WASHINGTON — Ohio's Republican Governor John Kasich on Sunday tried to shut down reports that he is considering an independent presidential bid in 2020 with Colorado’s Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper.
“Look, ‘Kasich-Hickenlooper,’ first of all, you couldn’t pronounce it and second of all, you couldn’t fit it on a bumper sticker,” Kasich said on Sunday’s “Meet The Press.”
When host Chuck Todd pointed out that those words weren’t a denial, Kasich flatly said, “the answer is ‘no,’ okay.”
Kasich was the last Republican to drop out of the presidential race in 2016 before Donald Trump clinched the nomination.
The Ohio governor, however, has not ruled out launching a bid for president again.
Kasich and Hickenlooper have done multiple public appearances together urging Congress to adopt a bipartisan approach to health care legislation, and their staffs have been working on trying to come up with a bipartisan proposal to improve the nation’s health insurance exchanges.
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“Because Hickenlooper and I work together, cynics out there say, 'Well, they want something,'" Kasich said. "Because we want to stabilize health care and make sure that poor people have something people assume there's a motive. You know, sometimes people actually do things because they're trying to help somebody. And when we do that everybody ought not to say, 'Well, what's in it for them?' This growing cynicism eats at the fabric of the spirit of our country."
Hickenlooper on Friday also attempted to shut the rumors down, writing on Twitter, “Odd & funny that people expect a political marriage when 2 people from different parties work together... Kasich is dapper & worldly, but knows nada about brewing beer. Loving the attention on our bipartisan work... but no ulterior motive. Not a unity ticket, just working with a new friend on hard compromises.”
Kasich on Sunday also criticized President Trump’s decision to pardon controversial former Arizona Sherrif Joe Arpaio.
“I wouldn't have done it this way,” he said. “And it absolutely should be out of bounds for somebody to use that as some sort of a political wedge. It appears as though that's what it was. It's not the way I operate here with the power to be able to give people second chance. But the president has that power. I don't agree with what he did.”
Kasich, also a former member of Congress, however stopped short of saying Congress should take on an official role in scrutinizing the pardon.
“I don't know,” he said. “I just think that we just keep grinding this down,” adding that he wants to see House Speaker Paul Ryan focus on things like health care, entitlement reform, and the debt limit.
Arpaio has a long and contentious history in Arizona, and was convicted of criminal contempt for ignoring a court order to not detain immigrants solely on the suspicion that they could illegally be in the country. He was also there when Trump’s campaign started taking off in the summer of 2015, appearing at one of Trump’s first large rallies of the campaign in Phoenix.
The Ohio governor on Sunday also took aim at the Democratic Party, saying he can't figure out what they stand for.
"They have a golden opportunity, right, to be able to come in and win elections," Kasich said. "But they can't figure out anything other than the fact that they don't like Donald Trump. I mean, they better figure out what they are. What's happened to the Democrat Party? It's almost lost its soul."
Ohio's Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown attempted to counter that argument on "Meet The Press," saying that he understands press coverage of divides within the Democratic Party over their focus, but adding that he also believes people in his state know and support his position on issues like trade.
Brown claims he's open to working with President Trump on the trade issue, but believes Trump has "not really done anything on it yet except his speeches.”
The Ohio senator did call U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer the "best appointee in the Trump administration" and said that they speak at least every two weeks about things like NAFTA renegotiation.
"Two days after the election, as disheartened as I was, and my friends were and so many of us in Ohio were, I called the president's head of his transition, and offered to help him renegotiate NAFTA," Brown said Sunday. "Offered him to help reinforce trade rules, especially for steel. I asked to talk to him about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. So I’ve been there all along."
Kailani Koenig covers politics and national affairs as a producer for MSNBC and NBC News.