transcript JOHN DICKERSON, CBS NEWS: Today on FACE THE NATION: As U.S. soldiers are laid to rest after an attack in Niger, questions persist about what went wrong. And a painful political controversy about patriotism follows in its wake.
What were American troops doing in Niger? Was it an intelligence failure that led to the ambush that killed four?
We will talk with Oklahoma Republican and Senate Intelligence Committee member James Lankford about the raid and how Republicans square decades of focus on deficit reduction with a new budget that actually increases the deficit.
Tax cuts are the goal, and we will ask President Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, how it's going to happen and how the numbers are going to add up.
Then: President Trump, his chief of staff and a Florida congresswomen feud over how to honor fallen servicemen and their families.
We will hear from Khizr Khan, a Gold Star father who appeared at the Democratic Convention last year. His new book is "An American Family."
And we will look at finding compromise in controversy, as former- Green-Beret-turned-NFL-football-player Nate Boyer talks about his efforts to find a balance between protest and honoring the flag he fought under.
Plus, analysis of all the news and an unusual show of unity from the five former presidents.
It's all ahead on FACE THE NATION.
Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I'm John Dickerson.
Last week, a corrosive political spat broke out over the issue of respect for fallen soldiers and their families. We begin with a look at what sparked this new low in America, an October 4 attack in Niger where four American soldiers, Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson, La David Johnson, and Dustin Wright, were killed when they were reportedly ambushed by Islamic State extremists.
Joining us now to answer some of the questions about the attack are Michael Morell, CBS News senior national security contributor and former number two the at CIA, and CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.
Mike, I want to start with you before we get a sense of what exactly happened.
Why were U.S. servicemen there?
MICHAEL MORELL, CBS NEWS SENIOR SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: John, it has been U.S. policy for some time to support those nations facing a terrorist threat.
One of the key pieces of that support is to train, advise and assist local militaries. One of the places we were doing that was Niger. Niger faces a significant threat from a robust al Qaeda group and a growing ISIS group.
Both of those are located in Mali, but they come across that border and conduct attacks in Niger. Americans might ask, why were we there helping the Nigerians? And the answers is, while this is a regional threat today, it could be a threat to Europe tomorrow and it could be a threat to the homeland day after that.
So, we're there trying to keep this under control, so that it doesn't become a significant threat to the United States. It's a policy that makes sense. I support it.
DICKERSON: David, what happened in this particular case? What do we know?
DAVID MARTIN, CBS NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
What we know is maybe different from what happened. We know that four American soldiers were ambushed and killed during a patrol on which no enemy contact was expected. The Pentagon says that that team of advisers had been on 29 previous patrols in the six months before that, never had any contact. No indication at this time would be any different.
As a result, they had no drone overhead providing surveillance, and there were no armed escort aircraft overhead. Now, that version of events seems to be at odds with the fact that the U.N. has published a map which show that there were 46 attacks in that part of Western Niger in the past 20 months.
In fact, there was one overnight. A group of militants came across the border from Mali, attacked a police barracks, and are reported to have killed 13.
So, it seems like there would have been reason to expect enemy contact. So, we don't understand why no enemy contact was expected.
DICKERSON: Yes. So, a discrepancy there, Mike.
Is that an intelligence failure? What do we...
MORELL: We don't know. We really need the results of the investigation that General Mattis has ordered up before we know what happened.
But I will tell you, in this kind of situation, intelligence is far from perfect. But we really need to know the results of the investigation.
MARTIN: You know, General Waldhauser, who is the commander of U.S. forces in Africa, testified last March before the Congress. And he said then he had only one-quarter of the intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance flights that he needed throughout Africa.
This is an operation which is just sort of starting up. And all the resources aren't in place. So, we don't know if somebody missed something out there, or if there just simply weren't the aircraft and other intelligence sources operating that could have detected this.
DICKERSON: What's the most important thing going forward, Mike?
MORELL: I think it's to make sure that we don't politicize this. And this has the feel of Benghazi to me, right?
DICKERSON: In the political field, not the facts on the ground.
MORELL: Exactly. Exactly. So, I hope we don't politicize it. And I hope we figure out what happened, so that it doesn't happen again.
DICKERSON: David, let me switch and talk about ISIS in Syria.
The president announced yesterday the successful capture of Raqqa. Where do things stand?
MARTIN: Well, you know, for months, we have been conditioned to think that the battle for Raqqa would be the final battle against ISIS in Syria. And guess what? It's not.
Before that city was encircled, the leaders and lot of the foreign fighters got out of there, went down the Euphrates River Valley into these towns along the river that leads down to the Iraqi border.
That's where they are now. And in between the American-backed forces at Raqqa and those ISIS forces are a whole bunch of regime, Syrian regime forces and their Russian advisers and Russian aircraft. So, this is going to get very, very dicey, as all these forces converge on the Euphrates River Valley and the remnants of ISIS in Syria.
MORELL: Very important that we don't think that the taking away of the caliphate is the end of ISIS. They will go underground. They will be in the shadows. They will remain a fundamental security problem.
DICKERSON: All right, gentlemen, thank you so much.
We turn now to Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford. He joins us from New York.
Senator, you're on the Intelligence Committee.
What is your assessment? So far, what do you know about Niger, and what questions are you asking?
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, we have all the same questions that have already been mentioned there as well, to find out what actually happened. That's the key aspect right now is all the facts that are on the ground.
This is an extremely unstable region. A lot of weapons that came out of Libya are going down into this region. They're being used by al Qaeda and ISIS-affiliated groups. We have had well over 100 U.N. troops that have been killed in Mali. It's one of the deadliest places for U.N. peacekeepers in all of the world.
And so there are lot of issues with this region, not only the flood of weapons, but the instability of the governments in the area, and have a large growing presence of ISIS and al Qaeda in the area.
DICKERSON: Some of your colleagues, Senator McCain among them, has expressed frustration at getting answers out of the administration from the Pentagon. Do you share that frustration?
LANKFORD: I do.
What Senator McCain focuses on is getting the full story, not getting parts of the story or not getting conflicting stories.
So, at this point, we have conflicting stories. We want to be able to get the full, accurate story, and get it right.
DICKERSON: Do you feel like this is a localized problem or a broader one? The president has talked about giving the military greater rein to do its work.
Does that have -- is there a tension in terms of greater rein, but not informing Congress perhaps as much about what the military is doing and where it's doing it?
LANKFORD: Well, we're advising and assisting all over the world to be able to help put down al Qaeda stand ISIS and other radical Islamic groups around the world that are seeking to terrorize not only the local communities, but, as we have learned from Afghanistan, it's not just an isolated region of the world that will never come and come after us.
Obviously, they have come after us before from these isolated regions. So, it's extremely important that we do stay engaged. We're typically in the back, and, quite frankly, typically, these ISIS groups won't attack a United States convoy because they're well- protected.
They will attack other U.N. peacekeepers. They will attack local police stations. They will attack local governments or bus stations, where they know they are a softer target, than to come after a heavily militarized target like ours.
So, typically, we will see each other and we will know each other's presence, but they won't actually engage, certainly until now, and we have seen that here.
DICKERSON: Now, let me ask you another question about potential business on the Intelligence Committee that you're on.
You're looking into the Russian influence in the election. There have been reports this week about Russian efforts to try to influence the Obama administration and try to influence perhaps Hillary Clinton through donations to the Clinton Foundation with respect to the purchase of uranium.
Is that something that Intelligence Committee should look at, that you're interested in looking at?
LANKFORD: So, we need to finish up the report that we have now, but that is an unsettled issue. That is something that the FBI has pursued for now a decade to try to determine what influence was done.
As you know, there are several Russians that have been arrested for this or have been charged on these crimes of trying to be able to influence the purchase of the -- in the deal on uranium with the Obama administration through the Clinton Foundation.
There are unanswered questions that should be answered. It may not necessarily be by this investigation. We would like to be able to close it down. But that is unfinished business. Quite frankly, the Judiciary Committee will probably be the lead investigative team on that one from the Senate.
But we still wait to see the final reports from the FBI on it to be able to get the actual details on that one as well.
DICKERSON: Let me ask you about the budget.
You said -- last year, during one of the Obama budgets, you said, "We cannot keep saying we will add debt every year, and there's no reckoning for that."
The budget passed out of the Senate this year -- this week, it's not going to tackle the deficit as much as some would have liked. What does that mean? What about that reckoning?
LANKFORD: Yes, a tremendous frustration as we walk through this process. There are several votes there to try to bring back the budget, not necessarily on the tax side, but on some of the spending side.
The way to be able to get out of this big hole that we're in is pretty straightforward. To be able to limit our spending, it's not a matter of dramatic cuts, but to be able to cap our spending make sure that it doesn't continue to grow past inflation rate, but then to also have a growing economy.
For the last 10 years, our economy has grown at less than 2 percent on average every single year for 10 years. We have not had a decade like that in a century in America. Typically, our economy grows at about 3 percent.
What we have encouraged is a bump on the economy with tax reform. It's not been done in 30 years, have a major tax reform. If the economy is stuck, as I like to say with the old illustration of record needle, if the economy is stuck in the same track over and over again, somehow, you have got to be able to bump that to get it going.
I think regulatory reform is that, and certainly tax reform is that to be able to get our economy growing again.
DICKERSON: Let me ask you a final question on another committee you're on, Homeland Security.
Overseas, FEMA, the response to Puerto Rico, the president gave himself a 10 out of 10 this week. How would you grade him?
LANKFORD: I'm not sure I would give a grade on the tone.
I would say it's extremely difficult for FEMA dealing with disasters in Houston, in Florida and Puerto Rico at the same time. You have staff that's incredibly stretched. You have a lot of resources that are going towards Puerto Rico, but it's a much harder issue, based on the fact that it's an island.
Even moving power poles to that island takes a week just by barge to be able to get them there. All of their power is out across the entire island. You have got 3.5 million people that have got to get access to basic services again. And it takes a long time to get equipment there.
DICKERSON: All right, we're out of time.
Senator, thanks so much for being with us.
LANKFORD: Thank you.
DICKERSON: Joining us now, the White House director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney.
Welcome, Mr. Director.
Let's start with the budget. A budget passed out of the Senate this week, setting the stage for tax cuts. But that budget does not achieve balance. That's something you wanted as a congressman. So why doesn't it achieve balance, and why isn't that a big problem?
MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: I think we have made a decision now within the administration that plan A or part of plan A, which was to try to cut our way to balance, just wasn't going to get very far in Washington, D.C.
We had offered $54 billion worth of discretionary cuts in our budget back in March. Only about $4 billion or $5 billion had survived so far on the Hill. We're not going to be able to cut our way to balance.
So the next part of the plan, the next part of that, sort of the calculus, right, deficits are revenues, less expenditures, is to focus on the revenues. How do we get government revenues up?
The way that we balanced the budget, John, back in the 1990s was fiscal restraint, slower growth in government, plus huge economic growth that drove wealth for families, but also drove receipts to the government.
DICKERSON: Let me go back to that spending question, though.
Republicans for a long time have talked about spending restraint. And so to now say, well, we're going to do it through growth, that's a big -- that's no small deal. It's like Weight Watchers saying, well, we're going to give up the dieting part.
MULVANEY: Yes, but you're not giving up entirely on spending.
It just you have to sit there and go, OK, there's two parts to this equation. There isn't the political will on the Hill right now to make...
DICKERSON: Why not? Why not? You're in charge. Republicans are in charge. They have run over this for so long. Why no will?
MULVANEY: Yes. It's just -- it's difficult, I think, to cut spending in Washington. It really, really is.
DICKERSON: But is it lack of will of the members, lobbyists, constituents? What is the...
MULVANEY: It's all of the above. It really is.
Washington is designed to spend more money. It's probably too deep in the weeds for this show, but the 1974 Budget Act, which drives everything that we do, every dollar that we spend, is designed to spend more money one year from the next. That's the bill that says, if you spent $100 last year, and $104 this year, we call it a cut. I'm not making that up. So, the law really is set up to spend more money. It's hard to get out of that cycle.
DICKERSON: Well, here is why I ask, because there's a lot of questions about outsiders and insiders.
And what sometimes happens is, people, the outsiders say, we got to do this, that and the other thing. And then they become an insider, and they realize, either through expediency or maybe things are just more complicated than they thought, that they don't follow up with what they said when they were campaigning.
That disconnect has led to serious splits in political parties. And it's happening in the Republican Party. So, why would somebody looking at this from the outside say, well, now they're in power, they're just doing the easy thing?
MULVANEY: But, listen, you have got bigger issues than just spending that fall into that category.
You have got Republicans who have promised to repeal and replace Obamacare. They haven't done that yet on the Hill. You have got Republicans who have promised to do tax reform. Now, we had a huge step in that direction this week. And I think we're making a lot of progress on it, but we haven't done that yet.
There's a lot of things we haven't followed through on, on the party. You have seen the president act with a great deal of frustration in reaction to that. You have seen lot of frustration back home with people from that.
So, yes, absolutely, we have to start keeping our promises, but passing this budget this week, which is the next step and an absolutely critical step to get tax reform, was a big step forward in keeping that promise.
DICKERSON: Let's talk about taxes.
There was framework released. It included removing the deductibility for state and local.
DICKERSON: Now there seems to be some wobbling on that. What is the status of removing that as a deduction?
MULVANEY: I hope they don't wobble.
Keep in mind, what the president wants here, John, is something that is simpler, better and fair. And this is one of those issues that goes right to the fairness issue. If you and I make the same amount of money, we live in house that has the same value, our car is the same car, shouldn't we pay the exact same amount in federal taxes?
We should. That's fair. But if you live in New York...
DICKERSON: Not matter where you live.
MULVANEY: ... and I live in South Carolina, I actually pay more in federal tax than you do. And that's not fair. And we hope that that does remain part of the process.
DICKERSON: Although -- well, let's tick off couple of other things that have been discussed.
What is the status of the carried interest loophole? This is a tax treatment that helps hedge fund managers. The president called it -- said they were getting away with murder when he was a candidate. It wasn't in the framework. Where is it now?
MULVANEY: Keep in mind, the stuff that wasn't in the framework is stuff that we weren't able to sort of come to general agreement on with the House and the Senate leadership going into the more detailed discussions, which will start now.
So, that's why the framework was still very important, because we did have agreement on the basic rates, on corporate reductions, on reform and so forth. So, it's not in the framework. It means, well, let's -- we're going to put that aside to discuss later.
And later is now. But I will confirm to you the president still believes that the carried interest is probably something that needs to be looked at very, very closely.
DICKERSON: Because you talked about fairness. And the president, as a candidate, went right to that fairness argument and said, they're getting away with murder, and the middle class is getting nothing.
Why not just say, this must be in tax reform?
MULVANEY: I think, if it was up to the president, you probably would. But, again, we have to work with the Senate and the House.
DICKERSON: He's not shy about saying what he wants. Why be mumbly on this one?
MULVANEY: We have been very careful here now to make sure that we're focusing on what we agree on as we worked -- as we released that framework. OK?
So, the things that we agreed on go in the framework. Things that aren't agreed to in advance, they go into committee, and that's the process that starts next week.
DICKERSON: Final question.
Bipartisan health reform, the president seemed to be supporting the Alexander-Murray. Now he says he's not. What's the status of that?
MULVANEY: Yes. And I saw the first statements.
Talking to the president about it, he is where he has been from the very beginning on CSRs, which is: I want to get a deal. I don't want to give this money to insurance companies. I don't want to give money to these CEOs who make tens of millions of dollars.
DICKERSON: But the bill is written in a way that won't give it to them.
MULVANEY: It is.
But it's -- well, he doesn't want to do any of that without also getting something for folks who are being hurt. And I think the criticisms you have heard this week are like, look, I'm OK with doing a deal -- this is the president now -- but I'm not getting enough for the folks who are getting hurt. So, give me more by way of associated health plans. Give me more of the things that we know we can do for folks back home to actually help them.
I think there's actually a pretty good chance to get a deal. It's just Murray-Alexander in its current form probably isn't far enough yet.
DICKERSON: All right, we will have to leave it there.
Mr. Director, thank you so much.
And we will be back in a moment.
DICKERSON: The political controversy over Gold Star families began with a question to President Trump on Monday about why he had not mentioned the loss of the four soldiers in the 12 days after they were killed in Niger.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DICKERSON: That was not accurate, as staffers for previous presidents pointed out.
Then, a harsher criticism. When the president called the wife of fallen soldier La David Johnson, Democratic Congressman Frederica Wilson accused Mr. Trump of being disrespectful to the grieving widow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: I was in the car for that phone call.
He never said the word hero. He said to the wife, "Well, I guess he knew he was getting in to."
How insensitive can you be?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DICKERSON: The president denied it on Twitter.
And the next day, Chief of Staff and Four-Star Marine General John Kelly made a stunning statement. Citing his personal experience when he was notified of his own son's death in 2010, he said he had advised the president not to make calls.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I said to him, sir, there's nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families.
But let me tell you what I tell them. Let me tell you what my best friend, Joe Dunford, told me, because he was my casualty officer. He said, Kel, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were, because we're at war.
That's what the president tried to say to four families the other day.
I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning and brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing, a member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the president of the United States to a young wife, and in his way tried to express that opinion that he's a brave man, a fallen hero.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DICKERSON: Kelly's criticism of Congresswoman Wilson didn't end there.
He accused her of bragging about getting funding for an FBI building at a ceremony honoring two FBI agents killed in the line of duty.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILSON: To recognize the family of special agent...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DICKERSON: But video surfaced of the congresswoman's speech that contradicted Kelly's story.
We can't tell you how this saga will end, but we will talk about it with another Gold Star parent, Khizr Khan, when we come back.
DICKERSON: We're joined by the Gold Star father who last year gave an impassioned speech at the Democratic National Convention, Khizr Khan.
He's the author of the new book, "An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice."
Welcome. Thank you for being here.
We want to get to the book, which was originally why we invited you here.
But you are the father of Captain Khan. And I wonder if -- what your reflections are on this week, now that we have had this public feud about Gold Star families.
KHIZR KHAN, AUTHOR: In two words: dignity and restraint.
First, I offer my deepest condolence to the families of my four sons, brave hero sons that died protecting us. Without their sacrifice, this nation would be vulnerable. They were serving this nation.
They will always be remembered. Their families will always be remembered as best of America. I stand with them. I support them. They deserve utmost dignity and respect and privacy at this moment.
That should have been accorded when this matter came to public. But that had not been done. It had been made political football. Again, I request and I ask utmost dignity, respect and privacy.
DICKERSON: This week, General Kelly, the chief of staff, also talked about number of things in American life that had fallen away.
He talked about respect for women, for religion. And he said this. "Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer."
He was talking about the respect accorded to Gold Star families.
You spoke at one of the conventions. What did you make of those words?
KHAN: We stood for the best of America, for the values of this country.
We spoke about the blessed documents and the traditions of this country. We spoke about the best, citizen Kelly, former general, and we acknowledge his sacrifice, as in service and his family's service.
But now he is citizen of United States. Should have refrained from doing exactly same thing what he was complaining about.
DICKERSON: All right, we will continue this conversation after a commercial.
We need to take just a bit of a break here, but we will be back with more from Khizr Khan in a moment.
DICKERSON: We will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION.
Stay with us.
DICKERSON: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION.
We continue our conversation with Khizr Khan, author of "An American Family."
Mr. Khan, before we get back to the book, I just wanted to get what you were saying about General Kelly. You were saying he engaged in the -- in the behavior he was criticizing?
KHIZR KHAN, "AN AMERICAN FAMILY": This is American tradition that when military leaders retire, they go home, collect their pension and they maintain the dignity that they have earned.
In case of former General Kelly, he had -- I was shocked. I was shocked to see citizen Kelly standing next to the president when he -- when president could not have the proper word to condemn attack on the blessed city of Charlottesville, Virginia, by neo-Nazis. He stood -- you could look at his face and his gesture in disgust, but he stood in support of that moment when Donald Trump could not condemn the attack that took place.
Then again, instead of advising the president that restraint and dignity is the call of the moment, former General Kelly indulged in defending behavior of the president and made the situation even worse. Our political leaders, elected by the people, are -- deserve -- deserving of equal dignity and equal respect, instead of being maligned on misstated facts. And that was beyond the call of the moment.
DICKERSON: We should note that you live in Charlotte.
I want to turn to the book now.
And you write in it that in your American story there were many who were in America who were open and welcoming and gregarious. Give us an example of that.
KHAN: When we first arrived, the very first day when we arrived, my two sons and Ghazala arrived in Houston, we had rented a $200 bedroom - one bedroom apartment for them. I was off loading the stuff from the car. We just closed the door after off-loading. There was a knock at the door.
Paulette (ph), our neighbor, was holding two bags in her hand. That was the first gesture of American goodness that we experienced. She said, we brought this. You have two small children. They may need something. They just arrived. After she left, I looked at Ghazala. I said, all the values that I had dreamed of about America, about this country, the goodness of this country, the generosity, we had been touched by those values while working in Dubai by Americans, are true. And we begin to fall in love.
And that has continued, not only in Houston, but in Maryland, in Virginia. Every step the generosity, the kindness, the dignity that America grants. We are immigrants. We are patriotic immigrants. When immigrants become citizens, the patriotism begins to come together by living by experiencing the goodness of this country.
DICKERSON: When you first -- you spoke at the Democratic Convention. But when -- you used to carry a Republican membership card.
KHAN: Yes. I very well remember the first political participation was, I was not citizen then, was to go and listen to Ronald Reagan's speech in Houston. I am very fond of his speech where he says about the city on the hill, the beacon of hope for the rest of the world. I was very much in support of his policies, his defining of the American values. And we tell that story in detail in our book, and many other stories of how it all came together.
I used to take my children to Thomas Jefferson's with other guests and I would ask them to read the inscriptions on the walls of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Captain Humayun Khan and both of my children used to roll their eyes because I had taken them so many times there.
But look what happens. Patriotism begins to take root in the hearts and minds of people reading these values. Captain Humayun Khan wrote an article, and we mentioned that in the book in detail those stories. The title of his essay was "Democracy Requires Vigilance and Sacrifice."
You probably hear my voice raising when I say this. In these tumultuous times, we all will be well served if we are vigilant. Our democracy, our way of life, our self-governing is under attack.
DICKERSON: Let me -- describe for a moment the Declaration of Independence, where you first read it and that you talked about Jefferson, so we'll bring his work on the table here. What was that like the first time you read it?
KHAN: I was 22 years old in Pakistan, had taken a course in comparative study of constitutions of the world. Among the materials, the very first page was the Declaration of Independence. I looked at it. We come from in Asian countries then from colonized part of the world. Amazing, amazing document I read. Is there a nation on earth that declares its independence? Independence is given. Independence is attained. Independence is politically argued and received. Is there a nation?
So that love affair started in 1972. And I am still in awe of those 1338 words of the Declaration of Independence. I implore all Americans read it, how we founded this blessed nation.
DICKERSON: Finally, you have stepped into the political arena with the -- at the democratic Convention. What has it been like since then?
KHAN: It has been journey of hope, bridge building, interfaith dialogue, standing with those who truly care for the values of this country. We will prevail. I have seen the hope and aspiration in the eyes and in the hearts and in the minds of the people that I have dealt with throughout this nation. We are blessed to have all this.
I remembered the moment, and we explained that in the book in much more detail, when I became citizen of United States. I wish every American reads the oath of citizenship that I took. I had nothing when I went -- human dignity terms, nothing when I went to take that oath. I came out blessed with all dignities that a human being aspires to have. It's that story that we write in the book.
DICKERSON: All right, Mr. Khan, thank you so much for being with us.
KHAN: Thank you.
DICKERSON: And we'll be right back.
DICKERSON: For those looking for an exit from the escalating culture wars in the U.S., we want to look at one model. Nate Boyer served in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a green beret and was awarded the bronze star before playing for the Seattle Seahawks in 2015. Last year, Boyer wrote an open letter to Colin Kaepernick that encouraged Kaepernick to stand during the national anthem as opposed to sitting out of respect for veterans. Kaepernick wouldn't go that far, but the two worked out a compromise and Kaepernick began to kneel instead of sitting.
And Nate Boyer joins us from Austin, Texas, this morning.
Mr. Boyer, welcome.
I want to go back to that first letter you wrote. What inspired you and then how did you get in this conversation with Colin Kaepernick?
NATE BOYER, FORMER SEATTLE SEAHAWK: Yes, you know what inspired me was just -- it hurt. It hurt to see somebody, you know, protesting the flag and the anthem. At least in my eyes, that's what it was. It was somebody sort of protesting America and the symbols that stand for, you know, these freedoms and all that.
It was confusing to me. I didn't understand where that was coming from and it just -- and it hurt as a, you know, as a war fighter when you're going overseas and you're fighting for those that can't fight for themselves and you're fighting for all those -- those freedoms that we have here. And then, to me, the way I perceived it was somebody was sort of sitting that out and not interested in that and upset about, you know, those things that we were trying to provide. I just was -- was -- was hurt by that.
So I wrote an open letter explaining my experiences, my relationships to the flag, why I stand and why I feel the way that I do. But instead of, you know, attacking or telling him, you know, this is why you should stand, it was more like, you know, I want to understand where you're coming from. Why are you sitting? I don't know what it's like to be you. You know, I've only had my experience and so I'm just trying to empathize and understand.
Through that letter, you know, Colin reached out and we ended up having a sit down, a face to face conversation, which -- which led to him taking a knee instead. You know it was -- it was -- it was a -- it was a powerful moment for me and I think for a lot of people to see two people that disagreed on the subject or a topic that was pretty important to our country that we're able to work out some sort of a compromise, or at least have that conversation, you know, civilly.
DICKERSON: A lot of people think that compromise -- a lot of people who share your views, the first one that inspired your first letter don't think -- they don't think that compromise gets at it. They think the -- that this is still offensive in just the way you've described.
BOYER: Right. No, there is. I mean everybody's got a different relationship to everything in our world, you know? And for -- things are perceived different ways. What's interesting about the protest itself, whether it's sitting, kneeling, fist in the air, it doesn't matter. Even when a lot of these -- these men are saying it's not about the military, it's not even about the anthem or the flag. They don't get to necessarily choose how people see it, though. How individuals perceive that, you know? If -- if somebody makes another hand gesture towards you, that's offensive to you but they're saying, no, I'm not -- this is not what it means. This is not what I'm -- that's not the point of what I'm doing right now. It doesn't -- it's not up to them how you take that and how you receive that. So there's been issues with that.
And, yes, people -- people believe that kneeling is still offensive they have every right to believe that and feel that because that's what's great about our country. You can -- you can have those opinions, have those feelings.
And, you know, for me, I thought it was better. I thought kneeling was better. We -- we -- people kneel in our country to pray. You know, when you propose to your wife, you take a knee out of respect. And so I thought it was better.
I want him to stand. I want everybody to stand for the anthem and feel that pride that I feel, but I want them to do it because they want to do it. I don't want them to do it out of obligation.
DICKERSON: I want to touch on something else you wrote about, which is that when you returned home from your service overseas, you said you returned to a country that is so divided and so hateful. Talk about that a little bit. Was that what inspired your effort to try to find some ground here and is there any lesson for anyone else in that?
BOYER: Yes. I mean it's -- it's a tough time to be back home in America, you know, because we are so divided and we seem so angry and stirred up. And, you know, we don't have these conversations. We don't sit down with someone we disagree with and talk any more. We're just on our cell phones and, you know, we're -- we're sharing stuff through social media or other platforms and it's just a constant attacking of one another.
And it's really frustrating as a -- as a -- as a soldier. You know, I was in the Army and going overseas and going to fight for our people here. And then to come back to a nation that's just angry at one another and, you know, like, what has happened, you know, recently with the four soldiers who lost their lives over there, it didn't even really become a topic or something we talked about until, you know, we were discussing the president's involvement and the remarks and all that. It was like, why aren't we honoring these guys before that even happens? Because we're so wrapped up in who's right and who's wrong in our country and, you know, it's like -- everyone's trying to turn each issue into this good versus evil instead of just trying to understand that we all have different, you know, experiences and we come from different places and that's what makes our country great, that mixture of all those things.
DICKERSON: All right, Nate Boyer, thank you so much for sharing some time with us.
And we'll be back in a moment with our panel.
DICKERSON: And we're back with our political panel. Rich Lowry is the editor of "The National Review." Jamelle Bouie is the chief political correspondent for "Slate" magazine and a CBS News political analyst. We're also joined by "Politico's" chief international affairs columnist, Susan Glasser, and deputy managing editor for "Time" magazine, Michael Duffy.
Michael, I want to start with you.
Where are we at the end of this week on this question of gold star families and the fight that's grown up around it?
MICHAEL DUFFY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: To be continued for sure. There's no question that if the president simply apologized on Monday for -- or after Monday for maligning his predecessor for not calling or writing or whatever it is he accused Barack Obama of not doing with respect to this, this whole thing might have gone away. But, instead, we got a cascading series of missteps and mistakes that really took five days to go through. And I don't think we're quite done.
It also not only left the president with another week of sort of three steps back, one step forward, it ensnared the chief of staff, who took the job to sort of interpose himself between a president who doesn't have the -- all the protocols and pathways of doing this job down, and may never, and potential disaster. And so by stepping into that space and then making some mistakes of his own, Kelly actually added to it, John Kelly.
So it was a week that just started bad, got worse and I think left unanswered a lot of questions about what we're doing in, you know, Niger in the first place.
DICKERSON: But you wrote that this is -- this may be, quote, the stupidest and most unworthy controversy of the year.
RICH LOWRY, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Yes, it's been the most distressing controversy of the year. And that's saying a lot. And this would be a better debate, maybe it wouldn't even be a debate at all if everyone could concede just a modicum of good intentions and good faith on the other side. It's clear that President Trump's call with the widow of Sergeant Johnson, it landed the wrong way. But it's obvious to me he didn't do that maliciously or callously. In fact there was a video of a call with another widow of a soldier killed in Afghanistan in April that was posted by the widow because she found it great comfort in this call. And in that call Trump is sympathetic, he's humane, he is warm.
So I think in this instance it's incumbent on him, though, to be the bigger figure and to say, look, I did not mean in any way to add to your distress. If I did, I'm sorry and I'll do anything to make it up to you. But that's obviously not the way he operates.
Jamelle, there does seem to be lack of restraint here. Nobody -- these things usually end when somebody who has the chance to wallop stops. And on both sides, this is not just -- you know their -- we can figure out who started this, but it's now turned into a regular old political fight.
JAMELLE BOUIE, "SLATE" MAGAZINE: Right. I mean I think -- I agree with what Rich said, this entire controversy is sort of -- it's so small and silly. But I do think it reveals something kid of important about the president, which is that he cannot take responsibility for any mistakes that he's made. From his initial statement maligning his predecessors, that would have ended had he just said, I'm sorry that I said this. I was wrong.
His -- the widow's reaction, Representative Wilson's statement, having just said this was my error, or I didn't mean it this way, this would have ended. But at every single stage, the president can either take responsibility for refrain from punching back. And we see this time and time again throughout his presidency.
And actually if we just like move away from controversy and scandal and sort of actually being president and doing the job of president, this inability to take responsibility for mistakes or to back down is disastrous. It is what -- it is a quality that has (INAUDIBLE) better presidents.
LOWRY: The two sides here, and she also, in better world, the congresswoman, works have gone to John Kelly privately and said, you know what, they were very upset by that call. Is there anything you can do to make it right? Instead she blows it up and she's joying her 15 minutes of fame over this family's distress, which is disgusting in its own right.
DICKERSON: Susan, let me ask you about the larger point Kelly made this week, but that also John McCain made, George W. Bush made, President Obama made, which was that this dropping of standards. Chief of Staff Kelly said, you know, whether it's religion or the treatment of women or now this fight intruding on this sacred space.
Who's -- there was just this cry this week from a variety of corridors that standards have dropped totally.
SUSAN GLASSER, "POLITICO": That's almost indisputable. But I think, look, Jamelle is absolutely right, we're not surprised Donald Trump behaved this way because it's very consistent with what we've seen from President Trump throughout not only his presidency but his campaign. He's not going to back away from a fight if one is offered. In fact, he tends to encourages them.
I think it's more surprising what we saw in a way from General Kelly. We learned more. One of the things that's been apparent over the last couple of months that this underscored is that it remains Donald Trump's White House and not John Kelly's White House, even if he has imposed more discipline and more of a process, number one.
Number two, perhaps we saw that General Kelly, this week, shares more of Donald Trump's agenda than we realized. And you talked about the standards dropping. I found General Kelly's comment to be surprising and even puzzling that he would have brought up in the same commentary about this incident with the gold star families this notion that in the good old days women were sacred and, you know, isn't it so terrible that we didn't get there. A lot of people have talked about the irony of working for a president who has been accused of this kind of behavior.
But, to me, there is that issue, you know, working for Donald Trump, but there's also the question of, what's the good old days exactly? Is that what this America first-ism (ph) is about, is about looking backward to some Halcion (ph) and almost mythic past that somehow was better?
DICKERSON: Well, he could have been groping for -- for a kind of understanding of it. What's a common idea of --
DUFFY: Not good. No pun intended.
LOWRY: John, geez.
DICKERSON: Sorry. Get your minds out of the gutter, guys.
But he's fumbling for a -- to try and touch on something that you had many other people talking about this week. And, Michael, the chief of staff was there to try to explain how signals were missed.
DUFFY: Damage. It was a classic damage control operation by a White House chief of staff. And even though he seemed politically naive with that comment, I thought, I agree with you, he was also -- he's fundamentally a political person.
More than the -- the speeches of this week by McCain and Bush about the dropping of standard or the loss of something else, it's an amazing week in this respect, which is that the Republican Party have never been more dominant in American politics in 100 years and it's never been more split, wide open, cracking apart in front of our eyes. You had two of the most esteemed figures of the Republican establishment, John McCain and George W. Bush, of all people, who has been reluctant to say anything since he left the Oval Office about anyone, come out this week and actually, in coded term, not very coded, criticized the Trump White House and Donald Trump for his handling, not only of his rhetoric, but of his foreign policy and a lot of other things. This was on top of McCain's rather remarkable, what do you call it, you know, half-baked, you know, half --
DUFFY: Neo-nationalism. That party split is -- that's war this week. That's not words of war, that's war. And that's happening at the same time that they are seemingly in control of everything.
DICKERSON: And yet, Rich, on Monday the president was with Mitch McConnell at the White House showing a picture of unity. How --
LOWRY: Yes, the least -- the least convincing bromance of all time is Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell. There is a civil war in the Republican Party, and the irony is, this civil war really began before the election. It was papered over during the election. And they -- they won everything. And -- on -- at the national level. And Trump is still sort of trying to be the pivotal figure who can work with both sides. He -- he likes Steve Bannon. He understands why Steve Bannon's upset, yet Mitch McConnell is his best friend and he's going to try to work with him on The Hill.
So Trump, in a lot of ways, this leads to an incoherence in his own governance. He doesn't know whether he wants Lamar Alexander, the senator from -- Alexander to cut a bipartisan deal or he wants to be with the House Freedom Caucus and conservative peers who oppose that kind of approach.
BOUIE: Yes, I think it -- it may speak to sort of a broader exhaustion of the traditional -- or at least since Reagan -- traditional framework for Republican politics, right? That you have a Republican Party whose base is increasingly people who actually look to government for some sort of assistance. This is -- Trump's message spoke to -- he promised to defend Medicaid. He promised to defend Medicare. He promised to defend Social Security.
But this is joined to sort of a more traditional Republican activist class, Republican affluent voters who want tax cuts, who want things like Obamacare repeal. And winning hasn't really done anything to sort of reconcile those differences whatsoever.
DICKERSON: Final 30 seconds, Susan.
GLASSER: Well, I have to say, I do agree with you, but I'm struck by the fact that for Senator McCain, for George W. Bush, their speeches fundamentally are about America's role in the world.
GLASSER: And, you know, this is the major foreign policy rift is why that part of the Republican Party was so active against Donald Trump during the campaign. They believe that regardless of your views on domestic policy or health care, that Trump is pulling the United States away from the international order in a way that actually threatens to undermine all those institutions, which, by the way, we built and rigged in our favor. And so that's what's interesting to me is you have the foreign policy part of the Republican Party standing up and saying "no."
DICKERSON: All right, we're going to have to stand up and say "no." I'm afraid we're out of time. So, thanks to all of you.
And we'll be right back.
DICKERSON: Today we want to leave you with an unusual show of unity. That of all five former presidents, Presidents Jimmy Carter, George Herbert Walker Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who gathered last night at Texas A&M University to raise money for hurricane victims.
That's it for us today. We'll be back next week.
For FACE THE NATION, I'm John Dickerson.
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