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Full transcript: Face the Nation on March 11, 2018

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MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS: Today on FACE THE NATION: President Trump turns tradition upside down again, agreeing to meet face-to-face with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to discuss denuclearization. If it happens, he will be the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think North Korea is going to go very well. They promised they wouldn't be shooting off missiles in the meantime as they're looking to de-nuke. So, that will be great.


BRENNAN: Despite the diplomatic coup for President Trump, skeptics are concerned it will end up being a propaganda victory for Kim's rogue regime.

We will speak with CIA Director Mike Pompeo about the risks, conditions for the summit, and the state of North Korea's nuclear program.

The diplomatic gamble and some concessions on the part of the president toward U.S. allies cools a potential international trade war.


TRUMP: A lot of steel mills are now opening up because of what I did. Steel is back and aluminum is back.


BRENNAN: But some Republicans in Congress fear the tariffs will hurt American manufacturers and farmers and vow to fight the president. We will talk with Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner about that and get his reaction to the news on North Korea.

CBS News correspondent Holly Williams will report from South Korea about the silence from Kim Jong-un since the since the announcement in Washington. We will discuss the developing diplomatic situation with a special panel of experts and have plenty of analysis on the week's political news.

It is coming up now on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I am Margaret Brennan.

Since he accepted North Korean leader's Kim Jong-un invitation to meet, President Trump has been publicly optimistic and had kind words about a regime he has harshly criticized.


TRUMP: South Korea came to my office, after having gone to North Korea and seeing Kim Jong-un and...


TRUMP: No, it is very positive. No.

After the meeting, you may do that, but now we have to be very nice. I think they want to do something. I think they want to make peace. I think it is time.


BRENNAN: But there are many questions about the risk of such direct talks and what conditions must be met before the two leaders sit down.

To get some insight, we turn now to CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Director, welcome to the show.

It has been three days since the president accepted this invitation. Has North Korea responded?

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: Well, Margaret, first of all, thanks for having me on the show.

I think it is important to step back, to figure out how we got here. For two decades, America whistled past the graveyard and allowed the North Korean regime to build up the capacity that this administration faced when it came into office.

BRENNAN: You said still a few months away from being able to hit the U.S. mainland with nuclear weapons?

POMPEO: That's right. They have made tremendous progress over these years.

President Trump took a different tack entirely, put an enormous global, ally-supported pressure campaign on the North Koreans that has had a real impact on the regime, on the North Korean economy, and has caused Kim Jong-un to reach out and say that he wants to begin to have discussions on terms that the United States has never achieved before.

That is where we find ourselves today. And we are going to work hard to make sure that we get what it is the president has set out very clearly for his entire time in office, which is the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.

BRENNAN: Are we in direct contact with North Korea?

POMPEO: I think Secretary Tillerson has said that there are channels open.

BRENNAN: But we haven't heard back whether Kim will accept what the president said is his willingness to meet as soon as May?

POMPEO: I don't want to get into the conversations that may or may not be taking place. The president has indicated he is prepared to go have an initial discussion on this incredibly important topic, and we are preparing for that time.

BRENNAN: Now, the president accepted this invitation fairly quickly on the promise, as you gestured to, of a pause in missile and nuclear tests. Why not ask for more? Why not ask for an actual freeze of their program, so they don't use diplomacy as a cover to continue development?

POMPEO: Well, that's -- we have gotten more than any previous administration, an agreement to not continue testing nuclear weapons and their missile program, the things that would put them capable of getting across the threshold. That is critical.

He has allowed to continue -- us to continue our exercises on the peninsula, something that has been fought over for decades. And at the same time, he has agreed to have a conversation about denuclearization.

In the end, Margaret, what will turn out is not about words and what someone says. This administration has in its eyes wide open. And the whole time this conversation takes place, the pressure will continue to mount on North Korea. There is no relief in sight until the president gets the objective that he has set forth consistently during his entire time in office.

BRENNAN: So, you are saying more sanctions, but, in the meantime, North Korea can continue its enrichment, its computer modeling, things that would allow it to enrich and develop its nuclear program.

POMPEO: Well, I don't want to comment on that specifically, but be sure...

BRENNAN: Well, they haven't pledged not to.

POMPEO: Be sure that is happening today. Be sure that is happening today, and so...


BRENNAN: But that could continue happening while we are talking?

POMPEO: Our efforts are to put pressure on them to prevent them having financial resources to continue to build out these programs.

We have been very effective at these things. None of that is going to change while we prepare to have a set of talks between the two people who can make these important decisions.

BRENNAN: Are you open to meeting with your North Korean counterpart?

POMPEO: I will leave how these discussions proceed to the president of the United States. He will set the course and tone for the direction.

But I had a chance this weekend to read the histories, the CIA's histories of our involvement in the previous failed negotiations. You can be sure that say I won't make those mistakes again. We will be at the center of providing the intelligence picture to the president and to the secretary of state, so that each of them can understand how it is we can most likely achieve the president's objective.

BRENNAN: When I spoke to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month on "60 Minutes," he described what he said was the plan for talks.

Let's listen to that.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We do have a plan for negotiations. We have an end state for that. It is a very stepwise process. We are not just going to leap from where we are today to denuclearization.

We understand this is something that will have to be done through various steps to eventually achieve that final objective of denuclearization. And that will come through a lot of negotiations, a lot of difficult talks.

What we have to determine now is, are we even ready to start? Are they ready to start?


BRENNAN: Tillerson said this will be done through him. Is that still the plan?

POMPEO: This is a level of discussion, this president is going to drive this effort, this negotiation, but it will take a team to build out the picture, so that we put the president in the best position so that he can achieve that outcome.

BRENNAN: Because it is unclear, though, if it's the State Department or your agency that will take the lead. It was your counterpart from South Korea who was at the White House this week.

POMPEO: I don't think there is any doubt about who is going to take the lead on this.

The president of the United States is going to take the lead in developing...

BRENNAN: So, the first meeting will be that presidential summit?

POMPEO: The United States will take the lead in resolving this important conflict with North Korea.

BRENNAN: But in terms of laying the groundwork, you can't send your president into that meeting without making sure that you give him the best tools possible. Will you take those first meetings? Will the secretary take those first meetings? How do you lay the groundwork for success?

POMPEO: Margaret, I am not going to talk about how the negotiations will proceed on this Sunday show.

Rest assured, when the president enters that room with Kim Jong-un, if Kim Jong-un lives up to the four commitments that he has made, those four major concessions, the president will be fully prepared for his conversation with Kim Jong-un.

BRENNAN: In terms of the goal here, when you were in Congress, you were harshly critical of the nuclear deal with Iran that the Obama administration negotiated.

And there are obviously flaws that even they recognized there. But the Iranians did give up the vast majority of their nuclear fuel, and their production facilities aren't functioning.

Have you set a higher benchmark for these talks, since North Korea is farther along with its nuclear program?

POMPEO: Yes, Margaret, I think that's the case.

Most importantly, the conditions are very different. The previous administration was negotiating from a position of weakness. This administration will be negotiating from a position of enormous strength, with sanctions that are unrivaled against the North Korean regime.

That conversation will proceed very differently. My critique of the Obama administration's JCPOA commitment was that they left the Iranians with a breakout capacity. They had a short time frame that these would -- these restrictions would remain in place. And North Korea's human capital and enrichment capacity continues to remain in place.

Those are all things that present risks for the world. And President Obama is -- excuse me -- President Trump is determined to prevent that from happening in North Korea.

BRENNAN: So you look at that deal and say, that is a starting point or that is at least what we can reach, if not go beyond that with North Korea?

POMPEO: Yes, ma'am.

BRENNAN: Well, North Korea, as we have said, is further along in its program. You said a few months away from being able to hit the U.S. mainland in January.

How much farther have they progressed since January?

POMPEO: I don't want to get into any details on that.

Suffice it to say, I think a few months is still a fair characterization of where the regime sits today with respect to their capacity to reach the United States.

BRENNAN: I want to quickly ask you about Syria. But before I do that, can you tell us anything about those three Americans who are still in captivity in North Korea?

POMPEO: No, ma'am. I don't have anything to add to that. The State Department is handling those negotiations. And America does have as a priority getting the return of those three American citizens just as quickly as we can.

BRENNAN: In Syria, there are now reports of napalm being used, in addition to chlorine gas attacks just outside Damascus in East Ghouta.

Why doesn't the president's red line on chemical weapons apply in these cases?

POMPEO: Margaret, the president has made very clear that he won't tolerate chemical weapons usage. And he has demonstrated his willingness to respond.

In this case, the intelligence community is working diligently to verify what happened there. I have seen the pictures. You have seen the pictures as well. We have a higher standard to make sure we understand precisely what took place, precisely who did it, so that our response can meet the threat.

And we are working to develop that. We have seen these reports. And the president asks me nearly every day what it is the intelligence community knows about the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons and who else, the Russians or the Iranians, who might be responsible for them.

BRENNAN: So, for you, it's a question of is it the regime or is it the Russians using the napalm and chlorine gas? Just to clarify.

POMPEO: We are still trying to figure out precisely what happened in each of these cases.

BRENNAN: The Israelis, including their prime minister, was here this week, was warning that Iran is unchecked within Syria.

Should the U.S. mission change to be able to a counter Iran and its proxies like Hezbollah?

POMPEO: Well, I will leave policy to others.

What I can say about what is taking place inside of Syria is that the Iranians had a free pass in the previous administration. In fact, the JCPOA and the negotiations prevented a United States response. That is, they didn't want -- the previous administration, Ben Rhodes and Obama's team, didn't want to upset the apple cart.

This administration has taken a much stronger approach, a much more aggressive posture with respect to countering Iran.

BRENNAN: But that's part of the mission now.

POMPEO: And we are working closely -- and we are working closely with the Israelis to develop a full intelligence picture of what is taking place there, so that the president has options to counter that threat.

BRENNAN: So what I hear you saying is that the mission is not solely to counter ISIS? You are also looking at Iran and its proxies?

POMPEO: The president has made very clear we are working diligently to find the right approach to counter the incredible spread of Iranian hegemony throughout the Middle East.

BRENNAN: Director, I have so much more to talk to you about, but I am out of time here.

POMPEO: Thank you, Margaret.

BRENNAN: Thank you for coming on the show. It is great to hear directly from you.

POMPEO: Thank you, ma'am.

BRENNAN: We are joined now by Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, a leading Republican voice in Congress on North Korea policy. And he joins us from his family's farm equipment business in Yuma, Colorado, which is -- you got tractor parts behind you there, sir.

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: We have got a lot of stuff that I used to stock in here a long, long time ago.


BRENNAN: Well, I want to ask you, on the news of the moment, you and five other Republican senators sent a letter to the administration asking them to outline their North Korea strategy. You just heard the CIA director outline his thoughts here. Did you hear the strategy you were asking for?

GARDNER: Well, I think what I heard him say is right, that we have found ourselves in this position because of the maximum pressure doctrine, turning away from the failed doctrine of strategic patience, and are now really crippling what was left of the North Korean economy.

But what we have to hear more of is how we are going to get to those concrete, verifiable steps toward denuclearization before this meeting occurs. I have talked a lot about the diplomatic runway, the length we have left on the diplomatic runway, ways we can work with North Korea, work with China, who has enabled North Korea in many cases, and to make sure that we are putting maximum pressure on them.

But we have to have those steps, those real concrete steps, before this meeting occurs, because after this meeting, there is going to be very little left of that diplomatic runway.

BRENNAN: Well, so those four steps that the director says this administration has guaranteed that have gone farther than past administrations in his claim, those are not enough for you?

GARDNER: Well, if you go back to 1994 to the agreed framework, you go back to 2005, North Korea has made a lot of promises, and they have reneged on every single one of those promises.

And so what we have to do is to assure that we are in a different position than we were back in '94, back in 2005, back in 2007, is to see concrete steps. Look...

BRENNAN: So you want an actual freeze of the nuclear program before talks start?

GARDNER: Well, look, I would like to see some concrete steps, more than just a cessation of testing, because you can still do computer modeling.

Look, the United States is making advances every day on our nuclear program, and we are not testing nuclear missiles and nuclear weapons each day. But we are still making advancements. And so what we need to see is North Korea actually start living up to some of the agreements, the agreements that they have already made that they said they would to the United States decades ago.

BRENNAN: You are also one of about 100 Republicans who have urged the president to reconsider these tariffs on steel and aluminum he signed off on this week.

He is not changing his mind, so what kind of legislative work-around are you proposing?

GARDNER: Well, we have legislative tools at our disposal.

The question is, of course, how do we get that to the president for his signature? Our founders set up a system where the president has to agree with legislation that comes out of Congress. And there are ways that we can narrow the framework that the president is using to increase or levy those tariffs. There are things that we can do.

But I think most importantly is this, a recognition that we agree on fair trade deals, that agree that we want the United States treated in a way that we are treating other nations. And if we can do better, then we should better.

But I am concerned that a tariff can result in a tax on the very same people that we are trying to help in this economy, that they could actually be hurt, instead of being helped by this action. So let's work and spend the next few weeks trying to figure out exactly how narrowly tailored these tariffs can be, go after the bad actors.

If that is China, then let's make sure that we hold them accountable and responsible. But I spoke with the CEO of a EVRAZ steel mill in Colorado, Conrad Winkler. We talked a little bit about just the impact that the NAFTA would have on the them if we were to withdraw, doubled with the steel tariff.

He is very grateful that Canada has been removed from the steel tariffs. Who else is going to be removed through this process, we will wait and see. But I think there's a lot of conversations that we need to have with this White House to make sure that the economic benefit outweighs economic harm of such tariff actions.

BRENNAN: Would you ask for a carve-out for countries that have a security relationship with the United States, like South Korea and Japan?

GARDNER: Well, I think it is incredibly important that we have our allies standing with us, not just on the economy, but in security matters.

And if you look at the North Korea situation, what South Korea is dealing with, what Japan is dealing with -- and that's why a lot of the times when I talk about North Korea, I talk about the trilateral relationship between Japan, South Korea and the United States. This is not just the United States alone. It's not just South Korea alone.

This is an important relationship that we have to get right. So if Japan cheating us, then let's get that fixed. But right now, what we ought to be focusing on is how we can get this right for the economy, open up new opportunities to trade, not fewer, and let's hold the responsible actors like China responsible for their actions...


GARDNER: ... and not bring our friends into a way that can cause harm.

BRENNAN: Last night, at a Pennsylvania rally, President Trump said Ronald Reagan was not great on trade.

Is the Republican agenda still pro-free trade?

GARDNER: You know, absolutely.

There's some -- I think everyone in Congress agrees that opening up new markets is better for the United States.

BRENNAN: Do you disagree with the president?

GARDNER: The president is not wrong when he says -- look, the president is not wrong when he says that we need fair deals.

If somebody is taking advantage of us, if our markets are open, and nobody is -- and they are not paying tariffs to get into this country, but yet we turn around and have to pay tariffs to get into their country, then something is wrong with that. I think the American people understand that.

But where we are going to get this wrong is if we start into a trade war that results in our allies penalizing us, increasing cost of consumer goods, making it more difficult for the American people to afford goods that they commonly buy at the grocery store.

I am particularly concerned about the impact this could have on agriculture, because agriculture is really going to be in the front lines of any kind of trade retaliation that we see.


GARDNER: And I'm in a big ag state right here, where most of our top 10 exports are agriculture. So we have to get this right.

We have narrowly tailor this to the bad actors. I do believe that, in general, tariffs are a tax on the American people. And the people who are going to be harmed by this are the very people who we're trying to help so much, the people who have struggled far too long for the past decades that haven't seen a wage increase in years.

BRENNAN: I want to quickly ask you about guns.

Texas Senator John Cornyn has a bill proposing strengthening the background check system. Is it correct that you have put a hold on this?

GARDNER: I think there are some of us who are talking about due process issues in the bill and legislation.

I have talked to Senator Cornyn. And I hope that Senator Cornyn will realize that we need to work this due process matter out. This is not an issue of whether you like this or not. It is a question of constitutional rights and protecting the people of this country, protecting them from harm.

BRENNAN: So you are blocking the bill for now?

GARDNER: And -- and making sure we are protecting people from harm and making sure that we get this right.

And if there is a constitutional issue at stake, then that should be worked out.

BRENNAN: But to clarify from your answer there, are you blocking this bill from the floor?

GARDNER: This bill can come to the floor, and we will continue to work through an amendment process. And I hope that we can fix those amendments.

BRENNAN: After you fix this bill, you will allow it to go to the floor, but not before this?

GARDNER: Well, I think, if we can have an amendment process that works to fix due process concerns, real constitutional issues, then I hope that is something that we can do.

I hope that people who support this bill are interested, like all of us, in making sure we are protecting the American people from harm.

BRENNAN: All right.

Senator Gardner, thank you very much for joining FACE THE NATION.

GARDNER: Thanks for having me. Thank you.

BRENNAN: We will be back in one minute with CBS News correspondent Holly Williams reporting from South Korea.


BRENNAN: Since Thursday's announcement about a meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, there's been plenty of reaction here and from our allies.

We turn now to CBS News foreign correspondent Holly Williams in Seoul, South Korea, some 35 miles from the North Korean border.

Holly, what are you hearing over there?


What is bizarre is that the whole world is talking about this meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, but we have had no direct confirmation of it from North Korea. It has been completely silent, at least in public.

This has all come through South Korea.


WILLIAMS (voice-over): It began with a rare meeting between senior South Korean officials and Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang this past week. He gave them a message for President Trump, inviting him to meet.

The South Koreans delivered it to the president personally.

CHUNG EUI-YONG, SOUTH KOREA NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Kim said that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests.

WILLIAMS: It is an extraordinary turn of events, after a spate of North Korean missile tests last year, another nuclear test in September, and months of insults.

Du Yong Kim (ph) is an expert on North Korea and its nuclear program, and says the North is eager to talk because economic sanctions are hurting the regime.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is not going to be easy, because the North Koreans are very good negotiators, and they know how to play the game.

WILLIAMS (on camera): What is the game that they play?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get everything they want, and give nothing in return.

WILLIAMS (voice-over): North Korea has also reneged on previous deals. Other sitting U.S. presidents have decided against meeting with North Korean leaders and rewarding them with some legitimacy without getting concessions from them first.

(on camera): Is it possible that they are better negotiators than President Trump, who prides himself on being able to make a deal?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The North Koreans have had 25 years of experience dealing with Americans. But, in the States, the administrations change. That is what the North sees as America's strategic weakness, changes in personnel, changes in characters.


WILLIAMS: The key player in this region is China, perhaps the only country with the leverage to force North Korea to denuclearize.

It has been tougher on enforcing sanctions recently, but, for years, China has been North Korea's biggest trading partner and a lifeline to the regime -- Margaret.

BRENNAN: Holly, thanks.

And we will be back with our national security panel to talk more about this potentially historic development.


BRENNAN: We're joined now by a panel of national security experts,

Michael Morell is a former deputy CIA director and CBS News senior security contributor. Jung Pak is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. She has worked at the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. And David Sanger is national security correspondent for "The New York Times" and a CNN contributor.

Mike, what did you make of Director Pompeo's justification of these talks?

MICHAEL MORELL, CBS NEWS SENIOR SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: So, I thought it was very interesting that both the director and Senator Gardner made it absolutely clear that the United States feels that we are coming to this from a position of strength, because the sanctions have been tough, right, they have hurt.

But what is interesting is that I think that Kim Jong-un also feels that he is coming to this from a position of strength. He has nuclear weapons. He has demonstrated an ICBM capability. He hasn't demonstrated that can put them together yet, but he also feels he is coming at this from a position of strength, sitting down with an -- as an equal

So I think that says something about expectations on both sides and whether they can be met or not.

BRENNAN: You think this is a reward before anything has been given up?

MORELL: So, I think that North Korea in general and Kim Jong-un in particular put a very high value on being seen as meeting with the president of the United States.

It gives him legitimacy both at home and abroad. It's very important to him. He has gotten -- he will get that if this happens. He has only given a short-term freeze in missile and nuclear tests, right? I think we could have gotten more for what he really wanted here.


Well, we need to take a very short break. We have a lot more to talk about with all of you. So, stay with us.


BRENNAN: We will be back with a lot more FACE THE NATION and our national security panel, plus our political analysis.

Stay with us.


BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. I'm Margaret Brennan.

And we are back with our panel of national security experts.

Michael Morell is CBS News senior national security contributor. Jung Pak is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. And David Sanger, of course, is a national security correspondent for The New York Times.

Jung, I want to start with you.

Do you think these talks will actually happen? North Korea has been silent since President Trump accepted the invitation?


I think it is an excellent point, is that we haven't heard anything from North Korea that these talks have actually been offered or that any concessions, or so-called concessions, have been offered.

All of this is coming secondhand from the South Koreans, who have an interest in making sure that the North Korea and U.S. talks happen. So, that said, North Korea is keeping mum. And I am not surprised about that, given -- that gives them maximum flexibility on their next moves.

And I am sure that Kim is monitoring all the discussions and debate going on in Washington about whether or -- whether President Trump should have been -- have accepted this offer.

BRENNAN: You think this was a bluff, possibly?

PAK: I don't know that if it was a bluff, but I can see Kim Jong-un dangling the possibility of -- or of its willingness to meet with the president, but then being surprised.

So I wouldn't be surprised if we see some policy dysfunction from North Korea or a delayed reaction or response from North Korea as a result.

BRENNAN: And, David, you have covered this before. It is not the first time that an American president has been issued an invitation to Pyongyang or to meet with North Korean leaders. It is the first time that we know of that they said yes, though.


Well, that's why I think it was so interesting when Director Pompeo said that President Trump had already accomplished more than any past president. And I think, on this, the director, with all due respect, was probably just wrong.

President Clinton reached an agreement in 1994 that lasted for about six years, but suspended all of their production of nuclear material. The president was offered -- President Clinton was offered a chance to go to North Korea to talk about missiles. And in the end, he sent Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. That deal fell apart.

President Bush had two different sets of agreements with the North Koreans. Both of those worked for a while, but then also fell apart. So, it is a little early for a victory lap here.

But I do think that the director set a very interesting barrier for President Trump today, when he said that this really has to be, in response to your question, stronger than the Iran deal.

And, in the Iran deal, let's remember what happened. The Iranians...

BRENNAN: He was a big critic of that deal.

SANGER: He was a very big critic of that deal. The president has been a big critic of that deal.

The Iranians gave up 97 percent of their nuclear material. They stopped running and dismantled some of their nuclear facilities. There are a lot of reasons to be critical of the fact that the agreement doesn't last forever. It begins -- it expires starting in 10 years, and then pieces of it expire in 15 years.

But the fact of the matter is, if you could get that out of North Korea, the president would be taking a very big victory lap.

BRENNAN: It is a pretty high benchmark to set, Mike.


I think, in terms of, Margaret, thinking about what the best outcomes would be here and the worst outcomes, I think the best outcome would be if they meet and they set -- agreed on a set of principles by which negotiations would continue at a lower level.

BRENNAN: That was Secretary of State Tillerson's proposal.

MORELL: Exactly. I think that is the best outcome.

The worst outcome -- there's two of them, right? One of the worst outcomes is a breakdown, is that the meeting doesn't go well, and they are sniping at each other afterwards, because where do you two from then, right? That's the danger here.

The other worst outcome is if we take the pressure off in some way and if we give some sort of sanctions relief for something not very significant, right? Those are the two worst outcomes.

BRENNAN: Jung, one of the, you know, criticisms is that you do one of these presidential summits at the end, not the beginning of a negotiation.

But then I have spoken to officials who said, look, Kim Jong-un is the only person worth negotiating with in North Korea, because he is an absolute dictator

So it is a unique policy, but is it the wrong approach?

PAK: Yes, so I will leave it up to the experts on -- the policy-makers on the policy.

But I think that because President Trump has already said yes to this meeting, if it happens, this meeting is too big to fail. And I see multiple dimensions of risk, is if -- one, if Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump don't get along.

You heard Director Pompeo say that Donald Trump wants to resolve this issue. Michael Morell, I think, has correctly identified Kim Jong-un's confidence. So, if you have two confident leaders coming to the table demanding things of each other, they are not going to get along.

But the other side is that, if they do get along and somehow Donald Trump, Mr. Trump is -- thinks that he is getting a win from Kim Jong-un, and that we have this convergence of a U.S. president who is suspicious of alliances in general, that he might be willing to trade away the alliance for some sort of win for the United States, such as no each ICBMs, for example.

So there are ways of -- there are different ways of risks. But I think it is all in our interest for this meeting to succeed.

BRENNAN: The ranks of the State Department are thin right now. That's well-known. So who should be leading the negotiations here?

PAK: I think it has to be somebody, if it's not -- if this person doesn't already -- isn't already in position, it has to be a special envoy with the explicit confidence of the White House and the president himself to either run the advance team to make sure that Kim Jong-un actually said what he is reported to have said, and to...

BRENNAN: Because this is all secondhand through the South Koreans.

PAK: Right.

And to manage the process after the fact, after the summit, if it happens.

BRENNAN: David, this is all through the South Korean telling of what happened during this dinner, four-hour dinner in Pyongyang last week.

I mean, is that -- it certainly struck me as unusual to have an official make announcement of the president's schedule. How do you sort of digest what seems to be a decision without a policy process?

SANGER: Well, first of all, that wouldn't be the first time in the Trump administration that we saw that happen.

What you might have expected is that President Trump would have heard this, said, let's go back and confirm this, do some of the back-channel work that Secretary Tillerson has said he has developed with the North Koreans, to confirm the North Koreans are offering exactly what the South Koreans said they were offering, and then try to figure out the modality in which you do this.

I think if you looked at the photographs that were taken in the Oval Office when the president was meeting with the South Korean delegation, it seemed to me that when he said he would go ahead and do this, he was surprising his secretary of defense and his national security adviser.

BRENNAN: He was?

SANGER: Yes, pretty clearly.

BRENNAN: He accepted on the spot.

SANGER: And he certainly surprised his secretary of state, who was traveling in Africa at the time.

That gets you to the next big question on this, which is, has the president thought very much about what the United States is willing to give up in these negotiations? Because if we have learned anything from them -- and, Margaret, you and I covered the Iran negotiations for a long time -- there is a lot the U.S. is going to have to go give here.

If Kim Jong-un is actually willing to denuclearize, that may be worth a lot. But we also know that the North Koreans have made it very clear they never plan to denuclearize. And what they do plan to do, they say, is to be regarded as a nuclear power.

So we would have to think hard. Would we be willing to pull all of our troops out of South Korea? Would we be willing to stop all of the exercises that have gone on over the years? That could get at this erosion of the alliance that everybody is so worried about.

BRENNAN: So, the South Koreans, you would say, might need to be in the room. The Japanese do, they need to be in the room? Can this be just direct, U.S. and North Korea?

MORELL: Well, I think the negotiations, right, should include the South Koreans, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Russians, right? They all need to be part of this.

It is very, very important to keep our alliance structure together, the South Koreans and the Japanese, not only because of North Korea, but because of China as well.

Here, we have Japan, right, who got slapped twice this week, on aluminum and steel once, and then on being surprised on this meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.

It is an extraordinarily important relationship. It has to be managed. It wasn't managed this week.

BRENNAN: And the U.S. not only is hitting Japan with those tariffs, but possibly South Korea. And there is a free trade deal discussion that is not really going very far right now either, Jung.

I mean, are there already cracks in this alliance?

PAK: I think alliance management is pretty difficult to do.

And I think, given the national priorities of both the United States and with South Korea, that there are bound to be cracks and fissures in the relationship. That said, it doesn't look good when we are dealing with the North Korea situation and the president is talking about trade.

BRENNAN: All right, we have to leave it there. But I am sure we are going to be talking much more about this over the coming months, particularly if we see that meeting in May.


BRENNAN: We will be right back with our political panel.


BRENNAN: And now for some political analysis.

Michael Gerson is a "Washington Post" columnist and a contributor to "The Atlantic." Molly Ball is a national political correspondent for "TIME" magazine. And Susan Glasser is the chief international affairs columnist at Politico. We would like to welcome Shannon Pettypiece to the broadcast as well. She's a White House correspondent for Bloomberg News.

Shannon, let's start off with you.

The president softened a little bit on the trade wars this week, took Canada and Mexico off the hit list, at least for now, when it comes steel and aluminum tariffs. Is there actual wiggle room on this, or is the policy decided?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG NEWS: I think there is wiggle room.

And Republicans on Congress are doing everything they can to wiggle as much within that room as possible, very strong language coming out from even some of Trump's most consistent defenders, Orrin Hatch saying he doesn't think these tariffs are a good idea. Senator Jeff Flake is getting ready to introduce some legislation that would nullify these.

And it's possible they would have enough votes, with Democrats, enough Democrats on board, this could be one of the rare moments where Democrats and Republicans could come together, because they see the economic consequences of this being so catastrophic for parts of the economy.

BRENNAN: To override a presidential veto?

PETTYPIECE: Possibly, yes.

We were asking people about that. I mean, there are some Democrats in the Rust Belt, the Tim Ryans of the world, who do support the steel industry and see that as a big area. I don't know specifically his position on this, but -- in those sort of Rust Belt areas -- but a lot of other Democrats who do see the economic consequences of this being very, very damaging.

BRENNAN: Molly, does trade become an election issue in the midterms?

MOLLY BALL, "TIME": It is possible.

I mean, you saw the president campaigning yesterday in one of the states where it is a very big election issue. And I have spent a lot of time in Central Pennsylvania, Western Pennsylvania, where this is a big deal.

And I think that, you know, Trump's political advisers believe this was a key part of his political appeal in 2016, and the reason that he was able to flip those so-called blue wall states of the Rust Belt, the Industrial Midwest.

There is a powerful political appeal to this tariffs issue. Republican policy-makers are pretty much uniformly set against it. Republican voters are not.

And Republican-leaning independent voters in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, the trade deal was in the Republican primary one of Trump's biggest differences with the other candidates in that field, because he sensed, I think correctly, as, you know, Ross Perot did before him and Pat Buchanan, that there is a constituency even among Republican voters for tariffs.

BRENNAN: And, Michael, the president said last week, Ronald Reagan wasn't good on trade.


BRENNAN: Ronald Reagan is an icon, typically, for Republicans.

GERSON: Yes. He doesn't respect icons in that way.

I think that this is revealing in an entirely different way. I mean, Republicans really have come together, 107 of them, to resist the president's policy on this. But when you look at all the previous provocations where they might be critical of the president, it is tariffs? It is not misogyny? It is not, you know, nativism and racism?

It reveals something about the Republican Party that this is their red line.

PETTYPIECE: Don't mess with aluminum. Don't mess with their aluminum.

GERSON: Right. Exactly.

BALL: Gary Cohn stayed in place after Charlottesville, but he quit over this.

GERSON: Yes. So, I think it's revealing.

BRENNAN: What do you think it reveals? That it is purely about economic policy when it comes to the Republican agenda?

GERSON: Well, I quote Saint Augustine. He talked about the order of the loves. This is the order of their loves.


GERSON: This is what they dearly value in life.

And I think that that is a serious problem for Republicans. They need to show some passion, I think, for recovery in the future on some other issues that -- in resisting the Trump agenda.

BRENNAN: So, Susan, you have written a bit about that as well in terms of flipping the script on the Republican agenda, the change towards Russia and how this has somehow become a partisan issue.

SUSAN GLASSER, POLITICO: Well, that's right.

It used to be, just as Republicans were the bedrock party of free trade, right -- if there's one thing we knew that that was the consensus of the Republican Party on, it was free trade -- the same thing was true on the hawkishness toward Russia, which generally had prevailed and persisted through the end of the Cold War.

Now you look at those public opinion surveys, and, basically, because the party's standard-bearer, Donald Trump, has changed his view last year in 2016, the Republican electorate changed their view in an astonishingly short period of time.

So, this coming weekend, Vladimir Putin be up for his sort of token reelection. He's already the longest serving Russian leader since Joseph Stalin. Now he has the prospect of six more years.

You have -- by the way, today, as we are having this conversation, it hasn't come up, but Xi Jinping will be basically now rubber-stamped as the leader for life in China. They are eliminating term limits on their leadership today.

These two incredibly significant geopolitical things are happening in the context of an American presidency this week, we see more clearly than any other, it is a presidency, as someone in my household wrote, a presidency of one.

And, you know, you see him shedding advisers. Unclear whether he is listening to the counsel of others. And I think that goes to the politics. The Republican Party doesn't really know what it stands for anymore under President Trump.

BRENNAN: And you recently interviewed Senator Jim Risch, who would take control of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we believe, if Bob Corker does what he says he is going to do, and step down.


BRENNAN: And that leaves some oversight, at least for foreign policy, somewhat unchecked, in your description of your conversation with him.

GLASSER: Well, I think this underscores what we are talking about.

You have basically a Republican Party that is deeply uncomfortable, at least on Capitol Hill, with many of the president's policy positions, whether it is his favorable comments towards Vladimir Putin, whether it's his jettisoning of the party's traditional free trade stamp.

And yet the political imperatives, they are afraid to directly challenge him. It is interesting that some of them are speaking out on trade. And I think that is what I came away with thinking. The future chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee doesn't really agree with the president on many of these foreign policy issues, and yet his articulated goal for the committee would be not to criticize and stand up to him, the way that Bob Corker has.

BRENNAN: Michael, I want to ask you.

You just wrote an in-depth piece about sort of the struggle within -- as you see it, the search for the soul of the evangelical movement in many ways.

You say they have lost their interest in decency.

What do you think the evangelicals who support President Trump make of the Stormy Daniels scandal?

GERSON: Well, I think that it is the height of hypocrisy. And we saw it with Roy Moore as well.

If any other Democratic president had been guilty of what is alleged in these cases, evangelicals would be, you know, off the reservation.

This is a case where their morality seems to be determined by their politics. And they have ceased to be moral leaders in that sense. It's -- it was a tough choice for many evangelicals between Hillary Clinton and the president. And I understand that.

But they have been the most sycophantic element of the Republican coalition, which was -- is unnecessary. They have not provided that moral judgment that I think leavens our politics or should leaven our politics.

And so I have done this piece in "The Atlantic" essentially arguing that they have -- they are betraying a great tradition. Evangelicalism really has had a good tradition. And now they are really undermining that reputation of their faith.

BRENNAN: But, in that judgment, you are saying the transactional part of this relationship isn't worth the trade-off?

GERSON: Well, they are acting like, you know, slimy political operatives, not moral leaders.

They are essentially saying, in order to get benefits for themselves, in a certain way -- they talk about religious liberty and other issues -- but to get benefits for themselves, they are willing to wink at Stormy Daniels and wink at misogyny and wink at nativism.

And that, I think, is deeply discrediting, not just in a political sense, but actually in a moral and religious sense.

BRENNAN: Molly, I think a lot of people don't really know what to make of this scandal. It seems sordid, but now we are talking about it sort of bleeding into questions about campaign finance and further legal issues for the president, whose position has simply been, none of this ever happened, it is all made up.

BALL: Well, and he can say that, but that doesn't make it go away.

And I do think that we have seen this scandal have surprising staying power because of the legal issues involved. If it were simply yet another woman accusing Donald Trump of improper behavior, which she certainly is not the first, although, in this case, what is being alleged is a consensual extramarital affair, not, as in some other cases, a form of harassment -- in this case, though, there is this legal arbitration, this legal contract between the president's lawyer and Stormy Daniels, which the White House acknowledged this week exists, and is still going through an arbitration process.

And then there is this campaign finance technicality, although I think there is -- it is quite questionable whether that would actually be assessed by a court.

But you do have these issues where, because the president, through his lawyer, allegedly went to great lengths to try to silence this story and cover up this alleged affair, that this is not going to go away.

BRENNAN: Shannon, switching topics, the White House is expected today to announce some form of proposal when it comes to gun safety and school safety.

Do you know what it is they are putting forward?

PETTYPIECE: There's two things that, well, appear that they have been consistent on, school safety, certainly the additional resources for school safety, arming teachers, as controversial as it is. They have heard all the talking points for and against it. That is still an issue they are sticking with.

And what we can expect not to be in there is any sort of assault weapons ban, any sort of ban on AR-15s, anything that the really -- the pro-gun regulation camp would like to see. So, probably a little bit more than what the NRA would like, but certainly not as far as Democrats would like.

And as we started at the beginning of this conversation, it did seem like, at one point, the president was moving more towards the left on these issues. Of course, there was that famous lunch with the NRA. And since then, we have seen a back-walking of a lot of this.

BALL: Well, and I think this actually goes back to the tariffs issue, because what Republicans in Congress and elsewhere are used to seeing Trump do is say something that goes against their longtime policy predilection, say like, oh, we are going to take on the NRA, and then not do it.

And so, in policy terms, they have been comfortable that they could talk him down off the ledge of whatever non-conservative thing his instincts were heading him in the direction of. On tariffs, they thought they could do the same thing. The president would promise all kinds of things, and then they would be able to walk him back.

And I think we are still seeing that process play out, where they still think that they can carve out enough exemptions to this announced tariff, that the president doesn't actually do something that bothers conservatives.

PETTYPIECE: Well, and, of course, Republicans will have the say at the end of the day, because it is up to Mitch McConnell to actually bring something to the floor.

And as -- even something as simple as bump stocks, once you put that on the floor, it opens Pandora's box, and a whole lot of amendments and other things can come out.

BRENNAN: And we should acknowledge the Justice Department came forward showing that they actually are trying to move forward with that sort of executive action to ban bump stocks.

Susan, this announcement on North Korea seemed to overshadow everything else that happened during what was already kind of a rocky week, with tariffs, and Stormy Daniels, with all the rest.

Is the president putting himself out a limb by doing this, or is it a strategic way of changing the topic?

GLASSER: Well, strategic might not be the right word.

But, listen, this is -- if you want to know what the Trump presidency is like and could be even more like in the future, this week is an incredible example of that.

I was going over in my head before this conversation all the things that happened. It was only at the beginning of this week, remember, that President Trump told us that there is no chaos in his White House, only great energy.

And we thought that the prospect of a trade war was going to be the dominant story. It hasn't gone away just because we are not talking about it as much.

We saw that the Stormy Daniels story would be a dominant narrative. There's the Mueller investigation. There is the real question of what this internal disruption in the White House and the lack of senior staff is really going to mean going forward.

In my view, this is -- you know, Trump seems very happy with where he is at, right? He seems like this is the White House that he wants. He doesn't want to be managed. He doesn't want to be constrained. He wants it to be all about him at all times.

And if he changes the subject, he wants us to run along right behind him.

BRENNAN: And we are right now.

GLASSER: And we are.


BRENNAN: And we will be right back.


BRENNAN: That's it for us today. Thanks for watching.

Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.

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