Face the Nation February 26, 2017 transcript: Brennan, Kasich, Focus Group

Former CIA Director John Brennan appears on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017.

CBS News

JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST: Today, on FACE THE NATION: With growing pressure on Capitol Hill for an independent investigation of Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, the White House pushes back hard against leaks and the press.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources, they just make them up when there are none.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DICKERSON: We will go one-on-one with former CIA Director John Brennan in his first television appearance since he left the spy agency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You work for us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DICKERSON: Outside Washington, as angry constituents confront members of Congress back home in town hall meetings, we sat down with a group of Richmond, Virginia, area residents to get their thoughts on the new president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINA: I feel like everybody is sitting on pins and needles. They’re sort of like waiting. I feel like we have to be hopeful.

DAVID: I like some of what Trump wants to do, and some of what he wants to do scares me to death.

GEORGE: The man has only been in office for a little over 30 days. He is going to be there for four years. I am giving him four years to make a difference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DICKERSON: Ohio Governor John Kasich thinks he has a better plan for fixing Obamacare. We will talk to him about his meeting with the president, his one-time Republican primary rival.

Our national security correspondent, David Martin, reports from the field. Plus, we will have plenty of political analysis.

It’s all coming up on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I am John Dickerson. Once again, we have a lot to get to today.

And we are going to begin with former CIA Director John Brennan, who, in addition to serving as homeland security adviser to President Obama,spent 25 years at the CIA under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Welcome.

Let’s start with reports that the White House asked the chairmen of the two Intelligence Committees to not back reports about an investigation into Russian efforts to collude with the Trump campaign in the election.

How does that strike you? What is your reaction to that?

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, I certainly don’t know the content of the conversations that they had with the media.

And I have tremendous respect for Senator Burr, who is chairman of the Senate committee which is going to be undertaking this investigation.

And I do think it is very important that that investigation be done in a bipartisan fashion. If it is only one party that is going to be leading this, it is not going to deliver the results that the American people need and deserve.

So, I do hope that they are very conscious of the fact that, not just the concern about the content of a discussion that they might have had with the media, but also the appearance of any impropriety. But, again, I think Chairman Burr recognizes his responsibilities, and along with Vice Chairman Warner, I really do hope that they pursue this investigation with vigor and with the appropriate amount of bipartisan support that it needs.

DICKERSON: The White House also said that they talked to FBI Director Comey about the investigation going on, and that Comey told them -- or that the FBI told the White House there is nothing to these stories about Russians contacting Trump administration officials.

Do you think -- you know James Comey, the director of the FBI. Do you think he would have weighed in on what was happening with an ongoing investigation?

BRENNAN: I have tremendous respect for Jim Comey, his competence and integrity.

And it has been my experience working with Jim that he would not do anything that was going to in any way compromise the integrity of an ongoing investigation. And that’s why anybody who claims that the facts are already known in terms of what did or didn’t happen between Russian officials and U.S. persons during the election, I think, is speaking very prematurely.

And -- but the White House needs to understand that the interaction with the FBI on criminal investigations is something that, really, they need to steer clear of. Certainly, when I was in the White House for four years, and then at the CIA, any type of engagement between the White House and the FBI about an ongoing criminal investigation was verboten, again, not just because of the impropriety of doing it, but the appearance that it would provide to folks on the outside that there might be some unwarranted interference in such an investigation.

DICKERSON: So, this is not regular business? This wouldn’t have happened -- when you were serving, the White House never called you and said, hey, would you help us out here, we got a story, we need some -- talk to some reporters?

BRENNAN: No, I never did that on behalf of the White House request, and the White House never made a request of me in that regard, particularly if it is an investigation that is, by implication, deals with some members who might -- individuals who might have been associated with the individuals that currently reside in the White House.

DICKERSON: We talked to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes last week. And I want to play something that he said and get your reaction to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: What we have is, we do have people in the last administration, people who are burrowed in, perhaps all throughout the government, who clearly are leaking to the press.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DICKERSON: So, what is your reaction to that? We were talking about leads of sensitive information from Obama administration officials.

BRENNAN: Well, I think it is very unhelpful to make allegations about who is responsible for these leaks.

And I think we have to distinguish between leaks of classified information, which is against the law, and leaks of discussions that ought to be taking place within the administration.

And as far as leaks of classified information are concerned, I agree that they are appalling and they need to be investigated, they need to stop, because the impact on our collection systems and our capabilities can be grave.

So, I do think it is important to be able to stop those leaks. But the information can be coming from any number of quarters, whether it be intelligence community, White House, Congress, because a lot of people have access to this information.

DICKERSON: One of the things that Chairman Nunes said is that, particularly with respect to National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, he said there is no one way anybody would know about phone conversations he had with the Russian ambassador unless they were at the very highest levels of a previous administration, and that that is why he was pointing to previous administration officials.

Does that make sense to you?

BRENNAN: Well, again, until there is an investigation in terms of who had access to this information, how it might have been shared, beyond that -- the senior most circle of individuals, I do think it is premature to be pointing fingers at anybody, whether in this administration or the previous administration, who may have been responsible for those leaks.

DICKERSON: I want to switch to the topic of President Trump’s travel ban.

There is a report that the Department of Homeland Security, that intelligence in -- from the department says that the travel ban really won’t solve a big problem, that these seven countries aren’t responsible for -- now, it is not the full report, but give me your sense of how an administration assesses this kind of information as it comes in.

Is it they take it -- the president takes it in, then he can do what he wants? Does he have to live by it? How should people think about this and this report?

BRENNAN: Well, the Department of Homeland Security has a responsibility for providing the assessments and insights into how best to protect this country from individuals who may be coming from overseas, in concert with the CIA and FBI and other elements of the intelligence community.

I do think that report puts its finger on it by saying that citizenship is not the indicator of a potential terrorist action. There are a lot of factors that go into it. So, individual might have traveled from their country of birth, might have different experiences, might have associated with certain elements that lent themselves then to terrorist activities.

So, the vetting process that needs to go on has to take into account multiple factors, not just countries of origin or where they might be departing from.

DICKERSON: The Trump administration would say, though, these countries were targeted by the Obama administration in terms of their being the birthplace of terrorism, and some of them are on the terrorist watch list. Why not be vigilant about them?

BRENNAN: Oh, and we need to be vigilant about them, but that doesn’t mean that there needs to be a temporary ban on individuals who are arriving from those countries.

And so, during the Obama administration, yes, we looked very carefully at what was happening in those countries and how we could ensure that we would take the steps to protect this country from having individuals arrive here on our shores that might have nefarious purposes.

DICKERSON: If you were advising the president right now about the threats to the homeland, where would you put the travel ban in the rank order? And, if it is not number one, what would you put ahead of it?

BRENNAN: I don’t think the travel ban is going to help in any significant way.

What they need to do is to, again, take into account all the various means that terrorist groups use to try to carry out attacks here in the homeland. And the cyber domain is the area where most of the terrorist groups now are operating in a very freewheeling fashion.

And so the efforts to incite and to encourage and to recruit via that cyber domain is something that the FBI and the intelligence agencies are very, very vigilant about.

So, it’s -- it may sound good to have a ban against individuals coming from certain countries, but you really need to take a look at what is truly going to mitigate the nature of the -- and the scope of the terrorist threat that we face.

DICKERSON: Is there a downside to the ban?

BRENNAN: Well, yes.

I think, first of all, it send a very bad message to individuals that are being singled out because of their nationality. It also gives a clear impression that there is an effort on the part of this administration to focus on Muslims themselves.

So, I think it’s subject to various interpretations that do not help our national security.

DICKERSON: You know, you are here speaking to us on the record, but I should ask you, have you talked to anybody in the press since leaving?

BRENNAN: No, I have not. You are the first one that I have talked to in the press.

DICKERSON: Meaning on, off the record, or any of that?

BRENNAN: That is correct, yes.

DICKERSON: Let’s go to North Korea.

BRENNAN: Which is why, as people point fingers about leaks, I certainly welcome that investigation to stop those leaks, because they shouldn’t be taking place. And anybody who thinks I’m responsible for that is dead wrong.

DICKERSON: If you were still director of the CIA, what would keep you up at night?

BRENNAN: Oh, there are many things that used to keep me up at night, from the standpoint of, what is it that we need to do in order to prevent proliferators from achieving their aims, from the terrorist groups, cyber, but also Russia, what they might be looking at in terms of their next area for exploitation, what they did across the board on elections.

So, one of the things that the intelligence community and law enforcement agencies have to do now is to deal with simultaneous issues with great consequence to our national security.

DICKERSON: Should Russia be monitored, what are they going to do next, or should they be confronted?

BRENNAN: I think it has to be a little bit of both.

Certainly, the Russians have an agenda when it comes to trying to exert their influence in different parts of the world. We see what they did in Ukraine. We see what they did in Syria and also here in our elections.

They look at the European landscape also as ripe for exploitation in terms of trying to have individuals who are sympathetic to Russia’s agenda be elected.

DICKERSON: President Trump is very focused on North Korea. We have had this -- reports that V.X. nerve gas was used to kill the half-brother of the leader of North Korea.

What does that say to you about that assassination attempt and where North Korea is?

BRENNAN: Well, it says a couple things. One is that Kim Jong-un continues to use lethal means to eliminate either opponents of his regime internally or those who he just disagrees with.

There has been brutal repression inside of North Korea over the last number of years under Kim Jong-un’s leadership. He’s killed many, many individuals in some of the most brutal means possible.

The use of this V.X. against his half-brother -- certainly, all indicators point to North Korean responsibility for this -- it is another example of his use of these types of toxins to carry out his objectives.

DICKERSON: H.R. McMaster, the new national security adviser, has reportedly said that the phrase radical Islamic terrorism should be avoided.

President Trump has said, if you don’t use that term, you don’t adequately understand the nature of the threat out there.

Where do you come down on that debate?

BRENNAN: General McMaster has a stellar reputation, not just as a military officer and leader, but as a very, very thoughtful national security specialist.

And I think he recognizes that these bumper sticker terms, like radical Islam being responsible for terrorism, does more harm than good. You need to be precise. And it is one of the things that I think the president needs to realize is that, when he uses language, it has resonance around the world, not just with his constituent base here in the United States.

So, being much more disciplined in terms of the language that we use, I think, is something that is going to help our national security. And General McMaster in his early days saying that that is an unhelpful phrase gives me either -- even greater confidence that he is going to do what he needs to do as national security adviser, and hopefully be able to sway the thoughts and ideas and inclinations of some of the individuals who work with him in the White House complex.

DICKERSON: All right, Mr. Brennan, thank you so much for being with us. We are out of time.

And we will be back in a minute with our focus group. They have some surprising views on what is going on in this country.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN DICKERSON: As we continue our efforts to bring viewers a sense of what’s going on across America and hear from voices not just in Washington, we travelled to the Richmond, Virginia to talk to a group at the Old City Hall about what was on their mind politically after one month of the Trump administration.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN DICKERSON: Word or phrase that describes our country right now.

ISAIAH: Turmoil. Right now, if you lose, you don’t lose. You just fight, fight, fight. You fuss, fuss, fuss. Obstruction is now a technique. Failure is something to promote if it’s on the other guys.

JOHN DICKERSON: Gina, what about you?

GINA: I feel like everybody is sitting on pins and needles. So it’s sort of like waiting. I feel like we have to be hopeful.

JOHN DICKERSON: Charles, what about you?

CHARLES: Volatility, turmoil and chaos.

JOHN DICKERSON: Barb, what about you?

BARB: Frustration. A lot of people are afraid too.

JOHN DICKERSON: You say a lot of people are afraid?

BARB: Yeah. They don’t know what’s going to happen.

JOHN DICKERSON: Aaron, what about you?

AARON: I think the word is change. We’ve got a president who very clearly does things in a different way and is surrounded by a team that does things in a different way. They’re going about keeping their campaign promises, but they communicate them in a different way.

JUSTIN: Angry. I think a lot of people are angry. A lot of people based their vote on their anger. And now, a lot of people are fighting back with their anger against the vote for Donald Trump. So anger.

PAT: I would say scary because people really don’t know what to expect. There are promises that are made, and they don’t know if they’re going to be kept or the-- you know, what is going to happen if they’re kept. So I think people are just kind of afraid. We’re all scared-- scared and afraid right now.

SEENU: I’d say a mass confusion. I think-- they promised us that they’re going to drain the swamp. But instead, I think we’re getting more of the same.

JOHN DICKERSON: George, what’s impressed you the most about the president?

GEORGE: That he won.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN DICKERSON: Since becoming president what’s impressed you the most--

GEORGE: I-- the energy that man has. He seems relentless. I mean, day after day, he’s-- it’s always something. And he has a way-- yes, and I don’t like all the comments he makes on Twitter, but you can’t-- they’re always-- he’s always the news 24/7. You can-- he absorbs all the air out of the room.

JOHN DICKERSON: Barb, if you had to give the president advice, what advice would you give him?

BARB: Think before you speak. (LAUGHTER) Or Twitter.

JOHN DICKERSON: Sheila, when the president wakes up every morning, what do you think he’s thinking about?

SHEILA: Himself. (LAUGHTER) He reminds me of-- and probably some of the women here remember this type from middle school on, girls who did nothing but think about their wedding. They didn’t even have a groom in mind, but they were planning that. And all of the energy went into that wedding, to the pomp, to the ceremony. And actually being married and making it work was so far to the back, that they just kept coming back to wanting to redo the wedding, wanting to entertain lavishly and that type of thing. They still weren’t thinking about being married. And he’s not thinking about being president.

JOHN DICKERSON: For those of you who voted for Donald Trump, what was the promise of his presidency?

CHARLES: Well, it is his drain the swamp, and which I took to mean the control of the regulations that have abounded under the previous administration.

JOHN DICKERSON: David, what gives you hope?

DAVID: Hope is we will change presidents somewhere down the line. I like some of what Trump wants to do. And some of what he wants to do scares me to death.

JOHN DICKERSON: What do you like?

DAVID: Immigration.

JOHN DICKERSON: What about it--

DAVID: Let’s secure the borders. Let’s reign in all of the people coming into the country without documents. The simple fact that they’re here makes them a criminal. And I would ask people, “Do you lock your doors at night,” or do you just open a door and say, “Here’s a sign. Come on in. Take my food, (LAUGHTER) watch my TV. Oh yeah, I’ll buy you dinner. Here are some groceries.” Nobody in this country does that. We lock our doors for various reasons. We need to lock the border. Let the people come in legally. You know, the country’s built on immigrants. But do it properly.

JOHN DICKERSON: Gina, what’s the number one issue for you?

GINA: Well, as a businessman, I was hoping that he would be able to control the finances better. I watched The Apprentice. It was one of my favorite shows (LAUGHTER) believe it or not. And I-- liked him on the show. I liked his position, what-- his energy. I didn’t vote for him, but I just felt like he should come from a financial background and that that’s what we need.

JOHN DICKERSON: I’d like everybody to listen to this and-- and see if you think this is going to happen. Here’s what the president has promised for the replacement of Obamacare. He says his replacement will, “Take care of everybody.” “There will be better healthcare for more people, at lesser cost.” Who here thinks that that’s-- possible in politics today, a plan that encompasses all of that? (SOME RAISE HANDS) So you got some-- some optimism there about that. Why do you think that, Charles?

CHARLES: Some of Obamacare people-- people really like. I think it’s-- I don’t think it’s at this point, it’s going to work to completely junk it. It’s going to have to be-- fixed. But whatever we come up with, it’s not going to work unless-- we come up with some way to pay for it.

JUSTIN: We all got to remember that, thankfully, he’s a president, not a dictator. So he’s going to have to deal with Congress. He’s also going to have to deal with the insurance companies. They’re going to obviously want to have a big say in that. So just for him to spout, “Oh, it’s going to be the best, the greatest, the most wonderful thing possible,” is just not realistic, in my opinion.

CHARLES: That’s right.

JOHN DICKERSON: Does the press give Donald Trump a fair shake?

BARB: Not always. But some of it’s his fault I think.

DAVID: I don’t think the media’s too hard on Trump. When you report what he says and then he calls it fake news-- you kind of have to wonder where he’s coming from.

GEORGE: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the news to asking the hard questions. And to me, though, they focus too much on the negative stuff. I know the other night the only channel, which was FOX, that was broadcasting when he had all the coal workers in there when he said-- they were the only channel that broadcasted and report that that night. That was something good because Senator Manchin was there, who’s a Democrat. But they seem to focus on, yes, he-- does missteps. The man’s only been in office for a little over 30 days. He’s going to be there for four years. I’m giving him four years to make a difference.

JOHN DICKERSON: Does anyone have a member of their family here that will be directly affected by a policy that Donald Trump has talked about?

AARON: I am very much looking forward to the repealing and replacing of Obamacare because it directly affects my mother. The current system raised her rates in the middle of chemotherapy $1,300 a month. It’s absolutely insane. And to say that policy is helping people, it needs to go. It needs to be replaced.

JOHN DICKERSON: And you feel like the replacement will be better than what she’s got now?

AARON: I-- it has to be.

JOHN DICKERSON: Final question, Gina, I’ll start with you. So it’s 20 years from now, and you’re talking to the next generation, and you’re telling them what happened in the Trump years and how it ended. What story do you tell them?

GINA: I think the expectation is going to be high, has been high from the beginning. And I think it’s going to dwindle down. I don’t think there’s going to be much changes to Obamacare. I don’t think there’s going to be changes to the economy that much.

JOHN DICKERSON: Charles, based on the way you see things happening now, and what you think about this president and this country, how do you think it looks 20 years from now?

CHARLES: Well, I think we’d have to tell future generations that-- unless President Trump can turn things around, that we dropped the ball. I mean-- unelected bureaucrats in these agencies are getting more and more power over our lives every single day. And I don’t see any-- I don’t see any change on the horizon for that. Maybe-- maybe I’m being pessimistic, that maybe-- maybe President Trump can make some changes.

ISAIAH: That story is going to sound like the citizenry dropped the ball. Donald Trump, good, bad, or indifferent, is not the problem. The problem is there are people that like Donald Trump. There are people that hate Donald Trump. There’s a larger group of people that did not vote, and until we get a consensus from the population about who’s being elected to represent all the people, then you’re going to get this minority rule, which is what we have. I would tell the future, “Don’t ever let that happen again. Turn the idiot box off. Turn Fox News off and NBC and CB-- turn them all off, and start talking to your family. Start talking to your friends. Start talking to your neighbors. Because we are the government.”

JOHN DICKERSON: Seenu--

SEENU: After the election, my two daughters were so despondent. They said, “Daddy, how did this happen?” And poll after poll predicted Hillary Clinton would have won. So they were surprised that it was reversed. And I explained to them, “Sweetheart, if you look at the overall history of the U.S., we have survived many elections. And this is another election that we’ll survive, and we’ll become stronger because of this.”

JOHN DICKERSON: All right, thanks to all of you. We’ll be back here in 20 years (LAUGHTER) to talk to all of you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN DICKERSON: If you want to watch more from our focus group, it is available on our website FacetheNation.com. 

And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: You can keep up with the news of the week by subscribing to the FACE THE NATION Diary podcast. Find us on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: Stay with us.

There is a lot more FACE THE NATION coming up.

And if you can’t watch us live, you can watch full episodes of FACE THE NATION on CBS All Access, as well as your -- as our Web site, FACETHENATION.com. Plus, we are available on video on demand on your cable system.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION.

In one of his first executive actions, the president ordered the Pentagon to develop a new strategy to defeat ISIS. CBS News national security correspondent David Martin has spent the last week traveling with the U.S. Central Command throughout the Middle East assessing the fight. He joins us from Cairo.

David, the president will get this report tomorrow from the Pentagon. What are you seeing out there in advance of it?

DAVID MARTIN, CBS NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: What you’re seeing is that the number one priority for the U.S. military is to liberate the ISIS capital of Raqqa inside Syria. That is regarded as ground zero for plotting against -- plotting terrorist attacks against the west, both Turkey and in Europe, but not necessarily in the United States.

DICKERSON: Have you seen the pace of things change, David, and how will they go about liberating Raqqa?

MARTIN: Last summer the plan was to attack both the ISIS capital of Mosul in Iraq and the ISIS capital of Raqqa in Syria simultaneously. It hasn’t worked out that way. And the principal problem is that they are still training and equipping the force that would be needed to assault Raqqa. And the issue there is whether or not the U.S. is going to arm these local Syrian fighters with the kind of heavy weapons that you need to assault a city.

But the problem is, the troops in question are Kurdish. And Turkey, which is a member of NATO and a key ally in this campaign against ISIS, is vehemently opposed to arming the Kurds because they view the Kurds as an enemy. But the U.S. military is at the point where they are willing to deal with whatever blowback they get from Turkey in order to be able to arm these -- these fighters and get on with the assault against Raqqa.

DICKERSON: David, tell us about the assault in Mosul.

MARTIN: Mosul’s divided in half by the Tigris River and that’s how the Iraqis are going about liberating it. In the eastern half, it took 100 days. And during that time, they had 500 killed and 3,000 wounded in action because they were not effectively coordinating their movements against ISIS. That’s why American advisors have been moved closer to the front lines now when the assault on western Mosul began last Sunday.

DICKERSON: David, military advisors are worried about drones. What’s their concern?

MARTIN: The basic concern is the U.S. military has lost its monopoly on drones. ISIS has started buying drones off the shelf, outfitting them with either hand grenades or artillery shells and then using those drones to drop them on Iraqi troops. And they have no real defense against them, other than just to take their rifles and fire them in the air and try to shoot one of them down.

So what’s going to have to happen is that the United States is going to have to figure out where these drones are being outfitted and start targeting those buildings with air strikes to take out this -- this new capability, which ISIS is -- is getting better and better at.

DICKERSON: David Martin for us in Cairo. Thank you, David.

And we’ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: We’re back with Ohio governor and former Republican presidential candidate John Kasich, in town for the Republican Governor’s Conference. And he also met with President Trump on Friday.

Governor, you met with the president to talk about healthcare. Where do you think he is in his thinking about reforming the Affordable Care Act?

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Well, you know, I kind of outlined for him the things that I thought would work. I mean the program needs reformed. I mean if you look over on the exchange side, some of these companies are melting down and you don’t want to have all whole -- all the exchanges collapse. And you also don’t want to be in a position of where you don’t cover these 20 million Americans. You have to make sure that you have a system that’s reformed, that’s more affordable, but -- and is going to work, but we’re just not going to pull the rug out from under people. He listened intently to me. He got Secretary Price on the phone right -- we were there, the two of us.

And here’s what I think the problem is. The question is, are Democrats going to work with Republicans to fix this -- this system? What I’m hearing is they -- no. You know, you Republicans didn’t work with us when we did Obamacare, we’re not going to work with you, and that’s -- that’s kind of like fifth grade stuff. Because what’s at risk are all these people who are now getting coverage, and we don’t want to see it denied to them.

DICKERSON: I guess Democrats would say, but they just want to -- they want to repeal it. They don’t want to fix it, they just what to take --

KASICH: Well, I -- I -- I --

DICKERSON: What’s your sense of that in terms of the president’s thinking?

KASICH: I -- look, I can’t read his mind, but I felt it was very positive. He responded very positively to a number of the ideas I had. And the fact of the matter is, you can’t just repeal without repealing and replacing at the same time. It just becomes a political impossibility. And there’s no reason to do it any other way than that.

DICKERSON: I wonder what you make of what former Speaker John Boehner said recently.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOEHNER, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: But most of the Affordable Care Act, the framework, is going to stay there. I shouldn’t have called it repeal and replace because that’s not what’s going to happen, it’s basically like going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DICKERSON: Do you agree with that characterization (INAUDIBLE)?

KASICH: I think he’s pretty close to where, if -- if it gets done. I mean there’s going to be a problem in the House of getting anything out of there that still provides coverage to people. That’s why the Republicans have to reach out to some of the Democrats. I don’t know whether this is going to happen.

DICKERSON: Why is there a problem? Explain -- explain that problem to me.

KASICH: Well, because I think there are some very conservative Republicans in the House who are going to say, just get rid of the whole thing. And, you know, that’s not acceptable when you have 20 million people or 700,000 people in my state, because where do the mentally ill go, where do the drug addict go?

And, look, I don’t understand everything that’s going on with these town halls, but what I think it’s -- it’s having an impact from the standpoint of, hey, the people are watching, I don’t think they mind reform, but don’t take everything away.

John, let me tell you, the Republicans can go and do what they want. And I’m going to talk to them. But at the end of the day, I’m going to stand up for the people that -- that wouldn’t have the coverage if they don’t get this thing right. And I happen to believe that the best way to get this -- get this right over time is for actually both parties to work together. I know that’s considered an impossibility now, but what’s at stake is not some political thing. What’s at stake here are 20 million Americans.

DICKERSON: Let me move on to the question of leaks in Washington. You are no longer of Washington, but you know how the place works. There are --

KASICH: It leaks like a sieve. I mean, come on.

DICKERSON: Yes. And is -- are we in a new age or is this kind of what you see -- you look to Washington and it looks pretty much like it always has to you?

KASICH: I -- I -- well, the leaks are the same, but what Washington doesn’t look like to me, when I was here, is that if you’re not of the same political party, we don’t like you. And there’s fighting inside the parties, but there’s fighting between the parties. And when we’re divided and fighting all the time, nothing really significant can get done.

The partisanship is amazing. But there’s one other thing. People are -- are only consuming news that they happen to agree with. Whether it’s regular news or whether it’s fake news. So we live in a silo. If I’m a liberal, I just consume liberal stuff. If I’m a conservative, I just consume conservative stuff. And, by the way, I’m an expert and how dare you try to tell me how things ought to work.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you a specific question about something that’s been in the paper, which is that the intelligence committee chairmans in the House and Senate were called by the White House and said, hey will you help us out with these stories about leaks? What do you -- is that -- what do you think about that?

KASICH: Well, there -- I remember there were leaks back when I was here that -- some of which came out of the intelligence committees. And I think that when people take an oath to be secret in the intelligence committee, which is the committee that doesn’t get any publicity, thank goodness, but it’s the committee that’s at the root of the security of our country, when people leak there, they need to really be held accountable.

DICKERSON: And --

KASICH: And on -- in terms of this investigation, there needs to be some cooperation, House and Senate intelligence. They need to get to the bottom of all of this. And they need to do it together. And, you know, I think that’s the way we should proceed. But leaks are not acceptable out of the Intelligence Committee.

DICKERSON: If the intelligence committee chairmen are looking into the administration, how can they also defend the administration? Do you see a conflict there?

KASICH: Well, look, I’m a Republican, but I put my country before my party. My party is my vehicle and not my master. If you are the chairman of the Budget Committee or the Intelligence Committee, it is your job to lead for the best of the country. It’s not your job to think about, well, what’s my party going to say, or what’s the White House going to say or -- I mean, come on, John, I mean this is what’s -- this is what’s at the root wrong when people think, it’s my party more than it is my country.

DICKERSON: You were a critic of the presidents. You’ve now met with him. What gives you hope about the president?

KASICH: Well, I mean, he listened to me and, as I said, you know, I’m on a plane and he’s the pilot. And, you know, the fact is, I want the pilot to be successful. But you know what, every once in a while, I was thinking about this last night, you need to yell into the cockpit. And what I told the White House is, look, I mean, since I was a young man here at the age of 30, I had fought at times with Reagan, President Reagan, with President Bush. My job is, when you do a good job, praise you, and when you do something I don’t agree with, and I’m -- and I feel compelled, I’m going to speak out. And when I said that in this meeting, there were a few more people in the Oval Office, they said, yes, we know this, OK. But I’m not doing that to try to further anything other than, if I don’t agree with something, I’ve got to say it as long as I’m not being self-righteous. You know, what I worry about is being hoisted on my own self-righteous part, I have to be careful of that. Now check that out in Google.

DICKERSON: Amen, governor. We all do.

Governor Kasich, thanks so much for being here.

KASICH: Thank you, John, very much.

DICKERSON: We’ve got a lot more FACE THE NATION coming up and we’ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: And we’re back now with our political panel.

Lanhee Chen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and was Mitt Romney’s policy director, Ben Domenech is the publisher of “The Federalist,” Molly Ball covers politics for “The Atlantic,” and Ezra Klein is the editor in chief of Vox.com.

Ben, I want to start with you.

Intelligence Committee chairman giving the White House a little help. Did they do something wrong?

BEN DOMENECH, “THE FEDERALIST”: I think that this is a -- clearly a very fractious time when it comes to the discussion of these issues. I do think that they overstepped the bounds of normalcy when it comes to these types of conversations a bit. But when it -- when we understand the broader sort of conversation about Russia’s influence in America, I think that we have to appreciate, you know, how much the American people, you know, should not be disowned for the opinion that they, you know, delivered.

Russia did have an effect, I think, when it came to this election in undermining the beliefs and the trust that Americans hold for a number of their institutions and a number of -- of the people who were in their sort of elite leadership class. But this was not the deciding factor in this election. We should not allow ourselves to have a conversation about this where we overrate the influence that Russia had to the point where we suggest that it was a substitute for the verdict that the people rendered in November.

DICKERSON: Molly, jumping off of Ben’s point, Darrell Issa, congressman, said maybe there should be a special prosecutor now to look into the Russian medal in the election. Republican saying this about an issue that a Republican administration doesn’t like. Is that just a single congressman having an opinion or does this represent some kind of change, do you think?

MOLLY BALL, “THE ATLANTIC”: I think it does represent a change for a Republican congressman to be saying this publicly. It is something that a lot of Republicans have been talking about among themselves. And Republican members of Congress, Republicans in the Senate, some like John McCain, have been very outspoken about this issue. But there is a feeling of unease because not all the facts are known. You know, as Director Brennan was saying at the top of the show, we do not have all the facts yet and there is a desire to get to the bottom of this thing, to figure out exactly, you know, what the contacts were, what the influence may have been. Whether or not it decided the election, the -- the attempt and the potential penetration by a foreign government, whether or not the administration desires this to be known, there is quite a lot of willingness among Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill to get to the bottom of this thing.

DICKERSON: All right, Ezra, I want to switch to the Affordable Care Act because there’s so much going on. What do you make of where things actually stand now? The president has said everything from there would already be a repeal and replace vehicle in place, to, it may not happen this year. Congress is weighing in. You heard John Boehner and John Kasich. Where do you think things really stand?

EZRA KLEIN, VOX.COM: Complete chaos. There is a very, very large amount of uncertainty on The Hill, among Republicans, among Democrats, in the White House about what happens next. Now, it’s true on two fronts. The first problem for Republicans (INAUDIBLE) actually don’t have a policy. There’s been a leaked House draft, but that has not gone through any committees. It is definitely not the sort of draft that is likely to get 50 or 51 votes in the Senate, much less the 60 you would need because parts of it would need Democratic support. And so they are very much at the beginning of coming up with what even replacement would look like. And time on these things is a very difficult piece of it.

But the second thing you’re really not seeing, and I think this is more important than people give it credit for, there is not a process really yet. You’re just seeing leaked documents. You don’t have a very structured House process for looking at a draft. You don’t have anything really happening in the Senate. The White House is being very chaotic and unclear in the signals that they’re sending about what kind of involvement they want. And that’s actually a very bad sign on Capitol Hill.

DICKERSON: Lanhee, what do you make of the policy differences? There’s chaos because it’s hard to put complicated things together, and then there are insoluble, ideological disagreements. Which do you think it is? Do you think there are, as John Kasich, Governor Kasich, suggested, you know, a group of conservatives who just won’t go along or where do think the idea -- the policy fault lines are?

LANHEE CHEN, HOOVER INSTITUTION: I do think there are some real policy fault lines. I think the first issue is Medicaid. And, obviously, here there are differences between those governors that made the decision to expand the Medicaid program, including some Republicans like John Kasich --

DICKERSON: Like John Kasich.

CHEN: And those who did not. And, obviously, they have a big fiscal stake in this. Whatever Congress does will affect their ability to balance budgets, which most states need to do on a yearly basis.

I think the second question, which is perhaps even broader, is, what do you do with the uninsured? Is coverage even a priority? For some Republicans, coverage is not an important metric. Now, I think others, you know, I argue, for example, that I think it is an important metric. I think Republicans do need to be competitive on coverage. And I think that will impact their ability to come up with policy that gets them to that goal. Remember, the big question mark that’s still out there is, how is the Congressional Budget Office going to look at whatever proposal the Republicans put out there, and whether you agree with them or not, that’s going to be an important metric.

DICKERSON: And whether that new proposal will cost money or -- or saves money.

CHEN: Correct. Yes.

DICKERSON: Ben, on this question of coverage, the president has said everybody will be covered. In fact, he said more people will be covered. The White House seems to be speaking in two voices. Kellyanne Conway told us, everybody who has insurance now will be covered -- under the Affordable Care Act still will be. Sarah Huckabee Sanders told George Stephanopoulos this morning, well, that’s a goal, which is a real -- which is a real shift. So that seems to be something that’s quite unresolved.

DOMENECH: Yes, like the pirate rules, they’re a little more like guidelines. And I think that one of the things that we have going on here is really a split of opinion between fiscal conservatives who believe that the Medicaid expansion in particular was a bad idea, not something that is going to lead people to have good coverage, but rather going to have a heck of a lot of expense for not very good coverage in the -- in the state level. The problem is, there are a number of states, including Republican states, that are now on the hook fiscally here. That they accepted this expansion and they now depend on monies, dollars that flow from Washington to their state, dollars that are going to decrease in future years.

The problem is that the Medicaid expansion is the portion of Obamacare that effectively worked the best. You know, it signed up more people. It got people covered. It raised the level of coverages that we’ve seen in a number of these states. Whereas this little portion, the exchange, was the less popular, the less effective and the more disruptive within the private market. The problem is that that exchange plan has been historically a Republican idea. So the least effective form of Obamacare’s coverage expansion is also the one that Republicans would be, you know, in the abstract, the more likely to like and to be able to fix potentially under a Trump plan. It’s -- it does -- it is not clear to me what the Trump plan really is when it comes to this. And the fact that we have had the kind of delays in staffing up this administration to this point has -- has made this a much worse situation. If there was -- if there were more staffers at HHS right now, more policy people within this administration, we might have a clear idea -- clearer idea of where things stand.

BALL: We would have a clear idea of where things stand if the president would tell us. The real problem is that nobody knows where the president of the United States comes down on this issue because he has said multiple conflicting things, he’s been all over the map. As you noted, different representatives of the White House are saying mutually exclusive things.

Yes, there are ideological disputes between Republicans. That was the case when Mitt Romney was running for president, there were some Republicans on one side and some Republicans on the other. But that’s a preexisting condition of the healthcare debate, if you will.

But the real problem is, Congress wants direction. Donald Trump won the presidential election. They want him to tell them what to do, and he hasn’t. He gave this press conference before he took office where he said ever would be covered and since then he has not seemed focus on this issue, he has not really involved himself in the debate, he has not made a lot of public comments about it beyond vague promises and so you have a Congress that wants the president of their party to lead them and he isn’t doing it. And the appeal of Donald Trump, for so many of the people who voted for him and supported him, was that he was a decisive leader who would make things happen and get things done through sheer force of will, through being a deal maker. And on this issue, which is a very important, central issue for so many people, he hasn’t been doing that.

DICKERSON: This is the hard part of governing.

Ezra, sometimes in these big, complicated issues, there’s a kind of solution that everybody would take if they could get over the politics. Does that exist here? And then added to that, Governor Kasich’s charge, which is basically, Democrats don’t want to have anything to do with saving Republicans and so this is doomed because Democrats are just going to sit and watch Republicans have trouble with this.

KLEIN: Let me take the first piece of that first. Donald Trump liked to say on the trail he was going to repeal Obamacare and replace it with -- and these were the literal words -- something terrific. And the problem in healthcare is that there is no something terrific just lying in the wings. It is not that easy.

So take the plan that House Republicans leaked over the last week. The Republican governors, including -- actually all the governors, including John Kasich, over the weekend got a presentation from McKenzie (ph) (INAUDIBLE) health (ph) looking at what a plan like that would do. And the answer was, the individual markets, which is where the exchanges are, would see insurance drop by 30 to 50 percent. And that is before you even get into the Medicaid facts. So that’s really difficult. You might think it’s a better plan, it would be cheaper, there are other things that would happen, some Republicans say there’s more freedom, but it is a very difficult trade-off. And the thing about healthcare is that everything you want to do is a difficult tradeoff. You want to make it cheaper for young people, you make it more expensive for older people, it’s just a festival of hard decisions. On the issue of whether or not -- whether or not Democrats are going to jump in, it’s going to be very hard to get them there if the -- if the metric is not more coverage and more comprehensive coverage. There are deep disagrees here between Democrats and Republicans and they are not going to cooperate with Republicans to see fewer people covered with insurance that they consider to be less comprehensive.

CHEN: Yes, I think part of the challenge, John, is that there are actually very few Republicans that are very good at talking about healthcare. It’s a complicated issue. You know, I actually think Paul Ryan is one of the people that does it pretty well. And I think for -- for the reasons we’ve talked about already, the -- the White House has not been as prescriptive in terms of what they want to do. But I think part of that is because of a desire to defer to Paul Ryan and to others in the Congress that have been thinking about this issue for a very long time.

I think Paul Ryan and others do have an idea of where they’d like to go. The question is, is the White House in the same place. At the very least it would be good for the White House to say yes, we bless this effort, this is the direction we want to go in, because I do think it would resolve some of these questions, particularly the thornier ones, around Medicaid and around coverage on the private markets.

DICKERSON: Ben, I want to ask you quickly about immigration. The rules of how to put it in -- the president’s plans into place are -- are now -- it’s now happening. Isn’t this delivering on basically his signature promise? And, if so, how is it going in your opinion?

DOMENECH: I think that he is delivering on his promise from the perspective of those who supported him. They -- they viewed this as being a signature issue for him in a way that he departed from the elites of both the Republican and the Democratic parties. And I think that as much as this rollout has been a little bit rocky, that it -- from the perspective of those supporters that he has out there in states, he really is delivering in a way that they -- that they wanted to see happen for quite a long time, and that both parties sort of were either saying that they were wrong or racist to want that thing, or promising it to them during the election cycle and then just backing away as soon as they got elected.

DICKERSON: Molly, we can’t leave without addressing changes in the Democratic Party. A new head to the Democratic National Committee. What does it mean?

BALL: Well, it means that the Democratic establishment has won again, just like they did when Hillary Clinton won the primary.

DICKERSON: And that worked out really well.

CHEN: Yes.

BALL: And it worked out so well for them. But, you know, I mean, the Democrats are powerless to a historic extent, right? They have so little power in the states and state legislatures, governorships, in the House and the Senate and, of course, the presidency, and so this is a party that is grappling with deep divisions and trying to figure out a way forward both politically, how they can win again, and also in terms of on a basic philosophical level what the party stands for.

You had Tom Perez seen as the establishment candidate backed by the Clinton and Obama wings of the party. And -- and -- and Keith Ellison, who was Bernie Sanders’s candidate. And these are, of course, rough approximations and there are a lot of nuances. The interesting thing to me was, when Tom Perez, the establishment candidate, won the DNC race and they made Keith Ellison a vice chair, brought them on stage together, said let’s all have party unity, and the progressive movement was not having it. Bernie Sanders tweeted about it and numerous progressive groups expressed a lot of discontent. So these divisions can’t be papered over.

DICKERSON: All right. Well, we’ll talk about that in our next panel when you’re all back.

Thanks for being here now, though. And that’s it.

And we’ll be right back.

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DICKERSON: That’s it for us today. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I’m John Dickerson.