JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST: Today on FACE THE NATION: On this holiday Sunday, tensions escalate between the U.S. and North Korea. Are the countries headed for a face-off?
Following a bold display of weaponry, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s launches a missile test that fizzles, as the world waits to see if President Trump will follow through on his threat to solve the North Korean nuclear problem one way or the other.
We will have a report from inside Pyongyang, North Korea, as the vice president celebrates Easter with U.S. troops in South Korea.
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MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: Our resolve has never been stronger. Our commitment to this historic alliance with the courageous people of South Korea has never been stronger.
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DICKERSON: As for President Trump, he has softened his position towards China and shows new signs of embracing those international alliances he once dismissed.
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DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said it was obsolete. It is no longer obsolete.
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DICKERSON: We will take a look at the emerging Trump foreign policy doctrine, including last week’s Syrian missile strike, further deterioration of our relations with Russia, and the U.S. decision to drop the Mother of All Bombs on an ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan.
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TRUMP: This was another very, very successful mission.
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DICKERSON: Then we will talk to Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough about what history can teach us about living in uncertain times.
And on this Sunday celebration of both Easter and Passover, we will also look at the role of faith in the face of crisis.
It is all ahead on FACE THE NATION.
Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I’m John Dickerson.
We begin this morning with new developments overnight in North Korea.
CBS News foreign correspondent Ben Tracy filed this report earlier from Pyongyang.
BEN TRACY, CBS NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The failed missile launch took place on North Korea’s East Coast near the city of Sinpo Sunday morning.
It is unclear what type of missile it was, but the U.S. military says it was not an intercontinental ballistic missile that would be capable of hitting the United States.
The failure came just hours after North Korea proudly displayed its arsenal in Pyongyang during an elaborate military parade. Hundreds of thousands of people filled the main square Saturday. Soldiers marched with precision. Tanks rolled down the street and North Korea showed off its dangerous new possessions, a variety of ballistic missiles that can threaten its neighbors and nearby U.S. bases.
Watching over all of it was the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un.
(on camera): At the parade here in Pyongyang, a top-ranking North Korean official gave a speech, and he said that the United States is creating a dangerous situation and that, if the U.S. wants war, North Korea will answer with war.
And this is clearly designed to remind the world what they are capable of.
(voice-over): The White House is taking a more aggressive stance towards North Korea, trying to pressure it to end a series of escalating missile launches and nuclear tests.
President Trump sent a naval strike force to the Korean Peninsula and has called North Korea a menace that is looking for trouble.
North Korea calls these provocative acts.
Han Song Ryol is the country’s vice minister of foreign affairs.
He said the Trump administration’s policy towards North Korea is the most hostile ever.
(on camera): Do you feel like your missile launches, your nuclear tests are making this situation worse?
HAN SONG RYOL, NORTH KOREAN VICE FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): The U.S. says North Korea’s nuclear buildup is the root cause of the escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but we have got to face reality. The U.S. is the one that compelled North Korea to go nuclear and is responsible for this vicious cycle.
TRACY (voice-over): North Korea says it will not provoke a war, but if they detect an attack from the U.S., they will launch a preemptive strike with every weapon they have.
(on camera): So, you’re saying, if you feel that North Korea is going to be attacked, you will use nuclear weapons?
(voice-over): He responded, “Of course.”
China, North Korea’s one main ally, is worried this war of words could quickly become an actual war on their doorstep. At a news conference Friday, China’s foreign minister said there would be no winners in a war. Whoever starts the war on the Korean Peninsula, he said, has to bear the historical responsibility and the consequences.
(on camera): The Trump administration would like China to put more pressure on North Korea to end its nuclear program, but it is unclear if that would work. North Korea’s vice minister of foreign affairs told me there is nothing that will stop them from conducting a sixth nuclear test, and they will do it whenever they see fit.
DICKERSON: CBS News foreign correspondent Ben Tracy reporting from Pyongyang.
Now, for some analysis on what is going on in the world, we are joined by “Washington Post” columnist David Ignatius. We want to welcome David Nakamura, White House reporter for “The Washington Post,” to the broadcast. And Robin Wright is a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute for Peace and the Wilson Center and a contributor to “The New Yorker.” Jamelle Bouie is a CBS News political analyst and “Slate”’s chief’s political correspondent.
David Ignatius, I want to start with you.
What kind of a test is North Korea for Donald Trump?
DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Well, Donald Trump, I think, decided right from the beginning of his administration that this was the first big challenge. There are two things that strike me. The first is that the administration, led by the president, has decided now is the time to deal with North Korea’s rapidly advancing military threat, now, before they have a nuclear-tipped missile they can point at the United States.
The second -- and that obviously includes more discussion of military options than we are used to. Second is to work closely with China and to make the concessions necessary to draw China in as a partner. It has been striking, in the president’s first three months. It is almost, you know, head-spinning how much he has changed his line on China, a country that was raping the United States during the campaign.
Now the White House talks of China as our key partner in dealing with North Korea. The president tweets praise for China’s diplomatic efforts. But I think the basic message the president said publicly is what he said privately: If China cannot help us do this in private, the United States is prepared to take action to deal with North Korea before it has the full nuclear capability.
DICKERSON: Robin, is escalation of the rhetoric from the president, the tweets, the pressure on North Korea, the military flexing of the muscle, is that creating a likelihood of a confrontation? I mean, does that -- keeping things on the boil, is that -- is that going to work, or are there considerable downsides?
ROBIN WRIGHT, SENIOR FELLOW, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: I think there are downsides, but I think, fundamentally, the United States and China have a different way of looking at what the solution to the North Korean challenge is.
The United States wants to use its muscle to kind of say, we are here and we’re not going to tolerate this, and then rely on China to actually do the squeezing of Pyongyang to comply.
The problem is, the Chinese don’t really want to see a unified Korea. They don’t want to see a pro-Western-oriented government. They actually don’t mind the current government remaining. Just, they want to take away the nuclear component. They actually would like to see diplomacy work.
That’s the irony, that the Chinese want to see a grand bargain in which the United States actually negotiates with the North Koreans on the question of both its nuclear program and its long-range missiles. And that’s something I am not sure the Trump administration has really grappled with, how do you do that, how do you engage?
This is the fourth American president that has tried to negotiate with or has tried to deal with the North Korean challenge. And every one of them so far has recognized that diplomacy is the only way out. And that’s something we haven’t seen from this administration yet.
DICKERSON: That’s right.
And, Jamelle, we have seen, to Robin’s point, not a -- not putting more emphasis on diplomacy really, but the ratcheting up from the president, who has talked about the red line that Barack Obama drew with respect to Syria being a great failure of President Obama’s.
But, here, the president seems himself to be drawing a kind of red line, saying the U.S. will go it alone. Administration officials are talking about taking action in North Korea.
So, if a month from now, no action has been taken, the president will have seen -- been making boasts that he didn’t follow up on.
JAMELLE BOUIE, CBS NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
I mean, that is what -- for me, I come back to sort of Trump the person and Trump’s personality. And President Trump is someone, in his prior career, whose negotiating style was very much of making demands, making threats, promises to take some sort of punitive action.
And here is a situation where doing that risks starting a war or starting a major international incident. So I am not entirely sure, looking at Donald Trump’s past behavior and now the present circumstances, how this is all going to play out.
I do know -- and I think we are all aware, right -- that the Trump administration isn’t just uninterested in diplomacy. It has not even put forth the resources to the State Department, to the diplomatic corps to be able to come to some sort of diplomatic solution in North Korea.
So, you know, the pieces here, everything here -- there is, obviously, of course, always a range of outcomes, but the weight seems to be on a range of outcomes that are not actually optimal for either the United States or China, or South Korea, for that matter.
DICKERSON: David, what do you make of the -- sort of President Trump’s interaction with his foreign policy team? In the presidency so far, he has been constrained by the courts, by Congress.
This is an area, on foreign policy, where he can act without those kinds of constraints. How do you read this?
DAVID NAKAMURA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: What is interesting, going back even a week to the strikes in Syria, is that you are seeing some folks who we didn’t know would have a great deal of influence with this president, given the rhetoric in the campaign, a sense that we were going to withdraw from some of the global leadership, come to the fore.
And this includes H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, certainly Jim Mattis at the Pentagon, and even Rex Tillerson, who, to some degree, as Jamelle said, they haven’t -- they are not talking about -- they are talking about withdrawing money from the State Department, downplaying the role.
But you have seen them take a lead to some degree in formulating some of the policies. And what they really emphasize -- I was down in Mar-a-Lago when these strikes happened in Syria -- was the interaction between the agencies and sort of -- they tried to sort of suggest Trump wasn’t acting impulsively. He was doing this as sort of standard presidents do, and taking in input from all the different agencies, looking at different options and then choosing one.
That’s not an approach we always saw him do. With North Korea, I think you are seeing some of the same things. The president has put a lot of emphasis on his military and letting them take the lead. And sending a strike force to the Korean Peninsula is certainly sending a message that it is not business as usual with North Korea.
At the same time, there has been no plan. Behind the scenes, the administration talks about maximum pressure and engagement, but the engagement, we just don’t have any idea what that means.
DICKERSON: Robin, this morning, the president was -- took to Twitter, a variety of statements from him, but one on this topic.
The president said: “Why would I call China a currency manipulator, when they are working with us on the North Korean problem? We will see what happens!” he says with an exclamation point.
What could China want from the United States that might help them get through those complexities? You outlined earlier to actually take care of this problem for the president, instead of having military action.
WRIGHT: Well, the basic problem is that the United States is relying on China, and China thinks the United States really is the one that has to do the legwork and the heavy lifting on this.
But it’s -- this is in many ways -- this test is a challenge or a test of the relationship between President Trump and President Xi. President had Trump tweeted earlier that he had great confidence on China in dealing with the North Korean question.
And, you know, China then turns around and announces that its trade with North Korea has increased 40 percent in the first quarter of this year. It has taken some little steps, turning back a fleet of coal ships that were delivering to China, so, trying to look like he is taking some action.
But the fact is, it is pretty minimal. And so this is something that is going to -- I think it is a little bit like Russia. You know, you have that moment of, yes, we are going -- this is going to be a different relationship, and then you find that the realities of the world force them back into the old kind of tensions and the old -- what it was under the previous administration and even before that.
DICKERSON: David, the president, speaking of the realities of the world, this week said, in conversation with the Chinese president, he learned that relationship between China and North Korea was more complicated than he thought.
Assess the president’s learning curve, then, because this is the second time he said that. He also said that about health care.
NAKAMURA: A steep learning curve.
Started with, actually, you go back to the first meeting with President Obama. It was President Obama in this private meeting that Trump boasted, you know, after his election, it lasted -- it was supposed to last 15 minutes. It lasted an hour-and-a-half, Trump said. I think it was supposed to last longer.
But what Trump learned there was that North Korea was such a problem. President Obama stressed and emphasized this to him. I think it woke him up. And that -- you are seeing him now, to his credit, elevating this problem. And, you know, President Obama to some degree, as he focused on Iran, was criticized, what are you going to do about North Korea?
It is a different set of challenges. So, now you are seeing the president have this learning curve. He has met first with Prime Minister Abe in Japan down in Mar-a-Lago, then with Xi Jinping. He talked about, we’re having this great piece of chocolate cake, and I talked to him about our policies.
But I think, deeper down, it is a learning curve. It is very difficult, the situation in North Korea. And it has perplexed administration after administration.
I think one thing to keep in mind is, this missile test was a failure today, but experts say that the North Koreans learn each time. So, to their mind, it is not a failure.
DICKERSON: David, give us a sense more broadly.
The president either -- and let’s throw in the president’s change of mind on NATO, on Syria. Is the president being guided into what is a kind of foreign policy consensus about the way you handle these difficult problems?
IGNATIUS: I think we are learning that he has key advisers on foreign policy who are of the Republican mainstream, and they have had more influence.
I think Secretary Mattis at Defense and Secretary Tillerson at State are really trying to bond. I am told they have tried to work through a common position before each key meeting.
H.R. McMaster is a very orderly, process-oriented national security adviser, Dina Powell in the White House, kind of classic manager of people and bureaucracy.
So, as this team has had some success over the last two weeks -- they feel that Syria use a success, they feel that the Xi meeting was a success -- I think they have really bonded with each other. So, I think the president feels enhanced by his team going forward.
Just briefly, two other points that go to what we have been discussing. The first is, I think that this administration is exploring ways that you could address China’s concern about a future North Korea, a unified North Korea that might threaten them to say, that is really not what we are thinking about.
The second thing -- this has to be speculation, but, as David said, weekend’s big event was going to be this missile launch, and it was -- it was a flop. It blew up as soon as it took off.
“The New York Times” reported recently that 88 percent of North Korea’s Musudan, intermediate-range missile tests in the last several years, 88 percent have been failures. Something is going on.
Is this Stuxnet for missiles? We don’t know. It was a very weird, elliptical statement by Secretary of Defense Mattis. But I think those two things are worth bearing in mind.
DICKERSON: Yes, that we are sending some software into their missile systems.
Jamelle, talk to me about a little -- a little bit about the politics. If David is right, and the president is in a foreign policy -- Republican foreign policy consensus, that wasn’t what a lot of the Trump voters were expecting.
He -- Trump campaigned explicitly against the Republican mainstream on foreign policy, arguing that the Iraq War was a mistake, arguing that his opponents on the stage in the Republican primary were too eager to use the military.
And so this -- this is an interesting shift of gears. I think it reflects the extent to which he doesn’t have very much knowledge or experience, that he’s a bit of an empty vessel in a lot of places. And so, depending on the quality of his advisers, depending on the people around him, he takes particular steps.
It is unclear how this will appeal to his voters. I think this comes ultimately to the question of, what do his voters specifically want? There is a chance, right, that this new approach alienates them, but there’s also a chance that, because the Trump administration is moving forward on its immigration plans, continuing to deport and continuing to harass immigrant communities, that it will shake out evenly.
DICKERSON: All right, we’re going to have to end it there. Thanks to all of you.
And we will be back in one moment with some historical perspective from author David McCullough.
DICKERSON: And we are back now with author and historian David McCullough. His new work, “The American Spirit,” is out Tuesday.
Welcome. We are very glad to have you here, David. These are your speeches over time. Is there a through-line in these speeches? Is there a message that kind of you see in a lot of them together?
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, AUTHOR, “THE AMERICAN SPIRIT”: Yes.
I think we need to remember who we are, and how we got to be where we are, and how much we owe to those who went before us. And there is much to be learned from them, much to be learned from history.
We are not doing very well, or not doing as well as we should, in raising our oncoming generations with an appreciation of the story of their country.
I don’t think there is any aspect of education that matters more to effective leadership than a knowledge of what went before us. The most effective presidents we have had, for example, have all been avid readers, students of history.
DICKERSON: In terms of history, let’s start with -- let’s start with the leaders first.
Does it give them a sense of, the craziness of the moment will pass, so I will stick to my -- stick to what I am doing, because, in the past, other leaders were criticized in their moment, and I will be OK?
How do they use it in practical terms, that history?
MCCULLOUGH: Well, for one thing, they understand how our system works, our government, how that all -- the three-part system and so forth.
But history is about people. History is human. Jefferson said, when in the course of human events, the operative word there is human. And so, if you want to understand people and how people behave and how people can be responsible, how people can be courageous and so forth, read history.
History is not about people who lived in the past. Nobody ever lived in the past. They lived in the present. It was their present, not ours. And they didn’t walk around in their 18th century clothes, saying, aren’t we picturesque, and what do you think people will make of us because we dress this way?
If you read into the life of someone like George Washington or Martin Luther King or Margaret Chase Smith in the Congress, you draw not just guidance from that, but inspiration.
And the one quality that is prevalent in so many of our best, most important leaders, our most inspiring examples, is, they do not quit, perseverance.
DICKERSON: A lot of people who are detractors of the current president, or even those who are supporters of the current president, think that things are in a kind of a crazy state, in a chaotic state now.
DICKERSON: But the president’s supporters like that.
Is this moment an aberrant moment, or is this pretty much, we have had moments of chaos in American history, and we get through them?
MCCULLOUGH: Well, I think we are living in what is clearly a dangerous time, not just because of international tensions and clouds hanging over, but because we are sort of groping with how to repair an engine that we don’t know how to even take apart.
You have to understand the patients that you are tending to, and you have to know something about medicine. And, yes, we have had times where we wanted to change things, but we have also had times that have been more unsettling, more worrisome, more painful, more costly than what we are going through now.
And we think this is just so bleak and unpromising, because we really don’t know what we have been through before and how we came through it.
I like to tell people about the influenza epidemic 1918-’19; 500,000 Americans died in that epidemic. If that were happening today, in proportion to our population, it would be 1.5 million people would die in less than a year.
But they got through it, just as we got through the Civil War, which was the most catastrophic experience of our story. We got through the Depression, two World Wars.
I mean, Churchill said it wonderfully. He said, we haven’t journeyed this far because we are made of sugar candy.
DICKERSON: Final question: Is there an American character, and, if so, what is it?
MCCULLOUGH: At best, honesty, courage, strength of character, and faith in our way of life, belief that what those predecessors of ours, those pilgrims, those pioneers, worked so hard to attain is something that we are obligated to know about, and also not just to sustain, but to improve.
Make yourself useful. Don’t boast about yourself. Don’t get too full of yourself. Be kind. Be modest.
In the White House, on the mantelpiece in the state dining room, there is a quotation carved into the marble from a letter written by John Adams to Abigail his first night as president in the White House.
And he wrote the letter, in which he said, “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”
It is still there. Kennedy had it carved into the marble. Roosevelt carved it in first in wood, and then Truman preserved it when he was president, and they were redoing the White House.
But I think what is best about that line is that he puts honesty first. “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”
And I think that is one thing that we Americans really want, is honesty, not just in a president, but in everybody we live with, work with and have a good time with.
DICKERSON: David McCullough, thank you so much.
MCCULLOUGH: Thank you.
DICKERSON: And we will be back in a moment.
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DICKERSON: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION.
We’re going to switch gears now. And in honor of Easter and Passover, we want to talk about faith with those who celebrate those holidays and write, think and participate in the religious life of America.
Rod Dreher is a writer for “The American Conservative” and his new book is titled “The Benedict Option.” Russell Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Abigail Pogrebin is also a writer. Her latest book is “My Jewish Year, 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew.” And Father James Martin joins us from New York. Father Martin is a Jesuit priest and editor at large at “American Magazine.”
Father, I want to start with you.
The Jesuits believe that God can be found in all things. What does that mean in the practical life of a catholic?
FATHER JAMES MARTIN, SJ, “AMERICAN MAGAZINE”: Well, it means that God is not just confined or the experience of God is not just confined to the walls of a church or reading the Bible. God can be experienced in all moments of our lives, in relationships, in work, in our family and friends, in nature. So it’s an invitation to really meet God in all things and all people and in all events.
DICKERSON: Abby, you wrote that you said you were Jewish in the way that the Olive Garden was Italian. That you had a -- a hunger that -- that led you to write your book. Tell me about that hunger.
ABIGAIL POGREBIN, “MY JEWISH YEAR, 18 HOLIDAYS, ONE WONDERING JEW”: You know, I -- I was one of those -- they sometimes calls us cafeteria style Jews. I picked and choose -- and chose and part of it was because I didn’t have a real basic in Jewish education and I was missing it. I was missing the infrastructure, the architecture of a Jewish year, and that’s why I took a deep dive, spending an entire year observing every Jewish holiday in the calendar and, as you may have had a sense of it, there are quite -- quite a few.
DICKERSON: Russell, you are in the middle of the political conversation in Washington, constantly being pulled into the political, but how -- where does faith for you sit outside of the political when you think of your faith?
RUSSELL MOORE, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: Well, most of it is -- is outside of the political. And so I’m -- I’m the kind of person -- some people come to faith after years of substance abuse and -- and -- and all sorts of -- of problems. I had the opposite situation. I was a -- a good kid growing up in the Bible belt thinking that somehow I could achieve something for God in a way that would make God accept me and receive me. And the Gospel that came to me in my teenage years told me that you don’t have to perform, but put your faith in Jesus Christ and the good news is that God receives you by grace. Just receive that and trust that. That’s what’s upended my life.
DICKERSON: And, Rod, you’re -- you’ve written a lot about this, not just your current book, but your faith you’ve written about in your other books. Where does it sit for you in your life?
ROB DREHER, “THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE”: Well, faith is everything. It is my life. I think that in America we tend to have a terrible tendency to separate church from life, to compartmentalize it, to keep it on Sunday morning and maybe holy days. But as an Orthodox Christian, I’ve been Eastern Orthodox for 11 years now, I’ve come to see that Christianity is a total way of life, not -- it’s a way of life with an institution attached it to. For me and my family, life is the liturgy. Life is the holy days. Life is prayer. Life is fasting. And life is joy. I have been so filled with joy from -- in -- in just worshipping as an Orthodox Christian. I think that is the secret to the Orthodox life is the joy of Christ.
DICKERSON: Father, you have written about that joy in your book about comedy and laughter in the -- in the religious life, but let me ask you about Easter. For some people Easter is about eggs and -- and getting the kids as much candy as you can get. What is Easter really about, though?
MARTIN: Well, Mr. Dreher is right, it’s about joy. The message of Easter -- the basic message is that Christ has risen, which changes everything. Underlying that is the message that life is stronger than death, that hope is stronger than despair and that love is stronger than hate. So Easter is the -- the center of the Christian message, and it is a joyful message. It is the good news after all. So it’s a lot more than about eggs and marshmallow peeps.
DICKERSON: Abby, you -- you write about Passover. Of course, the message of Passover obviously being the Jews no longer being enslaved. But I was interested in that idea as it carries to the current moment. But also the other holidays you write about. What’s the role those play in the Jewish year and in the Jewish faith?
POGREBIN: I would say, you know, taking this immersive dive, which really has changed my life and my perspective, frankly, on -- on every day. I interviewed over 62 rabbis and if anything came through from their message, for every holiday, and Passover in particular, it’s that you look at -- at our history, and what the message of memory is. And over and over again it is to look at the stranger, to say, we have been a stranger, we have been the oppressed and that means we cannot become the oppressor. We need to look at the person who is struggling, not -- not just next door, but the person we don’t know or have never met. And that comes through absolutely in Passover.
It’s a universal message of redemption. Of being -- of taken out from bondage into freedom. But also who around us is in bondage right now. And for some people, that is on a very global level. For some it’s a very internal bondage. Some people feel very personally that they are stuck or enslaved.
DREHER: The -- the exodus story is a very powerful one and it also embodies the Christian -- Christian search to be released from the bondage of sin and be brought to the promised land of -- of life in Christ. And I think that’s one thing that gets lost in a lot of American Christianity. It tends to be very, very comfortable. Let’s -- very therapeutic. In fact, if we are to know resurrection, we have to first die to ourself. And that can mean things that are very uncomfortable to us, like, as you say, welcoming a stranger.
MOORE: Some people fear death in a way in which they want to identify themselves with their careers. Some people fear death and they -- they experience that as despair and a lack of meaning. And as an Evangelical Christian, I think God has answered that on Easter Sunday with the raising of Jesus from the dead, which for me is not a mere metaphor. We really believe that this previously dead body has come back to life, which is good news and with significant impact on the universe.
DICKERSON: We’re going to take a pause right there and after this short break we’ll be right back with more from our panel.
DICKERSON: And we’re back with more from our panel on this holiday Sunday.
Father Martin, I want to ask you about politics and religion here. You are now a consulter to the Vatican’s secretary for communications. One of the things I hear from American Catholics is they love Pope Francis’s message and then some of them say, though, but I wish he wouldn’t talk about politics, which for them means what he said about global warming. How should people understand what the pope’s role is in political life? Should he stay out of it?
MARTIN: Well, the pope isn’t really talking politics though when he’s talking about global warming. He’s talking about caring for the environment, caring for God’s creation. And so his encyclical is really a kind of compendium of catholic teaching on the environment and on economic matters as well.
As well when he talks about welcoming the stranger, which was adverted to earlier, welcoming the migrant, the refugee, he’s simply preaching the Gospel. So if what he says -- and if the proclamation of the Gospel has political overtones, so be it. But he’s not setting out to be an overtly political person.
DICKERSON: Russell, you -- President Donald Trump has been elected with 81 percent support of Evangelical Christians. Is that a good or bad thing for religion in public life?
MOORE: Well, I think -- I think we’ll see what the next few years will mean for religion in American life. But I think most Evangelicals right now, wherever they stood on the election, have the understanding that the Bible commands us to pray for our leaders, to wish the best for our leaders, to wish the best for our country. And so I think most Evangelical Christians are -- are willing to pray for President Trump, for his administration, and also too seek to be good citizens.
DICKERSON: Ron, in the years that I’ve covered politics, there are a lot of people who have invested very heavily, people of faith who have invested heavily in the political process and it ends up disappointing them because of the natural compromises that are a part of -- of politics and then sometimes the natural switchbacks against belief, whereas belief is all about maintaining a set of principles no matter -- come what may. How do you see that and -- and the connection between religion and politics in American life?
DREHER: Well, I think Father Martin is correct that, you know, the Gospel does have certain political implication. If -- if by political you mean having to do with the life that we live together, the common good. But I think that there -- people like me, conservative Christians, have made an enormous mistake over the past 30 years in placing too many eggs in the political basket. We’ve tended to think that if we just elect the right Republican and get the right Republicans into Congress, everything’s going to take care of itself. Well, that didn’t happen and, in the meantime, we lost the culture. So what I call for in “The Benedict Option” is Christians to step back from politics, not get away from it entirely, but just reprioritize things and start placing more of your emphasis on the local, on building up your local community, because that is politics too.
DICKERSON: Abby, the question of Israel and protecting Israel is a -- is a -- is a very important issue for Jewish Americans. It’s become a central part of our politics. And how do you see that issue? Because in the conversations I’ve had with American Jews, the question of Israel can get so hot so fast.
POGREBIN: It’s very true. And I -- I would say that if there’s anything the Jewish community that we haven’t quite figured out, it’s how to talk to each other about our -- our disagreements about Israel. What -- I would say what we have in common is that it is -- it is not just a place that is precious, but a place that we all believe in. And -- and some people say, I love America, but I don’t necessarily love the government’s decisions, every -- every decision or policy that the government decides. I think, similarly, we all love Israel, and we don’t always agree without -- how Israel necessarily conducting itself in any given moment. But, generally, we are -- we are a tiny people and we kind of -- I don’t think can afford to be as divided about something that we all care so dearly about, because it’s something that if you I think ask every Jew they would say is fundamental to our identity.
DICKERSON: Father Martin, do you see a -- a threat to religious life coming from politics?
MARTIN: You know, often politicians can force religious leaders or religious people to take side politically, but the church really needs to transcend that because if we align ourselves too much with one party, we are disappointed. And also we need to keep our independence. So there can be a threat in terms of trying to sort of box religious people in, and I think religious people need to be free of -- of a kind of over identification with one party or another or one politician or another.
DICKERSON: Is that -- Russell, do you see that where various Evangelicals I’ve talked to have said, you know, the idea that basically if you’re not a Republican, you’re not -- you can’t be an Evangelical. Is that unfair, that criticism, or do you -- do you --
MOORE: Well, I think it’s even broader than that. I think we live in an American society where we become politically defined as our first identity across the board, no matter what religion we are or if we have -- or no religion. I think that’s part of the problem. And I think sometimes when secular Americans look at Evangelical Christians, they see us simply in political terms. So I think Evangelicals are like cicadas, we go underground until the Iowa Caucuses every -- every four year and that’s when people pay attention to what Evangelical Christians are doing.
When in reality, most of our lives has -- has nothing to do with -- with politics. Most of our lives is about building up through the teaching of the Gospel the kind of communities that are then going to be able to live out their lives in various ways. And so one of the primary messages we have is to say, politics is an important discussion, but it’s not an ultimate discussion. And so anyone, no matter where they are on the spectrum from right to left, who puts ultimate hope there, is going to be ultimately disappointed.
DICKERSON: Ron, let me ask you about the secular protections of various faiths. Are those working against or a part of the genius of the American system?
DREHER: I think it was Adams who said that our Constitution is made for moral and religious people, but it’s insufficient to govern any other. Back when we had a more general, civil religion that base in the Judeo Christian tradition, I think it was easier for us to solve our -- our problems because we had a common base of authority there and a common framework for discussion. That’s gone. That’s what I mean by post-Christians, John, not that there are no Christians, but that we -- we’d lost that basis.
So I think that if we -- as we see the greater secularization of America, we are also seeing the -- the state coming down harder and harder on religious liberty, especially around LGBT issues. That is where the next fight is for religious liberty around the right of Christian institutions and other religious institutions to govern themselves according to their faith. I think that a lot of people voted for Trump with a heavy heart. A lot of Christians thinking that at least Trump would not be as aggressive going after religious institutions as the Democrats were. I think maybe we’ll be happy with that. I hope so. But Trump is not going to be the ultimate savior of Christianity in America.
DICKERSON: What’s your view of the -- of the secular protections that a lot of people allow -- feel allows them to worship in America are seen by other Americans as the thing that’s encroaching upon religion in American life?
MOORE: I think it’s a very dangerous sort of conversation that we’re having right now where there’s just a push to marginalize religious institutions to the point that they can’t be religious anymore. I think that’s dangerous and I think that’s -- that’s not just dangerous for religious people, that’s dangerous for secular non- religious people. We need to be the kind of society that protects conscience, that protects the -- the right of people to live out the deepest convictions that they have. And the -- the idea that if we don’t like speech we shut it down and if we don’t like religions we shut them out is not one that we should pursue in American life.
POGREBIN: You know it makes me think just that it -- we are sitting here at this table basically all agreeing and we share actually many of the same principles and texts and we -- in -- in some sense we should get back to what our traditions actually tell us about how to live our lives. There -- there are blueprints that are thousands of years old that in a sense we have abandoned for the politics -- for the political realm. And I -- it’s not a Pollyanna issue -- utopian view of, we’re all going to agree, but I do think we’ve gotten too far away from what our texts are actually teaching us and perhaps, to the father’s point, where the pope was not talking politically if we read it much more about what -- what are our traditions demanding of us, maybe we would have less divisions and -- and actually be more unified.
DICKERSON: Final word to you, father, on this question of the -- the secular protections in America and their tension with the religious life.
MARTIN: Well, I would say certainly, you know, religious people need to be protected, but I would also say that we need to make sure that the people who have been marginalized in the past, LGBT people, minorities, and even atheists and agnostics, feel included in our vision. You know, Jesus Christ’s vision was one of inclusion. He was always drawing people in from the outside. And so I think as long as we don’t exclude or marginalize people even further in this conversation, I think we’ll be doing OK.
DICKERSON: All right, I want to thank our panel, all of you, for being here.
And we’ll be back in a moment.
DICKERSON: There was so much news at the end of last week, we were unable to bring you our discussion with former White House Chiefs of Staff Denis McDonough, who worked for President Obama, and Ken Duberstein, from the Reagan White House. They, along with 15 others, are the subject of a new book by Chris Whipple called “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency.”
We began by asking author Whipple why the job was so important.
CHRIS WHIPPLE, “THE GATEKEEPERS”: Well, you know, it’s -- it’s critically important. One of the things I learned from talking to all the living White House chiefs is that presidents find out, often the hard way, that you cannot govern effectively without empowering a White House chief of staff as first among equals in the White House to, number one, to execute your agenda, number two, tell you things that you don’t want to hear. Modern history shows, you know, the wreckage of presidencies that did not understand that lesson.
DICKERSON: Ken, why -- what does the person a president picks to be their chief of staff say about a president?
KEN DUBERSTEIN, REAGAN CHIEF OF STAFF: You say an awful lot about a president because it’s a person who he spends the most time with, other than his wife. He’s the person who you’re trusted to tell you things that you don’t want to hear, as Chris said. You’re the reality therapist.
Everybody walks into the Oval Office and gets tongue -- gets tongue-tied. They tell the president what they think the president wants to hear, not what he needs to know. The chief of staff has to tell him what he needs to know.
DICKERSON: Ken, when you’re chief of staff, do you kind of always have the president inside your head? Is that a part of the job? Or knowing the president’s instincts, do you -- do you have to kind of intuit where the person is going who is the president?
DUBERSTEIN: Absolutely. You get to know the man. You get to know where he’s going, what his goals are, what’s acceptable. You know, in Reagan’s case, he always would take 80 percent of what he wanted. Tip O’Neill used to say, I don’t like compromising with Reagan because Reagan gets 80 percent of what he wants. And Reagan would turn to Jim Baker and to me and others and say, I’ll take 80 percent every time. And I’ll come back the next year for the additional 20.
That’s what governing is all about. Reagan understood that the far right and the far left, as he used to remind us, are professional bitchers. They don’t want to be satisfied. That’s how they get their money. That’s how they get their members. So get what you can. Get that 80 percent. Figure out how to build a coalition that gets you that and then keep moving. And don’t worry about the far left or the far right.
DICKERSON: Denis, you did something with President Obama called the wrap (ph), the walk at the end of the day. What was that about and what were those conversations like?
DENIS MCDONOUGH, OBAMA CHIEF OF STAFF: We used to just sit in the Oval and just go over what happened during the day and then what was teed up for the next day. I think it was -- kind of a nice springtime like this in D.C. He said, let’s walk. And so, you know, sometimes a walk would be one lap. Sometimes it would be many more than one. Sometimes we’ be joined by others. But the point was to just have one moment to try to stop, get out of the -- kind of the rigmarole of the day and take a look ahead at what more we needed to do, what more we had hanging over for the next day.
DICKERSON: Chris, the chief of staff is so powerful that does it ever come to be the case that they become a little too powerful for the president’s own liking? Certainly that’s been the -- President Trump has -- people have talked about Steve Bannon.
DICKERSON: Now, Steve Bannon is not the chief of staff --
DICKERSON: But there’s been reporting about some tension between the president seeing Steve Bannon as the man behind the throne. Does this -- is this a -- a problem or a potential problem (INAUDIBLE).
WHIPPLE: Well, it’s -- it’s -- it’s certainly been a problem with some White House chiefs. The far greater problem, in my mind, is when no one seems to be in charge, which may sound familiar at the moment. When you have eight or nine senior advisors or if even four or five with equal access to the Oval, no one is a gatekeeper, no one is in charge of the information flow, no one is in charge of executing policy, then you have what Gerry Ford used to call the spokes of the wheel, where nobody’s in charge. That it took Gerry Ford about a month to figure out that that was a disaster.
DICKERSON: Ken, in the current administration, you have a chief of staff. You have Steve Bannon, an adviser to the president, who’s quite powerful. And you have the president’s daughter, who also has an important role. And then you have the president’s son-in-law. That’s at least four people with -- I don’t know whether you wanted to call it walk into the Oval Office privileges or seems to be on the same kind of power level. How do you evaluate that power structure in terms of the job that a chief of staff has to get done?
DUBERSTEIN: Well, going back to Chris’ comment, the president needs to empower one person to be the White House chief of staff and the funnel rather than the spokes of the wheel. The person -- and it’s Reince Priebus, who has to be designated as first among equals. He is the person who may be the partner -- it may be a partnership in the White House with lots of people, but he’s the senior partner.
WHIPPLE: You know, Dick Cheney once told me that you can’t -- you can’t have eight or nine guys sitting around with -- with a very tough issue that you have to take to the president saying --
DUBERSTEIN: As Bill -- as Bill Clinton found out, right?
WHIPPLE: Saying, hey, it’s your turn to tell him. No, no, no, it’s your turn to -- no, no, it’s your turn to tell him. You get -- somebody’s got to be the guy who goes in with a piece of bad news.
DUBERSTEIN: You -- you can have all the discussion you want, but then the door closes in the Oval Office and it’s you and the president. You’re the one who has to deliver that message. It ain’t going to fly.
DICKERSON: What’s the worst message you had to deliver?
DUBERSTEIN: Oh, there were lots of them.
DICKERSON: Denis, how about you? Any -- any that you felt like there was a gulp before you --
MCDONOUGH: Boy, there is -- there is -- these things all the time. The worst was walking down the hallway to tell him that healthcare.gov wasn’t going to work.
MCDONOUGH: And it was particularly bad because he spent the entire previous year, and monthly, then biweekly, then weekly meetings concluding them by saying, now everybody understands that this only works if the health -- if the website works, right? And everybody said, yes, absolutely, Mr. President. So, yes, that was preceded by a gulp.
DUBERSTEIN: Yes, but you -- but you do that every day.
MCDONOUGH: Yes. Oh, yes.
DUBERSTEIN: There’s always something.
DICKERSON: Skill set, Chris. There is -- so we’ve talked about the ability to say no, the ability to set up a system. What else does a chief of staff need?
WHIPPLE: I -- you know, I don’t know if you guys would agree, but I think temperament is -- is a huge part of it. I think when you look at our -- our present company, but especially at James Baker or Leon Panetta, these are grounded, sensible people who are comfortable in their own skin, who are not afraid to talk to the president and tell him what he needs to know. I think that’s a -- I think that’s a -- maybe an underrated thing. You know, they said about Leon Panetta, that he was a -- an iron fist inside a velvet glove. You don’t have to be the (INAUDIBLE) perfect son-of-a-bitch as Haldeman was called. You can do it nicely as long as you enforce what you’re trying to do.
DICKERSON: And we’ll be right back.
DICKERSON: That’s it for us today. Thanks for watching. We’ll see you next week when we’ll be sitting down with Ohio Govern John Kasich. For FACE THE NATION, I’m John Dickerson.
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