JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST: Today on FACE THE NATION: Congress and the president have left town. We will look at what's been left behind and what could be done outside of Washington.
It wasn't moving day at the White House, but time for some West Wing renovations, including an Oval Office redecoration, while the president is off to his New Jersey golf resort for 17 days of a working vacation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Why won't you talk to the press?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DICKERSON: Mr. Trump wasn't talking, but behind the scenes, his new chief of staff, John Kelly, is working to make order out of chaos, assuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions his job is safe, but letting others go, including brand-new communications director Anthony Scaramucci.
This week saw more damaging leaks for the White House. Embarrassing transcripts of telephone conversations between the president and world leaders made it in to "The Washington Post." "There will be consequences," said the attorney general.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: And I have this warning for would-be leakers: Don't do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DICKERSON: Congress is also gone for the month of August.
Back home in Wisconsin, Speaker Paul Ryan said the House isn't getting any credit for what they have done.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We've done so much, and no one even knows about it. You turn on the TV, it's about what the president tweeted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DICKERSON: Congressional productivity was also on the president's mind, as he fired a parting shot at Congress in the form of, yes, a tweet: "Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time, very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can't even give us health care."
One person in Washington who is not going anywhere this summer, special counsel Robert Mueller. He's convened a grand jury in his investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia. It's an investigation that is gathering steam, but still mocked by the president, this time on the campaign trail in West Virginia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Have you seen any Russians in West Virginia or Ohio or Pennsylvania? Are there any Russians here tonight, any Russians?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DICKERSON: No one raised their hand in West Virginia, but we did hear from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who reported in from his vacation in Siberia.
We will talk with Senate Intelligence Committee Republican Tom Cotton.
Then, we will ask former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson about the Obama administration's effort to stop the Russians from tampering with the election.
Plus, two governors working together, Colorado Democrat John Hickenlooper and Ohio Republican John Kasich, they will tell us about their efforts on health care. With Washington frozen in dysfunction, is it up to them to fix the country's problems? We will have analysis on all the news and some thoughts on what Congress could actually do while they're on vacation.
It's all ahead on FACE THE NATION.
Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION.
We begin this morning with Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton. He joins us from Minneapolis.
I want to start with something that people are watching now. It's what you on the Intelligence Committee have been investigating, and that is potential Russian efforts to influence American actions.
So, what's happened is, the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, has been under a bit of an assault in the digital space. And "The New York Times" reports that, on Friday, on social media, 600 Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence operations at one point had the hashtag #fireMcMaster. It was so popular, it was number one item on Friday.
What do you make of all of that? And does it look like what you have been investigating during the election?
SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Well, John, good morning.
First off, I think H.R. McMaster is a great American. There are not many generals out there who are highly decorated in two different wars and also have bestselling Ph.D.s about civil-military relations.
I was happy to bring him to the president's attention in February. I'm pleased that the president chose him to be his national security adviser. Glad to know, as the president said on Friday, that they're working very well together.
I don't want to comment on the specific report from "The New York Times," but I will say that Russia has a long history of using disinformation, deception, subterfuge and espionage to influence Western democracies.
That happened in our election last year, when Russian intelligence services hacked into those e-mails and released them. It happened in 1983, when Russian intelligence services were behind much of the protests against the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear forces to Western Europe.
So, it should come as no surprise that Russia continues its effort to manipulate Western democracies in a way to sow discord and disagreements between our countries in NATO and within the United States or any other Western European country.
And it's something the United States obviously must be on guard against.
DICKERSON: Do you think the Russians are involved in what is obviously some kind of an operation to hurt H.R. McMaster as the national security adviser and perhaps push him out?
COTTON: Again, John, I don't want to comment on that specific report.
But it shouldn't surprise any American to know that Russia uses its money and its intelligence services to spread disinformation, use subterfuge, deception, and manipulation to try to divide political opinion within the United States, within any Western European country, or among NATO countries.
That's one of the techniques that Russia has used for decades, during the Cold War and during the Putin era.
DICKERSON: So, given that Russia is an ongoing threat, you signed on to legislation to sanction Russia. Is there more that the administration should do?
COTTON: Well, Russia remains an adversary of the United States.
We have some overlapping interests. It would be better if our relationship was better. But our relationship is not good right now because of Vladimir Putin. There are steps that I think that we should be taking that we should have taken under the Obama administration, for instance, providing defensive weaponry to Ukraine. I encourage the president and the administration to take a look at those steps. I know they are doing so through deliberate, careful National Security Council meetings.
DICKERSON: And you support -- do you think there will be a decision on that with respect to arming the Ukrainians?
COTTON: I hope so, John.
And I hope there's other steps that we can take to try to strengthen NATO's defenses against Russia. For instance, Russia is conducting a major military exercise on their western border on NATO's eastern border. I have supported the efforts to send more of our troops to Eastern Europe to try to increase the permanent presence there to make it clear to Russia that we will stand by all of our NATO allies and they can't take steps that will intimidate or interfere with NATO's member countries.
DICKERSON: Another thing the administration, the president and the Defense Department, are looking into is the situation in Afghanistan.
I want to ask you couple of questions that the president appears to be asking, which is, first of all, after 16 years, why is it still in the U.S. national interest to be involved in Afghanistan, where you served and fought?
COTTON: John, Afghanistan is the place from which we were attacked 16 years ago next month. It's the one place where we successfully ejected al Qaeda from.
Today, though, it's still -- you still see a resurgent threat from the Taliban and al Qaeda, but also the Islamic State as well. And we don't want to see what happened in Mosul in 2014, when the Islamic State took over that city, happened in Kandahar, Kabul, or Jalalabad, and let that space become an area from which terrorist extremists can plot and launch attacks against the United States and our citizens again.
DICKERSON: Do you agree with the president, who reportedly has said he believes that the U.S. is losing in Afghanistan?
COTTON: We aren't making enough progress. And in military terms, if you're not winning, sometimes, you are losing.
We have seen Taliban and associated terrorist organizations make gains in recent years. It's time to stop those gains and roll them back. There's a lot of different techniques to do so, but we cannot allow Afghanistan to once again become an ungoverned country from which terrorist organizations can launch attacks against the United States and our citizens.
DICKERSON: You and I during the campaign talked about Congress' role in overseeing the president. I wanted to get your thoughts about three things that Congress did before everybody left town. First, there was the vote on sanctions, which the president did not like, with respect to Russia. Also, in the Senate, you took measures to make sure there were no recess appointments. And, finally, there are a couple of bipartisan efforts to make sure that the president can't fire the special counsel.
What do you make of all of those actions with respect to -- seems to be Congress is trying to constrain the president.
COTTON: Well, those are all very different kinds of actions.
On the sanctions legislation, I supported that legislation because Russia and China are adversaries and North Korea is racing towards having a nuclear-armed missile that can strike the United States.
The recess appointment issue is something that goes back to the Obama administration. I can tell that you, as a junior senator, I signed a sign-up roster early this year that was choosing when I was going to be in Washington, D.C., during a recess to preside over a short session of the Senate to ensure that there wasn't a recess appointment.
That is simply Congress taking its responsibility seriously to provide advice and consent to all nominations. We did it under the Obama administration. It's happening under the Trump administration as well.
Finally, on those two pieces of legislation, I don't see them going very far. The independent counsel statute in the 1970s and '80s and '90s was a disaster. We have an executive ranch in which the power of all the departments and all the agencies reports to the single elected member of the president.
So, those are all very different kind of actions. But Congress is a co-equal branch of government. And, in my opinion, for decades, Congress has ceded too much authority to the executive branch. And we should exercise our constitutional responsibilities seriously and with vigor.
DICKERSON: All right, Senator, we're going to have to leave it there. Thanks so much for being with us.
Now that Congress and the president are taking some time off, we thought we'd take the opportunity to get outside of Washington and see what some governors are doing to find solutions to the many challenges facing the country.
Joining us now are Colorado Democrat John Hickenlooper and Ohio Republican John Kasich.
Congressman -- excuse me -- Governor Hickenlooper, I want to start with you.
You -- the two of you have joined together in an effort to try to fix the health care problem that, in Washington, so far Congress has not been able to fix.
There are lot of plans for fixing health care. So, is this a problem of people not finding the right plans, or is this a political problem?
GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), COLORADO: I think it's more a political problem.
And a key here, what Governor Kasich and I have been talking about, is, let's get a bipartisan group of people together, and include some governors, who are the guys who have to -- the people who have to implement these plans, and look at, how do we stabilize the private markets? How do we deal with these high-cost pools?
And what's the best way? Do we look at what Maine has been doing or what Alaska has been doing? But there's some basic remedial steps that can improve our health care without having to throw everything out the window.
DICKERSON: Governor Kasich, one of the ways usually that you build a bipartisan agreement is, one side gives up a little, and the other side gives up a little.
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Right.
DICKERSON: And we have seen in Washington both sides say they don't want to give up much of anything.
Give me your sense of what Republicans should back down on and what Democrats should back down on just as a preliminary good-faith effort to show that people are, on the health care question, committed to maybe working together.
Well, John, look, before we get to specifics, I love working with John Hickenlooper. He's terrific. This -- I have had a history of this. I worked with Ron Dellums on the B-2 bomber, reforming that. I was able to work with Tim Penny, my great friend from Minnesota, to lead the fight to get us to a balanced budget.
And what John Hickenlooper and I are doing at the present is, he's going to have his staff and my staff -- and we have had preliminary conversations, because John and I are becoming friends. And they're going to sit down and they're going to look at the differences.
And one of the problems is that there are some in the Democratic Party that think the whole system needs to be changed at once. And there are some in the Republican Party that say, look, let's let the market work to drive down health care costs.
But we're going to have to make a commitment, a serious, significant commitment to those people who are left behind. And so I think Democrats are going to have to get to the point where they say, let's let the market work, give people more choice, bring down the cost of health insurance.
And Republicans are going to have to admit that there's going to be a group of people out there who are going to need help. That -- these are some philosophical differences between the parties. But if you have a good spirit and you understand that the system is beginning to melt down on the exchange side, jeopardizing health care for many, many Americans, I'm hopeful we can get there.
Now, John and I are going to start with our staffs, before we build it out. And they may have to have couple meetings in Chicago. John and I may have to get together. Maybe we can get there. Maybe we can't. But we're friends.
And as a result that, I'm optimistic that we will get somewhere on this whole thing.
DICKERSON: Well, your -- Governor Hickenlooper, pick up on that with you.
Now, Governor Kasich says you're friends. In Washington, they may not have the same kind of friend relationships, so it comes down to policy. And one thing that Democrats have protected is this idea of the individual mandate. In other words, people have to buy insurance even if they're healthy because it spreads out the risk, and that, in theory, the Democrats believe will keep prices down.
That is something Democrats say, it's got to be in there. Republicans in Washington say, got to come out. If people aren't already chums, how do you fix that problem?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, regardless whether they're friends -- and I do appreciate Governor Kasich and all the work he's done.
He has a level -- he knows the federal budget better than probably any governor in America and really does understand some of the finances of this, that there's always a way to find a different approach.
So, in terms of a mandate, the key here is to recognize that when you let healthy people not be part of the pool, you're going to concentrate people with serious health issues, so much more expensive insurance risks, into the market.
And that's of course going to raise the cost for everyone. So, however we deal with that, whether it's a mandate or a re-insurance type pool, that's where we can sit down. And, as Governor Kasich said, it's really -- there are different philosophical approaches, but there's no reason why we can't bring them together and find compromises.
KASICH: And, John, here is the thing you have got to remember.
It's not just friends, but when people understand one another, when they respect one another, as John just said, there's a way to define these things in a way that doesn't mean you have a winner or a loser. And I'm reminded of that sign that Ronald Reagan had on his desk which the Congress ought to think about. He said, if you don't worry about who gets the credit, it's amazing how much can be accomplished.
And I think that's what's missing in Washington right now. John and I are not hung up about who wins, who loses, who gets credit, who doesn't, because, as a governor, you can't spend a lot of time doing that, although we have governors that get very partisan as well.
But, at the end, the American people want things to function. And they can function. If you don't worry about which party gets the credit or which politician gets the credit, it can work. Now, I can't guarantee you that Hickenlooper and I are going to agree on this, but I'm hopeful.
And we're going to do our very best to come up with something to spread it out wider. And here is the final thing. You want to solve problems, whether it's immigration or whether it's the issue of health care, you have got to grow your majority from the middle out.
You have got to exclude those who are on the edges, because they're disrupters, and not in a positive way in many cases. You have got to grow it this way, and that is how you get things done.
DICKERSON: All right, we're going to take a little bit of a short break here.
We will be back in one minute with more of our conversation with Governors Kasich and Hickenlooper.
Stay with us.
DICKERSON: And we're back with our governors.
Governor Hickenlooper, let me start with you, picking up on what Governor Kasich was saying.
Let's talk about how the politics of this, the gambit you're involved in here, will work. So, your staffs are going to get together. But then walk me through how the politics of this are going to work that it's going to change the situation in Washington, where, again, everybody -- everybody doesn't start from the base of friendship that the two of you have built.
HICKENLOOPER: Well, I think the plan is that we begin to look at, how do we get to that -- those solutions and really stabilize the private markets, and figure out, how are we going to get to these re- insurance or high-cost pools?
And as we do that, we will try to include more governors, Republicans and Democrats, make sure we're kind of balanced. And, at some point, obviously, we need to work with the senators, so people like Lamar Alexander, who is already talking about doing -- looking at a bipartisan solution. I think we will be surprised at the number of senators that are willing to kind of step back and say, all right, let's roll up our sleeves and work on a bipartisan basis and see how far we can go.
DICKERSON: Governor Kasich, you were a member of Congress. When you were in Congress and a governor came in with a bunch of great ideas, would you have listened? Are they likely to take what you're saying and think, oh, yes, sure, this is a good idea?
KASICH: Well, we did. We did listen to them.
I mean, when we were balancing the federal budget in '97, we had a lot of advice from Tommy Thompson, the great governor of Wisconsin, John Engler, the great governor from the state of Michigan. Oh, yes, we did listen to them. And it was important.
And my sense on this is, John just mentioned Lamar Alexander and what he wants to do. I guess Patty Murray is going to help on that, the Democrat senator. But Tom Carper from Delaware has been unbelievable in terms of his looking at trying to solve this problem.
Dick Durbin and I, the Democrat leader and I have talked. He said: Look, there's a lot of politics, but I'm worried about people.
I think there is a hunger in the Congress, at least in the Senate, to try to do what they went to do, which is to solve problems. And you can't solve immense, difficult problems without both sides.
We couldn't have balanced the budget in '97 had not the Clinton administration and the Republicans agreed to make some compromise. We never would have reformed the military, like we did with Goldwater- Nichols, a Republican, a Democrat, to give power to commanders in the field.
These are -- these things, these are major deals, John. Now, since Republicans are in the majority, they get to call the tune. But, as I have said before, when you call the tune, the Democrats have to be included in the choir for a meaningful role.
So, look, they know it's failing. They know this is not working down there. And if we can overcome some of the partisanship -- and Lamar Alexander, I'm told, actually left the leadership, because, in leadership, you got to be really partisan. He left the leadership because he wanted to reach across the aisle and get more things done.
And we -- Godspeed to him.
DICKERSON: So, Governor Hickenlooper, is what you and Governor Kasich are trying to do is essentially model behavior here for what bipartisanship looks like for the Senate and the Congress in Washington?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, that's part of it, certainly. And other people have reached out.
You know, Josh Gottheimer, a representative who is one of the chairs of the Problem Solvers group in Congress, he reached out to me last week. And they are working on a lot of these same proposals, same ideas.
I think the idea is that, if we can get some governors of both parties to kind of work together -- and maybe we are modeling some behavior. But it's already starting in Congress. Senator Carper came up when we had the National Governors Association summer meeting in Rhode Island. He came up and spent a morning discussing the ins and outs, the details of health care changes.
And, again, we all agree. Democrats agree that we've got -- there are improvements that need to be made to the Affordable Care Act. We have got to control costs. But we don't want to roll back coverage for lots of people, and we don't want to -- we realize the imperative to really stabilize these private markets.
KASICH: Hey, John?
DICKERSON: Go ahead. Yes, Governor.
KASICH: Let me tell you, another name, another name that needs to be mentioned is Charlie Dent over in the House. He's doing a terrific job bringing people together.
Look, this is just insurance. At some point, we have got to deal with the underlying problem that is caused by rising health care. And that's going to require dramatic, dramatic bipartisanship, including looking at a way to preserve the development of pharmaceuticals, but yet to be able to stem their costs.
At the same time, John and I have talked about the issue of entitlements. Look, we're going to drown our children and grandchildren in debt, which is going to kill our economy, if we don't begin to deal with Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, all the entitlements, and start to get this problem of rising debt under control.
So, this could be a good start. And John and I aren't looking for credit. We don't have any magic stuff here. But if we can contribute, and people can see what we're doing, and we can interface, maybe we can get something done to stabilize these markets, which would be good for millions of Americans.
DICKERSON: Governor Hickenlooper, are there other issues on which governors can work together like this, what you're trying to do on health care?
HICKENLOOPER: Oh, sure, almost anything.
I mean, look at all the major challenges. Look at the need to reinvent the way we do work force training. We have -- two-thirds of our kids are never going to get a four-year college degree, and we really haven't been able to prepare them to involve them in the economy where the new generation of jobs require some technical capability.
We need to look at apprenticeships. We need to look at all kinds of internships. That's the kind of thing that Republicans and Democrats could work on together.
And go down the list, all the economic development work. It's not a Republican or a Democratic issue to say we want better jobs for our kids or we want to make sure that they're trained for the new generation of jobs that are coming -- beginning to appear.
Those are issues where we should be able to roll up our sleeves say, all right, we may disagree about this, we may disagree about that, but we all agree that we want to make sure that everybody has a chance to earn their own future.
DICKERSON: All right.
DICKERSON: All right, Governors, I'm going to have to leave it there.
Thanks to both of you for being with us.
KASICH: Thank you.
DICKERSON: And we will be back in a moment with some thoughts about how Congress might get more accomplish if they stayed home.
DICKERSON: Summer vacation has hit Washington.
Politicians getting out of town have to be careful, though, not to look like they're enjoying themselves too much.
The White House, which treats the president's golf outings like a state secret, wouldn't say what the president did yesterday. But, thanks to social media, we found out soon enough.
The president took a break from golfing to tweet out that his 17 days out of Washington are not a vacation.
This is one instance where the president parts ways with Vladimir Putin. The Russian president this week was bearing his chest, engaging in lionhearted struggles with fish, and generally manspreading across Siberia.
Congress is gone until after Labor Day. They had promised to stay until they passed health care legislation, but left when they failed.
Some might be outraged. Why should Congress get a month off, when they don't do their work?
Maybe that's backwards. An old theory holds that air conditioning ruined Congress. Members no longer had to flee the Washington heat to spend the summer back home. The long vacation forced them to bond with their constituents.
That's harder to do now because it's harder to hear constituents through all the manufactured outrage fed by partisan pundits, fund- raising built on alarming people, and apocalyptic social media. The bubble now travels back home with members.
But if Congress stayed home longer, members might have time to run into people who aren't permanently aggrieved. The silent majority who simply want results are fine with honest compromise and would like to stop being made anxious by the partisan outrage complex.
So, Congress should stay home as long as it takes to get fortified with that spirit of public service that sent many of them to Washington in the first place. Once they return, it will help them fight the heat.
Back in a moment.
DICKERSON: And we will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION.
Stay with us.
DICKERSON: And welcome back to FACE THE NATION.
We turn now to President Obama's homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson.
Welcome. Thanks for being here.
JEH JOHNSON, FMR. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: John, thanks for having me on the show.
DICKERSON: Let's start, President Trump is in need of a new homeland security secretary. What should he be looking for in a new person?
JOHNSON: Well, I won't recommend anyone in particular, but three thing come to mind. First, DHS is the third largest cabinet level department of our government, but it is the most decentralized ranging from aviation security, immigration, maritime security, Secret Service, FEMA and counter terrorism, of course. We need to continue the management reforms that I and others initiated in the last term. I know John was very dedicated to that. I hope the next secretary is dedicated to that.
Also, we need a national champion and a national spokesperson when it comes to cyber security. DHS is charged with the cyber security mission and cyber security has become, in my judgment, the other cornerstone of the department's missions, along with counter terrorism. So we need someone to champion and drive cyber security policy for the government. And we need to continue to focus on countering violent extremism here in the United States. And that was something I spent a lot of time on I know John Kelly was very dedicated to it as well.
DICKERSON: So John Kelly, you talked to him. You know him. How do you think he'll do as chief of staff?
JOHNSON: Well, judging by the first five business days, so far so good. John is -- John is a Marine. And he is dedicated to his commander in chief's mission, whatever that mission may be. I don't believe John is a political animal. He accepts the mission and he follows it and will do it energetically.
DICKERSON: Let me look back at the Russia question and at the -- you put out a statement in October of 2016 --
DICKERSON: Letting the country know of declassified information. Were you surprised at the reaction to that information, that it wasn't stronger?
JOHNSON: Good question. Here's what I was surprised at. Jim Clapper and I issued that statement on October 7th, Friday, October 7, 2016. A lot of things happened on Friday, October 7, 2016, including the release of that "Access Hollywood" video the very same day.
So, when we were drafting that statement, we thought, this is unprecedented that the United States government is accusing a super power of interfering in our election. But it was literally below the fold news that day because of the release of the "Access Hollywood" video. So it did -- it did not at the time get the attention that I and others thought it would and should.
DICKERSON: But there were other dates after that between then and the election.
JOHNSON: Very clearly, yes.
DICKERSON: Had people gotten complacent about Russia at that point in --
JOHNSON: No, I don't think complacency is the right word. I think that in the heat of the campaign, there were lot of things going on, a lot of charges back and forth. We thought it was critical that the American voter and the American people know that there was a super power attempting to put his thumb on the scale of our American elections, before the election occurred, so that the American people could know what was behind a lot of the activity that we were seeing. There is still, however, a threat out there to our election infrastructure that this administration needs to address.
DICKERSON: Do you wish you had done more in retrospect?
JOHNSON: A lot of people like to ask those questions like that. Any time you take on a tough issue people say, should you have done more, should you have done it sooner, should you -- why did you do it at all? And I know that in the summer-fall run-up to the election, this was a front burner item for me, for the president, for our intelligence community. We took actions in the fall and in the last few days of the administration. Now it's on the next administration to carry forward a lot of the things that we did.
DICKERSON: And the FBI was monitoring on Election Day. Were you a part of that process? Monitoring for fake news on Election Day.
JOHNSON: The Department of Homeland Security very much was on alert on Election Day and in the days leading up to it, along with the FBI. And we were very concerned. Fortunately, 33 states and some 36 cities and counties came to us before the election to seek our cyber security assistance. And we identified a number of vulnerabilities in election infrastructure which were addressed.
But that process needs to continue. I'm concerned that we are almost as vulnerable perhaps now as we were six or nine months ago.
DICKERSON: When you see these attacks on the national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, the flood of Twitter traffic, suddenly all these stories are bouncing around. Is that -- do you look at that and say, that looks like what we saw before the election?
JOHNSON: I'm certainly suspicious of a concerted effort directed at this one individual. You know, I tell audience, and I told Congress in June, the cyber threat is going to get worse before it gets better in this country. Bad cyber actors are becoming more aggressive, more ingenious and more tenacious. And that's why we need a national campaign from the president, from the next secretary of homeland security, to really address this problem. Nothing would surprise me at this point in terms of their capabilities.
DICKERSON: You said elections are still vulnerable. We is it -- I mean we had hanging chads and long history of election issues. Why is it so hard to fix the election system?
JOHNSON: Well, part of it, frankly, in my judgment, is our politics. When I engaged state election officials last summer about helping them with their cyber security, we got a lot of pushback from local officials who said, this is our -- this is our domain. This is our responsibility. We don't want a federal takeover. And so I had to repeatedly say to them, this is not a federal takeover. We're here to provide assistance if you ask. And I'm glad that a lot of them did. But there is that dynamic that makes it particularly challenging.
DICKERSON: Final question.
When you were at the Department of Defense, you were the top lawyer there. You dealt with leaks a lot at the Department of Defense.
DICKERSON: Give me your assessment of what Attorney General Sessions has said about going after leaks. Is he drawing the line in the right place and what does he need to balance?
JOHNSON: The leaks right now are really bad. I've never seen it this bad. There should be a concerted effort to identify and go after leakers. The one note of caution I give the attorney general is what I tell younger lawyers, bad facts make bad law. So before you decide to take on journalists, reporters and perhaps subpoena their sources, be aware that the courts are going to get involved and that has the potential for making bad law in this area.
DICKERSON: All right, Secretary Johnson, thanks so much for being with us.
JOHNSON: Thank you very much.
DICKERSON: And we'll be back in a moment with our panel. Stay with us.
DICKERSON: Joining us now is "USA Today's" Washington bureau chief, Susan Page, Reihan Salam is the executive editor of "The National Review," Jennifer Jacobs covers the White House for "Bloomberg News," and Jamelle Bouie is a CBS News political analyst and "Slate" magazine's chief political correspondent.
Jennifer, I want to start with you.
We're going to go to the White House. A new chief of staff. One week, secretary Johnson seemed to have good reviews for him. What has Chief of Staff Kelly put in place and how are things changing?
JENNIFER JACOBS, BLOOMBERG NEWS: A lot of big things. And he's right, it is going well in the first few days. So the big things include taming tweets, loyalty and leaks, trimming some of the walk-in culture in the Oval Office, fostering a feeling of inclusiveness, so all the staff, despite all their disparate, you know, views, feel welcome in his office, as well as a sense of professionalism.
So on the tweets, he's not vetting every single tweet that the president puts out, but Trump has shown a willingness to come to General Kelly to run his tweet ideas by him. And -- and Kelly is not discouraging him from tweeting. In fact, it's the opposite. He has suggested some tweet ideas to the president that drive a narrative and Trump has been open to some of those. So Trump has -- has taken some of Kelly's advice and ignored other bits of it. But he seems to be willing to listen to him on that.
On the staff, he called an all-staff meeting on Friday in the old executive office building. More than 200 staffers showed up. And some of those staffers told me that he explained his expectation for them. And he said, listen, this -- these are your priorities. It's country first. The president is second. Your own personal desires are last. He stressed a work ethic. So he's just been -- he's been getting good reviews. The staff feels like he's open to their ideas. And he's also really tried to discourage anything that would embarrass the White House or the Oval Office, such as profanity-laden tirades.
So, Reihan, do you -- so this is the first step it sounds, but what's -- what's next in terms of getting the -- the administration back on track?
REIHAN SALAM, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Well, in Trump's orbit you get the sense that there's an effort to try to turn weakness into strength. This idea that unpredictability is a strength. You keep your enemies off balance.
The problem is that you also keep our allies off balance. And so what Kelly is trying to do is bring some clarity and consistency. This idea that he's a public servant isn't necessarily aligned on every issue with Trump. But if there is clarity, consistency, driving home to Trump and, you know, those who are most aligned with him ideologically, that this is actually helpful. And the idea of keeping everyone off balance has actually worked against you rather than for you.
So I think that you really need buy-in on that. The idea that by focusing on three or four core issues, core messages, that is actually going to help you in the long term.
DICKERSON: All right. And, Jamelle, that's -- Reihan has described the way it's supposed to work.
JAMELLE BOUIE, CBS NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
DICKERSON: But buy in on consistency is the president believes that his -- and his allies, and those who like him say his greatest quality is that he is a person of chaos and that he knows how to operate in chaos. That's his instinct.
BOUIE: Right. Right. And hopefully Kelly has been able to convince President Trump that -- that chaos has not serves him or his administration well. I think one challenge Kelly may have going forward is trying to control information flow. That it's -- it's clear that the new chief of staff wants to make sure that the president gets only good, reliable information. But the president himself tens to -- wants information that confirms his biases often and often solicits information that is quite bad. And so there is -- there's these competing things happening and I'm not entirely sure whether or not General Kelly will be able to control the information flow in a way that actually serves the president well.
DICKERSON: Speaking of information flow, some of the information they didn't want flowing were these transcripts that came out this week of the president in his conversations with the president of Mexico, the prime minister of Australia. What did we learn about the president in those conversations and is it unfair to even be judging them because these are supposed to be private conversations?
SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": Well, I do think they were extraordinary leaks. And we have seen this, as Secretary Johnson said, leaks in this administration we've never seen before in -- in modern times. And that's fueled a lot of concern within the administration.
But what we learned in these leaked transcript was that the leaked versions of these conversations were right and the White House versions of these conversations were inaccurate. So it's one more thing that undercuts the credibility of the White House in taking their word when they say things happened.
The White House said the conversation with the Australian prime minister was not contentious. We now know it was quite contentious.
And with the Mexican president we see the president of the United States saying, this big campaign promise I made on building a wall and making Mexico pay for it is the least important thing we'll talk about, but you need to back me up on this because politically I need you to do so.
So I think -- I think they were illuminating, but I can understand why the administration, and some foreign policy hands who are not particularly allies of President Trump, are concerned about the fact that they leaked.
DICKERSON: Because presidents have to be able to have candid conversations --
DICKERSON: And can't always -- you know, and allies or people on the other end of the line have to know that it's not going to --
PAGE: You know, we're for transparent government, but there are things that are secret for a reason And I think private conversations between world leaders historically would be one of those things.
DICKERSON: Jennifer, any downside, any risk, cost for the leak about the wall, where the president said, you know, this isn't as much of -- isn't such an important issue, but politically it might be. He was kind of saying, in the end, you may not have to pay for it. It will all come out in the wash. Do you think he pays any penalty? That is a big issue to his base.
JACOBS: Maybe. I do know some Republicans pointed out that it seemed like he was more interested in calling the media criticism of how he was going to pay for the wall than the actual wall policy itself.
DICKERSON: Although, Jamelle, I thought that -- that seemed reasonable, which is, you have a -- you say, look, we've got to -- we've got to arrange this behind the scenes. We'll work it out together. But don't go out there and put me in a box out in public. Did we learn anything? It seemed like the president was trying to negotiate.
BOUIE: Right. Right.
DICKERSON: Did we learn about anything about -- I mean negotiating is his key still. Did we learn anything about his negotiating talents from these transcripts?
BOUIE: I think in the conversation with the Mexican president, that -- that that exchange actually was sort of point in favor of -- of Trump's negotiating skill, trying to figure out some way that no one has to lose face here.
But the conversation with the Australian prime minister I found very disturbing, not necessarily because of the negotiating skill, but because it sort of showed kind of a profound ignorance of the issues at stake, that the Australian prime minister is patiently trying to explain to the president that -- that -- what -- who these refugees are, what the issue is and the president doesn't seem to be able to grasp it and keeps on retreating back to basically campaign slogans.
And while I'm -- I'm sympathetic to the idea that these conversations need to be private, I think its -- it's -- it was good that we as the public saw this because it is worrisome that the president cannot seem to hold a -- a cogent policy conversation with another head of state in a -- in a serious way.
SALAM: It is also true, however, that the Turnbull conversation was a real master class in how a very successful center right approach to immigration has worked and proven doable. Turnbull built on the work of previous prime ministers, including John Howard, on this issue. And what he said is, look, I will be happy to take Central American refugees from the United States, but we are making very clear, we will not accept anyone from one of the boats (ph). Clarity and consistency.
And what happened in Australia is that the center left was forced to adapt to what the center right did? Why? Because it was clear and consistent. So, in a way, if Donald Trump came away from that experience with anything, one hopes that it would be that Turnbull has actually figured out a way to talk about this issue that has achieved a surprisingly broad consensus despite having been pretty contentious and still contentious at the edges.
PAGE: But there was no sense in that conversation that Donald Trump was taking that message.
SALAM: Look, it's very possible that he was having a blood sugar moment at that time, right? But if you're looking at what happened, who is the member of the administration he has elevated most? It is John Kelly.
What distinguishes John Kelly? John Kelly is someone who's taken the most contentious aspect of the Trump domestic agenda, or one of the most contentious, certainly immigration, and he actually was able to talk about it in a fairly plausible way in which he emphasized, look, I'm talking to the front line folks. I'm talking to the officials in the Department of Homeland Security, in border enforcement. This is still contentious. It hasn't stopped being that. But he managed to be clear and consistent.
If this is what John Kelly manages to get through to the president, and I think it's possible that he will, that will be a very big and marked change.
DICKERSON: Jamelle, I want to ask you about another thing that Kelly did this week, which was, obviously, he got rid of Anthony Scaramucci, but some people were pointing out to me the more interesting thing was the public reassurance for Attorney General Sessions, that his job was not in danger. Sending signals to the attorney general, of course, but also maybe to others as well.
BOUIE: Right. Be -- the president's sort of -- I don't know how to describe it. Like, putting the attorney general in the dog house. Like I'm not fairly sure how to describe what that was. But the president's criticism of the attorney general rattled Republican allies on The Hill. And I think that was very much an attempt of the -- of the chief of staff to say, listen, he's not going anywhere. These relationships are secure and we need to be able to begin to work together to get something through.
Because it is worth noting that we are in August of the president's first year and there is no major legislation that the president has signed. And that, I think, has to be weighing on both people within the administration and on The Hill.
DICKERSON: Jennifer, I want to ask you about H.R. McMaster. There was this blooming in -- in -- I don't even know which corner of the Internet to claim all of these stories were coming from, but they came fast and hard over the last week. What do you make of it? The president came out and defended his national security advisor. Help people understand the tea leaves and why this is important.
JACOBS: Yes, that's exactly right. General Kelly did encourage Trump to stand by McMaster, you know, just as he stood behind Jeff Sessions. There -- it's true, the reporting is true, that there is a little bit of a conflict between McMaster and Steve Bannon, Trump's chief strategist.
Some people in the administration see McMaster, he -- they've got some philosophical, some intellectual differences. They see him as a professor type who kind of preaches, who talks down to the president. He kind of irks some people sometimes. But I've been told -- several people have said that Kelly is neutral on him right now. He's waiting to see how he fits in with the team, how he fits in with President Trump. And so he's standing pad (ph) on him for now.
DICKERSON: Reihan, I want to ask you about the economy. The president, this week, got some good -- everybody got good news on the economy. Unemployment at a 16-year low. The president talked a lot about the stock market and its record highs "Politico" counted ten times in the last month. Is the -- is the -- is the success of the stock market helping the forgotten man that the president said his campaign and presidency were dedicated to?
SALAM: This strikes me as a serious mistake, a serious analytical mistakes, as well as a political mistake. It's an analytical mistake because, look, you know, corporations may well do -- you know, may do well at the expense of the labor market, right? If you have a tight labor market, that is bad news for corporate profits. So I think the -- and you certainly saw a very robust and healthy corporate America --
DICKERSON: Because a tight labor market means higher wages.
SALAM: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. So I think that it's a mistake to fixate on that.
You know, there was this theory back in the 2001 often heard about, which is this idea of the investor class. The idea that because people have 401(k) and what have you, they're investing in the stock market. So really this is a much broader thing. When the stock market does well, the country as a whole does well.
And the truth is that there's not very much evidence for that. There's not very much evidence that having a 401(k) oftentimes, by the way, a very tiny 401(k), has some appreciable effect on how you start looking at the economy.
But, emphasizing the value of having a tight labor market, talking about how, hey, look, you know, we're not going to move to a hard money policy at the Fed. We actually want more robust growth, even if it means somewhat more inflation in the short term. That's the kind of policy that would resonate, that would also be more sensible from his perspective because, look, he really depend on Obama-Trump voters. This was a small sliver of the electorates, but it was all important in flipping states in the blue wall, right? And those are the voters who are falling away from them and those are the voters who don't respond terribly well to an economic message that seems fixated on how well the stock market is doing.
TRUMP: And, plus, Susan, what goes up can come down.
PAGE: That -- it's dangerous in that way. But I have to say, the -- you -- we blame presidents when things go wrong in the economy, whether they deserve it or not, so they get credit when the economy does well with the record stock market in these very low unemployment rates. And, you know, we've seen the president's approval rating erode into the mid-30s, which is really a catastrophic level historically for a president at this point. Where would it be if he didn't have a booming stock market and low unemployment.
PAGE: I mean he has been quite fortunate in the fact that the economy hasn't -- not everything is fixed, but the economy is chugging alone. We haven't had a kind of very serious foreign policy crisis that would undercut him. That will happen on one front or the other at some point. And what happens to President Trump at that point.
DICKERSON: And, Jamelle, on the -- picking up on Reihan's point about the Democrats, that -- that white working class voter, Tom Insell (ph) had a piece in "The New York Times" about how when the president appeals, as he appears to have been recently, on cultural issues to his base, that it may have nothing to do with the economy at all. That those voters are so locked in to the president that when the president is talking about whether it's affirmative action this week or he's talking about reducing legal immigration, that that is the reason he has a hold on those voters. And Democrats, though they've rolled out a new approach to them, are not going to get them back.
BOUIE: I think -- I think it's both and some early sort of analysis of the electorate last year suggests that those voters -- what Trump basically did is he appealed to them on these cultural issues, on immigration, on perceptions of crime, but also blurred differences with himself with Hillary Clinton on infrastructure, on the economy, right? So Hillary Clinton proposed a $600 billion infrastructure plan. He would say, no, we should -- it should be a trillion dollars. And for these voters who are both culturally conservative but also want an active government, that was like the -- that was like the magic mix for them.
I do think it's a real threat to his standing with those voters that he is not delivering on the economic side. I think some of them will stay with him because he is delivering on this cultural side. I think -- I don't think it's an accident that his approval rating is in the 30s. He is -- and he's rolling out policies on affirmative action and on immigration. But the economic part is important, too.
DICKERSON: OK. We're going to have to end it there. Thanks to all of you.
And we'll be back in a moment.
DICKERSON: We pay tribute today to a man who was an important part of the 62-year history of FACE THE NATION and a friend to many of us here at CBS. Bob Vitarelli, or "Vit" as we called him, died last Sunday at the age of 86.
Vit started in the mail room at CBS in New York in 1953, became a producer and then a director. He traveled the world for the network, but was based here in Washington, in this building, for almost 30 years. He directed history from the CBS control room, major events ranging from the 1961 Mercury flight, which led to the first man in space, to the funerals of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King to the Watergate hearings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On FACE THE NATION --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DICKERSON: And from our FACE THE NATION control room in the Washington bureau, he led this broadcast for 22 years.
Vit will be missed, but his view of history will be preserved forever, right here each week.
DICKERSON: That's it for us today. Thanks for watching. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I'm John Dickerson.