ROBERT COSTA: Can President Trump and Speaker Pelosi hold their parties together? I’m Robert Costa. Welcome to Washington Week.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) Congress has the freedom to pass this resolution and I have the duty to veto it.
MR. COSTA: President Trump vetoes legislation to end the national emergency. Twelve Senate Republicans break, joining Democrats in delivering a bipartisan rebuke.
SENATOR ROB PORTMAN (R-OH): (From video.) Declaring a national emergency to access different funds sets a dangerous new precedent.
SENATOR MIKE LEE (R-UT): (From video.) This is not about the president. But this law, Mr. President, is wrong.
MR. COSTA: Is a rebellion brewing among Republicans? Plus –
HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): (From video.) I don’t think we should impeach a president for political reasons and I don’t think we should not impeach a president for political reasons. But you have to be ironclad in terms of your facts.
MR. COSTA: What’s behind the speaker’s strategy? Answers and analysis, next.
ANNOUNCER: This is Washington Week. Once again, from Washington, moderator Robert Costa.
MR. COSTA: Good evening. We begin with the tragic story that has the world’s attention: 49 people killed and at least 20 wounded inside mosques in New Zealand. The attacks unfolded in the city of Christchurch. Police have charged an Australian man with murder. The gunman published a manifesto with racist and anti-immigrant screeds.
Joining me tonight, Bob Woodward, author of Fear: Inside the Trump White House and associate editor at The Washington Post; Margaret Brennan, moderator of Face the Nation and senior foreign affairs correspondent for CBS News; Susan Davis, congressional reporter for NPR; and Jake Sherman, senior writer for POLITICO and co-editor of Playbook.
President Trump expressed his condolences on Friday, and when asked by a reporter if he believed white nationalism was a rising threat he said no and called it, quote, “a small group of people with very, very serious problems,” end quote. Margaret, as you report on foreign affairs, is the president correct in his assessment of the threat of white nationalism globally?
MARGARET BRENNAN: It is not a problem to be minimized. I mean, even in this country law enforcement and the FBI has about 900 or so domestic terror investigations; of that, a fraction are linked to white nationalist groups, but there is a concern that the rhetoric and the actions of some of these groups has only increased in terms of becoming more hardcore. Around the world, though, this is something we have seen that is in many ways – you know, people often blame a lot of this on the president because he has used to his political advantage playing on anti-immigrant sentiment. But I would argue he’s a symptom, not a cause of some of this. If you go back to even out of the European debt crisis the rise of right-wing groups in Greece and other countries in Europe really playing off of this wave of migration that is only increasing economic disparities, there’s anger; there’s dislocation there. You heard Hillary Clinton in 2018 even talk about it and say that Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany was dealing with a weakening of democracy in that country because of the migration crisis. I don’t want to give too much credit to this – the theory of this, you know, 28-year-old killer by any means, but in terms of white nationalist sentiment it is on the rise. It is becoming even more mainstream, and I would argue particularly in the case of anti-Muslim rhetoric it is accepted in a way that you wouldn’t accept hate speech about other groups. If you just even look at President Trump campaigning on banning an entire religious group from entering this country – Muslims and the Muslim ban – it’s hard to accept that if you filled in the blank with another religious group that that would be in any way tolerated as rhetoric. So it was – I thought it was significant that the national security adviser used the term “terrorism;” the president did not.
MR. COSTA: Bob, that’s what the national security adviser used in his terms, but what about inside of New Zealand? What has been the response inside of that country?
BOB WOODWARD: It was interesting to see the prime minister, a very strong woman, say, look, we are going to change our gun control laws. And so it’s going to be interesting to see – it’s going to be important to see if that becomes a model or a precedent not only in New Zealand, but elsewhere to break this deadlock, this – I mean, the insanity, the vileness of this kind of attack, you know, it just – it, as they say, shocks the conscience.
MR. COSTA: We’ll keep an eye on that and keep reporting on all of that. Our hearts are with everyone in New Zealand tonight.
But let’s turn to the White House and the roiling debates here over immigration and executive power. President Trump signed his first veto today, rejecting a resolution that would have ended his national emergency. Twelve Republican senators broke ranks, supporting the measure that would have diverted federal money to a border barrier.
SENATOR MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): (From video.) This for me is a matter of defending the Constitution and the balance of powers that is core to our Constitution.
MR. COSTA: Democrats said the number of GOP defections should have been higher.
SENATE MINORITY LEADER CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): (From video.) He has been vindictive, contemptuous, calling out people who oppose him, so it’s not an easy vote.
MR. COSTA: Bob, in your latest book you quote something that candidate Trump told us in 2016: “Real power is…fear.” When we look at this vote in the Senate, the Republicans, some of them broke ranks, but many of them stayed with the president. Is it because of fear of a primary challenge, fear of his wrath?
MR. WOODWARD: Lots of politics in this. I think in the end it’s a loser for Trump. I mean, anyone can read the Constitution. It’s very clear Congress controls spending. He is trying to divert from that, and – on a small scale, but it’s just not going to – it’s not going to work and it – we know it, and quite frankly I think Trump knows that. (Laughs.)
MR. COSTA: Sue, when you look at Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, a Republican, he originally was opposed to the president’s move, then he –
SUSAN DAVIS: On principle. On principle opposed.
MR. COSTA: On principle. But he flipped. Why?
MS. DAVIS: Yeah. He flipped – not only did he flip, but he flipped in the moments leading up to this vote. I mean, it is one of the more spectacular flip-flops we’ve seen in the Senate in recent years. I think it speaks to the politics of this. As you said, yes, I think Republicans are afraid of a primary. They are afraid of having distance from the – seen as – seen as having distance from the president on his signature issue. The wall is the signature issue of this presidency, and a Republican like Thom Tillis in a state like North Carolina, where you have a lot of ambitious conservatives like Mark Meadows or Mark Walker, who would look like a vote like that and suddenly see a path to come at him. So his turning in the end I just think speaks more to the fact that Republicans are so reluctant to go against the president, and it’s even more remarkable when you know how many of them privately think that this is such a bad move – not the national emergency itself, but trying to do this constitutional challenge. Most of them privately are really worried about the long-term precedent this sets, and they still stick with him.
MR. COSTA: Jake, Senator Tillis is up for reelection in 2020, but we talked about his op-ed, that word “principle” that he had at first. A lot of Senate Republicans, they do say it’s the Congress’ role to appropriate money. Was it – the vote here more about Congress asserting itself than trying to defend President Trump or break with President Trump?
JAKE SHERMAN: I think it was. I think it was Congress trying to set some sort of guidelines. And I got the impression after talking to members – and I think Sue would say the same – which is the White House said do this for me, come on, do this for us, do this for the president, and senators were kind of like we’ve been doing stuff for you for the last two years and we’re not going to do this one; I mean, this is a bridge too far. And I think in a case like Tillis yes, North Carolina is bluing, but what conservatives always tell me – people like Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows – is you still need Republicans to come out for you, and they’re afraid that those cross-currents – a competitive Democratic candidate plus Republicans staying at home and not coming out – is a dangerous combination.
And I agree with Bob that this is a loss for the president. It shows that people are going to split from him. I don’t think it’s – we’re entering a new phase. I think it’ll be interesting to see whether the president strikes back. I don’t believe he will. And Tillis kind of sold his soul – not sold his soul, but sold his vote for a promise to work on something with Trump going forward. We all know, because we all have been covering this stuff for so long, that the president oftentimes says he’s going to work on things legislatively and then forgets about it the next day or the next week and never follows up. So it’ll be interesting to see how those politics play for Tillis.
MR. COSTA: Margaret, when the president looked at this he was told by Majority Leader McConnell and others this was a loser, that the votes weren’t there, yet he plowed forward. Is that because he’s making a case to his voters to stick with him in 2020?
MS. BRENNAN: It’s interesting because, as Sue was just referring, when you speak privately to Republicans, even some of them who essentially voted with the president, right, to defend his right to do this, will say to you I don’t really know why we’re having this fight; we didn’t need to have it. So if there was a point the president and the White House were trying to make, it’s not clear to his own party exactly what that was. But you see – you know, we’re talking about – and this is what I find fascinating – this debate within the Republican Party over is it a matter of principle, are we constitutional conservatives, is that how we’re going to define ourselves, or are we by any means necessary Trumpian Republicans, which is sort of the voting with the president. And those who chose to go that direction make the case simply on, well, I do believe there’s an emergency, so they justify it that way. The conversation about whether this is actually, you know, fully legal or a correct interpretation of how things are supposed to be implemented makes a lot of Republicans uncomfortable.
MR. COSTA: Bob, we’re two and a half months into divided government. You’ve studied the presidency for decades. For a president to have this kind of defeat at this moment in divided government, what does it tell us?
MR. WOODWARD: Don’t know, but this is one of these issues that’s not going down in the history books, I think, simply because people in Congress covet few things, but the thing they covet the most is the power to decide how money is spent. They all know that – conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, even independents know that. So this is going to wash away. What’s interesting is for Trump to draw that line here, and actually it’s the first veto, which is quite astonishing after two years, and it’s a kind of veto into the blue because, you know, what does it mean? And the other side of this, which has interested me very much, is why didn’t Nancy Pelosi make a deal with Trump on this? It’s a small amount of money in terms of the federal budget. She could have – I know she’s getting lots of praise for being tough and kind of shoving it to him. But she could have gone in a practical sense and gone – and talked to him and said: Look, we’ll give you this. It’s a small – it’s small. But I want A, B, C, D, and E.
MR. COSTA: Jake, you’re writing a whole book about President Trump and Congress coming out next month, “The Hill to Die On.” What’s your read on this moment, divided government?
MR. SHERMAN: Well, I think on that note with Pelosi, I don’t think she had much incentive to do that. I think Sue would probably agree. I just think that she felt like she had the president against the ropes. And, you know, there was an interesting moment – I probably shouldn’t say this – but there’s an interesting moment in our book where one of the characters kind of says – a lot of people said during the shutdown fight, this is really a proxy fight for who is more powerful: Nancy Pelosi or Donald Trump. And Nancy Pelosi won that shutdown fight. And I think she kind of from there backed off.
MR. WOODWARD: But why shouldn’t you say that? Soon you’re going to be out marketing your book. You need – who said that? Don’t be shy.
MR. SHERMAN: You’ve written a few, Bob. So I think that’s right.
MR. WOODWARD: Don’t be shy.
MR. COSTA: So what about Speaker Pelosi? Do House Democrats override this veto, or try to?
MS. DAVIS: They don’t have the votes. I mean, it’s just simple math. You need two-thirds in both houses, and they’re not anywhere near close. I do think that this is also a bigger story, and the story of executive power and executive overreach. This was a story in the Obama presidency, in the Bush presidency. And part of the reason why presidents have been able to make these power grabs is that Congress has been a weakened, and weakened, and weakened branch. And the executive overreach is, in some ways, a product of legislative underreach, right? That they have not been legislating on immigration and all these questions that have gotten to this point. So the fundamental problem, the brokenness of Congress and a presidency that’s going to use that power vacuum to suck it up, is going to continue to exist.
MR. COSTA: Speaking of a vacuum, domestic policy doesn’t operate in a vacuum, Margaret. And you know that as well as anyone. You’re following North Korea, the stalled negotiations. And North Korean officials came out this week and said they may walk away from the talks, may even resume tests. What does that mean for this administration to have that development on the foreign policy as they face all of these challenges here at home?
MS. BRENNAN: Well, the president, I think, shocked many people by not going for the deal that he was presented with in North Korea. John Bolton really won that fight, his more – one of his more hardcore advisors there. At this point, though, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left the door open again today. Despite this rhetoric, despite North Korean officials saying, you know, we might resume testing – which was really the bare minimum agreement that President Trump was able to get out of Kim Jong-un. It’s significant in that it’s hard to perfect firing off a nuclear-tipped missile unless you test. If they stop that, you’ve got to believe the diplomacy is gone here. But they are desperate to continue to keep that door open at this point, even with the knife fight you saw within the diplomats trying to sit down at the table in Hanoi.
MR. COSTA: Bob, we see these tensions among Republicans about executive power. We also saw it last week in Vice President Cheney talking to Vice President Pence at a private conservative meeting, taking on the administration, these establishment Republicans, traditional conservatives, taking on the administration’s nationalism and its instincts on foreign policy. Is the Republican Party now cracking across the board?
MR. WOODWARD: If I may say that was a great scoop.
MR. COSTA: Thank you, Bob.
MR. WOODWARD: Because you had the transcript of the interchange between Cheney and Pence. And here it was just so clear. Cheney’s pushing, pushing. And he finally says: Your foreign policy is like Barack Obama. I mean, talk about a kick to the privates. (Laughter.) That is it. And so this is a big issue – foreign policy, the theory of it more important than practice. I think the situation in North Korea is dangerous. Kim Jong-un stiffed President Bush – President Trump. I mean, he just said: No, we’re not going to do this. And Trump pulled away somewhat gracefully, but he’s not – he doesn’t like being stiffed. And so you’ve got a situation that I would keep on the front – the front of your mind.
MS. BRENNAN: But Cheney, what’s interesting there is he said what so many have whispered, which is that has been the dirty little secret of a lot of President Trump’s policies, is they’re the same as the Obama policies wrapped up a slightly differently – particularly the ISIS campaign being one of them. So it was interesting to have him sort of be confrontational on that. And I think it gets, again, to this broader conversation. We haven’t yet heard, even from those on the 2020 field yet, is exactly what is America’s role in the world? What do we think we’re trying to do? And how do we want to do it? And we really haven’t had that conversation as a country.
MR. COSTA: And we’re talking about Republican debates on executive power, Republican debates on foreign policy. But the Democrats, they are dealing with their own debates over policy, foreign policy on the 2020 trail, and on the issue of impeachment. This week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared she is not interested in impeaching President Trump, for now. Other Democrats, like Congressman Schiff of California, who’s chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Senator Chuck Schumer, said they support the speaker’s statement, but that impeachment is not completely off the table. Speaker Pelosi’s strategy, is it to signal to those suburban voters who help lift them to the majority in 2018, we’re not going over the line?
MR. SHERMAN: I think it’s multifaceted and complex. I think what she was trying to do was, as we all know, reporters are roaming through the hallways every day in the Capitol, sticking microphones in lawmakers’ faces saying: Are you ready to impeach the president? And Pelosi was aiming to give some of those lawmakers some space and say: You can blame it on me now. I’m saying there’s no impeachment right now. She’s also setting a guide so when the Mueller report does come out, if it’s bad enough that they have to impeach, she could say: Listen, I didn’t want to do this, but this stuff is bad, and this is illegal, and we need to do something about it. And I think that was her general goal. And just one more thing, she’s said a lot of this stuff before. The only new part was she said: This is news.
MS. DAVIS: This is news.
MR. COSTA: But are progressive Democrats unhappy with her statement?
MS. DAVIS: I mean, progressive Democrats had wanted to impeach Trump in the last Congress too. I mean, you’ve got 50 to 60 Democrats that would vote tomorrow for impeachment. I do think that with Pelosi – I agree with everything that Jake said, that she was trying to take it off the table. But in those words, when she said: In order to go down that path it would have be overwhelming and bipartisan. And I thought: Not only did she just set a very high bar, but she may have set an impossible bar if you consider I don’t even know what it would take to get any kind of critical mass of Republicans to break with the president on that level.
MR. SHERMAN: Although, bipartisan can be one Republican right?
MS. DAVIS: Yeah, define that, but overwhelming is the other.
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah, yeah.
MR. WOODWARD: Yeah. And, you know, impeachment is a big step. And Pelosi realizes that. And it always in the end turns on the quality of evidence. And if you look at the evidence that is out there, I quite frankly have not seen the kind of clear evidence that there was something that Trump did – there’s all kinds of questions, and Mueller may come with something. There’s – that’s certainly possible. But it’s not out there. And I think that is the voice of Speaker Pelosi saying: This is the real world we live in right now. We haven’t seen it.
MR. COSTA: We’ve seen some evidence through the Mueller probe come out this week. We saw a sentencing – another sentencing for Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, sentenced in D.C. federal court on top of what happened the previous week in a Virginia federal court. He’s now going to prison for quite some time, for about seven years. We saw in Paul Manafort’s sentencing a lot of crimes about lobbying, tax fraud, bank fraud. When the White House looks at that case, are they looking at Paul Manafort as someone they want to pardon, or is it politically tricky for them at this point, despite the president voicing support for Manafort?
MS. BRENNAN: It’s certainly politically tricky. I mean, you even have the Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham – sometimes, I guess we call him ally these days of the president – cautioning against that. But what I also think is interesting is what happened in Manhattan almost the moment that we heard that sentencing here in D.C., which was you saw the Southern District of New York move forward with unveiling or – the 16 counts that they are bringing against Paul Manafort, an array of financial crimes in yet another court. That’s significant because that couldn’t necessarily be wiped away with a presidential pardon, because it’s happening at that state level. I think there’s a lot to explore there with the sequencing of some of this. But the president continues to, you know, play down the idea of a pardon, but leave the door open to it at the federal level.
MR. COSTA: Bob brought up the Mueller report. On Capitol Hill there was a vote this week to make the Mueller report public, overwhelming support for that among Democrats and many Republicans. When you think about that Mueller report on the horizon, Senator Lindsey Graham, as sometime ally, mostly ally of President Trump, already calling for a second special counsel to investigate the Department of Justice and its handling of several cases. What kind of political war is coming on the Hill?
MR. SHERMAN: Oh, man, a huge one. And I think – I think two things. I think, A, there’s mixed expectations for Mueller. We were talking about this a little bit before the show. A lot of people think that – are trying to keep their expectations tempered in the case that it doesn’t come up with anything huge. We don’t know. We’re not prosecutors or FBI agents. I think the political war over how to interpret the Mueller report, no matter what it says, is going to be epic, given what we just all know about Congress.
MS. DAVIS: And how hard they’re going to want to see all the evidence that Robert Mueller saw, even the –
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah, all the evidence, all the interviews, everything. And there have been Republicans who have said: Put it all out there.
MR. WOODWARD: Yes, but the issue here is, again, the quality of evidence. And it’s going to turn on that. And you can look at everything that’s put out, and if there is not something that moves the needle in terms of defining the Trump presidency or improving the Trump presidency – which it could if there’s nothing explosive. And so that’s going to be a giant deal.
MR. COSTA: A giant deal. Bob, we’ll let you have the last word tonight. Thanks, everybody, for joining us.
Our conversation continues on the Washington Week Extra. Watch it on our website, Facebook, or YouTube starting at 8:30 p.m. every Friday night.
I’m Robert Costa. Have a great weekend.