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Face the Nation October 29, 2017: Corker, Collins, Christie, Batiste

JOHN DICKERSON, CBS NEWS: Today on FACE THE NATION: The divisions between Republicans on the Hill and the president grow, as Washington braces for the opening of a sealed indictment stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Love him or leave him was the choice for Republican lawmakers last week, as two senators questioned the president's competence and moral standing.

Arizona's Jeff Flake announced he would not seek reelection, and challenged his Republican colleagues to stand up to the president.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: We must stop pretending that the politics and conduct some of in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal.


DICKERSON: Bob Corker of Tennessee is another Republican critic leaving the Senate. He claims the president's volatile behavior and inability to tell the truth threatens America's national security.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I don't know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard, debases our country in the way that he does. But he does.


DICKERSON: We will talk to him about it.

After meeting with Senate Republicans, the president said there are far more loving him than leaving him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I called it a lovefest. It was almost a lovefest. Maybe it was a lovefest.

But we had standing ovations. There is great unity.


DICKERSON: The president will need that party unity to get his tax plan through Congress. Maine Senator Susan Collins is one of those key votes. She will also join us.

Plus, as the president moves to address the opioid epidemic, has he done enough? We will talk with his point man on the issue, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Plus, analysis on all the news and a special look at music and politics with "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert"'s band leader, Jon Batiste.

It's all ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I'm John Dickerson.

Late Friday, the news broke that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian attempts to influence our elections has resulted in at least one sealed indictment. The charges are unknown, and so is the person or persons under indictment. But that hasn't stopped the speculation about what Mueller might have found.

The suspense is probably only temporary, as those charges could be made public as early as tomorrow, when a judge will likely unseal the indictment in order to make arrests.

And now to what we do know.

One of the president's toughest critics within the Republican Party is Senate Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker. He joins us from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Senator, I want to start with these sealed indictments. Things are pretty volatile in Washington these days. What do you think this is going to do to getting things done, say, on tax cuts and that kind of thing?

CORKER: Well, John, I have no idea. I don't know the substance.

I have no knowledge. Like you, we're waiting to what happens. But most of us are focused on the policies we have to deal with on behalf of the American people. And right now, that's been a sideshow. As something develops that's more serious, obviously, it will take up some space. But I just have no way of determining that.

DICKERSON: Given you have given advice to the president, he has not often listened, but given -- if this comes out on Monday, what is your guidance in terms of trying to stick to those issues you want to? Your guidance for the president?

CORKER: Look, we have got a short window of time to deliver on tax reform, something that I want to see happen on behalf of the American people.

And at least those of us in Congress, it's our job to write those bills and to pass those bills. That's where our focus needs to stay. Again, I just don't know enough about -- I know nothing actually about what's happening on the other front. So...

DICKERSON: Let me -- before we get to tax cuts, while we're in the Russia neighborhood, in August, Congress passed sanctions on Russia.

The administration has not been doing what they're supposed to do. What is -- where do things stand on that?

CORKER: Actually, they did release the information towards the end of this last week. We had been inquiring. I think they did a -- it was very good first step. I have to give them credit for that.

We want to stay involved. Congress, on a vote of 98-2 in the United States Senate, which is rare, pushed for this. But I do think the initial steps they have taken have been very good. We want that follow-through on.

But I have to say, look, it takes awhile. OFAC, the department of Treasury that deals with this, has been overwhelmed with all of the sanctions issues they have under way.

And, again, I thought Thursday of last week was a very good day.

DICKERSON: Let's talk taxes.

You said that there some are -- quote -- "ridiculous things" in tax reform that don't do anything about to help economic growth. What are those things?

CORKER: Yes, you know, here is the deal.

When you pass tax reform, and think -- I don't think, John, people understand what we're getting ready to do. In the Senate, we passed a trillion-and-a-half deficit kind of thing. But, really, it's different than what people think; $500 billion was just to synch up between current law and current policy.

So you have a trillion dollars that we can use for dynamic scoring, in the event dynamic scoring shows that we can use that trillion dollars. Four trillion in addition to that, though, is through what is called tax reform.

Or, basically, you're getting rid of credits, deductions, the kind of things that have been in our code for years which makes it so complex, if you will, for people to fill out their income forms, but also things that really don't move our economy along.

So, you are getting rid of those $4 trillion and you're moving them over trying to do something that creates growth. this is going to be the biggest tax rewrite since 1986, complicated. People are going to be coming in from all around the country to protect those pet things that they have.

But, in doing this, when you start writing the code, you do, do some things that, in my opinion, are not pro-growth. I'm not criticizing that. I'm just saying that, look, I understand where we are. The things that would really cause our economy to grow would be reducing corporate rates to 20 percent, dealing with the territorial issues.

Those are the kind of things that grow our economy. We're having to do whole lot more to get buy-in, but that's just the process we go through in Washington.

DICKERSON: You said the White House should step aside and let Congress -- do you think that is going to happen?

CORKER: Well, that was really in reference to taking things off the table on the front end.

I sat down with our tax writers, who I have tremendous respect for. They are having great difficulty just getting to $3.6 trillion. They have got to get the other $400 billion in place far any of this to work.

And, by the way, John, when groups start rallying -- when they start rallying against things, and they succeed, everything starts unraveling. So, the point I was trying to make is, what -- we have got tough decisions to make. Let's leave everything, the whole cafeteria of the code, out there, so that let the tax writers do their job.

If you start taking things off the table on the front end, we're not going to get where we need to go.

DICKERSON: Let me move to North Korea.

You have been critical of the president and his tweets on this. But what is actually the president doing to get in the way of the diplomacy you think should be happening?

CORKER: Yes, so, let's face it. Our greatest partner is China. We have a State Department and a secretary of state whose job is to exercise full diplomacy, to keep our men and women in uniform out of harm's way.

Every military leader wants the State Department and our secretary of state to be successful when they do that. When our secretary of state is sitting down with a partner that matters most, China, trying to negotiate something that would resolve and keep us from going into military conflict with North Korea, which brings in South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia, and he's knee-capped by the president, it hurts our nation. It hurts our efforts.

It leads us more fully towards the conflict that most of us would like to see resolved in another way. The tweets that are sent out mocking a leader of another country raises tensions in the region.

And so people are sitting there. They know they have got an erratic leader in North Korea. They have lived with three erratic leaders. Actually, this is the third one. And then, when we start exhibiting some of those same tendencies, it creates an air that leads again, more fully towards conflict, where what we need to be doing is supporting the efforts that Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis, who is involved in this diplomacy, are carrying out.

DICKERSON: You're making a national security point here.

Your colleagues seem not to have heard you. They have said that this is a family squabble. Ted Cruz compared it to high school squabble. Others have said you're hurting the Republican Party by making these critiques.

Is it just that they're not hearing what you're saying?

CORKER: Well, look, John, each of us has an election certificate, and we try to do the best job that we can.

Look, I care deeply about our country. It's why I ran for the Senate. I care even more deeply about it now, having been there 11 years. I have been in the foreign relations area the entire time I have been there. I'm chairman. I have coffees with Tillerson often. I talk with him. I talk with national security folks, not only here, but around the world.

And I have a good sense of what is happening. I'm just speaking to that. That's my job. And I will continue to do so.

DICKERSON: All right, Senator Corker, thanks so much for being with us.

We turn now to another Republican, Maine's Susan Collins. She sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, one of the congressional committees investigating Russian attempts to influence our elections.

Senator, given that experience and the interviews and work you have done on that committee, what -- how do you process this news about sealed indictments from the special counsel?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Well, from the very beginning, this investigation has gone along two tracks.

One is the independent counsel's investigation to see if there is criminal wrongdoing. And it looks like we're going to find out as early as tomorrow about some indictments in that area.

The other has been the Intelligence Committee's evaluation of the extent of Russian meddling in the last election and to try to, along with the independent counsel, answer the question of whether or not there was any collusion between members of President Trump's campaign team and the Russians.

We are having a very interesting hearing this week looking at the Russians' use of social media to influence the elections and sow the seeds of dissension in our country.

DICKERSON: Any sign of collusion after all these interviews, all this time?

COLLINS: I have not yet seen any definitive evidence of collusion. I have seen lots of evidence that the Russians were very active in trying to influence the election.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you about this so-called dossier, which is information that was gathered of all kinds about candidate Trump.

"The Washington Post" reported this week that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee donated, paid for part of its creation.

John Podesta, the Clinton campaign manager, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz came before Senate Intelligence Committee and said, we don't know who paid for this.

Well, that was before this "Washington Post" report. Sitting next to Podesta was the lawyer for the Clinton campaign who paid for the report. So these guys need to come back and sit down tell the committee what is up?

COLLINS: They absolutely need to be recalled. It's difficult to imagine that a campaign chairman, that the head of the DNC would not know of an expenditure of this magnitude and significance.

But perhaps there's something more going on here. But certainly it's worth additional questioning of those two witnesses.

DICKERSON: And what about the Clinton campaign lawyer?

COLLINS: And the lawyer, absolutely, in fact, he more than anyone.

DICKERSON: Let's go now to the criticisms from Senator Corker and Senator Flake this week.

Senator Flake in particular said -- had message, it seemed, for his Republican colleagues. And he said, basically, don't be complicit.

What did you make of that message?

COLLINS: Well, first, let me say that Jeff Flake is one of my best friends in the Senate. I have enormous respect for him. And I'm really sorry that he's not going to be running for reelection. The Senate will be a lesser place without his being in it.

Having said that, I think we need to accept that Donald Trump is our president. And my approach is to work with my fellow Republicans, with Democrats, with House members and also with this administration. That is the only way that we're going to get things done in this Congress.

It's the only way that we can assure the American people that they can have some trust in government and that we're working to better their lives.

DICKERSON: Senator Flake would say that there is some responsibility, though, even while you're trying to get things done, to call out those things that the president does that might get in the way of you getting things done.

COLLINS: Absolutely.

And I have not hesitated to disagree with the president, whether it's with his comments after the incidents in Charlottesville or on the very important health care issues. So, I'm going to continue to do that. I will work with the president and support his policies when I think he's right.

But I will not hesitate to oppose him when I think that he is misguided.

DICKERSON: The next big issue with which you may have a disagreement or total agreement with the president is tax cuts.

What are you looking for in this that concerns you or that you would like to make sure that is in this package?

COLLINS: Three major principles will guide my evaluation of tax cuts, which I do think we need.

First, I want the tax code to be simpler, fairer and more pro- growth. And that's really important. We can really lift standards of living for working families in this country. We can help small businesses create jobs. And we can have a beneficial impact on the economy as a whole if we do tax reform right.

So far, I'm encouraged by the discussions that I have had with the members of the Senate Finance Committee. And I'm hopeful that we can put together a package that will attract some Democratic support, too.

DICKERSON: What about the deficit effects of this, though?

You in the past have asked for -- you have been against some tax cuts because of the effect on the deficit. In this case, a lot of people are calling alarms.

COLLINS: That's why it's important that this tax reform package be pro-growth.

And if you look at the Congressional Budget Office analysis, if we have just four-tenths of 1 percent increase in our GDP, which is entirely realistic, it will cover the cost of the tax reform package.

DICKERSON: Final question I want to ask you.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier came forward on Friday. She had been a House staffer. And she talked about the sexual assault that she experienced 40 years ago. And she says that it -- this kind of misconduct is still rampant on Capitol Hill.

You were a staffer once. What was your reaction to this?

COLLINS: I have not witnessed that. But that doesn't mean that it isn't occurring.

I think we're seeing that there is sexual harassment and even assault in virtually -- workplaces across the country. So, that's something that certainly all of us need to work on, but it's not something that I personally experienced.

DICKERSON: All right, Senator Collins, thanks so much for being with us.

COLLINS: Thank you, John.

DICKERSON: We turn now to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Governor, we have a lot to get to, but, as a former federal prosecutor, I want to start with this news about what Robert Mueller, the special counsel, may be up to.

Help us put in context the sealed indictment. Is that a big deal?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Well, it's typical to do it that way, in my experience, and especially if you want to get certain things organized before you confront the potential defendant.

So, but I think one of the things to be concerned about here, John, is that there are strict laws against any of this type of leaking of grand jury activity. And so the idea that we may know, in fact, that there has been some activity done already, depending upon who leaked that information, that could be a criminal violation as well.

So, we have got to be very careful about this stuff. Grand jury secrecy is very important to the effectiveness of a grand jury investigation.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you about, as a prosecutor, the president has said this is a witch-hunt. He's questioned whether Mr. Mueller is compromised.

As a prosecutor, how would you have reacted to those kinds of questions?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I think that you're always going to be questioned as a prosecutor. That's what you have to always be ready for.

And you have to go out and do your job honestly, forthrightly, and let the evidence lead to you conclusions, not have conclusions beforehand and look for evidence that confirm it.

And so what I would say the important thing about today for the American people to know is, the president is not under investigation, and no one has told him that he is. He's been cooperating fully with the special counsel's office.

And if the special counsel feels now, along with a grand jury, there is actions to take against some folks, that is the special counsel's job, although, again, I would caution that this leaking is absolutely against the law.

DICKERSON: All right, we will switch to the opioid issue.

This week, the president took action. He had previously said he wanted to spend whole lot of money on the opioid crisis. One of the criticisms of the actions he took this week, though, is that there is not enough money. What is your response to that?

CHRISTIE: It's a totally misplaced criticism, John. And let me tell you why.

We recommended in our first commission report that he use either the Public Health Safety act or the Stafford Act to be able to declare a national emergency. He did that under the Public Health Safety Act.

Now it is incumbent upon Congress to be able to appropriate money into the public health emergency fund. There's only $57,000 there right now, nothing the president can do about. Congress appropriates.

And I believe, from talking to bipartisan members of Congress, that this is not something that is going to take very long at all. They're going to react to this emergency like they have reacted to funding Puerto Rico, funding Texas.

This is that type of emergency. Let me put it in context for you, John -- 175 people are dying a day in America. If those people were dying at the hands of a terrorist organization, how much money would the United States Congress be willing to spend to make it stop?

And that's the type of emergency we're dealing with. And I'm sure Congress is going to approach it with that type of urgency, in concert with the president.

DICKERSON: And the president, though, didn't say what you said in September in New Jersey when you were addressing this issue. You said: "I don't want to you worry about money. I want a wish list."

Why didn't the president say something like that?

CHRISTIE: Well, I think he laid out things that are going to cost real money, John, if you listen to what he said this week at the White House.

He talked about waving certain Medicaid rules that will open up literally thousands of treatment beds to poor folks across this country who need treatment who right now can't get access it to. He talked about increased training for physicians. He talked about increased regulation on physicians.

And then, this week, we will bring him a final report with even more recommendations on how to deal with this problem. We have to stop our people from dying. And I know the president's committed to this. And everyone who listened to him this week, with the personal story that he told about his brother, understands that it's not just a policy issue for the president. This is personal. And I'm proud of him.

DICKERSON: When -- one of the things the president said that -- in fact, he said it was most important part of what he was proposing, was a massive advertising campaign to get people, he said especially children, not to want to take drugs in the first place.

You have worked on this issue a lot. Is that really going to do it? Or I heard you tell stories about your mother's smoking habit and your friend who had died from addiction. Would they have been stopped by just being told, don't do it?

CHRISTIE: Listen, I think that's part of what we need to do.

In New Jersey, John, we have done this. We spent $25 million in the last six months on an advertising campaign in New York and Philadelphia to eliminate the stigma around treatment and to encourage people to reach out and get help.

And we are now working on another $25 million campaign just in New Jersey for advertising to young people to talk to them about the dangers of prescription drugs and why even if it's given to you by a doctor doesn't mean it's good for you, it doesn't mean it's safe.

So, I think that's an important part of it. It's only part of it. But it's a very important part of it, because we need people to understand that this crisis started not on a street corner somewhere. This crisis started in the doctor's offices and the hospitals of America.

We consume 85 percent, John, of the world's prescribed opioids. That's outrageous. Our medical community and our pharmaceutical companies have lot to do with that, along with our insurance companies. So, everybody has to pitch in to turn this around.

DICKERSON: OK. We're going to take a short break.

We will be back in a minute with more from Governor Christie.


DICKERSON: And we're back with Governor Chris Christie.

Today is the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. Damages were over $35 billion in the state of New Jersey alone and dozens were killed.

Governor, given your experience with that hurricane, I wondered if you could reflect on the response to Puerto Rico. You know about federal-state coordination.

The president gave himself a 10, gave his administration a 10 out of 10 in that response. Do you think it deserves that grade?

CHRISTIE: Well, I gave him a grade this week of a B-plus.

So, it's close. But what I would say is, the federal government has brought the resources to bear on Puerto Rico that is needed to be brought to bear.

The real problem, John, is that, unlike where New Jersey was from an infrastructure perspective back in 2012, Puerto Rico's infrastructure, because of its bankruptcy, was degraded significantly before the storm.

And so, for instance, I have heard stories we have sent more folks than any other state in America to Puerto Rico to help, 1,100 National Guardsmen and state police, all who have Sandy experience.

And as they have started to come back and rotate new folks in, what they have told me is, the big problem is not how having enough supplies. It's that's literally there are no roads that are passable outside San Juan and many regions.

And so they're having to airlift things there, and it's delaying things significantly, while they try to rebuild these roads and get the infrastructure back up on power.

But I have spoken to Tom Bossert, the homeland security adviser, on a number of occasions, and Governor Rossello on a number of occasions. And I think they both believe that all the resources that need to be brought to bear are being brought to bear.

And we're just going to have to work even harder at Puerto Rico because of how bad a shape it was in from an infrastructure perspective before the storm hit.

DICKERSON: All right, Governor Chris Christie, thanks so much for being with us.

CHRISTIE: Thank you, John. Thanks for having me.

DICKERSON: And we will be right back.


DICKERSON: You can keep up with the news of the week by subscribing to the FACE THE NATION Diary podcast.

Find us on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast platform.


DICKERSON: We will be right back with a lot more.

Stay with us.


DICKERSON: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION and some political analysis on a very busy week in Washington.

Julie Pace is the Washington bureau chief for "The Associated Press." David Nakamura covers the White House for "The Washington Post." We're also joined by "Washington Post" columnist and deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus and the founder and publisher of "The Federalist," Ben Domenech.

Julie, I want to start with you.

Put the Mueller news or not news into context.

JULIE PACE, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": Well, there's nothing like a good Washington drama to start off your week.

We're at a point where there is much more that we don't know about what's going to be happening potentially on Monday with Mueller and indictments than what we do know. We don't know what charges will be brought forward, who they may be focused on.

But I think what we can say pretty definitively at this point is that the Muller investigation is not winding down, which is what the White House wants to -- wants people to think right now. They want people to believe that this is an investigation that has largely run its course, that there is no evidence of collusion and therefore nothing to see there.

Mueller, though, is taking kind of the opposite approach. He is very methodically working through White House officials, other people who have been close to the president, doing interviews. And I think it's important for people to remember also that when you do end up with these special counsel investigation and the first set of charges start come through, you tends to start at the bottom. You tend to start with the low hanging fruit. So I don't think anybody should expect that if we do see indictments this week, that it will be the last or the final announcement from the special counsel.

DICKERSON: David, what have you made of the White House reaction to this? There seemed also be to a kind of a pre-reaction in a week in terms of White House focus on -- on Democrats. And then the president is speaking a little bit about this on Twitter this morning, calling it a witch hunt.

DAVID NAKAMURA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, he is. I mean nothing animates this president more than lashing out about this Russia investigation and trying to throw the blame back onto his political opponents, including Hillary Clinton. We've seen that again this morning talking about -- which I think we'll talk about in a minute, this dossier and the Democratic funding of it.

And, you know, once again, it just comes down, now we're nine months into this process, since he's been president, where the president still does not talk about fundamentally how Russia has potentially affected the democracy. And, ultimately, that continues to get lost in this as this investigation goes forward about exactly what Russia did in this election. And the president has not talked -- George Bush himself came out the other day with his speech talking about what a danger this is to our democracy and Russia meddling. But we still haven't heard that from this president and continues to say this is -- the victim here is Trump.

DICKERSON: Ruth, the victim is Trump.


DICKERSON: The president talked this morning about -- do you -- you know, during the Clinton years, the independent counsel, Ken Starr, took -- I mean the Clinton team went after him. Do you expect that here? Does it work? Is that a trap? What's your -- what's your sense of how this reaction to whatever news we get next week will play out?

MARCUS: There doesn't seem to be any reluctance on the part of the -- not necessarily the White House, but certainly its allies, to start going after Bob Mueller. We saw it this week. "The Wall Street Journal," he should resign. And it -- I have to say, all of this, the dossier, the uranium, the attack on Mueller seems to me to be a just absolutely frantic effort to distract attention from what we do know, which is the intel -- as David really importantly pointed out, the intelligence community concluded that Russia tried to meddle in the election, it's included that Russia tried to meddle in the election on Donald Trump's behalf.

So what -- and Donald Trump has never acknowledged that. He's constantly called it a hoax. A responsible president would want to get to the bottom of this. And that is not what we're seeing.

DICKERSON: And, Ben, it is possible that there could be both a special counsel inquiry that is legitimate and the could be these other questions that the White House has been raising this week, one of the them the fact that this dossier of information about the president, a lot of it unconfirmed, a lot of it very unconfirmed if that's a category, that it was funded in part by the DNC and the Clinton campaign.

BEN DOMENECH, "THE FEDERALIST": Well, we certainly know that -- that the Clinton campaign and the DNC did pay for access to this dossier. How much of the dossier's creation they paid for, we have less of a clear picture of, in part because of this deal that was cut on behalf of Fusion GPS with the House Intel Committee with --

DICKERSON: The authors of the dossier, I should say.

DOMENECH: The authors of the dossier in this, in this instance.

I think that that dossier is concerning in part because the FBI was willing to engage with the creator of it and -- and potentially was on -- on path toward paying for it. And that also potentially this dossier was used as the justification to look into other people in -- in Donald Trump's circle.

I think we need clarification on this going forward. But as -- as Ruth indicated, in so many different ways, this is one of those areas where everything really remains very muddy at the current stance. DICKERSON: Well, let's move from muddy to slightly opaque.

Julie, this week you had two Republicans speak out very strongly about the president, but -- well, let me phrase it as a question. Was that two senators on their way out to retirement or was it the start of something different than just kind of criticism of this president?

PACE: Well, there's the public dynamic and then the private dynamic. Privately what -- what Corker and what Flake were reflect was what their colleagues say. They -- they are reflecting a mood among a lot of Republican senators where they feel like they would like this president to succeed on policy, but they really feel like he has put certain elements of our democracy at risk. You -- I have senators that say things that are just astounding to me about a president from their own party.

Publicly, however, it's a much different story. Flake essentially issued a call to arms from his colleagues and no one lined up behind to follow him. And it's because they look at their own electoral prospects and Donald Trump is very popular among Republican voters.

DOMENECH: That -- this is the problem that they run into because the -- Republican senators, many of them would like to have a different constituency than the one they actually have, but you cannot dissolve the people and elect another. Instead -- instead -- instead you face a situation where the fact is that Jeff Flake gave an interview right after he gave his speak where he said, you know, when I came here, I wanted to talk about limited government and free trade and things like that. Well, that's fine. And -- but he also said, I didn't want to talk about divisive issues, like these culture war issues that we're talking about.

Well, the electorate wants you to talk about those issues. And one of the reasons that Donald Trump has succeeded to the degree that did he in changing the Republican Party into one that is the party of Trump is because he just wraps his arms around all of these issues. Flake described those culture war battles as the politics of resentment and grievance. But the fact is that the -- the majority of Republican voters across the country do not believe that saying something like NFL players should respect the flag and stand for it is an act of grievance or resentment. They view it as simple patriotism. And that's the reason that Trump has prevailed and that people like Flake are on the way out.

MARCUS: You know, what was remarkable about the Flake and Corker comments wasn't simply that they made it about a president of their own party. It's hard to even remember senators of opposite parties speaking that kind of language about a president.

But, as Julie said, the silence that succeeded it. And the silence is telling on two grounds. First, that they all -- they almost all of them do privately agree with that assessment more or less. And also that they are scared and reluctant to say it. That is -- Jeff Flake was leaving no one to follow him.

But, watch two things. Watch what happens with Mueller and see how that affects things. But even more, watch what happens with tax cuts, because what you hear from senators, when you say -- and why is there silence is, but he was elected, which is a totally legitimate point and, but tax cuts. If they're unable to get these tax cuts done, I think that really shatters the cohesion of the party.


MARCUS: To the extent there is cohesion.

DICKERSON: Let's -- we're going to pick that up.

We're going to just take a quick break now. We'll be back with more from our panel. We'll talk about this a little more and then tax cuts as well.


DICKERSON: And we're back with more of our panel.

David, I want to go to you on this, the president called it a lovefest. The other Republicans, whether they love him or not, they are behind him. Flake and Corker are off on an island of their --

NAKAMURA: Yes, it was -- he had a lunch. The president went to the Capitol, had a lunch with Republican senators. And all reports at that lunch, which came on the same day as this Flake speech, was that there wasn't a whole lot of sparks or fireworks. And that, you know, some of the -- of the Republicans who support this president's agenda said that he was very well versed in the facts and the details of tax reform and other legislation that they discussed at the lunch. And even Corker said they hadn't really talked to each other at the lunch but there was no big outburst.

But I think, more importantly, it's the leadership. And he's -- I think, you know, just a couple of week ago we saw Mitch McConnell visit the White House and then whether he was -- knew ahead of time that he'd be dragged into the Rose Garden but stood there as Trump went on and on and sort of parried (ph) with reporters. And it looked very uncomfortable for -- for McConnell, but McConnell, there was certainly a show of unity. And, obviously, we've talked about the tax cuts. I mean that's where they want to go. And same with Paul Ryan. Until these leaders start to put out more resistance toward Trump, I don't think you're going to see whole lot of other -- others follow.

DICKERSON: Ben, as you mentioned, the president has -- they wants unity because they would like to get tax cuts past. But as you mentioned, the president has lot of power in his own party because he has a relationship with those voters that you mentioned earlier. So, how does this play out politically? On the one hand you have Steve Bannon carrying the Trump torch saying we want lots of people, like President Trump, running for office. You have Mitch McConnell, who would like people of a different sort. Some of them are called incumbents, to return to the Senate. How do you think that plays out between now and the election in '18?

DOMENECH: Well, I think that Mitch McConnell made a grave mistake this week, which is personalizing this situation. Having his former chief of staffer call Steve Bannon a white supremacist I think was a real error, in part because actually Steve Bannon supports several of the same candidates that Mitch McConnell supports.

In Missouri, for instance, Josh Hawley, who's running for Senate, it doesn't matter who Steve Bannon is. What matters is his plan. And the fact that his plan lines up at this juncture in a way that it hasn't ever before with the interests of Republican donors.

Major Republican donors are more furious than they have ever been. And in -- and the level of frustration that they have directed toward the U.S. Senate is palpable. They may not agree with Steve Bannon when it comes to the priorities they would like to see that Senate advance, but they do agree who the problem is. And in -- in this instance, it's McConnell. It's the way that he's run the show. They blame him for the fact that they don't have a tax reform package already through. And if Bannon is able to marshal those donors in a significant and organized way, it could dramatically change the makeup of this conference.

PACE: Just the elevation of Steve Bannon I think is a fascinating political dynamic right now. We're talking about Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and Steve Bannon in the same breath. It's really -- I mean Steve Bannon, to his credit, has done a really excellent job with his profile here.

DOMENECH: He gets very good press.

DICKERSON: Ruth, what do you think's going to happen on tax cuts? There's unity among some, but there's not much room for error in the -- because the simple majority in the Senate and that they were not able to clear that bar for the Affordable Care Act replacement.

MARCUS: And I thought Senator Corker did a good job of laying out the challenges that you face. And we saw it on display this week with the discussion and wobbling about 401(k) and how you adjust their taxability to make the amount of money you're taking out of the Treasury looks smaller, OK.

DICKERSON: Right. The presidents doesn't want the House to meddle with it. The House wants to meddle with it.

MARCUS: Right. So as a general matter, cutting taxes is an easier thing to do than reforming health care because it is giving things to people rather than potentially taking it away from them. But when you get into the weeds, any change in the tax code affects a lot of different people. And then you see all of the constituencies going to that.

And then you have these things called distribution tables, which, it's very hard to cut taxes without helping very wealthy people. So the distribution tables are going to be a little bit of a deja vu all over again to the impact on health care and what would happen to premiums because they're going -- they very well could end up looking like wealthy people get a huge tax break and there's going to be a bunch of middle income people, depending on what they do, who could end up suffering. So it is going to be a hard, hard lift, but it is the absolute imperative for Republicans to survive.

DICKERSON: Is that the difference here, David, between tax cuts and -- and the Affordable Care Act replacement, which is basically everybody knows that regardless something has to give?

NAKAMURA: Absolutely. And you've seen Trump, I think, differently than on the Affordable Care Act, where he didn't really have a pro- active message. He's done more campaigning for this tax bill. At times I think the Republican caucus wished he'd maybe talk about it in a different way. But I mean if he wanted to call it -- instead of tax reform, tax cuts, it's easy to sell. He's gone out to states where there's Democratic senators and tried to put pressure on them and talked about, you know, maybe getting some Democratic votes. That may be unlikely. But you've seen the president, you know, certainly he understands I think the stakes involved in -- if this gets stopped, the rest of his agenda is really at risk.

DICKERSON: Ben, does this look like a Trump tax plan or just a regular old Republican one?

DOMENECH: It looks a lot more like a regular old Republican one. What Donald Trump promised when he was running for president sounded a lot more populist. He wanted to, you know, perhaps even raise taxes on wealthy individuals. He promised to -- you know tax cuts that would go to every American worker and something like that.

But you don't see a, you know, a payroll tax cut, you know, in this. You see something that's much more along the lines of a typical Republican tax plan. And I actually think that has some potential to be problematic if this goes forward. We saw how Donald Trump referred to attempts to replace Obamacare as being too mean in instances. That sort of thing. I think you could see something similar happen when it comes to taxes. If he thinks that this doesn't line up with his priorities directly, then he may not be as strong of an advocate for it as Republicans would like.

That being said, Republicans are always more comfortable talking about taxes than almost any other subject. This is the one area where they will run into the spears of opposing opinion absolutely willingly because they think that it's their issue. They think they own it. And I do think that this has a lot more likelihood of getting moved forward than anything else that's come to the floor.

DICKERSON: All right, we're going to have to wrap it there.

I want to thank our panel.

When we come back, a look at one of the biggest challenges facing the commander in chief.


DICKERSON: President Trump has reflected recently on the difficulty of consoling the families of fallen service men and women. It's a burden he shares with all presidents who have ordered Americans into battle or who contemplate doing so. Harry Truman said that the decision to go to war with Korea was the toughest decision he had to make as president. Truman received a letter that proved just how tough. It was from William Banning, the father of George C. Banning, one of the more than 36,000 Americans who died during the Korean War.

And along with the letter, Mr. Banning returned his son's Purple Heart. The letter read, Mr. Truman, as you have been directly responsible for the loss of our son's life in Korea, you might just as well keep this emblem on display in your trophy room as a memory of one of your historic deeds. Our major regret at this time is that your daughter was not there to receive the same treatment as our son received in Korea.

Truman, whose presidential desk held a sign that read "the buck stops here," kept the letter and medal close at hand for the last 19 years of his life. When he died, they were found in his desk drawer, a reminder that the toughest presidential decisions last long after a president's tenure is over.

Back in a moment


DICKERSON: We talk a lot about politics on FACE THE NATION. Today, we decided to look at the relationship between politics and music. Jon Batiste is the band leader for "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert." We spoke with him about his reinterpretation of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," project for "The Atlantic's" podcast "Radio Atlantic."


JON BATISTE, BAND LEADER OF "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": This song has that thing about it that makes us have a sense of reference for it. And without even studying the history, you know that when you hear that melody.


BATISTE: So, for me, I like to keep that essence and then let my self-conscience mind go, free association with things that I'm listening to at the time, something that I may have been working on several years back will come up and there's no intention other than just to, you know, follow that stream of consciousness.

DICKERSON: What's in this essence? What's a part of it.

BATISTE: Well, what came out is a blend of things, which I think highly signifies the American experiment. You have the blend of African rhythms. You have this almost chorale like chant going on in the music mixed with the gospel choral style the way I'm singing. It's just a blend of everything that I think, if we, at our best, the ideal of American life at its best is everything coexisting and the great compromise of every element being here and living as one. And that's what the piece represents.

DICKERSON: Is there a line that it speaks to you really strongly out of that piece?

BATISTE: Wow. His truth is marching on. It sounds the way that a march sounds.


BATISTE: Something about that melody. It's -- it's like one foot after another. I like that.

This victory is not just a victory of now. This is a victory of all generations after us. An eternal victory. There's so many layers in that one line.

DICKERSON: We're in a moment now where people say, truth maybe is up for grabs.

BATISTE: Yes. Yes, absolutely. Well, there's something about the idea of developing your philosophy and world view that I approach this song with. Truth being up for grabs is something that you think of. But I really think that comes from people not actually being in the same room enough to say, OK, you're just like me. We have maybe different things going on culturally or in our upbringing, but we're all just here together.

DICKERSON: You've tried to do that with your music more broadly.

BATISTE: Absolutely.

DICKERSON: Use it. And so take it from this song and what -- and what you see music being able to do in your work or just in general, to create those bridges, because right now we are in a place where people don't feel like there are bridges.

BATISTE: Music will also be a bridge depending upon who's using it. I think music has the power to get people into the room together that may not come into the room with one another if it weren't for the musical experience. And it's pretty hard to hate the person next to you when you're laughing and dancing next to each other.

DICKERSON: Do you have musical reactions to events? Whether you see something on the street or whether it's an event in the news, does it -- do you react in music?

BATISTE: I react when I see something on the news from a place of empathy. I try to practice empathy. Empathy, I think, leads to music, if that makes any sense. Empathy is something that when you put it into practice, your response becomes less verbal and less physical and it becomes more emotional, because you have to sit back and reflect for a while before you act.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you about the idea of restraint. We, in public, don't have much restraint in a lot of the way people behave, but I think it was Thelonious Monk who, in his notes to his band, talked about, you don't have to play every note.

BATISTE: Whew, John. Whew, yes. Restraint is -- restraint is the beauty we cannot see. When you listen to music and you hear someone's tone on the instrument or a beautiful voice or the sound of bass resonating with the sounds of the symbols and all these things coming together, it's like the universe. And then when there's space, it allows you to appreciate what you just heard and to understand it and to process it and then to respond.

So, space is important in that dialogue. And I think we could learn a lot from jazz in our dialogue right now as a nation. We have a lot of sides going like this. And we have these two predominant sides really pushing like this. And there's no space. It's only my perspective, my perspective, no, my perspective, no my -- no listening, no questions really, just constantly. And, to me that -- that always leads to more conflict. And I'm not saying I don't have hope for our nation, but I do feel like there's something that we can learn and sooner or later who will be forced to learn it?


DICKERSON: If you want to see our full conversation with Jon Batiste, you can go to our website at

That's it for us today. We'll leave you with a listen and a look at Jon Batiste's reimagined "Battle Him of the Republic."

We'll see you next week.

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