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Full transcript: "Face the Nation" on December 23, 2018

Sen. Coons: Pulling out of Syria is "handing a great big Christmas gift" to Putin
Sen. Coons: Pulling out of Syria is "handing a great big Christmas gift" to Putin 05:58

On this "Face the Nation" broadcast:

  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.
  • Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.
  • Panelists: Major Garrett, David Martin, Jeff Pegues, Paula Reid
  • Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

Click here to browse full transcripts of "Face the Nation."      

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's Sunday, December 23rd. I'm Margaret Brennan and this is FACE THE NATION.

CHUCK SCHUMER: This may have been the most chaotic week of what's undoubtedly the most chaotic presidency ever in the history of the United States.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That observation came from the Senate Democratic leader. But last week, several stunning decisions made by President Trump shocked even his closest advisors, Republicans, and U.S. allies.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Walls work, whether we like it or not. They work better than anything.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The President's demand for five billion dollars in border wall funding blew up an agreement to keep key parts of the government running. Instead, it's a Christmas shutdown that could last well into the New Year.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're totally prepared for a very long shutdown.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Plus, the snap decision that sent shockwaves around the world. As the President ignored the advice of his cabinet, military leaders and some of his closest allies on Capitol Hill and announced by Twitter that he's pulling U.S. troops out of Syria and making plans to cut our forces in Afghanistan in half.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have won against ISIS. We've beaten them and we've beaten them badly.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But ISIS hasn't been beaten and the move will impact international efforts in the war on terror. Retired General James Mattis became the first defense secretary to resign in protest of a commander-in-chief's decision. Plus, Brett McGurk, the U.S. diplomat coordinating the fight against ISIS among our allies, quit. Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul supports the President's decision. The new number three in the House Republican leadership Wyoming's Liz Cheney opposes it. We'll talk with them both. Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons will also be here. And we'll honor a sixty-eight-year tradition with our year-ender CBS News correspondents' panel. We'll talk about what's happened this week and look ahead to 2019.

It's all coming up on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION. Congress has gone home for Christmas but President Trump has cancelled his trip to Florida and will stay at the White House as almost four hundred thousand federal workers are now on furlough and another four hundred thousand are working without pay until at least Thursday when the Senate returns. Some national parks and tourist sites have been affected by the shutdown, but other government services will continue, including TSA screeners and the Postal Service.

We begin today with Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul. He sits on the Homeland Security and Foreign Relations Committees. And he joins us this morning from Lake Jackson, Texas. Merry Christmas to you, Sir.

SENATOR RAND PAUL (R-Kentucky/@RandPaul): Thank you. Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You've been warning a lot about fiscal responsibility and the staggering twenty-two-trillion-dollar debt. So with that in mind, do you intend to vote for any kind of spending bill that includes billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers without any offset?

SENATOR RAND PAUL: No. In fact, I've never voted for any of these large spending bills that puts all of the spending together. Because we have a trillion-dollar deficit this year and Republicans, as you recall--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So the border wall is-- is--

SENATOR RAND PAUL: --we promised that we were going to spend less money.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The border wall is not something you will vote for?

SENATOR RAND PAUL: We promised to spend less money and so I won't vote for it. Well, I would if we were to offset it with cuts somewhere. And so what I've advised is we spend about fifty billion dollars a year in Afghanistan. I think we should declare victory years ago. I think we should come home and out of that fifty billion dollars in savings I think we would have enough for a border wall and security.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to move, though, to foreign policy where you do seem to be aligned with the President. You've been on a tweet storm this morning saying, President's decision to pull out of Syria and cut our troop presence in Afghanistan in half, you said "the entire foreign policy establishment of Washington, DC, who two years ago were swearing Trump was going to start multiple nuclear wars. Now they're mad because he is stopping two wars. How about you just admit you hate the President, love war and have been wrong for the last twenty years on every part of foreign policy?" Who are you referring to because the defense secretary and the top diplomat handling ISIS both resigned over these decisions?

SENATOR RAND PAUL: You know, I think that we should look at some of the statements of the people who are advocating that we stay in Afghanistan forever and that we also stay now in Syria with no sort of determined end. General Mattis, even General Mattis said that there's no military solution to Syria, and he's also said there's no military solution to Afghanistan. How do you think our young soldiers feel? I have members of my family that are going over there soon, how do you think they feel being sent to Afghanistan when your generals are saying there's no military solution? So I think the burden is really on Mattis and others who want perpetual war to explain why if there is no military solution we're sending more troops. I think the onus is really on them to explain themselves.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, on that issue, though, it's not perpetual war, the argument has been from diplomats that you need the credible threat of military force in order to get people to the negotiating table. What is the incentive now in Afghanistan--

SENATOR RAND PAUL: Well, this is--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --or Syria to have any kind of negotiation if there's no leverage?

SENATOR RAND PAUL: We've been there seventeen years. We think now we are going to take one more village and we'll get a better negotiated deal? Does anybody remember Vietnam--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, that's what the Trump administration says--

SENATOR RAND PAUL: That was the strategy of Vietnam for years after year after year in Vietnam was to take one more village and we'll get a better negotiated deal. No, they waited us out and the Taliban are going to wait us out. They know we will eventually leave and leave we must. I mean I don't think we have enough money to be paying to build and rebuild and build and rebuild Afghanistan. The President is right and I think the people agree with him. Let's rebuild America. Let's spend that money here at home.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, if you accept the premise of what you just laid out here and-- and some people do agree that particularly in Syria, two thousand troops and two dozen diplomats can't make a difference. So if you accept that, though, if you look at what the defense secretary put in his resignation letter, what you're hearing here is-- is concern about how it's being done, about abandoning allies, about not having a process--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --about not being clear-eyed regarding America's enemies.

SENATOR RAND PAUL: But here's the problem-- I know--

MARGARET BRENNAN: How do you respond to that?

SENATOR RAND PAUL: I know. But here-- here is the problem with all of these generals. They're like, "Oh, it's precipitous." We've been there seventeen years. We've been in the Middle East most of that time. It's not precipitous. The President promised when we went into Syria, our goal was to wipe out ISIS. We took ninety-nine percent of the land, they're on the run, can the people who live there not do anything? We spent trillions of dollars arming the entire Middle East, arming Afghan army, can they not do anything? Do we have to do everything? We defeated ISIS. But now you have the-- the hawks in the administration and throughout Congress saying, "Oh, now we have to wait until Russia and Iran leave Syria." Well, that was never our goal and it's never going to happen. So those people are advocating for perpetual war.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, that was the goal articulated by the national security adviser to the President, John Bolton. That is what he said U.S. policy was.

SENATOR RAND PAUL: It-- it was never the goal-- well, it was never-- that's a new goal. That's what you call mission creep. The mission has now changed, that we're going to wait till Iran leaves and Russia leaves. Well, the President told them that's not his mission and that was never the mission. The mission was to wipe out ISIS and we did succeed. And the thing is it's incredibly bold to win a war and come home. That's what the people want. If you poll the American people, it's sixty to seventy percent of people ready to get out of Afghanistan. And I'll bet you the same of Syria if you ask the people. It's only the people in Washington, the armchair generals, that want to keep us at war forever and people, Americans, are tired of it. We want that money here at home and we want to create jobs, roads, bridges here at home not in Afghanistan.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The concern raised by people like Brett McGurk who-- who was the President's diplomat handling the anti-ISIS coalition is that if you move out too quickly, if you agree we're going to draw down, at least have a plan on how to do it. At least, do it in a way that doesn't abandon allies. And, in fact, he warned in his resignation letter that this could create a vacuum that would allow terrorist groups like the Islamic State to re-emerge and in other-- other words, we'll have to go back in a few years.

SENATOR RAND PAUL: That will always be true. What-- what-- that-- that statement will always be true. That statement will be true in fifteen years. The place is a mess. I mean, they've been fighting each other for a thousand years. Sunni and Shia have been fighting each other since Battle of Karbala in 832 AD.


SENATOR RAND PAUL: They're going to fight each other until the end of time. It's all of them. It's-- it's a inter-complicated mess that has to do with Sunni extremism versus Shia extremism, and also some other various battles in between. But if we wait until there's potent-- no potential for anybody fighting each other when we leave, we will be there forever. But here is what we need to do. And here is the real problem, we have so politicized the relationship with Russia that there isn't a Democrat in the land that is for any kind of negotiation with Russian ally because they know it's an anti-Trump position to be heaping on Russia. Russia is a big player. If we don't talk to Russia about Syria, we will never come to a resolution. Iran is a player. We actually have to talk to Iran about--


SENATOR RAND PAUL: --Syria, as well. Assad is a player. We have-- we can't just say Assad is going to go. He won the war. These people have their head in the sand and they just want to send two thousand troops there. They become a trip wire to a possibility of a much-expanded war involving Russia and Iran. And that would be a huge mistake-- mistake. I don't think the American people want another big war in the Middle East.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The Pentagon and State Department say there are tens of thousands of ISIS fighters still in Syria. How can you credibly say mission accomplished? Do you think ISIS has been defeated?

SENATOR RAND PAUL: Right. I think the numbers are wildly inflated and nobody knows. I think there are maybe ten thousand so-called radicals. And these are radicals. They are in Idlib and they are surrounded by Turks, Syrians, Kurds others. And I don't think they're going anywhere. And right now there's not a lot of heated battles going on. But my question is why do American young men and women always have to lay our lives down? To the people of Iraq, are they incapable of doing anything? And here's the thing. Muslims need to ultimately police Muslim lands. When Americans are there and we kill someone who lives there, they see it as a religious affront and they see it as the Pagans have come to take their land and for everyone we kill, we create ten to a one hundred more. So it isn't working. We have-- have supplied them all with money we've given them uniforms we've given them weapons. They need to step up and they need to eradicate these violent people from their midst.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Paul, thank you.

SENATOR RAND PAUL: Thanks for having me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons. He joins us from Wilmington this morning. Welcome to FACE THE NATION. I know there is a lot that you want to respond to their very quickly on the shutdown, White House says they will accept less than five billion; Democrats offering 1.3 for this border wall. How does this end?

SENATOR CHRIS COONS (D-Delaware/@ChrisCoons): Well, it ends when President Trump recognizes that the bipartisan agreement we came to just last Wednesday that the Senate voted unanimously on is the agreement that ultimately he's going to have to accept. It's President Trump who two weeks ago said, "I will cheer on a government shutdown, I will champion a government shutdown, I will take responsibility for a shutdown" and here we are with a government shutdown. There is frankly no path towards his getting five billion dollars in American taxpayer money to meet his campaign promise of a big beautiful wall with Mexico. There is a path towards our responsibly appropriating about 1.3 billion for border security. Margaret, I'll remind you the administration hasn't spent, yet, the 1.3 billion we appropriated for border security this year. I think the President simply needs to hear yes, and we all need to move forward.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We will see what happens in the New Year and possibly the new Congress there. Back to foreign policy. I know you heard a lot from Senator Paul there.


MARGARET BRENNAN: How do you respond to what he laid out which is just the President is doing what he was elected to do these are forever wars.

SENATOR CHRIS COONS: I could not disagree more. I think by abruptly withdrawing from Syria, President Trump is handing a great big Christmas gift to Vladimir Putin of Russia and to the Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran. And it's a pretty guide post for me when there is a foreign policy decision that's cheered by Vladimir Putin and Rand Paul, that's a pretty good sign, it's a terrible idea. On a bipartisan basis members of the Senate are pleading with President Trump to reconsider, to think that possibly his most senior generals and most experienced military leaders might be right. We shouldn't fumble the ball on the five-yard line. The mission against ISIS where the United States built a coalition of dozens of countries is on the verge of winning, of completely shutting down ISIS in Syria. And for us to withdraw right now and abandon our Kurdish allies paves a highway for control of Syria for either Iran and Russia or Turkey. None of which is a good outcome. And profoundly disorients our allies who came into this fight alongside us and weren't consulted and weren't given enough of a heads up. I am concerned about the security of Israel what it does to Israel to have Iran strengthened on its immediate border, I'm concerned about the message this sends how reliable an ally the United States is, and I am concerned what it says about our ability to stick to a fight until it's won. The fight against ISIS is not won. And Brett McGurk's resignation and Secretary Jim Mattis' resignation and his dramatic letter of resignation make that very clear.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you talk about that letter of resignation, the-- the defense secretary saying, it's not just pulling out, it's this broader principles--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --of abandoning alliances. The boarder principles he says of being clear eyed and recognizing threats from Russia and China. For any new nominee who steps into that role potentially, what are you going to do if the defense secretary nominated agrees with the President?

SENATOR CHRIS COONS: Well, one of the things that was most striking about Secretary Jim Mattis was how broadly he was supported on a bipartisan basis. Someone who spent forty years both in combat commands and in policy commands and was at the most senior and seasoned level of the American armed forces. If the President instead chooses an America first defense secretary, we will have confirmation hearings; we'll hopefully get the chance to ask him or her probing questions. But if it's someone who doesn't believe in the importance of our alliances as Secretary Mattis did, if this is someone who doesn't have a clear-eyed view of the very real threat to our security opposed by both Russia and China then they won't get my support and they won't enjoy this sort of board bipartisan support that Secretary Mattis has for so long.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Coons, I also want to ask you about something, I know you've raised a red flag about and we have seen a real rough year lately for stocks, certainly a rough week. And markets were rattled by some of these reports that the President is considering trying to fire the chairman of the Federal Reserve, I know the treasury secretary and chief of staff both say he doesn't have the power to do it. You have warned about the dangers of any kind of interference, is there anything that Congress can do to stop this?

SENATOR CHRIS COONS: Well, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, my friend and Republican and conservative joined with me in sending a letter to the President directly a few weeks ago saying, please don't criticize Jay Powell and the-- the Fed their decision making, that's an abrupt change in practice by the President to publicly criticize their decision making but now he's reportedly considering an even bolder and less wise move in considering firing Jay Powell or demoting him. That got a very sharp response from the markets. This was the worst week for the American stock markets in a decade and that is as strong a signal as I think you can get from our economic policy leaders. I think it would be just a terrible idea. Senator Flake and I have visited and worked with countries in the developing world in Africa where the President can pick up the phone and demand that central bank print more money or change their monetary policy in order to help the President's re-election prospects. Those countries have economies that are very unstable and not as secure and as prosperous as ours. The independence of the Fed is a key lynchpin of American economic security. And I just-- I plead with the President to reconsider what is a very dangerous course in economic policy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah. All right. Senator Coons, thank you for joining us.

We'll be back in one minute with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Don't go away.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Joining us now is the chair of the House GOP conference in the new Congress, Representative Liz Cheney. That position is the third highest-ranking House Republican. A job her father held some thirty years ago. Great to have you here.

REPRESENTATIVE LIZ CHENEY (R-Wyoming/@RepLizCheney): Great to be here, Margaret. Thank you very much.

MARGARET BRENNAN: A quarter of the U.S. government is shut down right now. You heard from the White House, they'll take less than five billion showing some movement. No movement, yet, that we have heard on the Democratic side from the Senate. But the longer this goes on don't Democrats get more and more leverage as they look at taking control of the House in the New Year?

REPRESENTATIVE LIZ CHENEY: Well, I think we-- we know, all of us need to stop talking about this from a political perspective. The bottom line is the President's been clear we've got to secure the border. The House voted for a bill that does just that and we need the Democrats in both the House and the Senate to come to the table to get the work done. So I think, you know, that all the calculations about who this helps or hurts politically at the end of the day the American people want to see the border secure and House Republicans stand firmly with the President in doing what's necessary in order to provide the resources for that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you don't think this gets tougher the longer it goes on?

REPRESENTATIVE LIZ CHENEY: I think we need to-- we need to get the government open. And I think that we need to do it. We shouldn't have to be in a situation where a government shutdown is-- is you know a threat because the Democrats won't provide the resources to secure the border. So we are committed to doing that. We've already done our work on the House side to pass that legislation with Republican votes. And we need to make sure that-- that the Democrats will come to the table. Nobody wants to see this kind of gamesmanship go on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. His letter cited concern about the President's lack of respect for allies and lack of clarity regarding competitors like China and Russia. He seemed to invoke a lot of principles that traditionally Republicans do embrace. So do you see this as a call to action for the party that he says the President doesn't believe in these things?

REPRESENTATIVE LIZ CHENEY: Look, I-- I am deeply, deeply concerned and I oppose strongly the President's decision, apparently, to withdraw troops from Syria. The apparent decision that-- that we're now going to be looking at withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. I think this President has done a lot of very good things in terms of beginning to rebuild our military, getting out of the Iranian nuclear agreement. But these two decisions would be disastrous. They would really, in many ways, hand victories to our enemies to Iran, to ISIS in Syria, the Taliban, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. It's a very dangerous path to go down and-- and we shouldn't be going down it. We ought to make sure that we keep our troops there in order to prevent the establishment of safe havens from those groups that want to attack us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But foreign policy is an area that the President has some leeway on here. I mean is there anything Congress can do, other than implore the President to reconsider?

REPRESENTATIVE LIZ CHENEY: Well, I think that that's very important. I think that, you know, what we need to do is talk about the substance of these policies and nobody is talking about, you know, the kinds of things that Senator Paul mentions. He seems to really be focused on blame America first and-- and unburdened by facts. But if you look at what our troops are doing on the ground in Syria, for example, it's about twenty-two hundred Special Operations forces providing air support, providing some artillery support and that battle-- that fight against ISIS isn't done. You quoted the numbers of-- of ISIS fighters still there. We've seen how quickly ISIS can reconstitute. If we were to withdraw precipitously from Syria, if we were to withdraw from Afghanistan, leave a situation where our enemies could again establish safe havens. There's no question in my mind the President will regret that and will be in a situation where we probably have to go back at far greater cost, both in terms of treasure but also mostly American lives.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you would argue that while the President's pulling out troops, that things like air support, things like continuing to fund and support allies who are the ground forces, the Kurds et cetera, should continue?

REPRESENTATIVE LIZ CHENEY: Well, the-- the troops that are there in Syria. That is exactly what they're doing. So we should not pull those forces out. We ought to make sure that we continue that mission until ISIS is defeated. This shouldn't be about, you know, it's been this many years, it's been this much time. You don't just declare victory. You have to say, you know, it is the mission accomplished and that may require that we're there for a long time because we have to make sure, you know, that-- that those who are isolationists in our party. Luckily, there are a few of them, Rand Paul is one of them. They seem to argue--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the President seems to agree with him and be one.

REPRESENTATIVE LIZ CHENEY: Well, it's very important that the President reverse this decision in my view because you've got to remember we are there because we were attacked. And we were attacked by al-Qaeda on 9/11. We-- that's why we are in Afghanistan. In Syria, you've got Iran, you've got ISIS. If we are to withdraw from Syria now we're basically handing Syria to the Iranians. We're handing the Iranians the lynchpin in-- in-- in the Shia crescent that they need and that they have said is their objective and their goal. It will be very dangerous for the United States; it will frankly decrease our security and it will be very dangerous for allies like Israel, and-- and I think it's-- it's important for us to look very closely at what's happening there but-- but that we should not be withdrawing our forces.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about something we referenced on the intro, which is you're an incredibly powerful position in the new Congress, one of the most-- the most influential female Republican on the House side, but when you look overall at the new Congress the number of Republican women is at the lowest level since 1995. Does your party have a problem attracting candidates or is it getting people to vote for them?

REPRESENTATIVE LIZ CHENEY: We need to do better at both things, Margaret. We need to do better at-- at making sure that we're helping and supporting Republican women as candidates. And we also have to do a better job at making sure that our message is getting out there and that we're attracting more Republican women-- more women voters to the party. And I think a large part of that is explaining to people why it is if you look at the policies that are coming in on the Democratic side, for example, they are very, very far left--


REPRESENTATIVE LIZ CHENEY: --as far left as socialism. And we need to do a better job as Republicans in explaining why we stand for freedom and opportunity for everybody.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We have to leave it there. Thank you very much--

REPRESENTATIVE LIZ CHENEY: Thank you. Great to be here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --for joining us. And we will be back in one moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Overnight, a tsunami believed to be triggered by a volcanic eruption hit coastal towns along Indonesia's Sunda Strait. Two hundred and twenty-two people are dead, eight hundred and forty-three are injured and dozens are still missing. The death toll is expected to rise. The massive wave crashed down on a group of people attending a concert on the beach and destroyed homes, cars, and buildings in the area, and it comes just days before the fourteenth anniversary of the 2004 tsunami in western Indonesia that killed more than two hundred and thirty thousand people.

We'll be back in a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION, and our sixty-eight-year CBS News tradition. The CBS News correspondents' year-end roundtable. Joining me today, national security correspondent David Martin, and chief justice and homeland security correspondent Jeff Pegues, plus, chief Washington correspondents Major Garrett and CBS News correspondent Paula Reid, who interrupted her visit to her new in-laws to join us this morning. Thank you very much, Paula, for being here.

MAJOR GARRETT (CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent/@MajorCBS): Lot of interruptions this week.

PAULA REID: Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And a lot of chiefs at the table, too.

MAJOR GARRETT: Way too many chiefs.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And-- and way too many headlines. But, David, I want to start off with you. This Mattis resignation, he, clearly, quit based on that letter where he laid out fundamental differences that he has with the President. What happens next?

DAVID MARTIN (CBS News National Security Correspondent/@CBSDavidMartin): Well, we don't know. For one thing, the resignation was not going to take effect until the end of February, so he'll be on the job for effectively two more months through the creation of the new budget, through another meeting of NATO defense chiefs. But we are getting indications this morning that he may be going right now.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That he was fired, essentially, told to--

DAVID MARTIN: We have a statement from the Pentagon saying the secretary of defense serves at the pleasure of the President. And I interpret that as-- as meaning that the secretary has been asked to go at once, I don't have confirmation of that. But that's how I interpret that statement.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What does that mean in the immediate sense, who steps up?

DAVID MARTIN: Well, the-- the deputy secretary of defense is a man named Patrick Shanahan, most people never hear the name of the deputy secretary of defense. He's got a lifetime of experience with Boeing building airplanes. He likes to say he's built more airplanes than anybody in the world and it's-- it's probably true. He's in charge of President Trump's pet project of creating a space force. So, he's had a number of dealings with-- with President Trump. He's, obviously, not the military expert that Mattis is. But what you really need to run the Pentagon is executive expertise and skills. So, the fact that he's not a military expert does not mean that he can't be an effective acting secretary of defense.

MAJOR GARRETT: At the White House the only name that has surfaced with any specificity has been Patrick Shanahan's--


MAJOR GARRETT: --as a replacement, this was a couple of days ago. And on the Hill, soundings I received is that because he's been confirmed already he might have an easier confirmation process while the administration has so many confirmation battles ahead of it--interior secretary, attorney general, U.N. ambassador, et cetera, et cetera. This might be a person who could take that position, pay attention to procurement, maintenance, space force and leave maybe some of the larger policy questions to Secretary of State Pompeo and the National Security Advisor John Bolton that would certainly please the two of them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Major, if-- if what David is saying he's sort of reading between the lines of that Pentagon statement is true that--

MAJOR GARRETT: Well, that always means the same thing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that he's fired.

MAJOR GARRETT: I sever the pleasure of the President. The President is displeased. I am out.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we clearly saw--

MAJOR GARRETT: That's how--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --from these tweets last night that where the President fairly attacked Mattis--

MAJOR GARRETT: That's what historically has meant.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --and Brett McGurk--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --that he's very frustrated. What has actually happened? Is it just the media coverage of-- of how this went down or what would have triggered the President to say February twenty-eighth is way too long for Mattis to stay opposed?

MAJOR GARRETT: That the criticism is too intense, that it's getting too much attraction. And stepping back for a second, there's been this thought of these stabilizing forces around the President, whether it was John Kelly, Secretary Mattis for a while, Rex Tillerson, et cetera. Perhaps what the country actually need is what it voted for--the actual undiluted approach to national security questions that this President campaigned on, which is what he says in his defense he is now doing. I told you I wanted to get out of Syria. I told you I didn't want to have endless wars. I told you I wanted to come back home. Now, I'm doing it. Forget about the process; forget about the communication strategy, I am doing what I told you. Watch it, look it, evaluate it. Perhaps with the guardrails now less close to this President, the country is going to get what it voted for and what actually is closer to his core instincts. We'll decide if we're comfortable with that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: David, what are your thoughts on what Major just laid out there? Is Shanahan to stay or are we going to see other nominees that perhaps the Pentagon would like to see at the helm?

DAVID MARTIN: Well, I-- the-- the other names you hear are the retired Army General Jack Keane and Senator Tom Cotton. Keane is about to turn seventy-six and-- and that's getting up there for a job as demanding as secretary of defense. And both Keane and Cotton are opposed to the Syria pullout. So they don't seem like natural fits. I-- I agree very much with what Major just said, it-- the story all along about President Trump has been that he blows off intelligence briefings, he can't change his mind. But now, what's changed is he is taking decisions based on his instincts not just telling people not to bother him with these arguments. He's making decisions based on his instincts.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we saw similar pattern play out, Jeff, this week with the back and forth over what the President would actually agree to in terms of funding and border security measures, you know. First, Republicans thought they could get something through without border wall funding. Now, that's what we're shutting down the government around.

JEFF PEGUES (CBS News Chief Justice & Homeland Security Correspondent/@jeffpeguescbs): Yeah. There was a deal, then there wasn't a deal, there's not a deal now, and it could go on beyond Christmas. And there are some federal employees right now who don't know as they head into Christmas when they will get their next paycheck. But, obviously, this is the President who-- who feels like this may be his last chance to get that border wall. He wants five billion dollars, the Democrats were offering 1.6. But now, they feel emboldened I think and they have lowered their number down to 1.3. So we're at a stalemate now. And the question is when will this be resolved?

MARGARET BRENNAN: And when will we see the current secretary of Homeland Security remain at post? Is-- does she have an expiration date on her as many are predicting?

JEFF PEGUES: Well, I-- I think we've been waiting for that shoe to drop, especially, after General Kelly was announced that he was going to leave and he is someone who is sort of a mentor for her. So when he left or in word--

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's in the process, right?

JEFF PEGUES: Exactly. You know, there were-- those of us who cover Homeland Security wondering, well, could she be next? That's what we're expecting with Kelly on the way out.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And, Paula, a lot of new blood in the New Year. Potentially, at the moment we have an acting attorney general and some news around him this week as it pertains to what the Justice Department recommended ethics wise. And that was that he recused himself from any kind of dealings with the Russia probe something that the prior AG had been fired for doing in the first place. What do people need to understand about this decision?

PAULA REID (CBS News Correspondent/@PaulaReidCBS): Two big headlines coming tout this week about Whitaker and his role in the Russia investigation. The first that we learned, he has never received any briefings about the Mueller probe so far. So that means everything that happens so far with Cohen, anything that's gone on with the special counsel, that has still been approved by Rod Rosenstein, not Acting Attorney General Whitaker. Then we learned that ethics officials said that if Whitaker asked, they would advise that he recuse out of an abundance of caution based on these criticisms of-- of the special counsel that he made before he came to the Justice Department. But Whitaker never asked. And so he has made a decision that he will take over the supervising role of the special counsel investigation going forward. He will begin to receive briefings. He and Rod Rosenstein will jointly oversee the special counsel investigation until an attorney general is confirmed.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And do we have any prediction of when that could take place?

PAULA REID: No. But we got a preview of what that confirmation battle. As Major noted, one of many will start to look like because we have this memo surface written by Barr. He sent this unsolicited memo to the deputy attorney general, laying out a pretty stark criticism of one of the central veins of the special counsel probe, which is obstruction of justice. Barr argues that the President couldn't possibly obstruct justice. If he was working within he's power he has the right to fire the FBI director, he has the right to dangle pardons. Many legal scholars have made this argument, but Barr sort of took it to an eleven. And now-- now, people are concerned that if he does take over supervision of the special counsel investigation that he may be willing to shut down that aspect of the probe.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Last time you were here, which wasn't too long ago, you said I think February or March for the end of the Mueller probe or at least until then. Do you stick by that?

PAULA REID: I do, because you have so many things that need to be wrapped up. We've been hearing for months that people say, "Well, I think it's going to wrap up. I think it's going to wrap up." Well, I don't. And there are several reasons for that. One, Mike Flynn's sentencing won't happen any time before March, you also have the grand jury continues to hear additional witnesses. We expect new indictments. You also have the special counsel fighting subpoenas in court. Paul Manafort won't be sentenced until February and then March. The Special Counsel's Office continues to exist until every single discrete case is wrapped up. I don't see that happening before the end of March.

JEFF PEGUES: I think it's interesting, a lot of people put a clock on this thing. But when you look at past special counsel investigations, you know, Benghazi that took two years, and some of the others have taken four years, this is nineteen months into the special counsel investigation. The FBI had it first, of course, but nineteen months into Robert Mueller's investigation.

(EDITORIAL CORRECTION: There was no special counsel appointed to investigate the attack on U.S. personnel in Benghazi. There was a congressional investigation and a State Department probe, known as the "ARB.")

MARGARET BRENNAN: And, Major, there's really little part of the Trump empire or Trump White House that's not being probed or investigated at this point.

MAJOR GARRETT: Not all by the special counsel.


MAJOR GARRETT: Their scrutiny will be applied by this new incoming House Democratic Majority, for sure. There are other lawsuits about the Emoluments Clause, taking either foreign or domestic revenue at the Trump hotel or Trump properties, is that a violation? Lots of things are being investigated. There is a sense that the White House better person up for this, increase the number of lawyers in the White House counsel's office, that process is ongoing. It's not nearly complete.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are they prepared?

MAJOR GARRETT: I don't think you are ever fully prepared. And I would say, if you were to use any statistic or metric that other previous administrations used on the preparation front, they would be far beneath that.


MAJOR GARRETT: One of the things special counsel not affected by the partial government shutdown.


MAJOR GARRETT: Funded fully.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes. So-- so no backdoor shutdown that way. We have a lot more to talk about, including your predictions for the year ahead, if you're brave enough to make them in this news environment.

But we're going to take a quick break. Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: And we're back now with our CBS News panel. There is so much we have to digest every week that I feel like all of us always look at ourselves and say, "Gosh, why didn't I get in that one story or that one point?" David, for you, what is the most under-reported story that we need to know about?

DAVID MARTIN: To me it's the new National Defense Strategy. Because as Secretary Mattis outlined it, now competition with China and Russia not a war on terror is going to be the primary focus of the-- of the Trump administration and of-- of U.S. National Security. And that means this giant super tanker, that is the United States military, is starting to turn away from whack-a-mole with terrorists toward building up the military to be able to compete on a-- at a high end of conflict. And long after we've stopped arguing about how many troops we should have had in Syria and how long, this is going to continue to play out because it's reflected in-- in the Pentagon budget, which, of course, takes years and years to play out. So this is-- this is a major change in the direction of U.S. foreign policy and-- and national security policy. And I think one that's compatible with the President's Make America Great Again ethos. So I-- I think that's-- we're going to see a big change.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jeff, for you?

JEFF PEGUES: You know with all this talk about pulling out from Syria and Afghanistan, I talked to officials at the FBI who say the number of ISIS-related investigations that they have ongoing is still at about a thousand. You know, that number has been there for about three or four years now so they're still facing these threats from people who are inspired by that ideology. So with all of this talk about pulling the troops out, they are still facing this daily threat of people who are going online and-- and watching what's happening in Syria and Afghanistan and Iraq and are inspired by that ideology still.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Still influential. Paula, for you, what has been underreported on your very quiet beat, the Justice Department?

PAULA REID: And the one story I love to pay more attention to is the opioid crisis, and the evolution of that crisis we're seeing a record number of deaths, but right now that is being driven more by synthetic opioids called fentanyls. Meanwhile, government policy continues to focus on prescription opioid. So that is something that if I had more time I would certainly be focusing on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we heard President Trump mention that as a success out of his meeting with Xi Jinping--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --that he would change how fentanyl was handled internally in his country. Major, for you, what has been underreported?

MAJOR GARRETT: So there is a narrative that exists for a good reason because we feel it every day of this sense of chaos and constant polarized clash in Washington. But on certain issues, and I watched it in the Oval Office for nearly an hour just at the end of this week, there are bipartisan efforts that do succeed and make a big difference. Criminal justice reform.


MAJOR GARRETT: Van Jones standing in the Oval Office, across from Jared Kushner and Ralph Reed all complimenting each other on a coalition that created a significant alteration in American federal criminal justice for the first time in thirty years. The farm bill, does that affect us here on the East Coast to the West Coast? No, but in the center of the country it makes a huge deal. Opioids has at a policy level and at an appropriations level reached a level of critical mass on a bipartisan basis under this President's leadership. Now is the President responsible for that? Largely, no. Why are these successes occurring? Because actual legislators are doing legislative work with the President's approval working out all the hard details, getting the President sign off and making things happen. So, yes, there is a sense of chaos and polarization on macro issues and some of the ones that grab all the headlines. But there is functionality. And it's work in a bipartisan basis and not everything is chaotic and not going anywhere.

JEFF PEGUES: But it was interesting how it-- it didn't take long for that message of unity to get trounced upon--


JEFF PEGUES: --because of the shutdown. You had the criminal justice reform, something that people have been working on for years and it was overshadowed; it disappeared in the news cycle.

MAJOR GARRETT: The President is uniquely capable of stomping into submission, his very own good news.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I will put in a point of privilege since I am a foreign policy correspondent here. One of the things I think has been underreported is a human rights issue that is what's happening in China. You have reports from the State Department that between eight hundred thousand and two million Muslims have been put in internment camps. Nikki Haley says this is the largest internment of people since World War II. There's been calls for sanctions on Capitol Hill, but we don't hear about it much in the conversations at the presidential level certainly with Xi Jinping. We didn't hear about it.

I now want to go into really dangerous territory, which is to try to predict what is coming at us in 2019. David, what should we expect at a Pentagon where we don't yet know who the leadership will be?

DAVID MARTIN: Well, just reading the handwriting on the wall, the President has said that the annual military exercises with South Korea are both provocative and-- and too expensive. So I predict that when he meets with Kim Jong-un in January or February, he will offer the concession of suspending the spring exercises-- or not suspending but cancelling the spring exercises with South Korea in return for some sort of concession on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, and that will allow him to continue to maintain despite all of the intelligence to the contrary that the North Korean nuclear threat has been eliminated.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And I think it's worth pointing out here on that prediction that your 2016 prediction of Trump and Kim Jong-un meeting came true. So take notes on what David just laid out.


MARGARET BRENNAN: I think you also did say that Baghdadi was going to be taken out. And he seems to still be in at least deep, deep hiding--



DAVID MARTIN: --we wait to see.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We will wait to see.

MAJOR GARRETT: Always take notes of what David Martin says.



MAJOR GARRETT: That's just the bottom line.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All of us do. That is absolutely the case. Jeff, what is your prediction?

JEFF PEGUES: I am predicting that Mueller will find an element of collusion, conspiracy. Whether it's enough--


JEFF PEGUES: --in this political atmosphere, we'll see. But if you look at the pace of that investigation in the way that he has rolled up cooperating witnesses--


JEFF PEGUES: --I think it's remarkable. If it were any other investigation, I think that type of police work, if you will, would get a lot of attention. We have more than thirty-three indictments and guilty pleas in nineteen months. It's remarkable. I think it's heading towards something that will give the American public a conclusion.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Quickly, Major and Paula.

MAJOR GARRETT: I said Saudi Arabia was a huge issue last year in my predictions. I go back to that. Yemen and Syria are vectoring off the Saudi relationship. The death of Jamal Khashoggi and what this administration does or doesn't make of it is going to fundamentally alter our Middle East policy and Pompeo's on it.


PAULA REID: There is no guarantee the Mueller report will be made public. I predict it will set off a massive legal fight to make that full document public.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mid-East peace plan supposed to be coming out by spring. That is what we're hearing. They got fifty pages of it.

Stay tuned. We'll be back in a moment with a look at what one member of Congress is doing to try and make for better bipartisan relations on Capitol Hill.


MARGARET BRENNAN: With all the partisanship in Washington today, we thought we'd leave you with a story about what one Democrat is doing to bring some holiday cheer to his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

(Begin VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Fruitcake, it's the holiday season's most despised dessert. But for the last twenty-two years, Oregon Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer has been lobbying his fellow lawmakers to join the confection's caucus.

EARL BLUMENAUER: We're doing a little drive-by caking.

Drive-by caking here.

Drive-by fruit caking.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That means surprising his colleagues with a treat he's loved since childhood. He makes hundreds every year over his Thanksgiving holiday.

EARL BLUMENAUER: It's just kind of a holiday ritual, you know, baking, separating dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens of eggs.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Over a thousand eggs in fact. Blumenauer makes his deliveries in the offices and halls of the Capitol, each one complete with a shot of Portland area pear brandy.

EARL BLUMENAUER: I know you don't drink.


EARL BLUMENAUER: But we have brandy for the staff, a fruitcake--

JOHN LEWIS: Okay. Okay.

EARL BLUMENAUER: --if it-- if it makes sense. Yes.

JOHN LEWIS: That's right. I will pass it on to them.


JOHN LEWIS: So could I just taste the sample?

EARL BLUMENAUER: You can. Right there.

JOHN LEWIS: Very tasty.

EARL BLUMENAUER: Here is brandy that some eat with fruitcake, some douse it, some just drink it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The congressman's fruitcake is welcome at any party, even the Grand Old Party. He delivers to his Republican colleagues as well.

MAN #1: Hey, hey, hey. This is awesome. Who says fruitcake's no good? It's pretty good.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But just Republicans on the Hill.

MAN #2: You should run over to the White House with that.


Want a sample of piece of fruitcake?

MAN #3: You know what--

EARL BLUMENAUER: You don't have to.

MAN #3: This is-- this will be my only fruitcake of Christmas season.

EARL BLUMENAUER: Of a century.

MAN #3: That's right. For you, anything.


MAN #3: Any sacrifice.

EARL BLUMENAUER: Well, I'm sure it's a sacrifice.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But when even a taste is sacrifice, why does he do it? He says it forms a connection with his colleagues that he can't get anywhere else. And he hopes that the spirit of giving something one hates a try might just make its way into the House chamber.

MAN #1: One of the best guys you get to work with in Washington, DC.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: The congressman says he pays for it all himself. Well, fruitcake's just one of the traditions. Next week on FACE THE NATION, we'll have another. We'll speak with historians Doris Kearns Goodwin, Michael Beschloss, Jill Lepore and Peter Baker. They'll all be here to talk about their new books and leadership.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That's it for us today. Thank you for watching. We want to wish you all a merry Christmas and a very happy holiday season. Until next week for FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.

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