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Meet the Press - September 9, 2018

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, fear and resistance at the White House. The fear, Bob Woodward's explosive new book describes a near mutiny in the White House against President Trump.

DONALD TRUMP:

This Woodward book, it's a total fraud. These people. Libel laws. Libel laws.

CHUCK TODD:

Then the resistance. An anonymous White House senior official writing that colleagues are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. The president calling on the Justice Department to investigate.

DONALD TRUMP:

I think it's a national security matter. They should look at it. They should look at it very strongly. And we should find out who it is.

CHUCK TODD:

Is President Trump in charge of his own White House? Plus, the Supreme Court. Brett Kavanaugh says very little while protesters--

FEMALE PROTESTER:

Protect the right to choose.

CHUCK TODD:

--and senators--

SEN. JOHN CORNYN:

There is clearly a rule that applies.

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

Then apply the rule and bring the charges. Bring it.

CHUCK TODD:

--take the spotlight. My guests this morning: Counselor to President Trump Kellyanne Conway, Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. Also, guess who's on the campaign trail?

BARACK OBAMA:

You need to vote because our democracy depends on it.

CHUCK TODD:

And guess who's listening?

DONALD TRUMP:

I'm sorry. I watched it, but I fell asleep.

CHUCK TODD:

Joining for me insight and analysis are NBC News correspondent Katy Tur, Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, and Erick Erickson, editor of The Resurgent. 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. It's not every day that we have words and phrases like these thrown around so freely here in Washington. Constitutional crisis, 25th Amendment, sleeper cells, polygraph examinations, nervous breakdown, orange jumpsuit, an administrative coup d'état. But that's what happened this week when we were treated to two disturbing accounts of White House dysfunction. A one-two punch describing top officials working quietly to thwart a president they see as uninformed, unprincipled, and perhaps unhinged.

First came Bob Woodward's book, Fear: Trump in the White House, describing aides so unnerved by President Trump's impulses that they have even taking to swiping papers from his desk to prevent him from signing them. One day later, the New York Times printed an extraordinary anonymous op-ed essay in effect confirming Woodward's reporting, that senior officials are working secretly to frustrate the president's worst inclinations.

Quote, "Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening, and we are trying to do what's right even when Donald Trump won't." In other words, the call is coming from inside the house. Much of this isn't shocking. We knew about the chaos from Michael Wolff, from Omarosa, from our own reporting. What we didn't know was the degree to which the senior staff was working at odds with the man who hired them and who the voters elected. And it raises the question: is President Trump in control of his own White House?

DONALD TRUMP:

Is it subversion? Is it treason? It's a horrible thing.

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump is fuming. Intensifying his campaign against the author of that anonymous op-ed who claims to be part of a group of administration officials working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.

VOICE OF A REPORTER:

Who's in charge at the White House?

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump accused the Times of treason. And on Friday, he called on the attorney general to investigate.

INTERVIEWER:

If he doesn't investigate it, will you fire Jeff Sessions finally?

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, we're going to look and see what happens. I think it's a national security matter. They should look at it, they should look at it very strongly, and we should find out who it is. Because why should we live with somebody in the White House who is really subversive?

CHUCK TODD:

As a parade of officials, dozens at the top of Mr. Trump's government, rushed out public denials promising it's not them.

MIKE POMPEO:

I'll answer your other question directly because someone will say, "Gosh, he didn't answer the question." Yeah, it's not mine.

LARRY KUDLOW:

That is just nuts. Nuts. Of course I have nothing to do with this.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE:

And they ought to do the honorable thing, and they ought to resign.

CHUCK TODD:

Now, multiple sources describe the president's mood as volcanic.

FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF BILL DALEY:

They have to step back and ask themselves, "Why is this madness going on?"

CHUCK TODD:

Back on the campaign trail for Democrats, even former President Obama criticized the anonymous op-ed.

BARACK OBAMA:

They're not doing us a service by actively promoting 90% of the crazy stuff that's coming out of this White House and then saying, "Don't worry. We're preventing the other 10%."

CHUCK TODD:

The op-ed follows a new bombshell book by journalist Bob Woodward.

DONALD TRUMP:

This idiot Woodward who wrote this book, which is all fiction.

CHUCK TODD:

Like the anonymous op-ed, the book is filled with anecdotes of senior officials working to put up guardrails in the White House by keeping information and documents from Mr. Trump, including one incident where former economic advisor Gary Cohn describes stealing a letter off the president's desk to prevent him from withdrawing from a trade agreement with South Korea.

DONALD TRUMP:

I would fire a person so fast if he ever touches my desk. Snatched from my-- this Woodward book, it's a total fraud. These people. Libel laws. Libel laws.

CHUCK TODD:

And inside the White House, the president is only becoming more isolated, even from some of his senior staff.

SEN. BOB CORKER:

I think all of us have witnessed the fact, you know, that people who work around the president do work constantly to keep things in the middle of the road.

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me now is counselor to President Trump, Kellyanne Conway. Ms. Conway welcome back to Meet the Press.

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

Thank you Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me just start with -- to get you to respond to the central allegation both in Woodward's book and this anonymous op-ed that the president isn't fully in charge of his presidency. How do you respond to that?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

I totally disagree with that and, apparently, so do General Kelly, General Mattis and other people who have come out to push back on specific quotes attributed to them. I thought General Mattis’s denial this week was relevant for what he denied but also for what he affirmed. In denying that he would ever use contemptuous language against the elected commander or tolerate it in his presence in the very vast Pentagon that he oversees, he also affirmed his commitment to the successes on the -- in the defense and national security space that this president has achieved. General Mattis mentioned that the ISIS caliphate is all but gone. He mentioned that the, the pay raises, the first military pay raise in quite a while. That defense policies are received honorably and amicably on Capitol Hill. So, there are tremendous differences, tremendous gains. I think the president's consternation probably derives from the fact that we always have a handful of sources in all of -- this is like the fifth consecutive book where it, it's basically a few people --

CHUCK TODD:

How do you-- why should we take your word--

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

-- trying to curate their own images.

CHUCK TODD:

Why should we take your word for that? You say there's -- you said five books, I'll go with -- we had the Michael Wolff, we had Omarosa, we've had various reporting. Now you have Woodward and the anonymous op-ed. You say it's a few people, that's a lot of -- are you saying a few people are the source for all of these folks --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

Well, it’s a few people in each book looking to curate their -- no -- looking to curate their image. Here’s the one thing --

CHUCK TODD:

That's a lot of people when you start adding them up.

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

-- as somebody who, above board, met with Bob Woodward to figure out what the book was about or how I might help and came back and took that to the White House certainly as you we all know.

CHUCK TODD:

And did you stop the president from ever speaking to Bob Woodward? Why did you --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

I did not. I did not.

CHUCK TODD:

He seems to think -- there was a disagreement in that recording. He seems to at least indicate he wanted to speak with Bob Woodward and others stopped --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

And then he said this week it wouldn't have helped. It wouldn't have made a difference. People write the books they want.

CHUCK TODD:

But he did want to speak to him? You guys stopped --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

Well the president likes to speak everyone. And let me --

CHUCK TODD:

Did you prevent -- did you just not bring the request?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

I don’t know who ‘you guys’ is. No, no, no. I'm on tape saying exactly what is true which is I brought the request back and it was rejected.

CHUCK TODD:

To the president?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

I also have to believe --

CHUCK TODD:

To the president?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

I also have to believe --

CHUCK TODD:

To the president?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

-- that if you --

CHUCK TODD:

You're not answering whether you brought the request to the president.

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

No. I didn’t bring -- I didn’t bring the request to the president directly and the president says that I -- that she could have because she has direct access to me. But all that doesn't matter, this does. What the president said to Bob Woodward matters greatly. He said, you know, “Bob, I hope the book at least covers this boom economy, the labor, the wages, the growth, the manufacturing jobs, the construction.” I mean you can't deny -- and even some of these poison pen in an anonymous op-ed or the vitriol spewed all day long on some stations, can't really touch the corners all across this country, Chuck, where people are feeling the economic boom, where they feel safer and more prosperous. You can't touch it.

CHUCK TODD:

In fairness --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

He has given voice and visibility to folks who felt invisible and forgotten. They are better off because of his policies and that’s why I’m there. That’s what I care about.

CHUCK TODD:

In fairness, actually the unnamed person who wrote this, because it's obviously not anonymous to some people at The New York Times, the unnamed person did write "Don't get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture. Effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more. But these successes have come despite - not because of - the president's leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.”

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

Ok well that is the intersection of arrogance and ignorance and if this person really had the kind of courage and skills that, that some of us do, they'd come forward. They’d come -- you would have put them right in this chair today. You would have cleared out the whole roundtable if that person would come forward. I'm sure he or she would get a hero's welcome, kill the fatted calf, roll out the red. But why, Chuck, why? You're a longtime journalist, a responsible person. Would you have given anonymity? Would NBC have felt comfortable doing that if it turns out it's not a true senior administration official. Why are we imbuing credibility and authority to somebody who hasn't earned it. We can't run around all day saying facts and truth and transparency and accountability if were imbuing credibility to every anti-Trump messenger that comes along.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask this, what kind of West Wing is, is it that everybody is quietly -- Gary Cohn, look Bob Woodward --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

Everybody’s not doing that --

CHUCK TODD:

-- had receipts.

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

Excuse me, everybody is not doing that.

CHUCK TODD:

That there seems to be, okay --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

Everybody is not doing that.

CHUCK TODD:

-- more than a handful of people leaking anecdotes, venting their frustrations, taking away --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

You realize a lot of people have been forced out and fired. You realize other people left on their own accord. And it's tough to not be --

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask this -- why isn't there more --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

It's not for everyone. As the Vice President has said it’s not for everyone. I know that first hand. But it is for those of us --

CHUCK TODD:

How is it -- let me ask you this: who runs the staff? Who is in charge of the staff?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

The Chief of Staff.

CHUCK TODD:

Well then is the Chief of Staff doing his job if there are --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

Yes. He is.

CHUCK TODD:

-- so many rogue leakers running around --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

Put me down as pro-General Kelly as Chief of Staff. Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

No, I understand that, but at some point -- who are these people that don't listen to him?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

Don't listen to whom?

CHUCK TODD:

General Kelly.

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

General Kelly? These are people in books and in, I guess, anonymous op-eds -- I'm not even sure they know the president or know John Kelly -- it's not, it’s not clear to me, who are, I think, motivated by conceit and deceit. And that person is going to suss out himself or herself because cowards, like criminals, always tell the wrong person. They always confess their crime to the wrong person.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you trust everybody you work right now?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

Yes I do. And --

CHUCK TODD:

In that West Wing? Why

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

-- and I'll tell you what happened this week. I'll tell you what happened this week. The team tightened up even more because of all this. Folks who don't even work together because they deal in different portfolios, different issues. Folks who don't know each other that well. Some new, some who have been around as an unbroken thread from the campaign like me. We are tighter this week because we are so joined in our outrage. And, yes I hope the person, I hope we learn the identity of the person, but why elevate the person? I'm more interested in giving voice and visibility to folks who have felt forgotten for so many years --

CHUCK TODD:

Do you understand if the president doesn't trust the staff right now?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

I think the president --

CHUCK TODD:

Would you understand if he doesn't?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

I think the president should have real concerns about having large meetings where sometimes there are people included, or who are substituting for other people that maybe he doesn't know well. And I think ever president deserves to have a leak free --

CHUCK TODD:

Sure.

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

--ridiculous and anonymous op-ed free type of White House. But Chuck --

CHUCK TODD:

So are you going to fire leakers? Are you going to fire these leakers if you find out who they are?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

There are some leakers who are long gone. They're just leaking now to authors in books. So they're long gone. And actually, that's gotten much better. We've seen that. I think that President Trump deals best in, in smaller groups because he loves to hear dissenting opinions, disagreement among his staff. And then he'll have somebody who's for this and for that on different sides of the spectrum on a particular issue. But he knows he's the democratically elected commander and president who ultimately makes that decision. That's leadership. Somebody who surrounds himself or herself with people who disagree but who try to brief the president properly. But you're not covering all the good things. I mean, I just want to say one thing--

CHUCK TODD:

Let me --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

-- to you.

CHUCK TODD:

-- let me ask this. He called it treason, why is it treason? The op-ed writer?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

It depends. If this is somebody who, in fact, has access to national security information -- and the president's made clear, he doesn't want to be in a meeting with somebody who's dealing with Russia, China, North Korea who has access to that type of information and then is using it. How do we know what the person gave --

CHUCK TODD:

But what is it in the, what is it in the op-ed that would make it treason --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

What makes you think he --

CHUCK TODD:

-- would make it a leaking of a national security --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

What makes you think the four -- how are we secure, Chuck, that the four corners of any op-ed is all -- are all that somebody that -- who doesn't have the guts and the courage to come out and put their name to that op-ed -- how do we know they haven't promised other things? How do we know they're not taking other documents? We know that early on --

CHUCK TODD:

So then --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

-- early on it was leaked, the president's calls with the presidents of Mexico, and Australia, and --

CHUCK TODD:

But we're not at war with anybody. So you can't really accuse anybody of treason. We're not at war.

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

But the president is saying -- oh, come on. And people are openly talking about the 25th Amendment and impeachment. It’s such nonsense. Look at the spectacle on Capitol Hill this week. Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed later this, this month, and he will be seated before the October 1st Supreme Court term because that man is as qualified and dignified--

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

-- today as he was --

CHUCK TODD:

But I want to --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

-- when he was first nominated.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to go back --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

I know you want to avoid that. But that generation --

CHUCK TODD:

No. I’m not avoiding anything. We're going to be dealing --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

All this is noise ultimately in history. Brett Kavanaugh --

CHUCK TODD:

The president of the United States --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

-- will be there for decades.

CHUCK TODD:

The president of the United States wants the attorney general to investigate. What, what law was broken here that the attorney general needs to investigate?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

It depends. There could be, and there could not be. And so you don't know that, and I don't know that.

CHUCK TODD:

So he wants -- so he has ordered the attorney general --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

Nobody’s investigating an op-ed.

CHUCK TODD:

-- to stop -- has he ordered the investigation of who wrote this op-ed?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

I won't -- I won't talk about that. He has said publicly that he thinks that we should find out who this person is. I don't believe in giving this person so much elevation and oxygen --

CHUCK TODD:

But you're not, so he's --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

-- but we all want to know who it is.

CHUCK TODD:

So it's possible he's given an order to the Department of Justice to investigate this?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

He, he wi -- he has said publicly what he feels. You can roll the tape. He said it several times, that he would like --

CHUCK TODD:

I understand that. Should it be taken, should the Attorney General take it as an order?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

If the Attorney General, the Department of Justice and FBI feels like they have oversight over a matter like this then they will make that decision.

CHUCK TODD:

Do, does the --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

It's an independent agency.

CHUCK TODD:

Does the president believe they have oversight of this?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

What the president believes is that nobody wants to cover what America sees and feels, because of his leadership. There's no denying -- there either are or are not two hundred and one thousand jobs created, yes. Wages and labor and growth up. Yes, yes, yes. We were told there was going to be a global recession. President Obama preened around, “What's he gonna do with a magic wand, he's gonna create jobs?” And he's doing it without a magic wand. He's doing it because he reduced taxes where President Obama raised them during the recession. Because he deregulated where President Obama added to those regulations. Because he doesn't believe in some phony red line in Syria where we have a humanitarian crisis. This President responded swiftly and decisively against Assad when he gassed his own people not once but twice. We know that there is a totally --

CHUCK TODD:

Did he ever ask --

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

-- different leadership in Washington.

CHUCK TODD:

Did he ever even in jest say to Defense Secretary Mattis, "Kill the guy"?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

I certainly never heard that. And General Mattis says --

CHUCK TODD:

It's possible he said it in jest?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

Oh no, no. General Mattis has denied what is in that book and is attributed to him. And I want everybody to read his denial and his affirmation. And there's a reason that people like General Mattis and General Kelly are serving this president. They don't need to be here. They much -- they very much believe in the agenda, in a strong military and peace through strength, in trying to bring denuclearization. Getting out of the wrong-headed Iran deal. Benjamin Netanyahu in his Rosh Hashanah message is crediting this president for being a great partner. This president kept a promise of -- kicked out a Nazi. Kicked out a Nazi that other presidents refused to.

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

And he moved the embassy to Jerusalem, keeping the promise of many presidents. Thanks for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

That was -- wow. You even had wrapping up. I thank you. Kellyanne Conway, we'll leave it there. Thank you for coming on to share your views. I appreciate it. Joining me now from the other side of the aisle is Democratic Whip, Dick Durbin, who sits on the Judiciary Committee. Senator Durbin, welcome to Meet The Press.

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Good to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start quickly on this issue of the op-ed and the president. What should Congress' role be -- if there is an unelected cabal of people thwarting the will of the people and trying to stop the president from doing things that he campaigned on doing, for instance in ending a trade agreement with South Korea? What is the role of the legislative branch in dealing with a troubling -- potentially troubling situation like that?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Well, of course there's a formal role. Congress, under the Constitution has its own authority. But it is an authority that is exercised in the extreme: the 25th Amendment, the question of impeachment. But I think there's a more important role for Congress to play and especially the President's own party. This is a matter of great seriousness and gravity. We should not be dismissing it. It isn't like his blizzard of bizarre tweets. We are talking about consistent reporting over and over again about unpredictable, unprepared, unstable behavior by this president. In a matter of great national security and defense can we trust this president to make the proper decision, to make a thoughtful decision--

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

These are things that I think should be addressed by his own party. But instead we hear the silence of the lambs.

CHUCK TODD:

What--

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Basically quiet. Have nothing to say when it comes to these events, except for a few, Bob Corker's one of them, who's stepped up and said a few things.

CHUCK TODD:

What concerns you more, that there's an unelected cabal or the reports that come out from these anonymous sources. I mean, doesn't the President deserve to have a staff that doesn't, not just disparage him this way at times, but stops him from actually doing the job that he believes he was elected to do?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Well, of course. But you have to ask yourself, "What kind of circumstances in the White House would even give rise to this possibility?" Under President Obama, eight years without an indictment, eight years without a major scandal. You know, they had their problems. Every presidency does. But nothing that went to the heart of the question about whether we have a dysfunctional White House. And if we do, it's inescapable that the President bears responsibility. He's the one who gathered this team. He's the one who tries to keep them together, and yet there is genuine fear, obviously, among some of them that his behavior is going to result in some terrible things for America.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me move to the Kavanaugh hearings. You're on the Judiciary Committee. You were there for all of it. Is it problematic to you that it's possible the hearings are going to be known more for the Democratic and Republican senators infighting than any of the questioning of Judge Kavanaugh?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Well, I can tell you that Judge Kavanaugh, in an earlier life, used to school judicial nominees of what to say and not say before the Judiciary Committee, and it was pretty obvious in his performance there. I mean, there were practiced evasions and mind-numbing repetition of answers. He knew how to get through two or three days of questioning without--

CHUCK TODD:

Is that on him, Senator Durbin, or on Democratic senators not asking enough questions or not staying focused only on this issue of Roe, for instance?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Well, I can tell you we were focused on Roe, we were focused on the Affordable Care Act and denying health insurance coverage to millions of Americans. We tried to go after the fundamental issue and the one I think is the most important at this moment in history and that is what this man, Brett Kavanaugh, would do on the Supreme Court if he's confronted with a question involving the White House, the Mueller investigation --

CHUCK TODD:

You believe that is more important --

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

We cannot ignore that. We shouldn't--

CHUCK TODD:

Senator, that's interesting. You believe that is more important than the Roe issue and the abortion issue?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Well, I think they're all of importance. But the issue of the moment, clearly, is this situation with the Mueller investigation. And the important element that we shouldn't overlook is that Kavanaugh has been explicit, explicit in saying the president should not be subject to investigation or prosecution during his term in office. He even went further, in an amazing statement, saying this president could deem things unconstitutional even if the courts found otherwise. I mean, this is an amazing ceding of authority to the Executive Branch, which you don't expect to hear from someone aspiring to the Supreme Court.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you about something Former President Obama said about the rising energy on the left with progressives. He actually issued a bit of a warning to progressives, and I'm curious of your reaction to it. Here it is.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

There are well-meaning folks, passionate about social justice, who think things have gotten so bad we have to do the same things to the Republicans that they do to us, adopt their tactics.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

And I want to connect it to a story in Politico from Friday under the headline, "’Harris and Booker Borrow Trump's Tactics in Supreme Court Fracas.' Floating an incendiary charge with little to no factual basis can draw the spotlight and force the opposition to prove a negative. In the run-up to 2020, it isn't the details that resonate with base voters, it's the show." Fair critique?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

I can tell you this. A recent book, How Democracies Die, talked about, you know, beyond the obvious, beyond the values of America, beyond the Constitution, there's mutual tolerance and forbearance that keep this democracy on track. And I think what the president has said and what I agree with, and I think my colleagues, including Senators Booker and Harris would agree with, is that we need to be more civil to one another. We need to obviously do our job, but at the end of the day, we need to have a focus on the fact that this country moves forward when we do it in a positive way, with mutual tolerance and forbearance. And I will tell you, we have not seen that from this president, from the beginning of his campaign through his presidency.

CHUCK TODD:

But the whole, "Fight fire with fire," you would tell your Democratic friends, you know, "Don't do that." I mean, look, Senator Harris on Wednesday night implied there was something nefarious about Brett Kavanaugh and the Mueller probe. And then the next day it was, like, "Nope. Nothing to see here."

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Well, I can tell you what she said. She had heard, what she felt-- from a credible source, that Brett Kavanaugh had had some contact with this law firm. She asked him. He said, "I don't know all the members of the law firm." He was caught rather flat-footed. By the next day he came in and categorically denied it, and she said, "That's the end of it." You know, that to me is a responsible way to ask the question and to accept the answer as delivered under oath. I think she did the right thing. What happens next though is that we need to get into the issues of the moment and try to find ourselves away from the personalities.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, thanks for coming on and sharing your views. Much appreciated, sir.

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Quick programming note: Savannah Guthrie will interview Bob Woodward tomorrow morning on The Today Show. When we come back, the White House dysfunction. And later, the one big thing that is likely to determine which party wins the midterm elections. Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, panel is here. Democratic pollster and NBC political analyst, Cornell Belcher, Danielle Pletka, senior vice president at the American Enterprise Institute, NBC News correspondent, Katy Tur, and Erick Erickson, a WSB radio host and editor of the conservative website The Resurgent. Welcome, all. Katy Tur, did we actually learn anything new this week about how Donald Trump runs the White House?

KATY TUR:

No, we didn't. And this is the thing about that op-ed. It only underscores what was said in the Woodward book, which only underscored reporting that many outlets had done, including NBC News, which only underscored the themes we heard in the Omarosa book and the Fire And Fury book and the same thing we knew during the campaign.This idea that suddenly people are worried about the president is just not new. They have been worried about him since the campaign. I had countless conversations with sources during the campaign, who went on to work in the White House, who would say things like, "This man is not fit for office, this man is dangerous, this man is going to get us into World War III." And those people went on to work in the White House and then started talking about how great he was. So this is-- What they say publicly and what they say privately, there's always been a push and pull like that since the beginning.

CHUCK TODD:

We did put together a scroll of all the deniers of writing the op-ed and we'll put that over there, Erick Erickson, because we know the president does keep score.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

He has been following who has put out statements, who had their press person put out a statement instead of them putting out a statement. Oh, by the way, Nikki Haley decided to write her own op-ed in the Washington Post, saying that--

CORNELL BELCHER:

Which apparently has caused some controversy in the White House.

ERICK ERICKSON:

Yes, yes.

CHUCK TODD:

I would say this. I feel like we've learned a lot more about everybody else in the White House this week, not about the president.

ERICK ERICKSON:

I think that's a fair statement. And my working theories is like Murder On The Orient Express. Each of the deniers contributed a sentence to the op-ed.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, that has been my theory.

KATY TUR:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

It's one person, but it's speaking for a cabal.

ERICK ERICKSON:

It's speaking for others, yes. You know, I think that's true. But I think there's a misperception out there that President Trump's voters don't believe this. I think it's actually they don't care. He is beating all the--

CHUCK TODD:

Yes.

ERICK ERICKSON:

--people who they've wanted to beat on both sides, it's not just against the Democrats. They've put him in the White House because he spoke for them, he gave them voice, they don't care about this. And we can obsess over it--

CHUCK TODD:

They almost think it's funny.

ERICK ERICKSON:

Yes, they do.

CHUCK TODD:

Yes, they almost are amused by it, aren't they?

ERICK ERICKSON:

They like that Washington is so upside down because they feel like Washington has turned them upside down.

CORNELL BELCHER:

You know, listening to Kellyanne I actually got afraid. I was fearful for the first time. I don't want to be partisan and go after the White House on this because, God help us, Chuck, if we actually have a national crisis. Because that's keystone cops over there, right?

And such dysfunction and a Congress that sits by and twirls its thumbs. I'm actually fearful for our country that we have this level of dysfunction in the executive branch. Because if we do have a national crisis, how do we deal with it if that's over at the White House?

CHUCK TODD:

Danielle, that has been the split personality in my head about this. This is disturbing on one hand because an elected cabal. They're also painting a picture of somebody who's not fit for office. There's no good evaluation here.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Well, there's no good outcome. But I agree with Katy, I don't think we learned anything new about the White House. There's always the exact same theme, which is it's not what happens, it's how Donald Trump reacts to what happens that causes the trouble.And that is really the challenge every White House, I don't care what people say, every White House has had officials in it that have sought do something different than what the president says. That's not the problem here. The problem is how Donald Trump reacts.

CHUCK TODD:

Does the president need to assert publicly, though, that he's in charge? I mean, look at the number of people that criticize. I want to put this up here, the chief of staff is quoted as calling him an idiot, the defense security says he has the understanding of the fifth or sixth grader.

A former economic advisor calls him a professional liar and, of course, Rex Tillerson, the former Secretary of state used, "F-ing moron." President Obama had to fire Stanley McChrystal when he was- his staff was humiliating Vice President Biden. There was a sense of the commander in chief has to assert himself. Doesn't the president of the United States need to assert himself there?

KATY TUR:

Who's he going to hire to put in those places?

CHUCK TODD:

In this case? It's the 25th floor of the Trump Tower.

KATY TUR:

I mean, seriously, this is- the reason why those ring true is because we've been hearing the same thing over and over for years now. These are not new terms, it's not new to say he has the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader. We heard that during the campaign. We heard that before he was running for the White House. If he fires John Kelly, if he fires his members of his cabinet, there are a very limited number of people who are willing to come in and take that place, other than the 25th floor of Trump Tower. There's a very limited number of people who would be qualified for that job to take those spots.

ERICK ERICKSON:

And it's part of the problem here, dealing with (UNINTEL). Republicans like to tell themselves this is a deep state conspiracy against the president, it's actually Republicans against the president, Republicans Donald Trump put there because the people that had surrounded him early on weren't competent to do those jobs. You've got the most competent people willing to do the job in place, you can't afford to lose those people.

CORNELL BELCHER:

I’m actually going to be-- Some people are attacking the anonymous as not-heroes. I'm actually going to be a Democrat who says I'm very happy that they're there and they're doing this. I am, yes, disturbed by what appears to be a soft coup, right? Our democracy isn't perfect, it's the best thing going, but not it's perfect. And clearly, something happened-- was a mistake. And I am thankful that we have adults in the room who will check the worst of this president. I know it sounds odd, but I am grateful for it but I'm also terrified.

CHUCK TODD:

But this is a slippery slope, Danielle.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

The problem here is what you just said, which is you're afraid and yet you're glad these guys are there. You know, if we are willing to accept that Kelly and Mattis and Pompeo and others, John Bolton, are responsible adults who have good morals and good moral standing and are here to do the right thing and serve their country, then we don't need to be afraid. And I think that's the right assessment, we don't need to be afraid. But the person who wrote this has no moral character.

CHUCK TODD:

But I'm afraid.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Well, you can be afraid and I'll look after you, I promise.

KATY TUR:

So here's the thing, here's the thing, there really is a lot of concern among many members of the administration, senior members in the administration, then I think there is a responsibility to democracy, period, to come out and say what that concern is and to put your name on it and maybe to do it in a group so it's not just one person. If they are as senior as they say they are, then that's--

DANIELLE PLETKA:

But that's what the 25th amendment is.

KATY TUR:

--well, Ben Sasse told Hugh Hewitt the other day--

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

KATY TUR:

--that this is nothing that is new.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

KATY TUR:

He has heard these same things around with White House officials now for two to three times a week. I mean, it's not just reporters saying it.

CHUCK TODD:

You're right about it, yeah.

KATY TUR:

It's Ben Sasse saying it.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

CORNELL BELCHER:

You know, the problem is I talked to a good friend of mine who does work for the president, loves the president, but says, "This guy, whoever wrote this, has made their lives extremely difficult now." Because they've done this the whole time, the president suspected it, but now he knows, between this and the Woodward book, he knows that it's going to make their job even harder.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

ERICK ERICKSON:

But if you do come out, and I hear you on that and I agree to a certain extent. But the moment that person comes out they're going to destroy that person. I would rather have that person--

KATY TUR:

It shouldn't be one person, it should be many people, and then I think that--

ERICK ERICKSON:

I think that--

KATY TUR:

--I mean, if you're really concerned it should be everybody doing it at the same time.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, boy, that will only launch a whole bunch of (UNINTEL) here. Let's pause it here. When we come back, you brought up Ben Sasse's name, I'm going to let the man speak himself. Republican Ben Sasse of Nebraska is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Republicans in Congress have been notably restrained in their criticism of President Trump, even when they've been critical in private. One Republican though, who has been willing to speak out at times, is Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska. And Senator Sasse joins me now from Nebraska. Welcome, sir.

SEN. BEN SASSE:

Morning.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me just start --

SEN. BEN SASSE:

Thanks, welcome to Nebraska.

CHUCK TODD:

Yes, sir. Let me just start with asking you an extension of a question that Hugh Hewitt asked you the other day about the anonymous essay. Because your initial reaction, frankly, was similar to mine. You're like, "I don't know how to talk about it yet, I'm still processing it." But you also noted it's very similar to what you hear from about two-thirds of the senior people at the White House. So you've had a couple of days to digest, what do you make of it and what bothers you more: the unnamed cabal of people thwarting the will of the people or the allegations themselves?

SEN. BEN SASSE:

Yeah, I don't, I don’t think that either-or works because there are lots more things than just those to be worried about. The thing I'm most worried about is that our political culture isn't focused on any long-term stuff. And so the president was elected in 2016 because he wanted to disrupt everything, and frankly, a lot needed to be disrupted, but the question is, disruption toward what end? So, I guess I've reflected more on the op-ed in the week since it came out or however many days it was. And I, I don't understand the morality of the action, frankly. I don't know why you would do it. If you're worried that the president is too impulsive and paranoid, then how can this op-ed do anything other than drive more paranoia? But to your, your point, yeah, I mean we hear, those of us who are trying to help the White House, and the president has surrounded himself with a number of very good people doing good work and trying to persuade him to take a longer-term vision, I, I think those people are doing good work by trying to help the president think a little farther down the road. Why you'd write about it in this form, I, I don't get the morality of that.

CHUCK TODD:

When you hear about Gary Cohn yanking a, a, a piece of paper off the president's desk to prevent him from pulling out of the South Korea, of a South Korean trade agreement, I know where you are on the issue of trade, so you may personally be, "Oh, good," but the president campaigned on ripping up trade deals. This was, this was what he promised. How, where are you on that?

SEN. BEN SASSE:

Yeah. So I, I think we need to be talking about why there's so much job disruption because there is more than our grandparents knew and the people knew a hundred years ago. And there's going to be even more in the future. But it's not because of trade, it's because of automation.

So I would like the president to understand that trade is good, trade helps producers, trade helps consumers. But individual advisers don't get to substitute their judgment for the president's judgment. What you'd like is the president to put a chief of staff in place to lead a policy process where a president can, in a dispassionate way, deliberate about lots of information and lots of advice and wisdom and counsel, and then he can make a long-term decision. So one adviser shouldn't be substituting his or her wisdom for the president’s, but there should be a process by which the president gets some counsel and it feels like neither of those things are happening in the right way right now.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think it's important for the president to publicly stabilize his staffing situation in the White House? Because it certainly looks a little dysfunctional to the public.

SEN. BEN SASSE:

You know, I don't have any desire to beat the president up, but it's pretty clear that this White House is a reality show, soap opera presidency. I mean, the drama is, the drama of Omarosa and the drama of Cohen and the drama of Manafort and the drama of the Woodward quotes and the drama of these op-eds. What you'd like is the president to not worry so much about the short-term of staffing, but the long-term of vision casting for America, pull us together as a people, help us deliberate about where we should go, and then a build a team of great big cause, low ego people around you. Right now, it feels like there's just way too much drama every day and that distracts us from the longer-term stuff we should be focused on together.

CHUCK TODD:

You said something that really rang true with me when you said the following on Fox on Friday, take a listen.

[TAPE BEGINS]

SEN. BEN SASSE:

The Congress is a broken institution. We don't deliberate about long-term things. People want, you all have an important role to help narrate what's happening in American life. But Senators shouldn't aspire to be pundits all day every day.

[TAPE ENDS]

CHUCK TODD:

Well, Meghan McArdle wrote the following about you and said, "Sasse has precisely diagnosed the problem. But American politics will not recover unless the doctor is prepared to take his own advice. For Ben Sasse, ironically, has become well-known for his public statements on character and constitutional order while doing relatively little on the legislative front." Have you found the Senate that you can't do what you thought you could do when you ran for the Senate? Is it because the body itself is dysfunctional?

SEN. BEN SASSE:

I think there's dysfunction in both of these main two branches, right? The legislative branch and the executive branch. I'm proud that we got a piece of legislation passed last month that I authored on the Cyber Solarium Commission, which is to try to upgrade American military planning for the cyber age. And so that kind of stuff is really important and it should come out of the legislature. But frankly, to really focus the attention of the American public on it, you need the bully pulpit of the White House. And again, I want to go back to the fact that the president has put a lot of good people in around him. General Paul Nakasone, the head of Cyber Command and the NSA, is a really thoughtful, long-term thinker and kudos to the president for promoting him. But we need both the Congress and the presidency to be focused on helping the American people understand the future of cyber war. Again, I'm glad I got a piece of legislation done on that last month. But the bigger thing we need is a discourse that's partly led by the president about stuff that's ten years in the future, not ten hours in the future. And right now, most of D.C. is just addicted to short-term media cycles. And frankly, we need fewer people in Congress who are that obsessed with tomorrow and that obsessed with their own incumbency and more obsessed with the future their kids and grandkids are going to grow up in.

CHUCK TODD:

One of the things you said in the wake of the memorials honoring John McCain, you said, "You know, the best thing to do would be to really pass some meaningful, tough ethics legislation." And I'm curious, we looked up, and right now, probably the most comprehensive ethics legislation happens to belong to Elizabeth Warren. And I throw it up here and I'm curious what you think of it. She proposes a lifetime ban on lobbying from former members of Congress, presidents, and agency heads, a ban on senior government officials from owning or trading individual stock, a ban, a permanent ban on lobbyist donations to Congress, and all elected officials and candidates for federal office be required to disclose their tax returns. It sounds very similar to some of the rhetoric you were espousing on this.

SEN. BEN SASSE:

Yeah, it's interesting. So I'm the second or third most conservative person in the Senate by the voting record, but I'm not particularly partisan. I don't care very much about these two parties because I don't think either of them have a long-term vision. But there is a number of things here that Senator Warren and I would agree on. I have a piece of ethics legislation I'm going to be introducing that also says that all tax returns of presidential and vice presidential candidates should be disclosed. We shouldn’t have any of this near-insider trading stuff happening by members of Congress. We shouldn't have cabinet officials have their spouses raising funds from foreign governments and foreign sources. We should have a much longer ban or cooling off period on former lawmakers going to lobby. So, Senator Warren and I are about as far apart on the political spectrum as you can get on most things, but on a number of ethics reform issues, I think she and I might well see eye to eye. There is a crisis of public trust in this country, where people across the political spectrum don't think they can trust their lawmakers to ever really want to go back to our Mount Vernons, to go back to where we come from, to go live among our neighbors and coach Little League. But instead, people run for office to want to get D.C. to become lobbyists and get rich while in office. That's a crisis and that should stop. So, Senator Warren and I should, should talk more on this topic.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. And very quickly, you, you floated on Twitter that you sometimes thinking about, you sometimes think about dropping your party, that you don't always feel like a Republican, you said it again just now. How likely is it that you would leave the Republican Party?

SEN. BEN SASSE:

You know, I've said for, I’ve been in office for, what, three and a half years? And I’ve said since I got there, I conceive of myself as an independent conservative who happens to caucus with the Republicans. And I would like both of these parties to be healthier and be competing to be better than the other one amongst a bunch of good ideas, instead of trying to be less bad than the other one and always says how you're anti, anti, anti, anti. It's just not big enough. But I'm committed to the party of Lincoln and Reagan as long as we can try to reform it and get it back to being a party that's about the universal dignity of all Americans and the First Amendment as the beating heart of American life. But right now, that's not what the party talks about very much.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Ben Sasse, who caucuses with the Republicans from Nebraska, a conservative independent from Nebraska, I'll use your description there, sorry about those Huskers yesterday, but they look like they're coming back. Thanks for coming on.

SEN. BEN SASSE:

We'll be back soon. Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, Nike and Colin Kaepernick. It turns out, Nike may have known what it was doing when it just did it.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, Data Download time. Former 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who launched the NFL's anthem kneeling protest against racial injustice, was announced this week as the new face of Nike's "Just Do It" ad campaign. This sparked outrage on the right, with folks taking to social media to burn their Nike products.

There were attacks from President Trump directly and predictions of doom after Nike's stock price initially dropped about $3 per share. But a closer look shows Nike may actually understand something critics don't about its consumers.

According to data from Simmons Research, Democrats are 14 percent more likely than the average American to buy Nike shoes. Republicans are 12 percent less likely. African Americans are 56 percent more likely to buy Nike than Americans on the whole. Whites are 14 percent less likely. And Americans aged 18 to 34 are 37 percent more likely to buy Nike footwear, a group also more likely to support the kneeling protest. In 2018, where everything seems to be political, some voters are fine with companies entering the fray.

Data from the research firm Sprout Social shows that 78 percent of self-described liberals say it's important for brands to take a stand on social or political issues. And while not as high, a majority of conservatives, 52 percent, say the same thing.

So despite the outrage, the numbers suggest, number one, Nike knows it's consumer base is young, diverse and liberal. Maybe they did a little research first? In fact, online sales for Nike spiked 31 percent this week. I think they did their research. This is a group more likely to view Kaepernick as a cultural icon than a villain. When we come back, the midterm elections are coming up, and there's only thing that matters.

ANNOUNCER:

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

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 are less than 60 days from election day. I would say the big sort of development of the week, the conventional wisdom development of the week is, "Hey, oh by the way, the Senate might be in play and that might matter more anyway." But this morning, Mick Mulvaney, who has 17 jobs in this White House, including budget director and the Consumer Financial Protection board also did some fundraising last night, an audio that apparently every major news organization got their hands on. And he said the following about the midterms in general. He was talking about the Texas senate race and some other senate races. And he goes, "Look, you may hate the president, and there's a lot of people who do, but they certainly like the way the country is going," adding about voters, "If you figure out a way to subtract from that equation how they feel about the president, the numbers go up dramatically." So there you go, Dany. How do you do that?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

I think he's going to lose his 17 jobs at some point.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Is he anonymous?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Wow. I mean, you know, out of the mouths of babes. This is absolutely true, people are happy with the direction the country is taking, people don't listen to the president. But for those who listen to the president, they are upset by what they hear. Right, it would be awesome if we could just subtract the president out of the whole equation in the mid-terms.

CHUCK TODD:

My executive producer's a big fan of the Buffalo Bills, they could beat the Patriots if they could just figure out how to get rid of Bill Belichik and Tom Brady.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Well, look, midterms are historically referendums on the president, right? And you do have a president with historical low numbers. A number that I think was interesting, missing in the Washington Post that we didn't talk about at all, really, was you now have a 49% of plurality of Americans who think that Congress should start impeachment now, right? And you have 63% that want Congress's check on the president. I mean, the president is front and center in all these races. But what's interesting is Democrats aren't running ads around the president. If you look at the (UNINTEL PHRASE) competitive house seats they're not running about the president.

CHUCK TODD:

I don't think they need to.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Exactly, we don't need to.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. By the way, Josh Holmes was kind of funny. It was sort of almost like a point, counterpoint. He didn't realize that he did write about Trump, or said this in the Post, as quoted, "His presidency is everywhere in your ability to nuance and message, what doesn't directly involve him is drowned out entirely by a complete avalanche of news and punditry in (UNINTEL) of what the president is doing." You have to run with him or not.

ERICK ERICKSON:

Yeah, you absolutely do.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

ERICK ERICKSON:

And Republicans right now are thinking, "There could be maybe a large blue wave in already blue areas, the numbers seem to be shifting." And if they're shifting as dramatically as it looks, that's going to impact the Senate, which Republicans have kind of said, "You know what, we can compartmentalize, this isn't a problem for us." Well, now it's looking like it's becoming a problem. I will say this about the future of the Trump presidency. Republicans really dislike losers. And after four years of saying, "Barack Obama, you caused the Democratic party to be sent back to the late 1800s, if that happens to the Republicans now you're going to have a wakeup call."

CHUCK TODD:

You brought up President Obama, his role, what do you make of it?

KATY TUR:

Well, I think it's interesting. I mean, there is the talk that is he going to fire up Republicans, are Republicans going to want to go out because Obama's on the campaign trail?

CHUCK TODD:

For those that didn't, Erick is nodding up yes--

KATY TUR:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

--a big yes over here.

KATY TUR:

But I do think what the Democratic party needs is a leader and somebody who's going to inspire younger voters, somebody's who's going to inspire minority voters, those who have not turned out in big numbers for the Democrats since he's left office.Is that going to happen with him not on the ballot? That remains to be seen. We know that Obama wasn't so great at running in the midterms while he was president for his own party. But I do think they need someone to rally around. Because right now what you're seeing, although you have 2020 Democrats going out and there's all that talk about Booker and Warren and Kamala Harris, et cetera, nobody is standing up and taking that mantle and so far he's the only one.

CORNELL BELCHER:

And look, this is the thing, when you look at these swing districts right now, he's 15, 20 points more popular than Donald Trump, right?

CHUCK TODD:

President Obama?

CORNELL BELCHER:

President Obama is, right? And when you look at sort of, look, we want our (UNINTEL PHRASE) sort of a teamer, but we won back to back majorities by winning the moderate middle swath of America, right? Yes, we (UNINTEL PHRASE) young people and minorities and Democrats need that. But when you look at these suburban districts, that moderate middle swatch of America, there's no better Democrat out there that can speak to them.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

But you don't want to--

CHUCK TODD:

Not a (UNINTEL PHRASE).

DANIELLE PLETKA:

--you don't want to remind people. Donald Trump actually beat an outgoing Democratic party, he beat the memory of Barack Obama. If you want to make this election about Donald Trump and Barack Obama, I'm not sure that that's going to help the Democrats.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Oh, I would take that all day long.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

I'm going to pause to say I think the question of '16, was it about Obama or was it about Hillary?

KATY TUR:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

And that is something there. Anyway--

CORNELL BELCHER:

(UNINTEL PHRASE) on the ballot.

CHUCK TODD:

--that's all we have for today, thanks for watching, we'll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet The Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *

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