Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on December 22, 2019

Face The Nation: Mark Galli, Ramesh Ponnuru, Jamelle Bouie, Seung Min Kim, David Sanger

On this "Face the Nation" broadcast moderated by Margaret Brennan:

  • Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri (@RoyBlunt) Intelligence Committee
  • Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland (@ChrisVanHollen)
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota (@amyklobuchar)
  • Mark Galli, Editor in chief, Christianity Today (@markgalli)
  • Ramesh Ponnuru (@paynedc) of the National Review
  • Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) of The New York Times, CBS News Political Analyst
  • Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) of the Washington Post
  • David Sanger (@SangerNY) of The New York Times

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


MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm Margaret Brennan in Washington. This week on FACE THE NATION, friends and family say the President is pumped and energized following his impeachment, but publicly he questions whether he really was impeached, as plans for a Senate trial get bogged down in politics.

Congressional Democrats' push for a speedy impeachment came to a screeching halt just moments after the vote was announced. Next stop, the Senate, at least according to the constitution. But the founding fathers had no way of knowing just how partisan politics would become by 2019. Hear Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

MITCH MCCONNELL: In a highly unusual step, speaker of the House continues to hem and haw about whether and when she intends to take the normal next step and transmit the House's accusations over here to the Senate. I'm not sure what leverage there is in refraining from sending us something we do not want.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to know what the Senate trial plan is before she acts.

NANCY CORDES: Do you run the risk, as some Republicans have said, of looking like you're playing games with impeachment if you hold on to these articles for too long.

NANCY PELOSI: I said what I was going to say, Nancy. We don't know the arena that we are in. Frankly, I don't care what the Republicans say.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Adding to the confusion, the President's interpretation of the situation.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They have nothing. There's no crime. There's no nothing. There's no impeachment. What are we doing here? The world is watching.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll get the latest from two senators, Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Chris Van Hollen. Then we'll talk with Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar. She's one of five senators running for President and making plans for a lot of round-trip travel between Iowa and Washington next month.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: Let me be honest, Ed. Maybe if the impeachment proceeding wasn't there, I would not be doing twenty, whatever it is, twenty-three, seventy-seven counties in three days, but such is life. I am a mom. I can do two things at once.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All that and more, is just ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION. We begin today on that impasse between the House and the Senate. And there's also one between Republicans and Democrats. Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt is here, as is Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen. Good morning to both of you, gentlemen. Senator Blunt, first off to you. Do you agree with the President's declaration that he hasn't actually been impeached?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT (R-Missouri/@RoyBlunt/Intelligence Committee): Well, I-- I've actually heard some constitutional scholars suggest you're not impeached until the House sends the articles over. I don't know that it's a distinction worth arguing about. The House will send the articles over. We are going to hear this case both from the House managers and the President's counsel. I-- I would argue with the President's counsel for the first time, they get a chance to make their case. And I believe we'll be doing that in January.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So there's no question for you that Speaker Pelosi will transfer these articles?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: You know I-- I actually think this is a mistake for the speaker to continue to dwell on this issue. I don't think it's worked out that well for them politically. I actually don't think the speaker, who has great power in a lot of cases, has the power to decide not to send over--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: --determined will of the House of Representatives. They have voted. They have voted on two articles. They need to come and defend those two articles.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you know, back during the Clinton impeachment trial, Republican and Democratic leaders sat together and planned out in a bipartisan way how the trial would take place. Why can't that happen this time?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Well, you know, I think we-- because of that, we have the-- the-- the plan out before us that worked before. It probably wasn't quite as easily achieved last time as it seems like it was but it seemed to work last time. And my guess is, eventually, that's the plan we pursue. That we start, that we let the-- the House managers have the time they need to present their case against the President. And the President has that-- his-- his counsel has the time they need to present the reason they don't think that case adds up and then we see what happens next.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So why can't you commit now, then to calling witnesses? What you're suggesting is that there would then be a vote--

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --on whether to approve having witnesses.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Which is what happened last time.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This time Democrats are arguing the trial needs to be fair, and that includes the certainty of hearing from witnesses. How can you have a credible trial without that?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Well, every one of the Democrats that were in the Senate the last time that are here now voted against witnesses the last time. So this is-- you know, this is a political process, no matter how you describe it. You can call it a trial, but it's a trial where half of the jurors can decide that the chief justice is wrong--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: --and we're going to go in a different direction. It is-- it's a political process. It always has been. It always will be. One of my concerns, Margaret, is that in a hundred-- the first hundred and eighty years of the history of the country, we went to presidential impeachment exactly one time. And here in the last forty-six years we've gone to it three times and never with a result that removed a President--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: --because of the impeachment itself. And I-- I think it's a mistake to take this lightly or to act like you can send a half-baked case over to the Senate. And then it's the Senate's job to try to figure out how to do what you didn't do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But are you--

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: There is nobody the Senate could call--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: --that the House couldn't call. There is no privilege. That the Senate--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But there is a Republican majority in the Senate. And--

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: And?

MARGARET BRENNAN: --this is where the President has argued he wants to hear his case and get a fair shake. He complained about not getting in the House--

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: And we want to hear his case--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So-- but-- but-- he--

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: But I think what you don't want to do--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --wants witnesses.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: What you don't want to do--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Have you persuaded the President not to push for that any longer?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: I don't know that the President's persuaded not to push for that. And there may be a time when we decide that witnesses are essential but the witnesses that the House didn't call would have the same privilege in the Senate that they had in the House. I think the House sending over a very vague two charges to the Senate and then assuming it's the Senate's job to try to make something out of that, takes a process we're already taking too lightly, impeachment--three times in forty-six years--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: --and taking it even more lightly. The-- the world we live in now is more certain, more likely than not, that a President will always have a House, at some point in their presidency--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: --controlled by the other party, a majority of that-- of the other party can send articles of impeachment over. I think we need to be sure that we set a standard where they have to make sense before they are sent over, not leave it up to the Senate to try to make sense out of a case that the House says they clearly made.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: And now they say, well, we clearly made this case with absolute certainty, but now we need to have the Senate find more information.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Your former Republican colleague Jeff Flake put out an op-ed where he wrote this as an open letter to senators like yourself, saying, essentially, the entire body is on trial, not just the President. And you said, don't be complicit. Quote, "You might also determine that the President's actions do not rise to the constitutional standard required for removal. But what is indefensible is echoing House Republicans who say the President has not done anything wrong. He has." Does Roy Blunt, potential juror, believe that the President's phone call was perfect?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Well, I think the people that listened to it that should know and hear a lot of these calls have generally said there was nothing wrong with the call.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But what do you believe?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: But I think that's not-- here-- here's what I believe from Jeff Flake's letter, or Jeff Flake's editorial. He also said, "Would you reach the same conclusion if Barack Obama had done exactly the same thing?" And the answer is, "Yes, I would reach the same conclusion." We were constantly asked for eight years--

MARGARET BRENNAN: If Barack Obama, on a phone call with another world leader, suggested an investigation into someone who also happened to be the frontrunner from the opposing party, you would be-- your party, you would be fine with that?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Well, I will tell you that for eight years we were constantly challenged on my side. The President should be impeached for this, the President should be impeached for withholding records with Fast and Furious; the President should have delivered--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: --the-- the--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But on this particular parallel.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Yeah. Let me-- let me make my point here. And-- and I resisted that. And I understand what our Democrat friends have heard for three years now on this topic, because we heard it for eight years. One of the articles of impeachment is the President resisted giving information to the Congress, which is exactly what President Obama did. It's what President Clinton did. It's what President Bush did. Every President's done that. I-- I wouldn't have been for impeaching any of them, for asserting their privilege to make you go to court to prove that you really needed the information the President had. That's one-- that's one half of the cases of impeachment right there.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Blunt, thank you very much for your time.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Great to be with you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we now turn to the other side of the table, literally and figuratively. Maryland Democratic Senator, Chris Van Hollen. Good to have you here.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-Maryland/@ChrisVanHollen): It's good to be with you, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You just heard Senator Blunt lay out his position. You are one of the first senators to publicly float at least this idea that the speaker hold on to those articles and not immediately transfer them. Can you explain the strategy? What do you-- what is this leverage?

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Sure. Absolutely. And, first, just to be clear, the-- the conduct we're talking about from President Trump has no parallel in the conduct of anything that President Obama or President Bush did. And his claim of absolute immunity is unprecedented. No president's ever claimed that. So Speaker Pelosi is doing exactly the right thing. She is focusing a spotlight on the need to have a fair trial in the United States Senate. And it's especially necessary when you have Mitch McConnell, Senator McConnell, who you quoted earlier, saying publicly that he's not going to be an impartial juror--

MARGARET BREBNNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: --even though, that's what the oath will require, that he's going to work in lockstep with the President, who's the defendant in this case, and that he's already said no to calling fact witnesses that have direct knowledge of what's at stake in this impeachment.

MARGARET BREBNNAN: So you're trying to divide the Republican caucus over these two weeks?

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: We're-- we're trying to engage, first of all, the public in a conversation, because almost every American would agree that to have a fair trial you need to have witnesses. I mean what's a trial without each side being able to call their witnesses? And, yes, they're going to be a number of Republican senators who are going to have to decide on whether or not to call these witnesses. And after all, as you indicated, President Trump says he wants witnesses.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Now, I don't know if he's trash-talking or not, but let's have some witnesses. If it was such a perfect phone call, then send on Mick Mulvaney down to talk about that perfect phone call.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Send down John Bolton. What are they afraid of?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think Democrats will get on board with what Senator Blunt laid out, which is that the, quote, unquote, "Clinton model of having debate, then voting on witnesses?"

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: I think Democrats want assurances upfront that this is going to be a fair trial and that you're going to be able to call witnesses. There were witnesses called in all the prior trials, most recently, the-- the Clinton impeachment, and--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is Speaker Pelosi in lockstep with Schumer on that one, that the articles won't be transferred until there is a promise of witnesses?

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Look, I think we have to take this day by day.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: I think what Speaker Pelosi is doing is focusing attention on the need for a fair trial, and a fair trial means you get to call your witnesses. Every American knows that that's what a trial is all about. How can it be a fair trial if you can't put on the rest of your case? There's over-- already over--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you haven't decided how you will vote--

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: There's overwhelming evidence--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --as a juror yourself?

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: I will wait to hear all the evidence.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: I think that the House has made a very strong case for impeachment, but I will reserve final judgment until all the evidence is-- is in. The President says he wants to put forward his case. I don't know why, you know, others aren't saying, okay--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: --Mister President, send down your witnesses. That's what we want.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, for people at home, though, they-- they see and hear the math on this that it takes sixty-seven votes to actually remove--eject the President from office. And it is incredibly unlikely that those votes will exist, right, at this point, looking at the math as it stands. So given all that, what is the purpose of the standoff over how the trial is conducted, if you know the outcome?

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Well, the reason that Republicans are so deathly afraid of sending down these fact witnesses is because after they testify under oath they'll have to raise their right hand, just like all the witnesses in the House did, and testify under penalty of perjury--it's going to be much harder for Republicans to hide behind this myth that this was a perfect phone call.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: And it will make it harder for those senators to vote for a quit-- acquittal. And that is why they're so afraid of having witnesses called. I mean why else? Why-- why wouldn't you send your witnesses down to-- to tell the truth under penalty of perjury?

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to also ask you about something you were working on that was tucked inside a-- a bill that the President just signed off on. And this includes giving him more abilities to put different kind of sanctions on North Korea. We know U.S. intelligence is watching and preparing for the possibility of an upcoming long-range missile test by North Korea. Do you believe the President will actually use the sanctions you gave him the authority or is this-- so, I mean you have no way to force the hand here?

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Well, we need to tighten the sanctions regime on North Korea. The United Nations has documented the fact that it's kind of like Swiss cheese. There's a lot of leakage in this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: And so this legislation will require the President to put in secondary sanctions. So if you're a company, you're a bank in China--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: --you will now face U.S. sanctions if you keep doing business with North Korea. He's required to do that in a hundred twenty days. Now, he can exercise a national security waiver. We have said on a bipartisan basis it would be totally wrong to use those waivers and let North Korea off the hook unless you can show us measurable progress toward reaching our goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. The time for photo op summits is over.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: It's time to be serious and let the North Koreans know that we're going to tighten these sanctions.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And what we know is to date the diplomacy has not resulted--

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: That's right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --in any of what you just laid out as a premise for suspending or not enacting these sanctions.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: That's right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you think, basically, it is inevitable that these new sanctions are going on North Korea in the next few weeks?

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Yes, I do. I think within a hundred and twenty days these will be imposed on North Korea and we're--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because the question is if they carry out long-range missile tests, we don't know what the Trump administration will do other than go to the United Nations. Do you think that this time clock on diplomacy is ticking?

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Look, the clock is clearly ticking right now. It's been ticking for some time now. You have North Korea now engaged in their saber rattling once again, as-- as has been the case from the beginning, we need to engage China. During this period where we've had these summits with North Korea, the President has, essentially, allowed China to go ahead--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: --and allow trade to go back and forth between China and North Korea and-- and Chinese banks. So this will put an end to that. It will tighten the sanctions. And I think that's necessary in order to really get a serious negotiation at the negotiating table. If I could just--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: --really briefly say--

MARGARET BRENNAN: We have to--

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: --with respect to the-- the trial.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We have to leave it there.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: If it's not fair, there's going to be no way that Trump's--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well--

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: --going to be able to go around and say he's exonerated.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we'll have plenty of debate over what fair means in the rest of the show--

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Absolutely.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thanks to both of you, Senators.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we'll be back in one minute with another Democrat, Senator Amy Klobuchar from Iowa.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

WOMAN: The Senator from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar.

RACHEL DRATCH: Hair is glued girlfriend. And tonight my voice will be as solid as my carefully rehearsed Midwestern mom jokes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know we're coming up on a presidential election year when Saturday Night Live starts their show with a primary debate. Right now the real Senator Amy Klobuchar joins us from Council Bluffs, Iowa. Good morning to you, Senator.

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-Minnesota/@amyklobuchar/2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate): Good morning, Margaret. I think Rachel Dratch does a pretty good job of playing me, I enjoy it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you came out swinging at this last debate. You got a lot of attention. Do you think this is a more aggressive but still moderate Amy Klobuchar?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR: I have been the same since the very beginning when I announced my candidacy in the middle of that blizzard in the Mississippi River. I think it's really clear we need someone leading this ticket who's going to bring people with them instead of shutting them out. And the point I made in the debate is that I have been consistent in my views. I have passed over a hundred bills in the United States Senate during a really difficult time. And I have won in the reddest of red districts and won with suburban and rural voters and Republicans and independents and a fired up Democratic base. I think that's a good case--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR: --to be made. And I think the other thing I did in this debate was just make the case of how I want to be the one debating Donald Trump. And I think it is more than just the nitty-gritty of policy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR: It's also a value statement because so many people want a values check on this President. They want someone who gives them a decency check, a patriotism check.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well-- well, and-- and there is the very real check that you as a senator may have to deliver in this impending Senate trial to continue the impeachment process. But you've said your campaign's not going to get in the way of your job as a senator. You can't be in two places at once, though. And Iowa is really make it or break it. How is the impeachment trial going to impact your campaign?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, look at what I've just done. I finished that L.A. debate. We had a little after party, got up at 4:00 AM, did the shows, got to Iowa, went on a bus tour. And we've already done fifteen counties in a day and a half, ending last night at midnight and had record crowds at every little town that we went to. That's how I am going to do it. I don't need a lot of sleep. I work really hard. And I also have endorsements of more electeds and former electeds than anyone in this race, in this primary field. So we're going to have-- in the state of Iowa, so we are going to have so many people showing up to help me if I'm doing my constitutional duty, which comes first as a U.S. senator. And my husband was just in Nevada. My daughter, I've got the governor and lieutenant governor of Minnesota. Everyone's volunteered to help out because they get that we're going to need some help and I'll have to Skype in for town hall meetings. There is modern technology.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR: I think we're going to find a way to do this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, skyping in for a campaign, that's-- that's an interesting choice because of what you're juggling here. But is-- is your campaign going to ask the DNC to reschedule the upcoming debate? It could fall right in the middle of that trial.

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, my first belief is we have to have the debate. And if for some reason it doesn't work, sometimes there's breaks in the trial and even when you looked at past impeachment trials, there were breaks in the day so we could get there. If that day doesn't work, there's plenty of other days. We know we don't have Sundays when we are doing this and there's going to be other days after that. We may just have to have the debate closer to the Iowa caucuses. But we have to have an Iowa debate.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that being discussed right now?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR: I don't know I have made it very clear that there should be no excuses. I am ready to debate at midnight if that's what we have to do. We have to have a debate before the Iowa caucuses. That would be to my advantage if it was at midnight. I'd be happy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, Senator Schumer has asked Leader McConnell to allow witnesses at this upcoming trial. And we know the decision on what the-- the outlines of this are going to look like are still an open question. How do Democrats force witnesses to be allowed, people like Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Pompeo?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, some of this is going on right now where Speaker Pelosi is trying to get some sense from the majority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, about what's happening, and I know Senator Schumer had a meeting with him. I'm not sure it went that well. But, in the end, Mitch McConnell is going to think about it over the holidays. Look at what we're dealing with. I couldn't believe the number of people that came up to me about this. First, they were focused, of course, on the investigation and the impeachment, but now they're saying, why wouldn't we have witnesses at a trial? You know they're thinking like law and order. The first half, there's an investigation and then you have a trial. And if the President is so innocent and claims he's innocent, why would he not allow, just like Richard Nixon did, the people that were closest to him to testify? And I think we have some--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is-- is that the--

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR: --pretty shocking news, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that the Democratic strategy to take these two weeks of break, to put pressure on the Republican caucus to-- to back away and allow witnesses?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR: I think it-- it's not a strategy it is a fact. It is a, you can't have a trial if you don't have the key witnesses. You can at least have a thorough trial. Look at what we just learned on Friday from a document request. And that's-- it's this guy named Michael Duffy, who worked for Mick Mulvaney over at OMB. He's the one that sent the e-mail to a bunch of people and said to withhold the aid to Ukraine. He sent this e-mail, I have it in my hand, ninety minutes after the President of the United States talked to president of Ukraine.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR: And this is what he says: he says, "Given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate your keeping the information closely held to those who need to know. What does that mean? What a great question. That's a question I want to have answered.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the way aid was on hold--

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR: So if you don't allow--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --before that date, though. What do you think that shows you?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR: But the point is why did he send this e-mail just ninety minutes after the President made this call? Why would this e-mail go? If the President is so innocent and shouldn't be impeached, why is he afraid to have these people come forward? That's what people are asking me when I am at these town hall meetings.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Senator Klobuchar, thank you.

And we'll be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Stay with us.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: The news this year has for the most part revolved around divisions between the two parties. Next week we'll take a look at the spirit of bipartisanship and the good that can be accomplished when political foes work together. We'll talk with Democratic Senator Chris Coons and Republican Senator James Lankford, and then a conversation with adviser to the President, Ivanka Trump. That's next week on FACE THE NATION.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be back with a lot more FACE THE NATION, including a look at a scathing rebuke of President Trump from the evangelical community.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. Joining us now is Mark Galli. He's editor in chief of the evangelical magazine Christianity Today. He called for President Trump to be removed from office, raising questions about whether evangelical support remains rock solid. And he joins us now from Chicago. Mister Galli, as you know, your editorial has gotten a lot of attention. And I want to highlight some of what you said here. You argue that evangelicals, like yourself, may like the President's platform, but you think he's grossly immoral. You described him as a near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused. He's abused his authority for personal gain, betrayed his constitutional oath. Other members of the evangelical community, including Billy Graham, your founder's grandson--or son, have-- have denounced this.

MARK GALLI (Editor in Chief, Christianity Today/@markgalli): Yeah, that would be Franklin Graham, yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes, Billy-- right. Billy Graham founded, as we point out here, your publication, which is why it was so significant to have Franklin Graham rebuke you. Is the call for President Trump's removal growing?

MARK GALLI: I don't know, I mean, in one sense, my-- my call for his removal was on the order of hyperbole in this regard. The odds of that happening either by election or Senate are actually probably fairly slim at this point. What I am really arguing in the piece, fundamentally, is that the President is unfit for office. Now, there is-- that may be a difference without-- a distinction without a difference. But the point is and I'm not really speaking politically--making a political judgment about him, because that's not our expertise at Christianity Today.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

MARK GALLI: I am making a moral judgment that he is morally unfit, all right or, even more precisely, it's his public morality that makes him unfit because all of us, anybody in leadership has--none of us are perfect. We're not looking for saints. We do have private sins, ongoing patterns of behavior that reveal themselves in our-- in our private life that we're all trying to work on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

MARK GALLI: But a President has certain responsibilities as a public figure to display a certain level of public character and public morality. And my-- the point of my argue-- argument is not to judge him as a person in the-- in the-- in the eyes of God. That's not my job. But to judge his moral-- his public moral character and-- and ask, has he gone so far that the evangelical constituency that we represent, can we in good conscience do the tradeoff anymore?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

MARK GALLI: He gives us what we need on pro-life, but he's got this bad character. And my-- the fundamental argument I am making is we crossed a line somewhere in the impeachment hearings, at least in my mind, that no long-- that-- that balance no longer works. We're dealing with a person who we--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But when I-- when I raise these questions often to Republicans who consider themselves people of faith, what they say is God picks imperfect vessels, right? And that the transaction here is that he is delivering on those platform issues. Is it solely the abortion policy that keeps the evangelical community cemented in their support? Because our polling shows that-- that you, Sir, are an outlier. Seventy-nine percent of white evangelicals say President Trump is doing a good job as President.

MARK GALLI: Yeah. I think the-- a-- the pro-life issue is just one of many. Religious freedom for Christians, overseas especially, would be another. You know there-- there have been books written about what's going on with the conservative evangelical support of Trump. So that's not something we can quite get into here. It does go fairly deep. I think what I am mostly concerned with is the fact that it's like-- like you've mentioned a previous guest, it's the unwillingness of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Again, I'm not-- I have no animus against them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

MARK GALLI: But it strikes me as strange that a-- for a people who take the word-- the teachings of Jesus Christ seriously, the teachings of the Ten Commandments seriously, that we can't at least say publicly and out loud in front of God and everybody, that this man's character is deeply, deeply concerning to us. And, in my judgment, has-- has crossed a line, and I no longer think he's fit to lead the United States of America. And I don't say that politically. I mean my job, our job as Christians, is to love our neighbor.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

MARK GALLI: We want the-- we want the United States, everybody: left, right, black, white, of every variety of sexualities, we want them to prosper. And I'm saying that given the moral character, the public moral character of our President, that's not going to happen. It's-- it's likely to degenerate very radically over the next--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

MARK GALLI: --if-- it has already degenerated. And it's time for us to put a stake in the ground and say no more.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you see the next election as sort of a referendum on the moral fiber of this country?

MARK GALLI: Well, I don't know that I would put it that way. I am-- I am saying to my evangelical brothers and sisters, take your interest in politics and put it aside for a moment and let's start thinking about morality, and do you really think that there is a balance to--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But if there's no other Republican running on these platform issues, if President Trump is the only person that on these issues you have laid out is so key to your community. Some Republicans just find it an impossible alternative to vote for a Democrat.

MARK GALLI: Yeah. No, I-- I grant that. I grant that. Here, I'm saying what I think and I-- about the only person I represent is me and maybe my magazine, not for that much longer since I am retiring in a few days.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

MARK GALLI: You know what you do about the fact that he is morally unfit, there are a lot of political options for that. And I-- I don't really have a whole lot to say. Some are going to say work for his conviction at the Senate, some are going to say overturn him at the election. Others are saying that's all impossible we would need to figure out a third strategy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

MARK GALLI: I don't have a strategy. I'm not a pol-- pol-- political person.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

MARK GALLI: You-- the questions you are asking people on your show, you guys are amazing how much stuff you know, and the nuances, you guys figure that out.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you are, of course, an influential voice within the evangelical community, as is your publication. So we wanted to get you to weigh in. Thank you very much for your time, Sir.

MARK GALLI: Thank you for the time. I appreciate it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Our political panelists are on their way in. So don't go away.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're back with some analysis from our political panel. David Sanger is the national security correspondent and a senior writer for The New York Times, Seung Min Kim covers the White House from Capitol Hill for The Washington Post, Jamelle Bouie is a CBS News political analyst and a columnist with The New York Times, and Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor at the National Review and a columnist at Bloomberg Opinion. Ramesh, I want to start with you to pick up where we left-- left off with the Christianity Today editorial. And this quandary that's laid out of judging the President of the United States as someone who should be a moral leader, something that was talked about quite a lot during the Clinton impeachment as a failing of that President. Why aren't Republicans openly talking about this? I mean this editorial that was written caused a firestorm. I mean it really got a lot of attention. Why is this new that it's being talked about by Republicans?

RAMESH PONNURU (National Review/@RameshPonnuru/ Bloomberg Opinion): Well, in some ways, we've been talking about nothing but the President's character for three years now and not just evangelicals, not just conservatives but all of us that in a way it's the central issue in American politics. And that's normal.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Not many op-eds calling for his removal from office.

RAMESH PONNURU: But that's-- that-- that's right. So we now have, of course, this impeachment controversy which has raised the stakes on the entire arguments. And there has been a huge evolution in these views. Evangelicals as late as 2011 in polling, white-- white evangelical Christians were saying the President's character is important; the President without sound character can't be a good President. That has completely changed over time. And we're now in a position-- we're now in a situation where the parties are so polarized around this particular person. People are switching parties on the basis of whether they support this person, not on the basis of any particular view, right? We've seen that in the Congress. We've seen that with Justin Amash, we've seen that with Jeff Van Drew. Van-- Amash leaving the Republican Party, Van Drew coming to the Republican Party just solely on the basis of what they think about President Trump. That is the number-one polarizing issue now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you know, Jamelle, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend and-- and 2020 candidate, talked about this a little bit. And he has incorporated more sort of discussion of morality and religion in his own--

JAMELLE BOUIE (The New York Times/@jbouie/CBS News Political Analyst): Yep.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --campaign rhetoric. Are-- are Democrats seeing an opportunity here because even Mark Galli said I don't know what to tell people to do politically in terms of, you know, this moral quandary?

JAMELLE BOUIE: Vice President or former Vice President Joe Biden has made this, kind of, the central point of his campaign that he is running to restore dignity to the White House, right, to restore a sense of normalcy and also to get someone out who he views as immoral. And I think some Democrats, especially the more moderate candidates who are not trying to outbid each other with policy proposals, are-- are probably going to take this line more and more. I want to make one comment about, sort of, the relationship between Trump and white evangelicals. I think one thing that's important to note in this conversation is not just a sea change in opinion about how, what evangelicals view political leadership, but and this is detailed in the great book called The End of White Christian America" by the Public Religion Research Institute's Robert Jones, that over the past five years, white evangelicals have come to see their position in society embattled, right, they have come to see themselves as being on the losing end of a culture war, on the losing end of a political change, a demographic change. And so in that context, President Trump may be vulgar and immoral, but he appears to be at least a defender of their perceived religious and ethnic interests if you're going to think of white evangelicalism as being sort of, like, not an ethnicity but sort like a national group, a kind of distinct demographic group within the country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm. Seung Min, I mean New York Times did a very long read on fear and loyalty in the Republican Party. And it was acknowledging that there are these, sort of, private conversations that I'm sure you've been part of--

SEUNG MIN KIM (Washington Post/@seungminkim): Mm-Hm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --as I have I, of-- of dissatisfaction but fear of speaking out. And it plays off this same idea.

SEUNG MIN KIM: It does because you've seen what happens to the Republican officials when they do speak out, Jeff Flake, the former Arizona senator, Bob Corker, the former Tennessee senator. I mean there is a reason why they are former United States senators, particularly, for Jeff flake when he was one of the most vocal critics of-- of President Trump and his conduct and his policies. His polling numbers just cratered and he knew he could not run for reelection again as a Republican without that base of support in his party. What-- what's going on now, the-- the President has such a lock on his party with-- and you talk to, I-- I believe Patrick Mc-- McHenry was also quoted in that article as saying he has this loyalty among the voters, which is why you've seen also Republican lawmakers take different political stances, too, on policy issues that they may not have had at other times. You've seen the Republican Party evolve on the issue of trade under Trump and Trumpism, if you will--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SEUNG MIN KIM: --on foreign policy. And I think a big question that we will be examining for years to come is whether Trumpism is kind of a blip on the radar of the history--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

SEUNG MIN KIM: --of the Republican Party or if it's really fundamentally changing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: David, one of the things that's unique to Trumpism is his approach on foreign policy and that he's been fine with breaking from China because it's necessary on this impossible challenge with North Korea. He'd take a meeting with Kim Jong-un, and virtually no other President would consider doing it, certainly, none in the best. He's now at this point where his centerpiece foreign policy issue is going to be tested in the coming days. What do you know about what North Korea is planning?

DAVID SANGER (The New York Times/@SangerNY): Well, we don't know a whole lot of about what they're planning, but we know a lot about what they've made and we a lot about what it is that they're saying. What they've made is probably eight to ten new nuclear weapons or at least the fuel for those nuclear weapons in the eighteen months since the President had the signature trip. And, by the way, the signature trip, as you and I've discussed before, was a pretty brilliant idea to have a summit between these two leaders that had never happened before since the end of the Korean War. The problem is the President didn't prepare, and he didn't really have a plan for what he would do if Kim basically used this to play for time--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Which is what--

DAVID SANGER: --and that's exactly what had happened.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --which is what has happened. And now we know that U.S. officials, they tell me, I know they tell you, they're taking this threat of ending the diplomacy seriously. They're hoping Kim Jong-un's year-end deadline isn't real.

DAVID SANGER: You know what's surprising to me is that there really isn't a Plan B. I was talking to White House officials, intelligence officials for a big piece we have in-- in the Times today, and previous Presidents, George Bush, certainly President Obama, had considered plans to take out an ICBM on the pad. President Obama executed a-- a cyber operation against North Korea's missiles before they launched. It was only partially successful at best. But I don't see a whole lot of interest in the Trump administration in doing anything other than waiting for this to happen and then going to the United Nations. Well--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

DAVID SANGER: --that's back to the same approach that the President used to complain was the failed policy of Obama, Bush, and-- and-- and others.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm. And Seung Min, one of the things we talked about Senator Van Hollen is the idea that Congress is trying to give a few more tools here. There are a lot of things tucked into that NDAA the President just signed. What else do we need to know of? Because the perception in a lot of the country is that nothing happened in U.S. Congress other than impeachment but the President just signed a whole lot of things in the past twenty-four hours.

SEUNG MIN KIM: He did. If you look-- if you set aside impeachment, which is very difficult to do, the President on the policy front actually had a pretty good couple of weeks. He got his long-desired space force, the sixth branch of the military. He-- he accomplished a major initiative that went a lot against Republican orthodoxy, which is the paid federal-- or paid family leave or parental leave for federal workers. He has a massive trade deal that had the support of Democrats and got the support of the AFL-CIO on board and it will get ratified by large margins in the Congress. But I think with all the political oxygen going towards impeachment, it's-- it is difficult for the President and his advisers to talk about his accomplishments. And you do see the President at campaign rallies and at other events try to talk up what he's done for the economy, what he's done on policy front. But it all goes back to this question of impeachment.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SEUNG MIN KIM: He is focused on it. He is obsessed with it. He is clamoring for that Senate trial so he could, in his view, perhaps exonerate himself. And that's going to be such a focus and it's going to be hard for the other policy messages to break out in the next couple of weeks.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're going to take a quick break here. And we'll take a break. Be back more with our panel.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We are back now with more from our political panel. As you can hear, I've got a little bit of a Christmas cold, too. Ramesh, one of the things that got a lot of attention besides impeachment this week, and it takes a lot to break through that news cycle, is what the President said at his rally in Michigan right after the impeachment vote when he, not for the first time, spoke ill of the dead, specifically this time John Dingell, the former congressman whose wife is a sitting congresswoman, Debbie Dingell. And he suggested that he was not in heaven looking down but looking up from hell, and mentioned a lack of perhaps thankfulness on behalf of his widow for the fact he flew flags at half-staff following his death of the longest-serving congressman. This-- this did get some attention, but is this another John McCain moment? I mean has this just become understood as this is the way President Trump will continue to be?

RAMESH PONNURU: Well, the President's supporters sometimes laud the fact that he is willing to fight, and he seems most eager to fight with people who are dead and can't fight back. And whether that marks him as a strong leader is I suppose going to be a matter of opinion. But one of the reasons the President's numbers have been so much worse than the strong economy would suggest is precisely because of events like this in which he continually reveals a character that some people like but that most Americans recoil from.

JAMELLE BOUIE: A separate thing about that event is that President Trump said, you know, Representative Dingell should be thankful that I flew the flags at half-mast. And that reflects, I think, something we've seen throughout this presidency, which is that the President doesn't-- is not able to be able to separate himself the person from the office of the presidency. And so it's not that a-- a lawmaker passes away and the country flies its flags at half-mast because of respects from between mutual institutions, but that's the way we do things, but because President Trump has personally said we're going to do this.

SEUNG MIN KIM: And transactional.

JAMELLE BOUIE: And transactional, right. That he cannot seem to-- and I think this--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

JAMELLE BOUIE: --plays into impeachment, right? Like, he-- he-- he seems in some regards genuinely bewildered by it all because for him it seems whatever he does, because he does it as the President-- President and the presidency is merged in his person, cannot really be wrong, right, it can't be some sort of offense. And so when he's challenged on it, when he's held accountable for it, it's not a sort of-- the reaction isn't, I guess, I shouldn't have done that, it's a genuine kind of, what does it even mean for me to have offended anything.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the President said just yesterday, well, what does it mean, because now he's claiming that he wasn't actually impeached, because Speaker Pelosi hasn't gone through the process of transferring the articles from the House to the Senate. You heard two Democrats explain some strategy there. What is the reality?

SEUNG MIN KIM: Well, isn't the phrase if you're explaining, you're losing? So sometimes it's-- it has-- we've all kind of scratched our heads a little bit as to this latest tactic from Democrats, because it has been a little bit hard to explain. The-- one of the arguments that they're giving is that they're trying to exert more leverage to shape the Senate trial in terms-- in terms that they find favorable, especially as McConnell has been out there saying he's in very close coordination with the White House. When McConnell and Republicans have pointed out, so you're trying to get more leverage out of us by withholding something that we don't even want anyway, so, okay, go ahead.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SEUNG MIN KIM: But some of the other-- some of the other explanations could be that they're trying to buy more time to make a public case that the Republicans are trying to do a sham trials and trying to build that public pressure on Republican senators to perhaps allow witnesses, allow the subpoenaing of documents. And also the other explanation that I have been told is to try and drive President Trump crazy in-- in hopes of maybe driving, you know, kind of working him up a little bit and then maybe having Trump pressure McConnell to get the trial going right away on his-- no matter terms, because we know for some time that the President has been really looking to the Senate trial, not only for an acquittal, but an exoneration.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SEUNG MIN KIM: And we've seen kind of the little pockets of irritation come out from President Trump recent days. Senator Lindsey Graham met with him on Thursday night, and he told reporters that Trump is, quote, "mad as hell," that Pelosi is denying him the Senate-- this prom Senate trial. He complained at a rally last night that--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SEUNG MIN KIM: --it was so unfair that Pelosi was doing this. So, clearly, what the speaker is doing is getting under the President's skin right now, but how that actually shapes how the Senate trial is going to be--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

SEUNG MIN KIM: --is very yet to be seen.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, David, we-- we heard from kind of not someone you would expect as a defender of the President in terms of helpful messaging, but Vladimir Putin himself at a year-end press conference echoed a lot of the very same talking points that Republicans say when it comes to characterizing this entire basis of impeachment. This is about Democrats trying to overturn the 2016 election, that this is all a political sham.

DAVID SANGER: The most remarkable part about this was the President then tweeted out Vladimir Putin's statement on his own--

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know.

DAVID SANGER: --Twitter feed, right? When was the last time you saw a President seeking the endorsement of an authoritarian running a-- a country that is the most significant adversary to the United States?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Who he suggested and-- and alleged to have ever, you know, to have some odd relationship with. He seems to endorse it by, again, tweeting it.

DAVID SANGER: That-- that's absolutely right. And then at the same time, you know, opposing in twenty-- in a twenty-two-page letter a bill that's going through the Senate right now, sponsored by Lindsey Graham that would put additional sanctions on Russia. So even in the midst of impeachment, they had-- they were tone deaf enough to basically oppose further sanctions. And, you know, this may get to the authoritarian issue that you were just discussing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

DAVID SANGER: Because if the President's having a hard time separating himself from the office, it may be in part because the leaders around the world that he admires the most don't separate themselves from the office, right?

JAMELLE BOUIE: Right.

DAVID SANGER: Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Erdogan of Turkey, who he talks to a lot--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

DAVID SANGER: --all of them, the word of the President is basically goes unchallenged or you face a significant penalty. And that's pretty remarkable.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

DAVID SANGER: And that tells you a lot about how the President envisions the job.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

DAVID SANGER: And to many people, the concern is--

MARGARET BRENNAN: We got to--

DAVID SANGER: --what happens if he then survives this and--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, that's--

DAVID SANGER: --use that more. Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that's a topic for a whole other panel.

DAVID SANGER: That's right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're going to have to leave it there, David. And we will be right back.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's it for us. Thank you for watching. And we want to wish our viewers happy Hanukkah, which starts tonight and a very merry Christmas. For FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.