JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST: Today on FACE THE NATION, holiday traditions new and old. 2016 has been a year of surprises and shocks, tragedies and terror. And there’s been plenty of anger and sadness.
But there’s also hope and good news. In a new FACE THE NATION tradition, we once again look over the year past and the year to come with Stephen Colbert.
Then we’ll turn to a CBS News tradition that’s 66 years old, the year end correspondent roundtable. The faces have changed since then. The news moves at a faster pace. But the reporters of the Washington bureau still cover it all.
It’s all ahead on this special holiday broadcast of FACE THE NATION.
Happy Holidays and welcome to FACE THE NATION.
I’m John Dickerson.
For our holiday broadcast last year, we sat down with the host of “The Late Show,” Stephen Colbert. The response was so positive, we thought we’d do it again.
DICKERSON: So what was the good news in 2016?
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE LATE SHOW”: Well, that’s a tough one. That’s a tough one. We just had a bunch of people over for Thanksgiving. And before I gave the blessing, you know, for all the food we were about to eat, beforehand, I was thinking, well, what could I be thankful for?
And I was really reminded of how our happiness really comes from our individual relationships. A nation is not its politics. A nation is its relationships between its people. And I was thankful for the people in the room. I was thankful for the people who were not there and could not be there because they were gone. And -- and I was thankful for the children who were -- who were growing up beautifully into people that I would want to be with and could entrust our country to. And -- and for the people that I don’t agree with, you know, politically. I’m thankful for them, as well.
And so because...
DICKERSON: But why are you thankful for the people you don’t agree with? COLBERT: Because they make me think about what I do. They question my beliefs. And an unquestioned belief is almost vestigial. It doesn’t motivate you in any way. It doesn’t serve you in any way if you don’t question it, because a -- a belief is a filter. You have to run things through it, you know, so you know how you see the world. It’s a lens, it’s not a prop.
COLBERT: And so the good news is we’re all still here. America is a great country. It’s all just the relationships that we have with each other. That’s -- that’s the important thing and -- and that’s the good news is -- is our ability to love each other and care for each other. And I saw that all through the year.
DICKERSON: And so the question is whether -- whether that itself is a beneficial outcome of an election that has got a lot of people nervous. It sharpens the thinking. It forces people to think about the other things in their life, other than politics. If you believe that politics is not everything.
COLBERT: Dividing into teams is great if your team wins. But if your team loses, it allows you to do two things. One is question why you lost. And, B, why did you choose to be on a team, because the team itself is an illusion.
And so that was a -- that was something that I came to me at the end of the election special that we did. We did a live Showtime special and I had nothing to say, I didn’t think, at the end of the show.
DICKERSON: At what point of the night is it when you feel like I have nothing to say?
Do you know the outcome?
COLBERT: As I knew the outcome, I knew that I would have to throw out everything I had planned, because we had four possible outcomes. One is that we knew that Mrs. Clinton would win. We would not know. It looked like Trump was going to win, but we wouldn’t know until the morning. And then there was he’s going to win and we know he’s going to win.
And that was the one that we prepared nothing for, which -- on purpose.
I said, look, what’s the purpose?
Don’t prepare anything because everything goes out the window. It’s the least likely path it says -- say all of the number crunchers and I believe in numbers. And -- and if it happens, we’re going to be doing a show for a group of people who have been hauled into a Chilean soccer stadium to watch people executed. People are going to be very depressed. So anyway, at the very end of it, one of the things that occurred to me to say was that it makes me question picking sides, because if you look at this like a -- a sport, if you look at it like as a battle against your neighbor, you’ll choose anything as a knife against the other side. And that itself is a -- what’s the opposite of a virtue?
DICKERSON: A vice?
COLBERT: Yes, that’s right. That’s a vice, political divisiveness is a vice. But like a lot of vices, super seductive.
COLBERT: And so you indulge in it until it bites you and then you go oh, darn -- oh, darn, the wages of sin is death. And it makes you question having indulged in the vice.
And I think that political divisiveness is a vice, picking sides is a vice rather than picking ideas.
DICKERSON: Is that a lesson you learned in the moment or is that how we should look at 2017?
COLBERT: Oh, it’s definitely a lesson you can learn in the moment, but boy, it’s just hard to stay alert to that. I mean it’s hard to do what I do for a living. I make jokes. And -- and -- and jokes have a little knife in them all of the time. And so it’s hard to get away with it. I mean it’s -- it’s -- what does it mean to you?
DICKERSON: So if I learned a similar lesson, which is that you saw corrosiveness everywhere, you could -- one of the things you learn when you go out and talk to people in the country is that we’re -- everybody is worried about their kids and whether they’re going to get to go to college or they’re worried about the next illness that their family member may have, regardless of what their parties are.
And then the political conversation forces everybody back into their corners.
So to seek -- to seek out humanity is the -- is -- and why things are important to human beings, not just a game. As you said, it’s hard to stay alive to that constantly.
Post-truth is the Oxford word of the year.
COLBERT: I heard that. Yes.
So when we were last together and we talked...
COLBERT: You mean at dinner?
(LAUGHTER) COLBERT: You mean a year ago?
DICKERSON: A year ago, when we talked, you said -- I said what does it look -- the election look like for you?
And you said it’s all up for -- anything goes.
COLBERT: I think I was right.
COLBERT: Anything goes.
DICKERSON: You’re Nostradamus.
COLBERT: That’s exactly what -- the eagle shall fight the lion upon the plain near the river of Kech.
DICKERSON: The reason that’s the -- post-truth is the word of the year is because we saw facts play a role we’ve never seen them play -- or not play a role we’ve ever seen them play in politics.
COLBERT: Well, that’s the interesting thing. It’s not like many years ago, I coined this word called truthiness about how -- preferring to believe what feels true to you rather than what you know the facts to be, but to very importantly say that you know the facts to be and then there’s post-truth, which is not associated with the facts. As a matter of fact, one of Trump’s surrogates, Scottie Nell Hughes, said that facts don’t matter anymore, that there are no facts. That’s truly in a whole new world.
That’s -- that’s before God said let there be light. That’s absolute chaos. And that scares me, the idea that facts don’t exist anymore is actually scary to me, whereas if there are no facts anymore, then there is nothing to agree upon and so we can’t agree. You can’t build anything.
DICKERSON: You’ve got to agree on the measurement of things if you’re building (INAUDIBLE)...
COLBERT: What is one kilo?
Or one cubit?
What is a cubit?
DICKERSON: You’ve said don’t get your news from me, meaning you, from your show...
COLBERT: I did. I said get it from John Dickerson.
DICKERSON: Yes. Well, thank you.
I was fishing there and you -- it was very good. You know...
COLBERT: That was at “The Wall Street Journal.”
COLBERT: Last night, you got it for something else...
COLBERT: -- definitely don’t get your -- definitely don’t get your news from me.
DICKERSON: Well, if facts are up for grabs and people are tuning into you, why not get the -- why not get a few facts from you?
COLBERT: Because it’s -- there are better sources than I am. I’m just reading other things. But we -- we try to do jokes that are based on actual facts, because then you can build on them. The great thing about doing jokes about a presidential campaign is that from the conventions until election day, the job gets easier, because there’s one story, everybody cares about it and nobody dies.
So it -- it’s not tragic. You can make jokes about it. You don’t have to explain it to the audience and everybody is ready for the punch line as soon as you get out there.
And so that’s the great gift of covering the campaign. And then the more you get away from a centralized news story, one story in all the cycles, the more you have to explain things to the audience and the more important it is that you get the facts right.
DICKERSON: And tell me about writing jokes about Donald Trump.
COLBERT: That is not a question. That is a -- that is a -- that is tell me -- I do -- I will not tell you. I will not tell you.
DICKERSON: How do you write jokes...
COLBERT: -- that is (INAUDIBLE) Donald Trump (INAUDIBLE) question. There you go.
COLBERT: First of all...
DICKERSON: You think...
COLBERT: -- you demand your writers to write jokes about it.
How do you write jokes about Donald Trump?
Well, that actually asks the question, how do you write jokes about anything?
You know, how do you write -- and a lot of times -- and this is where the conversation gets super boring, because there’s nothing more boring than explaining a joke, is that there’s something someone says, and then there’s the way they behave. And in between -- in that arc is where all of the satire lives...
COLBERT: -- you know, or the subversion. Like those two -- that there’s a little arc in there and the closer somebody is to the way they behave, the less fun they are to write jokes about.
But Donald Trump speaks one way and behaves in another, you know. It’s not -- not even 180 degrees. There’s some odd, oblique angle going on with him.
DICKERSON: A lot of Donald Trump’s critics want -- or the Democrats who feel upset want kind of -- a kind of meaner humor.
Is there a -- is there a pitch you don’t want to swing at when you’re writing jokes about Donald Trump?
COLBERT: That’s -- that’s -- that’s an interesting question, because, boy, the -- the balls come over the plate with him like shotgun pellets. It’s not like one pitch at a time.
Like you look at something that’s happening, like, well, which one of those balls are we going to swing at, what he’s talking about or how he’s saying it or who he’s saying it to and at what time and over Twitter?
And I think Gingrich called it like, you know, he gets the press chasing the rabbit.
Well, where do you stand?
Like you’re in the batting box, which one of these do you really want to swing at?
And one of the things I had to say the week after Mr. Trump was elected is to say you have a four year story to tell, don’t try to tell it all today. Tell what happened today with jokes.
So it’s a very long way of saying is there a pitch I don’t want to swing at?
The one that’s not being thrown.
DICKERSON: That was almost Zen.
COLBERT: Well, that’s how good I am, John.
DICKERSON: You talked about reflecting America and where America is. One of the things that we do is have focus groups. We’ve done them at FACE THE NATION.
If you had to do a focus group of the kind that we do, what would you ask people?
COLBERT: Oh, I would say what makes them most hopeful, what makes you most hopeful, because, you know, slightly less than half of the voters voted for the president, or the president-elect. But it’s statistically half of America. And I want to know what makes them most hopeful and then just keep that in mind as you go forward and go, OK, well, did the person fulfill that hope?
DICKERSON: What did you learn about interviewing this year?
COLBERT: Don’t hold a pen, because I’m not a newsman. I was interview -- I forgot who I was interviewing and the challenge for me and maybe the motivation for your question is that I used to do the show -- I used to interview people on character. And I had an agenda. I was going to win the interview. And it was fun to win it.
Now, myself, so I’m responsible for everything I’m saying and that -- that made me sort of pull my natural punch in interviews for the first probably six months of the show.
And on of my producers just said -- came out to me and said it was -- it was between two acts. He said put your pen away. And I -- and I said, OK. And so I literally just put the pen away. And it changed the way I spoke to the person, because then I’m just having a conversation with someone.
But holding the pen, it’s like I’m keeping score of what they’re saying and I’m going to have the (INAUDIBLE) and it became a human conversation.
Later, I said, why did you ask me to do that?
It really worked.
And then he goes, because you’re not the news. You’re not even parodying the news. Just put it down.
DICKERSON: That feels like it has a larger meaning somehow.
COLBERT: It does. Yes, in a way. Just be your...
COLBERT: -- really, just be yourself. The pen was the last bit of the armor. Yes.
DICKERSON: So if you had to do FACE THE NATION, how would you do the show?
COLBERT: Just like you.
COLBERT: No, we watch it every Sunday.
DICKERSON: You’ll get something extra in your pay packet for that.
COLBERT: Thank you very much -- thanks very much.
DICKERSON: Oh, good.
What did you learn doing the show live?
COLBERT: We did two live weeks for the conventions and then we did all of the debates live then we did election night live.
I -- I was reminded of -- of how important urgency is in writing. And it’s not the same thing as anxiety. And there’s a fine line between anxiety and urgency.
When you know that there probably won’t be another draft of this, you -- something clicks inside of you, if you have enough experience to do it. And it’s not for the feint of heart.
You write it right the first time, the joke comes out of you the way you are going to say it. You don’t overthink it. And we -- we wrote some of our best shows this year in a matter of a couple of hours, or sometimes like 45 minutes or a half an hour.
Everyone steps up...
COLBERT: -- and that’s -- that’s what the live show does, it asks what is the most you are capable of?
And it gives you then something that’s worthy of that effort, which is you’re making jokes live about a historical event.
DICKERSON: If you could take three things from this year that gave you joy, they can be anything, what would they be?
COLBERT: I spend so much of my time inside this building working on the show that it’s hard to divorce like my joy from things that happened this year.
DICKERSON: Well, that’s where -- you can put that on the list.
COLBERT: Oh, I think the night before the election, we had Stevie Wonder on. And we had Jon Stewart on and we basically did a song urging people to vote with Javier Munos from “Hamilton” and then Stevie Wonder came on.
We have the same birthday and he sang to me, “Happy birthday to ya,” you know, from “Hotter Than July,” that -- that birthday song.
That’s probably the most joyful thing that happened in this building this year, because there’s nobody like Stevie Wonder.
Oh, I don’t know, taking my son to college was pretty joyful. Seeing that he seemed happy there, that was really joyful, because you worry, you know. Spoiler alert -- if you don’t have children yet, you will worry. And that’s good, too.
And I -- and I -- I have a -- I have a dear friend that I love who was diagnosed with cancer. And when she got subsequent tests back, it was exactly what she wanted to hear -- treatable. She has a plan. And that was the most joyful moment. And I just found out a week ago -- the most joyful moment you could hear is that this person that you love will be with you so you can love them. That’s it.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
DICKERSON: We’ll be back in one minute with more of our interview with “The Late Show’s” Stephen Colbert.
DICKERSON: And we’re back with more of our wide-ranging interview with “The Late Show’s” Stephen Colbert.
DICKERSON: What should Donald Trump read, if you could give him one thing that he should read before being president?
COLBERT: Well, “The Constitution” wouldn’t hurt, because I’m not sure if he’s as familiar with it as -- as -- as one would hope.
And it’s a pretty good read. It’s a pretty good read. It was well thought out.
That’s a good question, what would Donald Trump read?
I actually don’t know what he’s lacking in information. I mean if we were to believe his ghost writer, he might want to read “Art of The Deal,” because he said he didn’t write a word of it. So it’s possible he hasn’t read it either.
I have. I’ve read “Art of The Deal.”
Have you heard “Art of The Deal?”
What did you take away from reading “Art of The Deal?”
COLBERT: Well, if it was a reflection of the man, is that he’ll be friends with anybody. He’s like -- he comes off as a very friendly guy, even people he’s angry with, he’s actually very friendly with.
DICKERSON: And I was struck that the stories he tells in the book are of people being generous and magnanimous and of keeping their word even when there was a better deal on the table.
DICKERSON: The virtues that he extols...
DICKERSON: -- in others are...
DICKERSON: -- not ones that people would...
COLBERT: We’ve had our disagreements over the years, but we did this deal.
DICKERSON: Given that you and he have had disagreements, would he come on the show?
Would you want him on to interview?
COLBERT: I’m not going to say no to the president of the United States. I want want to know that I could interview him in a way that would be respectful, though, because I don’t think it would be fun for me or profitable for him in any way, or the audience, if I couldn’t do it in a respectful way and I think -- I think probably by the time he gets into office, I’ll have calmed down a little bit, because that would be important to me, because I believe in the presidency and I believe in our system and -- and, you know, when I had him on at the beginning of the year, I went to great pains to try to be respectful to him, which really upset some of my liberal fans.
But it’s important to me to have a politician on and to allow them to be able to say what their -- their -- their thoughts are and not be some sort of, you know, what -- what people often wanted me to be at the old show, which is some sort of ninja word assassin that slips underneath everybody’s radar and then slaps the handle on the knife before they even know that it’s between their ribs.
Like that -- that was sort of the legend of -- but I almost never did it. It was almost by accident when I would do it. And I don’t really want to do that with my guests ever.
DICKERSON: What are you looking forward to in the new year?
COLBERT: We’ve been so busy with the election that I think I’m actually going to lose weight over the Christmas holidays, because just the cortisol will leave my body. Just getting enough sleep, I think is -- is going to at least get me down into my fat pants.
COLBERT: -- when your fat pants -- when you...
COLBERT: -- I can’t do the show in sweatpants. I don’t think that would look good, how about that?
DICKERSON: No, I think that’s right.
COLBERT: What am I looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to being surprised, because that’s what you want every day. I want to be surprised. And that’s the great thing about Donald Trump is that boy, he did surprise a lot of people, didn’t he?
And every day, you would say, can you believe this happened?
And then you would go get to tell that story to the audience?
And Mr. Trump is such a large figure that he will continue to be, I think, the story that we can tell with jokes on a daily basis, because he keeps breaking rules -- he -- or -- or norms, not rules. He keeps on breaking norms.
And the breaking of those norms is such a surprising thing that it’s like a fire cracker every day. And you get to report on the sound of that fire cracker every day.
I’m -- you know, people have asked me before, aren’t you a little glad that Donald Trump was elected?
And I go well, like, yes, but I don’t -- I mean as a comedian, sure, but I -- I value something more than the joke I’m about to tell. But now I have no choice but to actually enjoy this incredible gift every day that Mr. Trump will be.
DICKERSON: I’m going on in half an hour as you, what do I have to know?
COLBERT: You can’t teach me everything.
Do you know how to listen?
DICKERSON: You are the better judge now of that than I am.
COLBERT: You have to know how to listen to your guests, because in half an hour, that you’re going -- you’re going from zero to 60 like you -- you are dragged off the street. A bag was popped over your head, you were brought in back stage, they put you in makeup and whipped it off your head and said you’re on in half an hour.
And you say, what am I doing? And you go, well, you’re going to -- I hope you were informed about the news of the day, which I would imagine that you are already, you being John Dickerson. You’ve got that John Dickerson feeling. One assumes you’ve got it in spades.
And you have to be able to read, because you’re reading off of a prompter.
You have to be able to improvise because if the joke goes particularly well, you want to filigree off the back end of it.
You have to know how to be happy with failing. You have to know how to still enjoy it if the joke doesn’t go over well and also be prepared to not blame anybody other than yourself for whether it goes well, because -- because it really is just you. You’re it.
Tag, you’re it, you know?
You know what?
I -- can I go back to something that Trump should read?
This is my answer to what Trump should read. I don’t know about what book he should read, but he should definitely read the plaque that says “the buck stops here,” because he’s famous for blaming other people for something going wrong.
That’s over. The buck stops at that desk. And I hope he’s read it, because the first time he blames something else for somebody -- the first time he blames somebody else for something that he did, I think even people who like him will lose faith, because however you feel about the president, you’ve got to take the punch.
DICKERSON: Thank you.
DICKERSON: I’m going to shake your hand.
COLBERT: You’re going to shake my hand?
COLBERT: All right.
DICKERSON: That’s very weird.
COLBERT: If you don’t do that all the time.
DICKERSON: Oh, yes?
DICKERSON: All right, Stephen Colbert.
COLBERT: I don’t know where that hand has been. (LAUGHTER)
COLBERT: It’s like we just met. I’ve known you for years.
Who is this person?
DICKERSON: There’s a lot more of this interview that will be available on our Web site, facethenation.com. In fact, there’s so much more that we’re going to release a new clip every day for the next seven days, just enough to make it through the holiday week.
So for our seven days of Stephen Colbert, go to our Web site or Twitter or Facebook for those clips.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
DICKERSON: Be sure to join us next Sunday, when we’ll be talking about the challenges facing America with a book panel including Isabel Wilkerson, who wrote “The Warmth of Other Suns,” JD Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” actor Diane Guerrero, the author of “In the Country We Love” and Amana Al-Khatahtbeh, author of “Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age.”
DICKERSON: Some of our CBS stations are leaving us now, but for most of you, we’ll be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION and our favorite old tradition, the CBS News correspondents roundtable.
Stay with us.
DICKERSON: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. I’m John Dickerson.
Joining us now to talk about the year ahead, our CBS News foreign affairs correspondence Margaret Brennan, chief White House correspondence Major Garrett, homeland security and justice department correspondent Jeff Pegues and our chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford, national security correspondent David Martin and congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes.
Welcome to all of you, to our Thanksgiving dinner here.
Major I want to start with you.
MAJOR GARRETT, CBS NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sure.
DICKERSON: Thanksgiving on Christmas. You spent the year with Donald Trump. What do you expect from Donald Trump right away?
GARRETT: So I think the country better brace itself for a couple of political realities. First of all, you have a largely non- ideological president surrounding himself by conservative ideologues and he has the largest Republican majorities that a conservative oriented Republican president has had since before the Great Depression. This Trump administration will have a largely cooperative Republican Congress and they will move with as much speed as they possibly can, understanding the Democrats are still in disarray, the Democrats are going to have to pick their targets, they’re going to create as many targets as possible for the Democrats, hoping to overwhelm them and to move both on a regulatory, executive action and legislative front and throw in a Supreme Court nominee, all right out of the gate. An amazing sort of action to push forward an agenda they hope will be, if not fully realized, and nearly fully realized by August, and then sit back and watch what happens.
DICKERSON: Nancy, a flurry of activity. It’s a dream come true for Paul Ryan, speaker of the House, it sounds like.
NANCY CORDES, CBS NEWS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is and a dream that started far before he became speaker. And so when you’ve got a big prize like this, many prizes they hope sitting on the table, you’re willing to overlook a lot. So a lot of the things that you heard Paul Ryan criticizing Donald Trump for during the primaries, you won’t hear over the next few months. He is going to try to stay as silent as possible. He needs Donald Trump and Donald Trump needs him.
First thing right out of the gate, repealing Obamacare. Republicans will try to do that in the first few weeks of the new Congress. The big question becomes, what then? They know they want to replace it with something, but there’s absolutely no consensus on what that something is.
DICKERSON: David, let me ask you a question. One of the things Donald Trump promised and it seems Paul Ryan is going to help him achieve is a lot more military spending. What’s the view inside of the military of that increased spending and this new commander in chief?
DAVID MARTIN, CBS NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, he first has to get out from under sequestration, which, I assume, the Republicans will do for him.
DICKERSON: Those budget caps that limit the amount of spending on military.
MARTIN: Budget. And once you get out from under that, they also want to increase the size of the military. If Donald Trump serves only one term, I’m not sure there will be enough time for the military to get significantly larger in that period of time because it’s not just a matter of bringing in more recruits, it’s what kind of recruits. They don’t need more riflemen. They need more cyber warfare experts and -- and things like that.
DICKERSON: Jan, let me ask you, before -- I want to ask you about Donald Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, but first I want to ask you about, just, what does the court have coming up in this next year that -- are there big cases?
JAN CRAWFORD, CBS NEWS CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean the justices clearly decided to kind of take -- not take the year off, but certainly kind of avoid any major controversial cases. So this is a term that does not have the blockbuster cases that we’ve seen in years past, whether Obamacare, same sex marriage, affirmative action. This is going to be a term that is focused across the street on the U.S. Senate and the confirmation of the next justice to replace, you know, conservative icons Justice Scalia.
DICKERSON: And so what do you expect from that fight?
CRAWFORD: Well, you know, Trump released a list before the election of -- of potential nominees that he would consider. And my sources say he is sticking to that list. They have narrowed it down to just a handful of highly qualified, very respective -- respected appellate court judges. I mean these are conservative legal rock stars. I mean this is not going to be a battle over qualifications. This will be a battle over ideology.
DICKERSON: Any top names -- not to play this ridiculous game, but I’ll start it there (ph).
CRAWFORD: Yes. Yes. Yes, I mean I think -- no, no, no, because this is ongoing right now. This is something, to Major’s point, they are going to move quickly on this. They’re -- they’re narrowing their focus on a handful, like I said, of appellate court judges. Bill Pryor from the Atlanta based Federal Appeals Court. Thomas Hardiman, a judge on the Philadelphia based Appeals Court. Steve Colloton, from out in Iowa upon the U.S. Court of Appeals, the Eighth Circuit. A judge, Diane Sykes, on the Seventh Circuit. And Joan Larsen, on the Michigan Supreme Court. But, again, all highly qualified. You -- you can’t argue with their credentials.
DICKERSON: Jeff, let me ask you about the FBI director. He had a pretty tough end of 2016.
JEFF PEGUES, CBS NEWS HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: He certainly did.
DICKERSON: What’s the state of things inside the FBI and what about the director himself?
PEGUES: Well, I think there’s a lot of concern about what happens next. From what I’m hearing, from sources and people who know James Comey, there has been no contact yet with President-elect Trump and so a lot of people are trying to see, where will this goes? Will he stay on or will he resign? Because, as you know, he is a lightning rod in Washington, D.C. right now. I think he has critics on both sides of the aisle.
He may see that as a -- as a good place to be because he sees himself as above politics as the FBI director, but he’s facing a lot of criticism. And not only from people on Capitol Hill, but also former agents who have questioned some of his tactics over the last six months. So he is really, and the FBI for that matter, is facing uncertain times right now.
CORDES: And here’s something very unusual. A lot of Democrats blame Jim Comey for Hillary Clinton’s loss, but a lot of Democrats don’t want him to leave either because they don’t want to give Donald Trump license to be involved in choosing a new FBI director. It’s a matte of the devil you know.
DICKERSON: Margaret, let me ask you about President Obama, who you were covering at the end of his administration. We haven’t had a situation since Woodrow Wilson lived in Washington D.C., as a president who comes out of offices, lives in Washington. What do you expect?
MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you won’t have that dramatic exit in Marine One, where you just have to drive over to Calarama (ph) on January 20th.
BRENNAN: But I --
DICKERSON: Take an Uber.
BRENNAN: Exactly. So you’re seeing the White House -- the president has said, I want to sort of coach in some ways the president-elect through this transition. Very sort of gently saying, look, he is an amateur, but saying, I’m going to help him try to navigate this major bureaucracy that is the federal government.
The Twitter account of the White House is now in federal records for all-time, and that Twitter account will become Donald Trump’s on January 20th. That weight of those words is going to not only be amplified around the world, but sealed in our history. So how he starts to communicate once he takes that office is going to have profound effects. And I think that’s something that certainly President Obama has tried to quietly suggest to him.
DICKERSON: Let me ask you about the -- the world that Donald Trump inherits, either through Donald Trump or through his secretary of state. What do you think the first things are that they have to do or they should do given the way the world is looking at the incoming Trump presidency?
BRENNAN: Well, the diplomats that I talk to would tell you, you know, there are two things people hate, when it’s financial markets or its foreign markets, and that’s unpredictability. And right now what Donald Trump is suggesting is that the U.S. will be a source of insecurity, perhaps some uncertainty when it comes to decision making, that he’s not going to lean on the coalitions, the NATOs, the U.N.s of the world, like President Obama has tried to emphasize. That he’s going to have more of a transactional relationship with global leaders.
The test of that is now you’re going to have Rex Tillerson, a secretary of state who understands full well the weight of words because he moves global markets with them as the chief executive of Exxon Mobil. Can he play cleanup and really sort of work out some of those rough edges on the foreign policy front for Donald Trump.
DICKERSON: And he ran on -- as an unpredictable. That was his selling point for Donald Trump.
GARRETT: One of them. One of them. And it’s important what Margaret brings up because if you want to understand Trump, I really recommend, and this is not to sell his book, but if you read “Art of the Deal,” you get a sense of who he is and what he became on the campaign trail. And one of the things he says very early on in that book is, I like to work the phones. I make 100 calls a day. I like to crack open conversations and see where they go.
The China/Taiwan thing is a classic example of that. He wants to crack open that conversation, see where it goes. See what happens. Unsettled things, get on the phone and then see what happens and see where it leads. There is not an organizing structure to the foreign policy. Once you crack open a conversation, yes, you can make a new deal, but what are you in pursuit of.
GARRETT: What are you trying to accomplish?
DICKERSON: David, I want to get your take on also, what does the Pentagon worry most about in terms of threat from the world?
MARTIN: Well, if you listen to what James Mattis, who we can assume, I think, is going to be the next secretary of defense says, the biggest short-term threat is Russia. The biggest long-term threat is China. And the biggest threat to stability in the Middle East is Iran. And that’s not a particularly unconventional world view. I would think that most members of the Obama administration hold that -- that same view. I think where Mattis will differ from the Obama administration is, he believes in pushing back. That doesn’t necessarily mean going to war because he’s also said many times that before you go to war, you’ve got to think it all the way through and be sure you can sustain it.
But I think it will mean more frequent and visible shows of force. We’ve just had this incident where the Chinese stole that underwater drone from a Navy research vessel. The instant that happened, you knew in the Obama administration what was going to happen. They were going to play that as low-key as possible and keep it from being an irritant in the overall relationship.
We’ve got no idea what Donald Trump will do the -- the first time somebody makes off with a drone. I mean he tweeted, let them keep it. But as president, when somebody makes off with your sovereign property, he may have an entirely different point of view.
DICKERSON: And how -- how worried are they about North Korea?
MARTIN: I think North Korea is -- is the unanswered and so far unsolvable problem that the U.S. faces. Kim Jong-un seems to have made a strategic decision. He’s going to get a nuclear arsenal no matter what the cost in economic sanctions. So it is only a matter of time before North Korea has a genuine capability to launch a nuclear weapon against the United States. The question is, is Donald Trump going to sit there and let that happen? DICKERSON: Jeff, let me ask you about Russia. We have this, at the end of 2016, the gap between the president, who is getting ready to retaliate against Russia for hacking and the president-elect who didn’t even think that was a serious finding on the part of the intelligence agencies. When Donald Trump heard about the -- the hacking, he said, you know, remember these are the same people who thought there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Kind of a big shot at the intelligence agency he’s going to have to work with.
PEGUES: Yes. And I -- I think, within the intelligence community, that was a shot across the bow. I think there was a lot of concern about how the president-elect handled that, and how he will handle the intelligence community going forward.
DICKERSON: Jan, let me ask you a question about the attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions. What changes should people be looking for in that area?
CRAWFORD: He is someone who I think is -- is quite conservative and -- and believes strongly in the right position. By right I mean the conservative position, in terms of how you’re going to run that Justice department. I think what’s going to be very interesting, and we’ll get an early kind of clue for how Democrats are going to react to some of these nominations, the outside groups are really beating Senator Sessions up right now over some of his past history. They’re trying to make this kind of questions of race going back 30 and 40 years. The Democrats on the committee are going to try to focus on, to your point, how he will run that department, what it will mean for voting rights and immigration. Will he implement some of these hardline policies that’s been suggested on the campaign trail.
So that actually could have an impact on the Justice Department, unlike the Supreme Court, which, when you talk about change and -- and Trump, President-elect Trump coming in here and kind of upending Washington, you know, turning the tables upside down, he will not change the Supreme Court. Even if he nominates one of the -- the nominees that we’ve been talking about, conservatives, strong conservatives, they will be -- that nominee will be replace a conservative icon, Justice Scalia. It will not change the balance of the Supreme Court, the direction of the Supreme Court at all.
DICKERSON: I want to talk to you about that in a second and we’ll get, Nancy, your thoughts about how the Democrats are going to respond to all of this in a second. But let’s take a break and we’ll do that and we’ll be back in a moment.
DICKERSON: And we’re back with more from our CBS correspondent round table.
Nancy, I want to start with you, picking up on the point that Jan was making about what Democrats are going to do to resist the -- Mr. Trump’s picks. What’s your sense of how they’re going to do it? Resist everything? Pick your shots? Is there one marquee battle to watch? CORDES: They’re going to have to pick their battles because almost to a person, these nominees, Democrats believe are antithetical to the positions they intend to hold. They think, for example, that if you don’t believe that the environment is in trouble, you shouldn’t be running the EPA and on and on. However Democrats also want to be able to make a larger point, not just about this nominee or that nominee, but that in general they believe that the Trump administration is outside the mainstream. And if you’ve got every Senate Democrat making that case against every single nominee, that message is going to get lost. So they will try to pick a few marquee nominees to really go after in public hearings to try to get a lot of attention.
Beyond getting attention, it’s not clear that there’s much that they can do to stop any of these nominations and they know that because they simply don’t have the numbers.
DICKERSON: What are your quick thoughts on Chuck Schumer? Mitch McConnell famously told Major Garrett that he wanted to keep President Obama to being a one term president. Is that the way Chuck Schumer, as the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, is positioning himself against Donald Trump or does he have another view?
CORDES: I’m not sure that’s in his DNA. So there are some Democrats who would --
DICKERSON: To be obstructionist?
CORDES: To -- to -- to be an obstructionist.
DICKERSON: He wants to make a deal?
CORDES: He likes to make a deal. Chuck Schumer does want to cut a deal, for instance, on infrastructure spending, even though there are going to be some in his own party who say, if you cut a deal with Donald Trump on that or anything else, you are going to send a message to the rest of the country that he is someone who can get things done, and we shouldn’t allow that to happen.
DICKERSON: David, let me ask you about terrorism, because it was talked about so much by Donald Trump in the campaign. He said he wanted a 30-day plan to take care of ISIS. What’s your sense of where that battle stands when the president inherits it?
MARTIN: Well, he’s going to inherit a battle in which ISIS is just losing ground by the day. They’ve lost half of the territory they once held in Iraq. And the battle of Mosul is going to be long and it’s going to be ugly. But the city’s surrounded. They’re going to lose. So, geographically, ISIS is losing. But, of course, as everybody points out, it’s the idea that you have to kill as well. You might get lucky, kill al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, and that will somehow collapse the whole impetus behind the movement, but I doubt it.
DICKERSON: It’s hard to kill an idea.
MARTIN: Hard to kill an idea. So I think whatever Donald Trump inherits on the ground, the real battle is -- is going to be in the air for -- for the battle of ideas.
PEGUES: And there -- there was a lot of concern, John, once they squeeze ISIS on the battlefield and al Qaeda on the battlefield, that they will -- the killers will then spread out across western Europe and maybe try to come here to the U.S.
BRENNAN: And I’d say the next question is, OK, so ISIS falls, then what happens on the day after? We’ve heard the president-elect criticize the current president for leaving a vacuum in the Middle East, failure, that disappearing red line in Syria, the failure to prevent atrocities. So if you take out ISIS in Syria or in Iraq, how do you actually build up a government that can keep a functioning military this time, right? How do you prevent repeating the mistakes that they’ve criticized the Obama administration for?
I would say, watch really carefully what happens in Syria. That is going to be such a litmus test because of that articulation of American weakness there that Trump has hit Obama on. Does he choose to see this as a battlefield against Iran, which has strengthened its hold on the region and the Iranian-backed militias, or does he see this as a way to partner with the Russians, who have backed Iran, who have backed Assad, who are carrying out those atrocities that the U.S. calls a war crime.
MARTIN: You know, the Obama administration has struggled mightily not to be distracted by anything in Syria other than the war against ISIS. Do not get involved in the civil war. And I -- I can’t imagine that -- that General Mattis wouldn’t have the same advice to President Trump. Whether or not President Trump follows that advice is another question.
BRENNAN: But he also likely sees it as not a civil war anymore. It’s a ground war with Iran. It’s an air war with Russia. And if you want to solve some of the problems when you look at Europe, that refugee crisis, that flow of terrorists that Jeff was talking about, the beating heart of that is in Syria and you need to address that in some way. Maybe it’s not the ground troops that President Obama said were the only answer and the one that he shut down, but he’s got to do something.
GARRETT: (INAUDIBLE) safe havens and you asked the regional allies for money and they say no, and it’s not a real estate transaction, it’s actually hardball geo politics with the Saudis and others, say, no, we’re not going to pony up. You told all the people in America we would. Guess what, we wouldn’t.
DICKERSON: The safe havens that Donald Trump wants to create and have the Saudis pay for it.
GARRETT: Exactly. MARTIN: Yes.
GARRETT: And if that doesn’t happen, then when -- then where are you left? You’re back where the Obama administration has been struggling for six years.
MARTIN: If it’s safe haven, does that mean you’re willing to shoot down a Russian aircraft?
GARRETT: Right, to protect them?
BRENNAN: Right. That’s a bit of an art --
GARRETT: Even if they are paid for.
BRENNAN: A form of art, too, because the -- the president and leaded into this idea of humanitarian corridors. That it’s not even a no-fly zone, as we describe it. So there’s some -- some mushiness here in terms of what that could actually mean.
DICKERSON: Let me move on to our final round here, which is predictions for the year of 2017.
Jeff, I’m going to start with you.
PEGUES: Oh, great.
DICKERSON: I want to -- what -- give us a prediction about something that’s going to happen in 2017 or a clever way to get out of the question.
PEGUES: Well, listen, I -- I was struggling over this one because I -- I felt like, you know, I could go the easy you route and say something about ISIS, but I’m going to go with a harder route and talk about James Comey, frankly, because, where will he be in January? I think he will be at the FBI. There are a lot of people in Washington who might disagree with that, but I have talked to sources who say that he -- he has spoken in groups of retired agents and he has -- he’s -- he’s been very comfortable there, and he’s defended his decisions as something that he had to do given the cards that he was dealt. So I think he stays at the FBI.
DICKERSON: He’s comfortable with retired agents, but doesn’t want to become one.
Nancy, what’s your prediction for 2017?
CORDES: I think by the end of the year you will see a new Democratic organization that does not currently exist -- that does not currently exist, designed to try to reach some of these white working class voters that the Clinton administration -- the Clinton campaign wasn’t able to reach in 2016. You’ve got a number of high ranking Clinton campaign officials who thought they were going to spend the next four years, very busy, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, now looking for a new purpose.
DICKERSON: David, what are your thoughts for 2017?
MARTIN: Well, the bar is low because everybody’s been so wrong all the time about -- about Donald Trump. I -- I will predict that he will meet personally with Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, and attempt to cut a deal that would somehow at least freeze the North Korean nuclear weapons program.
GARRETT: A year from now we will be writing about Vice President Mike Pence, the most important person in the Trump administration, because at every personnel level and every turn, he will have won more than he has lost. And whatever the ideology of President Trump is, the personnel implementing it will be at almost every vital turn selected, vetted and recommended by Mike Pence and, in more ways than Dick Cheney, a very powerful vice president.
DICKERSON: All right, Jan Crawford, (INAUDIBLE).
CRAWFORD: Well, I want going to stick with something that is much more predictable, and that is that Alabama is going to win the National Championship again for the (INAUDIBLE) time.
CRAWFORD: I mean that’s something I think we can all say (INAUDIBLE).
DICKERSON: Yes, the sun -- the sun rises, the sun sets, Alabama wins. These are --
CRAWFORD: Exactly. So, roll Tide. That’s my prediction.
And also, to -- is that good enough or do you want a serious one? We know that’s going to happen. That’s really not much of a prediction.
I think that the Supreme Court -- Supreme Court confirmation fight is going to be the biggest battle that we will see. I think it’s going to be a place for Democrats to kind of put all their pent-up rage and frustration at what happened in November. You’re going to see a real effort to block President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court. My prediction is that will fail.
DICKERSON: All right, and, Margaret, your prediction for 2017?
BRENNAN: No sleep for any of us for the entire year and frequent confrontations, small scale or otherwise, with both Iran pushing the limits of its nuclear program, and seeing if the Trump administration enforces it, and with North Korea, which is about scheduled for another test sometime soon.
DICKERSON: A busy year. Thank you all for being here at the end.
And that’s it for our correspondents’ roundtable. I want to thank all of you for being here and we’ll be back in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
DICKERSON: That’s it for us today. Thank you for watching. We want to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy Hanukkah.
We’ll be back here on New Year’s Day for another special broadcast. We hope to see you then.
For FACE THE NATION, I’m John Dickerson.