florida you know it could turn fast.

CHUCK TODD:

With residents from Florida to the Carolinas forced to get ready. An update this morning from Acting FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor and Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida. Plus, renewed questions about whether Joe Biden's gaffes...

JOE BIDEN:

I mean, what is it i said that was wrong?

CHUCK TODD:

...raise legitimate concerns about his age.

JOE BIDEN:

If they're concerned, don't vote for me.

CHUCK TODD:

But does any of this matter if Biden is facing a president who lies and and confuses facts?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

May god bless the memory of those who perished in Toledo.

CHUCK TODD:

And generation gap. If Julián Castro is right...

JULIÁN CASTRO:

I also believe people are looking for a new generation of leadership.

CHUCK TODD:

Then why are all three leading Democratic candidates 70 or older? I'll ask presidential candidate, Julian Castro. Joining me for insight and analysis are NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell, Former Homeland Security Chief Jeh Johnson, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, and former NBC News senior producer Shawna Thomas. 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 on this difficult Labor Day weekend. We're going to get to all the political news in just a moment. But we're going to begin with two big stories, the mass shooting in Midland and Odessa, Texas, and Hurricane Dorian. Let's start with the shooting. It happened yesterday afternoon, when a man fled a traffic stop near Midland, hijacked a mail truck, and started shooting people, at random, in Odessa. Seven people were killed, and roughly 20 were wounded. Police killed the shooter, a white man in his 30s. Our own Garrett Haake is in Odessa, at the movie theater, where the gunman was killed by police. And he joins us now. And Garrett, I know we don't seem to know a lot about the motive or much about the shooter. What have you learned so far overnight and this morning?

GARRETT HAAKE:

Chuck, here's what we know. This started, as you said, with an attempted traffic stop somewhere along the highway between Midland and Odessa. The shooter, we are told, turned around and fired out his back window with some kind of rifle or long gun at the officers who attempted to stop him. What happened then was this sort of running chase, shooting situation down the highway. It ended here, in Odessa. Somewhere along the way, the shooter hijacking a mail truck, shooting at folks along the way. Eventually, officers got the suspect here, in this movie theater parking lot. He was shot and killed here. This morning, we've learned a little bit about some of the victims, including a high school student from here, in Odessa, among those shot, and a 17-month-old girl, who was hit by shrapnel. We also don't know, frankly, very much about the suspect at this point. Police haven't released his motive, if they know it, or even his name. But we're told he's a 30-something white man matching the profile, of course, of so many of these other shooters who we've seen over the last several months. We're hoping to get more information from police at a news conference this morning. But again, the city of Odessa waking up this morning as just the latest community to experience something like this, you know, landing in the laps of people all around this country, it seems like, every week.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Garrett, in the state of Texas, and I know you're a native Texan, Governor Abbott, the Republican governor there, a big gun-rights advocate, in general. This is now becoming a familiar scene for him. He and other Texas lawmakers, at all, having second thoughts about some of their, their policies?

GARRETT HAAKE:

Well, ironically, Chuck, today, September 1st, a number of new gun provisions go into effect in state law here, in Texas, that make it easier to carry your weapon at a church or leave it in the parking lot at a school, to carry it in evacuation from a natural disaster. Texas actually loosened its gun laws over the last year, over the last legislative session. Governor Abbott did put in place a commission, after the El Paso shooting. They have met twice so far. No major recommendations will come from that. But I suspect he will continue to be under pressure today, as have all the politicians back in Washington, to do something about this. That said, it's a very Republican area, 70%, Ted Cruz part of the state, in the Senate election last year. Governor Abbott, of course, still very, very popular among the Republican base here, in Texas. You know, we're left where we always are, after these conversations, wondering what, if anything, will come from this other than further discussion.

CHUCK TODD:

Exactly, political gridlock. Garrett Haake, thanks very much. We're going to turn now to Hurricane Dorian, whose erratic path has been confounding forecasters, leaving residents on the Atlantic coast, from Florida to the Carolinas, preparing for whatever comes their way. Let me go down to WNBC meteorologist Maria LaRosa, in New York, with the latest on the storm's path. And Maria, it is one of those things. Everybody sees now, the general path makes it look like we're going to duck this. Are we that confident?

MARIA LaROSA:

I wouldn't make that mistake because it is a far-reaching-effects type of storm. Yes, the core of it, the center, may stay offshore. I'll show you that in a second. Regardless, it is heading right for the Bahamas as a category-five storm, maximum winds of 160 miles per hour, continuing to move to the west at eight miles per hour. That puts it 225 east of West Palm Beach, which is now under that tropical storm warning, they're in orange, for parts of the east coast. The watch is in yellow. So we could still see the effects of the gusty winds along the coast. But yes, that core center headed right for the Bahamas, likely to stay a category four, as it moves across. That's 140-mile-per-hour winds in this area, over 12 to 24 hours. This is going to be devastating. At that point, we expect it to begin that turn to the north. Yes, the center stays off the coast. But you can see a major hurricane still in the forecast for overnight Tuesday into Wednesday. That'll drive wind and waves along the east coast and then heads up by Thursday. Savannah, Charleston, parts of the southeast coast, need to pay close attention to this forecast. And then approaching the Outer Banks, as we get from Thursday into Friday, still as a hurricane. So we look at the models to see how much in agreement this path could look. And right now, it is all agreement with all the models, coming through the Bahamas in the next 24 hours, a pretty large spread here, going forward. But yes, most of them take the center of the storm off the coast. But as I mentioned it has far-reaching effects, including the rainfall. But there's a look at the major models, pretty much in agreement, keeping the center off the coast, but Chuck, wide-reaching effects, still watching that southeast coach, big heads up, even into the Carolinas later this week.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you, Maria. President Trump, of course, canceled his scheduled trip to Poland so he could monitor the storm, which he did yesterday both from Camp David and from his golf course in Virginia. And joining me now from FEMA headquarters here in Washington is the acting FEMA Administrator, Peter Gaynor. Administrator Gaynor, welcome to Meet the Press, sir.

ACTING FEMA ADMINISTRATOR PETER GAYNOR:

Good morning, Chuck. How are you?

CHUCK TODD:

I'm okay. Let me start with the difficulty of, obviously, preparing for this storm and the fact that we’ve now -- I think half the Atlantic coast at some point in time over the last 72 years or in the next 48 has to prepare for this storm. How difficult has it been tracking this storm?

ACTING FEMA ADMINISTRATOR PETER GAYNOR:

This storm has been particularly difficult. A lot of uncertainty. It's going to be a slow mover as we get closer to the Florida coast. Again, the time is now for residents to really prepare. And that's kind of our message, to make sure that -- use the time that's available to you. It's going to impact Florida. It's going to impact Georgia and the Carolinas. And now is really the time to make those preparations and be aware of the conditions, the changing conditions in this track and this storm.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, a lot of people are going to see these graphics that are now showing the modeling as if this storm is going to just barely touch the coast. Obviously I'm guessing you have concern that people will let their guard down. How dangerous is this storm still even if it just brushes, you know, the coasts of northeast Florida and southeast Georgia?

ACTING FEMA ADMINISTRATOR PETER GAYNOR:

Yeah, I think the mistake most people make is they follow that thin black line and think that that's the exact location the storm will be in. You really have to look at the cone of uncertainty. And if you look at that, it really covers the majority of Florida and as you go north, great parts of Georgia and the Carolinas. We are not out of this just yet. You have to be aware of your surroundings. This will -- this storm will bring tropical storm-force winds, hurricane-force winds, surge, rain, all those things that are associated with a storm making landfall. And it may make landfall, and it may stay off the coast, but the danger is there.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to ask you -- you're in an acting role, a permanent -- you're the confirmed deputy. A permanent was nominated in February. That has been stalled in Congress. Are there things that limit your -- do you feel as if your abilities are limited a bit because you're in an acting capacity, your deputy's in an acting capacity? How limiting is it?

ACTING FEMA ADMINISTRATOR PETER GAYNOR:

No limits. When I took this job over from Mr. Long, there was, there was minimal transition, minimal disruption. Really no problems whatsoever. I have a great team behind me. There are about 200 FEMA employees behind me, but they represent 20,000 FEMA employees. Battle hardened, battle tested from 2017, '18. They are ready. We are ready to go.

CHUCK TODD:

I know you had said that the moving of money from FEMA's budget to the border fight was a small slice, that you have plenty of funds there. And, and, look, the reality is we know Congress will always fill the coffer after a disaster. But does moving that money around, does that give you -- does it hurt some preparation?

ACTING FEMA ADMINISTRATOR PETER GAYNOR:

It doesn't hurt preparation, but I'm not going to say there's no risk. So we manage risk every day. You know, moving money has some risk, but we assess it to have minimal risk on our ongoing operations from 2017 and '18 and our preparation for this season, 2019. We assess that all the time. But right now, we are ready. We have all the funds that we need.

CHUCK TODD:

You testified before Congress a couple of months ago sort of in the aftermath talking about a strategic plan for FEMA over the next four years. And you said three main goals for FEMA were: build a culture of preparedness; number two, ready the nation for catastrophic disasters; and three reduce the complexity of FEMA. It's number two I'm focused on. You said, "Ready the nation for catastrophic disasters." When I read through your testimony there, it wasn't about mitigation, adaptation as much as it was about getting local authorities ready to deal with some of these things themselves. How much focus should we be on adaptation and mitigation?

ACTING FEMA ADMINISTRATOR PETER GAYNOR:

Well, I think if you go back this past year, 2018, October 2018, Congress passed the DRRA, which allowed us to set aside 6% of all disaster costs for pre-disaster mitigation. You know, Chuck, that we spend a lot of money post-disaster. We need to make that investment pre-disaster to reduce that risk, harden our infrastructure. And that law allows us to do that. So this year, we'll start using some of that money to reduce the risk and threat to infrastructure before disaster strikes. And that really is the model that we all embrace.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Administrator Gaynor, I know this is the first hurricane where you've been in the seat there at FEMA. Good luck, sir. And here's hoping this thing gets out to sea in a hurry.

ACTING FEMA ADMINISTRATOR PETER GAYNOR:

I concur with that. Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Thanks very much. Joining me now is Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida. Of course, Senator Scott as Governor Scott went through his share of hurricanes. Senator Scott, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SENATOR RICK SCOTT:

Good morning.

CHUCK TODD:

You just heard --

SENATOR RICK SCOTT:

Yeah, we went through quite a few.

CHUCK TODD:

Yes, you did.

SENATOR RICK SCOTT:

I got lots of experience.

CHUCK TODD:

You just heard -- this is a familiar path of a hurricane in that looks a lot like that Hurricane Matthew, which, which scared the living daylights out of a lot of Florida and just missed there. What is your message to northeast Floridians though as they -- again, everybody's watching the model, the path, and the average Floridian's going, "Oh, out of the woods."

SENATOR RICK SCOTT:

They're not. First off, I, I just got an update from the National Hurricane Center. And the storm wobbled a little bit more to the west. So it'll be a little bit closer to Florida than they even anticipated last night when I went to bed. So the bottom line is: You need to follow this. Look at that cone of uncertainty. That's where this might be. We're going to have significant rain, we're going to have storm surge, and we're going to have hurricane, I mean, hurricane-force winds, big winds. This is a, this is a big storm. And here's the issue. If this, if this turns right at the last minute and goes due west, you’ve got to say, "Am I ready? Do I have my food, water? Should I have evacuated?" Don't take a, don’t take a chance. Because, I mean, this is where they think it's going to go, but it could clearly go due west and hit right into Florida.

CHUCK TODD:

You've done eight years of hurricanes. We've yet another one. You've seen pretty much every corner of the state of Florida been hit with damage from a storm. And now looking back, what are some things you want -- if you could sit here and say, "All right. I want all this money to prepare the state of Florida to handle this better," what would that look like? What would mitigation look like if you could have all the funds in the world to protect Florida more from these storms?

SENATOR RICK SCOTT:

Well, I think, first off, I want to make sure money doesn't get wasted. I have a bill right now to try to make sure, like, with debris pickup that we spend the money right. But with regard to mitigation, we've got to make sure that we're not building where there’s -- where we know there is significant risk. And so -- we all saw the pictures of, as an example, Mexico Beach. That's an easy one --

CHUCK TODD:

Right. I'm glad you brought that up.

SENATOR RICK SCOTT:

-- for people to remember.

CHUCK TODD:

Because I want to talk about that in a minute. Yeah.

SENATOR RICK SCOTT:

I mean, that's an easy one. So if you remember, we had the houses right along the coast. Then we had the road. And then we had the houses on, just on the other side. So if they're going to rebuild there, they've got to rebuild in standards. And we do have the standards now. If you look at most of -- when Irma hit, we didn't have as much damage -- anything that was built after Andrew. So but let's just make sure that all those standards are met and if there's new ones. We all remember the one house. Chuck, remember that one house on Mexico Beach that withstood everything?

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

SENATOR RICK SCOTT:

And I think that when I talked to the owner, I think he only spent an extra $30,000. So -- but unfortunately some places -- like, we had in Irma that 30-mile stretch where it hit Irma down in the Keys. It was stuff that had been a lot older, built -- most of it built way before Andrew. So we're doing it now. There's always something you could do better. But I want to make sure the money's spent well and make sure people build up to standards.

CHUCK TODD:

When Congress comes back, I have a feeling the issue of gun regulations is going to be now more front and center. The New York Times added up just of mass shootings in the month of August alone, senator, 51 deaths. We know the names of these cities as if they're markers now, right, on the highway. You just say the words "El Paso" and "Dayton," and now we're going to say, "Odessa." You say "Parkland." You say "Pulse." We know what all of that means. What's going to happen when Congress comes back?

SENATOR RICK SCOTT:

Well, I've talked to the president, the White House. I've talked to Mitch McConnell and others. I think they ought to look at what we did in Florida after Parkland.

CHUCK TODD:

That's a model? You think?

SENATOR RICK SCOTT:

Well, here's what we did. We sat down immediately. Within, like, three days, Chuck, we sat down with law enforcement, mental health counselors, and educators and said, "What would really work?" And so we passed historic legislation within three weeks. One is a red flag law, that says that if you have threatened harm to yourself or somebody else, then through law enforcement and through due process, through the court system all your weapons can be taken away. And then on top of that we said every school in our state's going to have law enforcement and we're going to have more mental health counselors and we’re going to set up a process where we can really evaluate problems before they happen.The problem we have is, Chuck, we've got a problem in this country. We've got young men for whatever reason, totally different than when I was growing up. No one thought about doing a mass shooting. But young men today for whatever reason have this in their mindset. And we've got to figure this out, and we've got to figure out how we get guns away from mentally ill -- people who want to harm others or themselves.

CHUCK TODD:

Where are you on a background -- an expansion of the background check? That's going to be probably one of the debating points. And I know that some people are for expanding, and there's different degrees of the expansion. Where are you on this?

SENATOR RICK SCOTT:

So when I was governor, what we found is that there wasn't enough coordination, especially with the mental health and illness issue that was getting onto the background check in Florida. So we worked on that. There's lots of proposals out there. I'm going to review all of them. But I, Chuck, I can tell you right now if you want to have an impact, do what we did in Florida. Do the red flag laws. And the other thing let me tell you I'm frustrated about. We had -- take Parkland as an example. The FBI had prior knowledge, had a tip, and did nothing about it. And to this day I've been asking, "Did you - did they do anything about it? Was anybody reprimanded?" Nothing. Same with the shooting at the airport in Florida. That person had given their gun to the FBI in Alaska and nothing's happened as far as I can tell with anybody.

CHUCK TODD:

Big picture though, How do you -- do you think we have too many guns in circulation? And if you do, how do we, how do we get them out of circulation?

SENATOR RICK SCOTT:

Well, Chuck, you know, I believe in the Second Amendment. I don't want to take guns away from law-abiding citizens. I want to focus on the people that have mental illness. That's my, that’s my focus.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. You don't think there's too many guns?

SENATOR RICK SCOTT:

Well, I think there’s-- just take all weapons, there's too many people that have mental illnesses that we're somehow not addressing, and they have access to weapons, and they shouldn't.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Senator Rick Scott, Republican from Florida, former governor. Like I said, been through his share of hurricanes. Thank you, sir. Appreciate you coming on, sharing your views.

SENATOR RICK SCOTT:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, do Joe Biden's gaffes matter if he runs against a president who struggles to tell the truth? That and the Democrats' generational divide that's not at all what we expected. I'll talk to presidential candidate Julián Castro next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. This was supposed to be the year of generational change in American politics, particularly for the Democrats. With far more millennials and Gen X'ers now than Baby Boomers, and with the voting population becoming more diverse, you might expect the leading presidential candidates to look something like the people electing them. Instead, we very well could wind up with a presidential match-up between Donald Trump, who was born at the start of the Baby Boom era and will be 74 on Election Day and Joe Biden who is too old to be a Baby Boomer, and will be 77 on Election Day -- just two weeks shy of turning 78. And let's say Biden doesn't make it. Right behind him are Elizabeth Warren, who will be 71... and Bernie Sanders who will be 78 and was born before Pearl Harbor. All came of age in their 20's during the Age of Aquarius, but the Age of Aquarius itself is 50 years old. For Biden, whispers about his age have grown louder, especially given some recent verbal face plants. But the question is: In the age of Trump, is it possible to have the Biden gaffe conversation... without having the Trump lies conversation?

((START TAPE))

REPORTER:

Do you have a reaction about the war hero? Do details matter Mr. Vice President?

CHUCK TODD:

Joe Biden - defending a war story he has told on the trail to a Washington Post podcast on Thursday:

JOE BIDEN:

I don't know what the problem is. I mean what is it that I said wrong?

CHUCK TODD:

Biden said he was in Afghanistan as Vice President when he was asked to pin a Silver Star on a Navy captain.

JOE BIDEN:

He said, 'Sir, I don't want the damn thing! Do not pin in on me, sir. Please, sir. Do not do that! He died. He died!’

CHUCK TODD:

But as the Washington Post reports, "almost every detail" of that story "appears to be incorrect." It's the latest verbal slip-up in a campaign that's already full of them:

JOE BIDEN:

Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids, wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids.

CHUCK TODD:

In New Hampshire last Saturday, Biden told reporters:

JOE BIDEN:

What's not to like about Vermont?

CHUCK TODD:

Biden has been gaffe-prone for decades. President Trump - just three years younger than Biden - has made his own mistakes

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

May God bless the memory of those who perished in Toledo

CHUCK TODD:

But he is trying to make Biden's age an issue:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Joe Biden has truly lost his fastball.

CHUCK TODD:

But do Biden's gaffes, verbal slip-ups and conflations matter in the age of a president who lies? According to a count by the Washington Post, President Trump has made more than 12,000 false and misleading statements since taking office. In just the past month, on the border wall:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

The wall is well under construction. It's being built at a rapid pace.

CHUCK TODD:

On the economy.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Yesterday, we had the strongest dollar in the history of our country.

CHUCK TODD:

On family separations...

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I am the one that kept the families together. You remember that, right?

CHUCK TODD:

On ISIS...

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We wiped out the Caliphate 100%. I did it in record time.

CHUCK TODD:

Even on his wife and Kim Jong Un, who the White House now says have never met...

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

The First Lady has gotten to know Kim Jong Un -- and I think she'd agree with me

CHUCK TODD:

Last December, Biden told a crowd: "I am a gaffe machine. But my God, what a wonderful thing compared to a guy who can't tell the truth."

CHUCK HAWKINS:

I think he's just an ideal candidate despite he makes gaffes as a human being and that comes through you know?

CHUCK TODD:

While his gaffes may not matter to voters - some of Biden's opponents are already - indirectly - making the case that his age should:

JULIÁN CASTRO:

I also believe that people are looking for a new generation of leadership

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

We've got to put together a picture of what America will look like, how we're going to fix things, not looking backwards and saying, wasn't it nice when?

CHUCK TODD:

But with the top three Democrats all 70 or older, it's not clear that - so far - Democratic voters are listening:

JOE BIDEN:

I'd say if they're concerned, don't vote for me.((END TAPE))

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now, from San Antonio, is former Housing Secretary and Democratic presidential candidate, former mayor of San Antonio, by the way, Julian Castro. Secretary Castro, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

JULIÁN CASTRO:

Good to be with you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Before I get to politics, the campaign, I want to talk about what happened in your home state there, in Odessa and Midland. This is now the second mass shooting just in Texas this month. It's been quite a bit just in the last couple of years. Let me ask you this. If you're president right now, Congress is coming back, what does your response look like?

JULIÁN CASTRO:

If I were president right now, I would do two things. First of all, I would maximize the executive authority to do what we can to keep our families safer from gun violence. For instance, we would immediately redefine who is a firearms dealer, so that anybody who sells more than five firearms in a year is classified that way and has to conduct universal background checks. We would also push legislation in Congress to get common sense gun safety legislation done and, you know, put as much pressure on the swing state Republican senators, who are up for reelection in 2020, to get them to go with something that we can compromise on, at least universal background checks. I think that we can do more than that in the future. But this kind of inaction and, you know, the talk that we heard today from, I think that was Senator Rick Scott, it's the same old thing, you know? It's happy talk and this promise that we're going to do something. We're going to look at it. But they never actually do it. And you were talking about, you know, gaffes and lies. I mean, the biggest lies that the president has told include that he would do something about universal background checks. He's said that twice, after Parkland and then after El Paso and Dayton. And he's gone back on his word. Those are the biggest things that count for this president.

CHUCK TODD:

As a Texan, how do you change the conversation about the culture of guns, meaning, as you know, you know, quite a few, probably, friends in Texas, who they hear all this, and they say, "Yeah, but it's going to turn into gun confiscation," or, "It's going to turn into me not being able to have the gun that I want." How do you impact the culture on this?

JULIÁN CASTRO:

Well, look, you're from Florida. There are a lot of folks watching out there from states where a lot of folks go hunting. They go sporting. But oftentimes, it's actually hunters and folks that, you know, shoot on a range that understand that you don't need these weapons of war, AR-15 and other similar weapons. I think, more and more, many of them get it. Sure, I agree that there are a certain percentage of people that, somehow, fear that, one day, the government is going to try and take over the entire country, somehow. And they're going to need their weapons. But that's actually a minority of people out there. That's not a majority of people. And the most poignant moment over the last several weeks, happened right after Dayton, which was when Governor Mike DeWine got up there to talk about what had happened, and the crowd of Republicans, Democrats, people from different political stripes, started to chant, "Do something. Do something. Do something." More and more people here in Texas and across the country want Congress and their politicians to do something.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, one of the -- when you were outlining what you would do now, do you feel as if you have to bring the country together on this, meaning you do as much as you can get done without making it politically divisive? Or do you push the envelope a bit?

JULIÁN CASTRO:

Well, look. I mean, we know that it's already politically divisive. There's no way to get around that. But I do think that, when you're in public office, that you have an obligation to make the case. You have to be honest with, with your constituents, with the American people. And the thing is, on this issue of common sense gun safety legislation, people know the arguments. They know where people stand. You know, this is not a new argument. We -- I was thinking about, yesterday evening, Texas and how much gun violence we've had and -- But you think back to 1966 and Charles Whitman, at that UT Tower and, when that happened, what a shock to the system that was. And people have been talking about these things for a long, long time. And so I think we need to get universal background checks done, a renewed assault weapons ban, and limiting the capacity of these magazines, at least that.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me turn now to the presidential race. Simple question, are you surprised that the Democratic Party of today, that the three most, that the three frontrunners right now are all over the age of 70?

JULIÁN CASTRO:

I don't know if surprised is the right word. First of all, the folks that you're talking about are very talented individuals with tremendous experience. But what I hear out there, and what I think is going to show itself as we get closer and closer to the Iowa Caucus is that people do want a new generation of leadership. And, you know, for Democrats that are out there, what I hear is a lot of anxiety about, "Hey, we need to beat Donald Trump. How are we going to beat Donald Trump?" Well, if you take a look at the modern era of presidential campaigns, when Democrats have won, it's because they've taken a bit of a risk, whether it was Kennedy in 1960, or Carter in 1976, or Barack Obama in 2008. And we need to get people off the sidelines in 2020. I believe that I can reassemble the Obama coalition and then supercharge that, so that we can go back and win Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and then also get the 29 electoral votes of Florida, the 11 electoral votes of Arizona, and, I believe, even the 38 electoral votes of Texas. I'll just say, Chuck, that you know, the other day, I was in Iowa. And I met a young woman, who said that she was going to turn 18 before the Iowa Caucus. And she said, "I'm excited to get registered to vote and to go and caucus for you." Those are the kinds of things that I'm hearing out there among young people. If we're going to win this election, we're going to have to get young people involved and get people off the sidelines.

CHUCK TODD:

If Joe Biden's the nominee, do you have any concerns?

JULIÁN CASTRO:

Well, I think that Joe Biden would be a much better president, of course, than Donald Trump. If I didn't think that I would be a better president, I wouldn't be running this race. But I think that he would be a much better president than Donald Trump. I also believe that, just on issues, Joe Biden and I have some disagreements. We talked about our disagreement on immigration on the stage at the last debate. I also believe that he hasn't gone far enough on healthcare. We need to base our healthcare off of a Medicare system and then allow for a private option. So we have real disagreements. But I won't argue with folks that say that any of the Democrats that are running or that will be on the stage in Houston, in a few days, would be better than Donald Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

Secretary Castro, I've got to leave it there. It's been one of those weekends, busy weekend. Thanks for coming on and sharing your views. Be safe on the trail. And we'll see you at that debate.

JULIÁN CASTRO:

Good to be with you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, Trump, Biden, and the summer when everything and nothing happened. That and more, when the panel joins me next.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with the panel. Former Homeland Security Chief Jeh Johnson, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, NBC Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell, and former NBC White House Senior Producer and current Washington Bureau Chief of Vice News Shawna Thomas.

Before we get to politics, Congress is coming back, the gun issue, Jeh Johnson, you've dealt with the gun issue in different ways, as Department of Homeland Security. You know the politics of this town. 51 people died in the month of August. On the very last day of the month, we get that reminder, in case anybody was letting El Paso and Dayton fade.

JEH JOHNSON:

Chuck, to me, it feels like, this time, it might be different. I feel as though -- my sense is that public opinion and congressional opinion are moving in the direction of doing some things consistent with the Second Amendment. This is a uniquely American problem. And it requires a national solution. And particularly, now that we're back in an election cycle, Republicans, it seems to me, are going to want to be able to be in a position to say they have done something on this. And the timing of this latest tragedy, just as Congress is coming back into town, suggests, also, there'll be a certain amount of momentum this time. And so, my hope is that we'll finally, finally get something done on this issue.

CHUCK TODD:

Dany, what's your sense?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

My sense is that that's a triumph of hope over experience. I think that, actually, the opposite of what you suggest is happening. I think that the more we see this, the more casualties there are, the more gun violence there is, the more numb people are, and the less response we're going to get. To me, it's like terrorism, in a way. You know, people get used to it. And that's what you don't want. But I'm afraid that that's what's going to dictate what Congress does.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

The only glimmer of hope I had this week was talking to Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut, Newtown, and of course, really important advocate. He said he's been meeting, throughout this recess, since El Paso and Dayton, of course, he's been meeting with White House staff. He's been meeting with top people. He's talked to the president several times. So maybe there is some give, because of the politics of it, the political season. And 90% approval, in many polls, for background checks, closing the gun show loopholes. But then, as Garrett Haake, our correspondent in Odessa, was saying today, today, September 1st, Texas laws are changing, so that you can bring guns into churches or, you know, the open carry into schools. So there are so many -- so many political and cultural arguments in Dany's favor that it’s not going to happen.

CHUCK TODD:

Shawna, you're a native Texan. You've seen this. To me, if Texas changes the conversation, then all of a sudden, America will.

SHAWNA THOMAS:

Yes. And we're seeing, sort of, Governor Greg Abbott kind of struggle with, how do you change this conversation, or how do you make that work? But as you said, laws went into effect. And the school one has to do with guns being able to be kept in your car on school property. That is something that the Texas legislature has already passed. That is going into effect today. That's interesting. I think the other thing is, you see the political campaign as something that may encourage people to do something. I see the political campaign as something that will discourage Republicans from doing anything, that because there is so much focus on this, and it's an election cycle, that people are going to get scared. They're going to go to their base. And I'm not sure that means something is actually going to happen in the next couple of months.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, timing is everything. The legislative session in Florida was actually in session after Parkland, which is why the pressure was able to happen. Had it not been in session, who knows what would've happened.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And the kids went to Tallahassee right away.

CHUCK TODD:

That's right. You don't know, with them coming back, immediately, does this have a little bit of that?

SHAWNA THOMAS:

Yeah. If we see people marching in the streets in Washington, D.C., when the Senate is back and the House is back, maybe, maybe something on red flag laws or background checks happen. But I'm not seeing anyone rallying people like that.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me pivot to this discussion of Joe Biden. Gaffes versus lies, I guess, is one way to put it. And do the gaffes matter? The Washington Post had dueling columns. I've got to put these up, because it was interesting. Dana Milbank, essentially, making the case that the gaffes do matter. "Joe Biden isn't a gaffe machine. He's the Lamborghini of Gaffes." Meanwhile, Paul Waldman saying, "Lay off of Joe Biden's gaffes." But you know, Andrea Mitchell, Peter Hamby, at Vanity Fair, wrote about why these gaffes can be damaging to Biden."For Biden, being gaffe-prone puts him exactly on the wrong side of the media’s incentive structure in the Twitter age, even when there are much more important things happening in the world. And that’s just where Trump wants his strongest rival to be." Do you buy that?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

In part. But what the Biden people will say, are saying, is, "Look, what is getting through to the people is that this is a guy who cares." He cares about that soldier, who didn't want to take the medal. And yes, he conflated three different stories. And the Washington Post pointed out how many ways he got things wrong. But that does not matter to the voters. Now, we don't know yet how this is going to play. Certainly, the polls, so far, and it is the summer, and people are, perhaps, not paying attention, are not focusing on these things as much as we, in the media or other people in the media, may be. The fact is that Donald Trump, as someone who misspeaks constantly, deliberately, through lack of knowledge, through lies, other kinds of problems, is the standard that whoever is the Democratic nominee is going to run against. What Biden has to be concerned about, of course, is getting the nomination. And again, the Biden folks will say, "You're not looking at these other candidates, who are making mistakes on the trail." And we say, "You know, show us where that's happening."

CHUCK TODD:

That's probably a fair point. Jeh Johnson, this does seem to be a problem for Biden, to me, more of a primary than a general. Trump, to me, is a shield for him on this stuff.

JEH JOHNSON:

Right. I'd give Joe a break. Joe's a storyteller. He makes his points through anecdotes, through stories, and is probably thinking, "Let's not get the small details in the way of a very powerful story." And so I'd give him a break on this. And apparently, the person on whom he pinned the medal acknowledged that he actually got the medal. So the point he's trying to make is not self-aggrandizement. It's simply to demonstrate the heroism of the men and women in our U.S. military, which is a totally valid point. Anybody here remember Martin Treptow? Martin Treptow was Reagan's closer, in his first inaugural address, one of the best inaugural addresses in modern history. And he closed with the story of a World War I hero named Martin Treptow. Though nothing he said in the address was technically wrong, he conveyed the impression that he was buried at Arlington. But he was actually buried in Wisconsin. But the larger point still stands about American heroism in a time of war. And I think, you know, this kind of thing, particularly, compared to the current incumbent in the White House, should not, you know, be a big problem for him.

CHUCK TODD:

Dany, it's an interesting comparison because there is a part of Biden that feels more Reagan-esque that way. You're like, "Ah, it's Grandpa. It's Uncle Joe," whatever that is. "Eh, let the old man do it."

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Okay, first of all, I think it's important to emphasize that all of us who have known Joe Biden for a really long time, know that this is not a product of old age. This is a Joe Biden hallmark.

CHUCK TODD:

This is Joe.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

That's number one. Number two, I don't agree that Donald Trump is a shield. "The president is a liar. And I am, too. Who cares?" Does that fit on a bumper sticker? I mean, it doesn't work. I think people are looking for a relief from Donald Trump, not somebody who is slightly better than Donald Trump. I also think that his age is, is an issue, not because I have any prejudice against older people. God knows, as I get older, but because I think that this is where the energy of young people is going to matter.

CHUCK TODD:

Shawna, why do you think the Democratic Party, that the youngest supporters seem to gravitate to the oldest candidates?

SHAWNA THOMAS:

Well, I think it's because, you know, Julián Castro said it. He talked about how Democrats have tried to nominate risks. He mentioned JFK. He mentioned Barack Obama. But that means he's saying he, himself, is a bit of a risk.

CHUCK TODD:

I thought that was interesting, too, yeah.

SHAWNA THOMAS:

Which is interesting. And the thing you hear from people on the campaign trail, all of our teams at Vice News hear, is all they want is somebody who can beat Donald Trump. And they don't really care if that person is young or old, yet. Now, that may all shift, as we sort of condense the group. But that is what they're hearing. I also think, when it comes to Joe Biden, the Uncle Joe situation, it's interesting, because we are living in the age of Donald Trump. And that changes how we perceive and cover Joe Biden. But we have to cover it with context. Those are two different situations. When Trump lies, it's about Google and Google changing votes and making you scared about things. When Joe Biden lies, it's about trying to say he's going to be commander in chief, and he understand heroism. I think context is super important. But it doesn't mean we ignore Joe Biden's gaffes.

CHUCK TODD:

Context and nuance, they're hallmarks of presidential candidate coverage. Anyway, when we come back, do Democrats really have a chance to take back the Senate? You should check out this map. Because it just got a bit more enticing for them.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time. Another Senate Republican retired this week, Johnny Isakson of Georgia. And it was a reminder that Democrats do have a legitimate shot at flipping the upper chamber in 2020. They need a net four seats for a 51/49 majority or just three, if Democrats take the White House. So let's take a look at their path. These three states are the Democrats' best opportunities, Colorado and Maine, they both went blue in 16. While President Trump won Arizona, Democrats did pick up a Senate seat in that state last year. Then there are the more-ambitious targets for Democrats, Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia, which now has two Senate seats up in 2020. They're all seeing demographic changes that favor Democrats. Then there's Iowa, which has been hit hard by President Trump's trade war. Finally, there are some longer shots, but don't sleep on them. Kansas and Montana are very red. But both elected Democrats to statewide office in 2018. And in a wave year, don't overlook Kentucky and South Carolina. Both could be in place, especially with incumbents that Democrats like to beat up. Now, Democrats also have some seats they'll have to defend, like Michigan, where President Trump won in '16, and Alabama, where Senator Doug Jones is seeking re-election in a state the president won by almost 30 points. The bottom line is this. It won't be easy for Democrats to win the Senate. But all of a sudden, they have a lot of potential paths to get there. None of them are easy, but they're realistic. When we come back, could Joe Biden wrap up the nomination, if he names a running mate months before the convention? We have one in mind. Endgame is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with Endgame. You saw the Senate map there. And Dany, I want to put up a -- we have a Republican retirement scroll that we put up. And Johnny Isakson has had some health challenges. Sean Duffy is the latest, also this week. He's got a child that's coming in, he says is going to have some health challenges. John Shimkus, a long-time Republican, he announced -- so we had three Republicans walk away this week. It's a trickle that feels like, is this about to become a flood of retirements? There was one Congressman who tweeted, over the weekend, a Republican, who said, he thought there would be eight announced retirements before -- in the first ten days of September.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Well, when I started on Capitol Hill, we were in the minority. We worked in the Senate. Being in the minority in the Senate is not that bad. Being in the minority in the House, there's just no reason to come to work. And so I get that. And if they think that the Republicans are not going to take back the House, then there's just no reason to hang around. It's miserable.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, this becomes self-fulfilling, when you walk away like this, though.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Well, that's probably true. But at that point, you're thinking about yourself. Plus, I mean, we've said this again and again, these have become awful jobs, you know? The executive branch is where everything is happening. In Capitol Hill, they don't get anything done.

CHUCK TODD:

But they can’t even -- Democrats can't get their best candidates to run for the United States Senate. Forget the Republicans. I want to put up Stacey Abrams, who again said, "No," to this new Georgia seat and said it immediately. What's remarkable about Stacey Abrams, though, is how comfortable she is talking about other potential places she could be on the ballot in 2020. Take a listen.

[BEGIN TAPE]

STACEY ABRAMS:

I certainly would. I mean, I don't want to be coy there, those who advise me against saying that out loud. But the reality is, of course, the work that I want to see for America, the progress I want to see us make, I would be honored to be the running mate of the Democratic nominee.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, I have to say, it's sort of refreshing, when an ambitious politician says, "Yes, of course." Because everybody lies. Everybody who's said they didn't want to be the running mate has lied, right?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, and it's so clear that she would be, is available, is making herself available, is not endorsing anyone now, and is so smart and connects with people so well, and is such an extraordinary figure. The real headline is that nobody wants to run for the Senate.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And you know, you've got these governors and former governors. Hickenlooper is an exception. But there is really no appetite to be a Senator, especially not if you're in the minority. But even if you are in the majority, the Senate isn't getting anything done. They are completely gridlocked.

CHUCK TODD:

You've got to raise $25 million or $30 million for a job that --

SHAWNA THOMAS:

You may or may not actually get anything done. And you may be in the minority, still. I mean, Georgia, Abrams lost by less than 2%. Texas, Beto lost by less than 3%. There is some room here. And you know, my team has talked to the DCCC. They are targeting six districts in Texas. Three of those districts have had Republican retirements. That is more than they targeted in 2018. They've opened an office in Austin. So there are people who see this map as wide open. But I think Abrams, like, raising her hand is definitely interesting. And I just kept thinking, since everyone keeps talking about her in conjunction with, should Biden announce her to be the vice-presidential nominee, or something like that, it's like a Lizzo quote. She is 100% that B right now. And everyone knows it. And she is owning it. And that's interesting.

CHUCK TODD:

Look who put the first Lizzo reference on a Sunday Meet the Press, Shawna Thomas. I want the end on a more-serious and depressing note. Somebody noted, on Twitter, Jeh Johnson, that we have now had more governors apologize for wearing blackface than we do black governors in America. What does that say about 2019?

JEH JOHNSON:

That's interesting.

CHUCK TODD:

And I'm referring to Kay Ivey, by the way, the governor of Alabama, who -- it came out and she released this, herself. Auburn University found some evidence of this. And then she released the audio that sort of confirmed that she'd participated in blackface skits at a sorority. She did apologize. She put her statement up. "I offer my heartfelt apologies for the pain and embarrassment this causes. And I will do all I can, going forward, to help show the nation that the Alabama of today is a far cry from the Alabama of the '60s. We have come a long way, for sure. But we still have a long way to go." Should these folks, should Governor Northam and Governor Ivey, be in office?

JEH JOHNSON:

Well, that's interesting. You know, Virginia is now a distant memory.

CHUCK TODD:

Isn't it?

JEH JOHNSON:

And he's still there. The lieutenant governor's still there. And you know, this -- blackface was part of a culture at some period of time. And why you put it in your yearbook is beyond me. Because your yearbook is something you live with for generations after.

CHUCK TODD:

Doesn't that tell you that they didn't think it was a bad thing?

JEH JOHNSON:

They didn't think it was a bad thing, obviously. The statement from the governor of Alabama, I thought -- it strikes me as a reasonably forthright, candid statement. Whether she survives, I don't know. But she probably will.

CHUCK TODD:

I guess the question is, should these folks?

JEH JOHNSON:

There are probably a whole lot more politicians out there who did things like this, as recently as the '80s, that we don't know about. Because it's buried in some yearbook somewhere, on somebody's shelf.

CHUCK TODD:

Dany, should there be a statute of limitations?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Well, I think that's up to the judgement of the people for politics. I think that the troubling thing about this is that, in each case, we've seen it become a political axe to grind. This is an opportunity for people to learn something. This is an opportunity for people to advance a particular set of understandings about how to behave with respect towards people. That it is not and should not be an opportunity to get somebody out of office immediately.

CHUCK TODD:

But Shawna, there's a generation of people who just said, "What?" You know, if you're under the age of 40, you just can't accept this blackface business.

SHAWNA THOMAS:

It's confusing. Because especially in the case of Governor Northam, that was something that happened in the '80s. That's where that yearbook was from. It wasn't from the '60s.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

And medical school.

SHAWNA THOMAS:

And medical school. So he wasn't 19 years old by that point. So you're wondering, what was he thinking about what does being black mean? And what is America right now?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it certainly means we have a lot of educating to do, of this country, on race in America.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

A lot of work to do.

CHUCK TODD:

Still have a lot of educating. That's all we have for today. Thank you for watching. Enjoy the rest of your Labor Day weekend. And remember, we will be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.