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Face the Nation Transcript September 18, 2016: King, Kaine, Conway, Priebus

JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST: Today on FACE THE NATION: breaking news overnight, after a bomb injures 29 in New York City.

And the presidential race moves back into the too-close-to-call category.

An explosion rocks the Chelsea neighborhood in New York City Saturday night. Officials say none of the injuries are life- threatening. Just hours after the attack, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke to reporters.


BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: There is no evidence at this point of a terror connection.


DICKERSON: We will bring you the latest on the investigation.

The bombing had a sobering effect on a campaign where the candidates are nearly tied in the polls.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A bomb went off in New York, and nobody knows exactly what’s going on, but, boy, we are living in a time. We better get very tough, folks.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will have more to say about it when we actually know the facts.


DICKERSON: Recovering from pneumonia, Clinton has seen her lead over Donald Trump collapse. We will talk to Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine.

Plus, Donald Trump has dropped his five-year campaign to prove the president is not an American. We will hear from his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, and the head of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus.

And, finally, a special visit with civil rights legend John Lewis at the new African-American Museum. It’s all coming up on FACE THE NATION.

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

We begin with that explosion in New York City. It happened last night at around 8:30 at 23rd Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

CBS News correspondent Anna Werner is there.

ANNA WERNER, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, streets are still closed off here in Chelsea, John, as authorities continue to try to determine who caused an explosion here and planted another device four blocks north.


WERNER (voice-over): Surveillance video showed the white flash of the explosion as the blast at about 8:30 Saturday night sent people running.

WOMAN: I heard boom. I thought it might be fireworks, but it was so loud, and it just went through my whole body.

WERNER: Units from the police and FBI were quick to respond, cordoning off streets in the area and searching for evidence. About two hours later, police found a device in another location four blocks north. It was described as a pressure cooker. That street too was blocked off and police brought in a bomb disposal truck to remove the device.


WERNER: Now, a law enforcement source this morning tells CBS News that terrorism has not, in fact, been ruled out, and they are also continuing to explore whether there are any potential links between the incidents that happen here and the pipe bomb explosion at a charity race event yesterday in New Jersey -- John.

DICKERSON: Anna Werner in New York, thanks, Anna.

We go now to New York Congressman Peter King, who sits on both the House intelligence and Homeland Security Committees.

Congressman, Governor Cuomo just said there are no links to international terrorism. Do you think that’s the case?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: We don’t know. In fact, in many of these cases we don’t know until two, three or four days later whether or not there is a terrorist link, whether or not it’s connected overseas, whether or not it’s homegrown.

So, the fact that there is no evidence right now really doesn’t mean much. We had the Times Square bombing back in New York in 2011, I guess it was, and there was no -- it took several days before we realized that that was coming out of the Taliban and Pakistan.

The Boston Marathon bombing, we didn’t know for several days if that was terrorists. So, I think you have to assume from the start that terrorism is always a real possibility and go from there.

Whether it turns out to be or not, we don’t know, but I certainly would not even think of ruling out terrorism at this stage.

DICKERSON: What’s the best way to react for the public and law enforcement officials in incidents like this? We now are so connected that the minute something happens, there’s a kind of a rush to name it right away one thing or another. What’s the proper way to respond to these?

KING: To let the NYPD and the FBI handle it. They are the best. They are the best in the world at what they do. And also to realize that, as we go forward, that terrorism and these type of attacks, whether they’re coming from overseas or whether they’re homegrown or whether they’re just mall content, we are always vulnerable to these type of attacks.

And that’s why it’s so important that the police be allowed to do their job, that we have to have surveillance, we have to monitor, so we can tell in advance when these are going to happen or at least have a better grip on when they could be happening.

Sometimes, once things are over with, we sort of put it in the recesses of our mind. These threats are real. They’re going to continue. Whether or not this turns out to be overseas terrorism, whether it’s domestic terrorism or any terrorism at all, it’s a wakeup call, another one, as to how vulnerable we are.

And that’s why it’s so important for the police and FBI to be given the tools and be allowed to do what they have to do.

DICKERSON: And if New York can be hit, a city that’s been on top of this issue obviously since 9/11, what more can be done? Isn’t it just these kinds of things are going to happen, they’re part of the new normal?

KING: I don’t think we can accept it as being part of the new normal.

So, go to the larger issue. To me, it’s why the NSA is important. It’s why surveillance of communities where these threats could coming from is important, why we can’t allow overconcern about civil liberties to get in the way of solid law enforcement.

Let’s not let political correctness stop the police and the FBI from doing the investigations that they have to do. I have used the example many time, when you’re going after the mafia, you go to the Italian community, Irish communities when you are looking for the Westies.

And right now, if the threat is from Islamist terrorism, we go to Muslim communities.

DICKERSON: All right.

KING: You don’t look for the Ku Klux Klan in Harlem.

DICKERSON: All right, Congressman Pete King, thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

KING: Thank you.

DICKERSON: Turning now to campaign 2016, our CBS News Battleground Tracker shows this morning that in the 13 states we consider to be the tightest, the candidates are now tied 42 percent to 42 percent, which is consistent with the latest national surveys.

So, what can Hillary Clinton do to regain her lost momentum?

We now go to Richmond and to her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine.

Senator, I want to start with the explosion in New York overnight. In moments like this, we look to the presidential candidates for some kind of response, but what can a president do if a lone wolf is going to put some kind of explosive device in a dumpster? Isn’t that first responders, and there’s really not a presidential question there, is there?

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Well, John, look, you have to understand that law enforcement plays a critical role, first-responders, too.

Hillary understands this. She was a senator from New York after the attack on 9/11 and worked to make sure first-responders got health care benefits. But the other thing is, we always have to watch about these lone wolf attacks.

We’re in a battle right now to defeat ISIS and to defeat al Qaeda. And in the battle against ISIS, their space on the battlefield is shrinking. Our military and the coalition is working to shrink their space, but, sadly, they are trying then to strike out in other places, whether it’s cities in Europe or Africa or in the United States.

The way you stop those attacks -- we don’t know the motive behind these attacks are yet, but we’re digging into it. But the way you stop lone wolf attacks is through smart sharing of intelligence. You have to have strong alliances, for example, with NATO allies, and share intelligence about people, people who might be traveling from one country to the next.

And Hillary Clinton, as somebody who has been our nation’s chief diplomat, understands the power of these alliances and would never do something like tear up NATO or get rid of the alliances in the way that Donald Trump proposes.

The last thing I will say is, obviously, this was a horrible explosion in New York. The size of it was massive, and, at least, thank goodness -- we’re thinking about those who are injured. At least, thank goodness, there are no fatalities reported. And that’s something that, at least as of now, we can be thankful for.

DICKERSON: Back to on this question of national security and commander in chief, Secretary Robert Gates wrote a piece in “The Wall Street Journal” critical of both candidates, but about Hillary Clinton, he said: “Mrs. Clinton has time before the election to address forthrightly her trustworthiness,” which he put at the center of her ability to be commander in chief.

How does she fix the trustworthiness problem?

KAINE: You know, you’re right. Secretary Gates wrote that editorial. He said: I need to see more from Hillary Clinton, but I have seen enough from Donald Trump. He’s not qualified to be president.

Let me just jump right to your question, John, about trustworthiness. I have a boy who is a Marine infantry officer. He’s one of the two million young men and women who serve in the United States military. He’s deployed now for the second time.

I would trust Nat -- I would trust Hillary Clinton with Nat’s life, with my son’s life. And the reason I would is because she’s had that searing experience of being at the World Trade Center as they were searching for survivors, because she’s been our secretary of state, because she was part of a national security team that revived the hunt and wiped Osama bin Laden off the face of the earth.

I would trust her with my son’s life, whereas, on the other side, with Donald Trump, here’s a guy who praises dictators like Vladimir Putin. Here’s a guy who thinks a solution to global security is for more nations to get nuclear weapons.

But, most painfully to me and other military families, here is a guy who says the American military is a disaster, who makes fun of John McCain because he was a prisoner of war and says that means he’s not a hero, and who went after the Virginia family, the Khan family, who live in Charlottesville, and went after them mercilessly after they very painfully described how it was to lose their son serving in the military who was killed trying to protect his fellow service members.

Donald Trump, as commander in chief, scares me to death.

DICKERSON: So, Senator, if Donald Trump is democratically elected and your son serving as a Marine, you wouldn’t trust his life under that commander in chief?

KAINE: I wouldn’t.


DICKERSON: Would you tell him to get out of the military, Senator?

KAINE: My son is a very independent guy, and he’s going to make his own determination. And my other two children are equally independent

But Donald Trump has demonstrated, by his trashing the military, by his belief that we need more nukes, but especially by his praise of dictators, even encouraging the Russians to commit cyber-espionage against the United States, he’s demonstrated that he just -- he shouldn’t be within 10 time zones of being commander in chief.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you, on this question of trustworthiness, oftentimes, presidents bring in a vice president who helps them with their weak spots. George W. Bush did that with Dick Cheney. Barack Obama did that with Joe Biden, Senator Joe Biden, the idea that they didn’t have enough experience, so they brought in an experienced hand.

A lot of Hillary Clinton’s supporters and friends say her blind spot is this question of transparency and trust. Do you see your job as helping out on that? You’re the new guy in the team. Do you see that as a part of your role?

KAINE: John, I will tell you why Hillary asked me to be on the ticket. She was pretty plain about it.

She said that the test of a Clinton administration is not going to be a bill signing or a passage of something. It’s going to be whether a worker can get more skills, an employer can hire more people, a classroom is a better learning environment for a kid or for a teacher.

It’s, fundamentally,she wants a governing partner for our positive agenda. And, John, we have laid out a positive agenda. And I just want to show it to you. We have put out a book called “Stronger Together” that reflects our vision for this country in this race.

Donald Trump wrote a book when he decided to run for president, and the title of his book is, “Crippled America.”

This is the case we’re making over the next 50-plus days, that this is fundamentally an election about a choice of vision. If you see our country as stronger together, we’re the ticket. And we have got the policies to carry that forward.

But if you look at our country and you see it as a crippled America, then that’s what Donald Trump believes. But I tell you, I don’t see that in the optimistic, can-do, upbeat spirit of the American people, public that I meet on the trail.

DICKERSON: All right, Senator Kaine, we’re out of time. Thanks so much for being with us.

KAINE: Yes. Thanks, John.

DICKERSON: Turning now to the Republican side, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, joins us now from Trump Tower in New York.

Good morning, Kellyanne. I want to start with a piece that Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former defense secretary, wrote in “The Wall Street Journal.” He was critical of both candidates, but particularly critical of Mr. Trump.

And I want to play Mr. Trump’s reaction to it last night and get your reaction.


TRUMP: We had a clown today, an absolute clown, Robert Gates. He’s supposed to be an expert. He’s been there forever.

So, he goes out and he says negative things about me. I never met him. I never talked to him. Believe me, I am so much better at what he’s doing than he is.


DICKERSON: So, Robert Gates served eight presidents, most of them Republicans, one Democrat.

A clown?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: So, Mr. Gates, Secretary Gates, really should have I think in his book been a little bit more forceful about the fact that radical Islam has ideological moorings.

He acts like terrorism is something like the weather, it just happens. And we, as Americans, know that’s not true. And I think that’s part of why Mr. Trump is doing very well on the issue of who would vanquish radical Islamic terrorism. And he’s actually willing to call the enemy what it is, John.

Hillary Clinton, in her convention speech, referred to radical Islamic terrorists as our -- quote -- “determined enemies.”

So, there’s a great deal of frustration by many Americans that we just don’t have serious leaders all of the time addressing terrorism for what it is.

DICKERSON: But one of the critiques that Secretary Gates, who has seen and worked with a few presidents made, was that Donald Trump is thin-skinned, he doesn’t have the temperament for the office.

Wasn’t he in, in response to Mr. Gates, proving Mr. Gates’ point?

CONWAY: No, not at all.

He was defending himself, and Mr. Trump has the right to do that. He’s attacked by people who have never met him, who haven’t given a thoughtful look to his plans, which, of course, are out there for everyone to see. He’s on the stump every single day delivering policy speeches, addressing crowds, rallies.

I mean, Bernie Sanders had an event yesterday in Ohio for Hillary Clinton. There were 150 people there. That’s like a second wedding where I come from. This is a big movement for Hillary Clinton.

And he has a -- Mr. Trump has a right to defend himself from people who I don’t think are looking at the substance of his plans. They’re just judging someone they have never met.

DICKERSON: I would like to move on to a position that Mr. Trump held for five years, that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. He changed that position on Friday. Why?

CONWAY: Well, on Friday, he made very clear three things, number one, that it was Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist and pollster, who put President Obama’s citizenship in question when he wrote a famous memo in March of 2007 questioning his -- quote -- “American roots,” saying, at a time of war, how could we elect someone like this? It was pretty radical stuff.

And, then, of course, even Patti Solis Doyle, who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager in 2008, John, until she was fired by Hillary Clinton, admitted on Friday to Wolf Blitzer that she said, yes, these are her words. There was a volunteer in Iowa who was pushing this.

And so this started with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, number one. Number two, it was Donald Trump who put the issue to rest when he got President Obama to release his birth certificate years later.

And, number three, he said that President Obama was born in this country, period, and let’s move on to creating jobs, defeating radical Islam, rebuilding our inner cities. And that’s what he said.

DICKERSON: The reason I want to stick on this a little bit is he promoted this for five years. So, this isn’t just some passing notion. This was a considerable amount of energy and time and money that he spent promoting this idea.

The Clinton -- Mark Penn didn’t say anything about his citizenship. Also, if you look at the Clinton campaign, they fired the one staffer who sent an e-mail about this immediately.

Donald Trump spent five years, his own money, called press conferences to promote this idea.

So, I go back to my original question. Why did he change his mind, and when did he do it?

CONWAY: Well, Donald Trump was not running for president against -- in a bruising, vicious primary in 2008 against Hillary -- against Barack Obama.

Hillary Clinton was. And you know that the former D.C. bureau chief of McClatchy newspaper, a respected journalist, just on Friday, John, said that he was approached, he had a meeting with Sid Blumenthal, what is a very close confidant of both Clintons and then was on the payroll of the Clinton Foundation thereafter, he had a meeting with him where Sid Blumenthal allegedly told him that President Obama was not born in this country and to go check it out. So, the idea that Clinton -- that people around Hillary Clinton were not responsible for this, Donald Trump in 2007 and 2008, while the Clintons folks were pushing this theory, he was a successful businessman. He was building things.


DICKERSON: But, Kellyanne, he’s asked us to go back and look at things that he said about foreign policy back in 2003, to draw conclusions about his judgment.

So, things he said in the private sector, something he spent five years promoting, you said he got the birth certificate released and that put an end to it. But it didn’t put an end to it for him. For years after the birth certificate was released, he continued to question it, continued to question whether Barack Obama was born in the United States and whether the birth certificate was a fraud.

So, when the campaign puts out a statement and says he ended in 2011, and you have asserted that today, that’s just not the truth, is it?

CONWAY: No, I didn’t say that.

What I’m saying is, is that it was President Obama released his birth certificate in 2011. Nobody accuses Hillary Clinton with Mariano Rivera. She’s not a good closer. And she wasn’t on this issue at all.

Associates of Hillary Clinton started pushing the issue because Barack Obama came out of nowhere to them. They never expected him to rise in the polls, let alone beat her in her Democratic primary, where a vast majority of voters, by the way, were female and rejected her in that year, just like they didn’t see Bernie Sanders coming and just like they didn’t see our comeback of the Trump campaign coming.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you, Kellyanne...

CONWAY: She’s not known to be a closer. She’s not known to be good at recapturing momentum. And that proved it.

DICKERSON: So, I understand you wanted to talk about Hillary Clinton, and this is an election about a choice. That’s important.

But it’s also about whether people can trust the candidate who may become president one day and who may send people to die in a war. And so, just on this question of trust, Donald Trump advocated something for five years that was a lie. Why did he do that?

CONWAY: Well, you’re going to have to ask him.

But I -- again, I think that this is a sideshow now that the media seem obsessed with this John, respectfully. And, again, he put everything out on the table on Friday. Those are his words. He does things on his term, on his timeline, and he very crisply got to the microphone after honoring 14 gold medal recipients and also after -- after -- after showing all these veterans that supported us, our campaign. We were very proud to stand with them in Washington, D.C.

And he said the three things that you and I just repeated. But, again, you know what this campaign also did this week that nobody seems to want to talk about?

DICKERSON: All right.

CONWAY: We tightened the polls. We have a child care plan, economic plan. He is talking -- he was standing yesterday with parents of victims of illegal alien crimes who have murdered their children.


CONWAY: You know, there are so many things going on in our campaign, and that’s his entire point. He’s moved on to the things that matter to America.

DICKERSON: I understand, but he did spend five years on it, so it would be -- it would be something -- we would be remiss if we didn’t pay some attention to something that he spent so many years advocating and promoting.

Kellyanne Conway, thank you so much for being with us.

And we will be back in one minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) DICKERSON: And we’re back with the chairman of the RNC, Reince Priebus.

Mr. Chairman, on Friday, Donald Trump said he no longer believes that Barack Obama was born somewhere other than the United States. For five years, though, he spent a lot of time on this issue, and he now says that he’s the one who was out there just trying to put this rumor to rest.

Do you really believe that’s what he was doing for five years?

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, I think that it was something that got started in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Now, whose fault it was, you know, Hillary Clinton herself, her supporters, her interns, her staffers, clearly, it was something that was circulating in 2008. He -- I’m not -- so, I’m agreeing with you that he took it further.


PRIEBUS: He took it further.


PRIEBUS: And he brought it into the public debate even more so than what was brought in, in 2008.

However, the point is, people are asking him about it. People weren’t asking him about it for a long time. And he came out and said, listen, I was involved in trying to figure this out as well, and I have determined that the president was born in Hawaii, just like I have said for years

So, this is not like, for me, a mystery.

DICKERSON: So, there is also no evidence that Hillary Clinton herself had anything to do with this. There are some rumors that people on her staff and there was one person was caught spreading rumors about Barack Obama...


DICKERSON: ... fired.

PRIEBUS: And people get convicted every single day with circumstantial evidence that is enough to tip the scale.

And by the preponderance of the evidence before us, Hillary Clinton or her campaign were definitely involved in this issue. So, we can’t keep saying it’s not true. That’s ridiculous.


PRIEBUS: I know you didn’t, but there’s enough media people out there claiming that that’s not true, as if it’s some fiction. It’s not fiction. It’s the truth.


But when you think about -- it may be contributory, but Donald Trump spent the bulk of his time...


PRIEBUS: But he’s not denying it.

DICKERSON: No, I understand that. But I guess my point is this.

PRIEBUS: But she is denying it, and that’s ridiculous.

DICKERSON: My point -- well, her former campaign manager said...


PRIEBUS: All right, so everyone around her is involved, but not her, so, therefore, she’s innocent.

DICKERSON: Well, everyone around her is a little more than the evidence would support.


PRIEBUS: Her campaign deputy manager was apologizing on CNN three days ago for it.

DICKERSON: But she said she fired the one person who brought it up immediately. There’s a difference between firing one person immediately and then...


PRIEBUS: What about Sid Blumenthal? Was he involved or not?

DICKERSON: Well, let’s assume that he was.


DICKERSON: So, you have a person spreading rumors. And then you have someone making a five-year crusade, holding press conferences and spending money.


DICKERSON: Here’s my question to you, which is not to figure out the details anymore, but to ask you this question. Donald Trump said Republicans love this idea in 2011 when he talked about it and congratulated himself for reinvigorating the investigation of it.

The question is, did the nominee of the Republican Party use this issue as a political issue to rile up Republicans? And is this the kind of thing that gets Republicans excited, the question of whether the president was born in America? That was his assertion.

PRIEBUS: I don’t think...


PRIEBUS: ... my opinion.


PRIEBUS: I don’t think Donald Trump was thinking about 2016 in 2011.

It was an issue that he was interested in. It was an issue that I believe and I think the preponderance of the evidence shows Hillary Clinton started it. And after getting this issue resolved, he proclaimed on Friday that he believes that the president was born in America, just like I have as chairman of the Republican Party. And I never believed that he wasn’t born in the United States of America.

DICKERSON: We will have to hold it right there. We will take a commercial break.

We will be right back.


DICKERSON: We have got a lot more FACE THE NATION coming up. Don’t go away.


DICKERSON: Some of our CBS stations are leaving us now, but for most of you, we will be right back with a lot more politics and our interview with civil rights legend John Lewis.

Stay with us.


DICKERSON: Welcome back the FACE THE NATION. I’m John Dickerson.

We continue with the chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus. So we’ll leave the previous issue because -- you once said that the electoral -- the way the Electoral College works, Democrats just have to be good, Republicans need to be nearly perfect. Is Donald Trump running a nearly perfect campaign?

PRIEBUS: Well, let me tell you something. I know this is -- it’s going to be a fascinating year for everybody. And we all know that. But I have been -- and I think people need to get outside this beltway and get on the road. If they were to see what I would see, I see one of the greatest ground game movements, on the ground, meaning people coming to events, 20,000 in middle Pennsylvania, 22,000 in Seattle. This is probably one of the biggest movements as far as people across this country in modern history. And so while everyone loves to analyze Donald Trump all day long, 24/7 on cable, I think people have to look at what the facts are. And we’re tied today, as we sit here, 51 days from the election. And we have a candidate that is capturing the electorate, America. It might not be capturing the pundits, but he’s capturing America.

DICKERSON: Is he capturing reluctant Republicans, some of which are -- some of whom are public officials in the Republican Party who are either in the never Trump or who are in the barely Trump category, which --

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, some of the people who ran for president, I mean -- but what you have to look at is, where are we at with the voters? And where we’re at with the voters is, in one of the last polls that I just saw, nearly 90 percent of the Republicans. I think Mitt was about 91, 92. We need to do a couple more percentage points better. And we’re doing that as we move forward.

But, look, people who agreed to support the nominee, that took part in our process, they used tools from the RNC. They agreed to support the nominee. They took part in our process. We’re a private party. We’re not a public entity.


PRIEBUS: Those people need to get on board. And if they’re thinking they’re going to run again someday, you know, I think that we’re going to evaluate the process of the nomination process, and I don’t think it’s going to be that easy for them.

DICKERSON: It -- would the party itself penalized somebody who does not make good on the pledge that they made to support the party’s nominee?

PRIEBUS: I think these are things that our party’s going to look at in the process. And I think that people who gave us their word, used information from the RNC, should be on board. I mean why take part in the process --

DICKERSON: John Kasich?


DICKERSON: Governor John Kasich. So if he wants to run again, it seems like he might want to, he might be out of luck as far as the RNC goes?

PRIEBUS: Well, I -- look, people are -- in our party are talking about what we’re going to do about this. I mean there’s a ballot access issue in South Carolina. In order to be on the ballot in South Carolina, you actually have to pledge your support to the nominee, no matter who that person is? So what’s the penalty for that? It’s not a threat. It’s just a question that we have a process in place. And if a private entity puts forward a process and has agreement with the participants in that process, and those participants don’t follow through with the promises that they made in that process, what -- what should a private party do about that if those same people come around in four or eight years?

DICKERSON: Sounds like a brushback pitch, but let me ask you one last question. Donald Trump said at one point the debates were rigged because of the nights they were on. He’s claimed the moderators are rigged. You have been a part of this process. Has the process been fair? Do you -- does it feel fair to you at this point?

PRIEBUS: Well, I -- there are two parts to that. I mean as far as our party is concerned, I think I’ve been straight up and fair the whole way through. And I -- I think people have evaluated what we’ve done and I think people understand that I have -- I think I played it straight down the middle from the beginning to the end. I do think that the -- I do think the media, especially in the cable 24/7 world, is totally obsessed with negative six-minute segments on Donald Trump no matter what it is. And I think that part of it is very unfair.

DICKERSON: But the debate part, so far, as far as this --


DICKERSON: The nights it’s happening, who the moderators are, all that, it’s all -- seems fair to you or --

PRIEBUS: Look, I think -- I think it’s square. And I think people are ready to move forward and move on with this. And I think, you know, that first debate is going to be probably one of the biggest events in the history of presidential politics.

DICKERSON: All right. Mr. Chairman, thanks so much for being with us.

PRIEBUS: You bet.

DICKERSON: And we’ll be right back.


DICKERSON: And we’re back with our political panel. Ruth Marcus is the deputy editorial page editor and columnist at “The Washington Post,” Reihan Salam is the executive editor with “The National Review,” Mark Leibovich is the chief national correspondent for “The New York Time’s Magazine,” and a CBS News contributor.

Ruth, I want to start with you. The response to this explosion in New York overnight, Donald Trump got off the plane immediately, said, a bomb went off. Turns out he was right. Hillary Clinton said, we’ve got to wait for the details. Is that a frame through which we should look at the two candidates?

RUTH MARCUS, “WASHINGTON POST”: I -- I think it’s actually pretty telling. He turned out to be right, but might not have. I think that -- look, I’m a facts girl, so I think the response, I’d like to wait for the facts until I comment, is always a good idea. I think both of them could have -- could have behooved them to express some concern for the victims, which seems to be something that’s forgotten in all of this.


Reihan, I want to ask you about this op-ed by Secretary Robert Gates, attacked both candidates -- not attacked, sorry, criticized both candidates for their weaknesses. Hillary Clinton not trustworthy enough, Donald Trump said he was thin skinned, didn’t have the temperament for the job. Does this matter? Does it -- does he raise important questions about this? And was Donald Trump’s -- calling him a clown, does that matter or is that just what we’re used to from Donald Trump?

REIHAN SALAM, “NATIONAL REVIEW”: My sense is that Donald Trump’s style, the braggadocio and what have you is basically priced in for voters. What I saw happen this week was something very different and very interesting. If you look at the surveys, it looks as though Hillary Clinton’s support with the Obama coalition is softening. If you look at younger voters, millennial voters, it’s softening pretty drastically. Even if you look at, for example, younger black men, it seems that there’s some weakness here.

Whereas, if you look at Donald Trump, there’s certainly what, you know, folks in many media outlets talk about, they talk about the birther controversy, among other things, which I’m sure we’ll talk more about now. But what has he been doing? He has proposed a new social program for working mothers. He went on “The Dr. Oz Show,” which, by the way, is a show that’s watched by, you know, many of the voters he’s seeking to reach, and he praised Medicaid and suggested that we ought to expand the Medicaid program further. So when you think about, you know, trying to get through one channel, the people who read “The Wall Street Journal” editorial page let’s say, and then trying the reach another channel, think about the married white women in a state like Pennsylvania, the people that he hasn’t been able to reach, the people who have been reluctant to join his campaign. It’s not obvious to me that he hasn’t done a decent job of doing an end run around certain kinds of media criticism and reaching those people.

DICKERSON: Yes, and the polls have tightened a little and , Mark, then -- if we’re picking up on Reihan’s point about those kinds of voters, the reintroduction of the idea that -- that for five years Donald Trump was the advocate for the idea that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, does that matter to those kinds of voters? Is that why he finally came out and said, yes, he was born here?

MARK LEIBOVICH, “NEW YORK TIME’S MAGAZINE”: I -- I think it does matter to those kinds of voters. I mean I think what we’re -- I think the lead that Hillary Clinton opened up in August was a lot of sort of softening Republicans. I mean Reihan mentioned softening of the Obama coalition. I mean I think, you know, a lot of these were sort of squishy Republicans who were -- would listen to someone like Susan Collins, who said that she wouldn’t vote for Donald Trump.

You know, there’s like this -- this divide between Republicans who actually know who Robert Gates is, and those who don’t. I mean, you know, he’s obviously a very well-respected figure in the Republican Party, or at least the establishment of the Republican Party. Yes, I was actually somewhat surprised by how critical he was of Hillary Clinton, who he apparently was an ally -- or I thought had been an ally of pretty closely during the Obama years when -- when they both served together.

I -- I do think that the kind of language he used, he said beyond repair, I think was -- were the exact words, is the kind of damning language that does sort of put the fear of, you know, actually pulling the level for him into a lot of the suburban Republicans in Philadelphia or Cleveland would have you.

DICKERSON: One thing that’s been interesting, Ruth, in the Clinton conversations you have with her staffers is for the last several weeks they’ve said, you know, we realize we have to be out there talking about solutions. And that’s been interrupted by her comments about half of the Trump supporters being in the basket of deplorables, her health issues. Now other things are getting in the way. What does that tell you, though, that this late in the campaign they’re feeling like, we still have to make the case for Hillary Clinton.

MARCUS: And -- and she still feels like she has to make the case. That’s part of what she’s thinking about in the debates. It has been impossible -- it’s actually impossible even for Donald Trump’s policy, now that it’s coming, to break through Donald Trump. And so it’s -- she’s had a hard time either talking about individual policies in this campaign, but even larger, talking about the larger vision that she has for the country and for getting people to like her/trust her. This is a big challenge in the debate in addition to kind of simultaneously trying to fact check Donald Trump.

DICKERSON: I want -- I want to get back to the debate -- the debate in a minute and the question of one can fix one’s liabilities in a debate. But, Reihan, on this question of Donald Trump’s view on the president’s birth, he has asked us and his campaign has asked us to look back at his business career for an idea of how he’d be president, look at his judgement on foreign policy on the various things he may or may not have said. They now want this not to be a conversation, the question of the president’s birth, but you can’t just say it’s over.

SALAM: Oh, I think it’s pretty clear that Donald Trump talked about this, raised questions about this for many years. But again, as I suggested earlier, the thing is that this may well be very relevant and motivating for some voters. It is not clearly to me that those voters for whom this is a pressing and important issue are voters that Donald Trump was ever going to be able to win regardless.

Now, let’s look at a state like Florida, and Mark Leibovich’s newspaper, “The New York Times,” you have a new report on survey findings in Florida. What you see is that, you know, back in 2008, Hillary Clinton was well to the right of Barack Obama on some immigration issues. Now she is well to his left in terms of how she talks about them, how she talks about deportation relief and much else. Yet, if you look at Hispanic voters, Barack Obama, the last time around, won 60 percent of those voters. Hillary Clinton is well behind Barack Obama’s mark among Hispanic voters.

Now, they’re not going to Donald Trump, but it seems like a lot of them are demotivated.


SALAM: And, you know, this is a pattern you see not just in Florida but many other states besides. And so a state like Florida, that many people assumed because of Hillary Clinton’s big push on immigration and amnesty and other issues, would be in the bag for her, she is struggling there. So, you know, is she struggling with the kind of voters for whom talk of the birther controversy is -- is really meaningful, yes. And, actually, it may well make sense that by magnifying this, by talking about this, that could help motivate some of those voters. But, you know, again, is that going to get her over the bar? We’ll see.

MARCUS: I’m just going to disagree with Reihan on the question of whether this is an issue that could affect voters who would otherwise be for Trump. I think there’s two -- first of all, it is astonishing that we are debating this, this late in the game. It’s something that Donald Trump, if he didn’t put it away in 2011, should have put away way earlier this cycle. And the notion that Kellyanne Conway, you asked her about whether -- why Donald Trump was lying about the president’s birth and suggesting that he wasn’t born in America for the last five years, she said, you’ll have to ask him. That means, case is not closed and definite -- and so I think the voters who can be effected by this are voters who might -- they might not be voters who would go for Trump, but they’re voters who might have thought about staying home in the polls or they’re voters who might have been tempted --

SALAM: By the way that’s -- I agree with Ruth.

MARCUS: Tempted -- tempted by a Gary Johnson or a Jill Stein and now get enraged and scared about the notion of Trump being president.

SALAM: That’s -- that’s pretty much my view as well.

DICKERSON: I hear -- Marc, I hear two things.


DICKERSON: I hear on the right people saying, this is the press obsessed --


DICKERSON: With this question of Obama’s birth to not cover policy that Trump’s actually talking about. On the left I hear, don’t fall for Donald Trump talking about birther things. Pay attention to the foundation and other things. What’s the right way to look at this?

LEIBOVICH: Well, I would say, look, the -- the notion that -- that Donald Trump settled this debate for like however many years and we’re still -- when was this ever a debate? I mean it was a debate on the fringes in certain sectors. Donald Trump, I mean for -- has been well documented, you know, spent five years doing it. Whether voters respond to it or not, it’s appalling. It’s appalling on its face to actually watch this argument play out. It’s edifying to no one. I mean the facts are very, very clear. And, you know, just speaking as one human being, you know, maybe I’m in the media so I’m suspect, I find it appalling. I think many people do. You know, whether it plays out electorally or not, I mean I think it’s clear that we -- we make clear, you know, what we’re talking about here.

DICKERSON: Ruth, let’s move to the debates.

Everybody’s saying, Reince Priebus said, the most -- the biggest political event in the world. Is that good, by the way, just to have that much focus on a single thing?

MARCUS: I -- it is what it is. And I think it’s, look, to the extent that, now, Donald Trump is helping to generate the biggest ratings ever, ever, the more voters pay attention, the more voters are engaged, even if they haven’t been engaged beforehand, the better off we are. And it’s actually why it’s really important that we have three debates, not one debate, so -- so that -- that people aren’t affected by one single thing. You can -- you can clean up. You can go back to issues.

DICKERSON: Reihan, what should we be looking for in the debate?

SALAM: Well, one thing I’ll just throw out there is that back in 2012 Bill Clinton, at the Democratic National Convention, felt like it was really important that Republicans wanted to cut the Medicaid program. The fact that Donald Trump now is saying he wants to expand it is just completely not an issue, and that’s pretty amazing. And that tells you something about the debate. In the first debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney was able to do an end run about a lot of the media conversation about his campaign and connect directly with voters and present a very different face. Now, I’m not sure if Donald Trump is capable of doing that, but imagine if he does. Imagine if he shows the way -- the many ways that he appears to be not like other Republicans, for better or for worse, by the way. You know, that’s something where he’s going to have a direct channel to an audience that’s been hearing all kinds of messages about him. So that will be interesting to watch.

LEIBOVICH: Yes, I don’t have a -- I just have a sense, and I could be wrong because I’m not in the room, but I don’t think Donald Trump is just sort of crashing on the details of his Medicaid policy just as he prepares for this debate. I mean I think what’s exhilarating to him is that this is a great show. He sees himself foremost as a showman. He thinks that he can handle the stage, handle the moment, and that will be (INAUDIBLE).

I mean the Clinton campaign has said over and over and over again is that, look, 100 million peoples could watch this. This is a moment to actually get very basic facts and very basic -- basically, you know, ads about Donald Trump’s history, my own credibility out there. And I think to some degree they see it as kind of an -- almost a writ large version of their convention condensed into a couple of hours.

DICKERSON: All right, Mark, we’re going to have to leave it there. It’s a little more than a week away till that first debate and thanks all of you for being here. We’ll be right back in a moment.


DICKERSON: Opening of the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture. We visited the museum with a man who spent 15 years working on its establishment, Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

Congressman, we’re sitting here at a lunch counter. What does that mean to you?

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: Sitting here, I tell you, means everything to me. My first non-violent protest was in 1960 in downtown Nashville sitting down at a lunch counter on a stool in the local Woolworth store. So this all takes me back.

I grew up sitting down. It -- I wouldn’t be the person that I am today if it hadn’t been for taking a seat.

DICKERSON: What does it mean to be here inside this building?

LEWIS: It -- it -- it just means everything. I -- to walk in here, to be here, to see this magnificent museum, it’s going to continue to take me back. Just walking through here, I almost cried. I don’t want you to make me cry.

DICKERSON: You also spoke at the other end of this mall on the March on Washington. Would you ever have imagined that there would be this kind of a monument?

LEWIS: I never thought, I never dreamed that one day there would be a monument, there would be a museum telling the story and the history of African Americans for the days of slavery to the present.

DICKERSON: What is that story you want people to understand when they come here?

LEWIS: This story is an American story. It tells of our history, our struggles, through segregation, racial discrimination, but much earlier, the whole system of slavery, the denial of basic constitutional right, the right to vote, the right to get an education, that people suffered, they struggled. People were beaten and arrested and jailed. People died. But they never give up. They never gave in. They never became bitter or hostile. They kept the faith. And they kept dreaming.

DICKERSON: When you spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, you said, “wake up, America. We cannot stop, and we will not and cannot be patient.” A real sense of urgency. Where are things now in terms of urgency in the fight for social justice?

LEWIS: Well, we have come a distance. We’ve made a lot of progress. When people tell me nothing has changed, I feel like saying, come and walk in my shoes. I will show you change. We’re one people. And we’re almost be involved in a struggle that we were involved in during the ‘50s and the ‘60s. White people and black people suffered together. They died together to bring about change, to bring down those signs that wait “white waiting, “colored waiting,” “white men,” colored men,” “white women,” “colored women.” Those signs are gone and they will not return. The only places we will see those signs today will be in a book or in a museum, like this museum.

DICKERSON: Speaking of getting inside of John Lewis’ shoes, there’s a picture of you here on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. What was happening in that picture?

LEWIS: Well, on March 7, 1965, a group of us, about 600 of us, wanted to walk from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, to dramatize to the nation and to the world that people of color wanted to register to vote. We were walking in an orderly, peaceful, non-violent fashion. We came to the highest point on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, crossing the Alabama River. Down below we saw a sea of blue, Alabama state troopers. And a man spoke up, the major, said, “this is an unlawful march. It will not be allowed to continue.” And a young man from Dr. King’s organization walked over to the side and said, “major, give us a moment to kneel and pray.” And the major said, “troopers, advance.” I said, “major, may I have a word?” And he said, “there will be no word.”

They came toward us, beating us with night stick, trampling us with horses, releasing the tear gas. I was hit in the head by a state trooper from a night stick. I had a concussion at the bridge. I thought i as going to die. I thought I saw death. Two weeks later, we walked from Selma to Montgomery, and President Johnson made one of the most moving speeches any American president had made in modern time on the whole question of voting rights and civil rights. And at the end of that speech he said, “and we shall overcome.”

DICKERSON: You recently wrote a piece in “The Huffington Post” about that march from Selma to Montgomery. And you said there’s a way to talk about where we are today. Tell me a little bit about that.

LEWIS: The march 50 years ago changed America forever. There were hundreds and thousands of people coming from all across America, priests, rabbis, nuns, ministers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, white, all coming together. It was like a holy walk. And that -- there to the past (ph) the Voting Rights Act, we -- there’s still a need for people to use non-violent protests. We should never ever give up on the right to protest of what is right.

DICKERSON: You mentioned non-violence. Martin Luther King and “The Montgomery Story,” that comic book that inspired you when you were growing up, in that comic book it talks about loving thy neighbor. It’s a strong part of the non-violent message. That even the people who are hitting you and beating you deserve your love. Where is that message now?

LEWIS: The message is still embedded in many of us. I think we have to teach all of our children, and those of us not so young, that the way of love is a better way. Just respect the dignity and the worth of every human being. We need to continue to get it out there. And if we get it right, I really believe, if we get it right in America, maybe it can serve as a model for the rest of the world?

DICKERSON: Is that message of loving thy neighbor, is it being lost a little bit?

LEWIS: I think there’s some forces in America trying the take us back to another period. But we must not let that happen.

DICKERSON: Do you see that in the presidential campaign this year?

LEWIS: Well, I see it very much so. That there are forces that want to divide us. And we must not be divided. We’ve come so far. We’ve made so much progress about working and building together. Too many of my friends, too many of my colleagues, young people that I knew, in ‘63 and ‘64, white and African-Americans died together and we must not let their deaths be in vain.

DICKERSON: Thank you, sir.

LEWIS: Thank you, sir.


DICKERSON: And we’ll be right back.


DICKERSON: There will be more of our conversation with John Lewis on our website,

That’s it for today. Thanks for watching. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I’m John Dickerson.


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