Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on March 17, 2019

3/17: Face The Nation

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

  • Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff (read more) (read more)
  • Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. (read more)
  • Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney and author of "Doing Justice" (watch)
  • Ed O'Keefe, CBS News political correspondent (watch)
  • Panelists: Jamal Simmons, Amy Walter, Ramesh Ponnuru, Mark Landler (watch) (watch)
  • James Brown, CBS News special correspondent (read more)

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


MARGARET BRENNAN: It's Sunday, March 17th. I'm Margaret Brennan and this is FACE THE NATION.

A white supremacist kills fifty in a terror attack at two mosques in New Zealand. Does President Trump see white nationalism as a rising threat around the world?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I don't really. I think it's a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. I guess if you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that's the case.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the President issues his first veto after being rebuked by twelve Republican senators on a bill that would reject his declaration of a national emergency at the border. We'll talk with acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and hear from Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine about why he thinks the administration is withholding crucial information from Congress before a vote to override that veto. And as more candidates jump into the race, all eyes are on one who just might have dropped a hint last night.

JOE BIDEN: I have the most progressive record of anybody running for the-- if anybody who would run.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll have analysis on all the news. Plus, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara. And a special look at Capitol Hill's unusual spring interns with CBS News special correspondent James Brown.

That's all ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION. Happy St. Patrick's Day. We begin with acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and happy St. Patrick's Day to you.

MICK MULVANEY (Acting White House Chief of Staff/@MickMulvaneyOMB): And to you, Ms. Brennan. So.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to get right to it in the wake of this horrific terror attack in New Zealand. You know there's a lot of parsing of the President's own language in referring to what happened here. Broadly speaking, the number of attacks and support for white supremacy is up, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and even a Trump-appointed attorney in the state of Virginia, Thomas Cullen was recently quoted as saying, "…white supremacy and far right extremism are among the greatest domestic security threats facing the United States." Has the President been briefed on this?

MICK MULVANEY: I don't know who that gentleman is. Certainly the President's briefed on all of--

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know who the Southern Poverty Law Center is?

MICK MULVANEY: I do, I do. The President's absolutely briefed on all of the threats, both domestic and international. But I want to push back against this idea that every time something bad happens everywhere around the world, folks who don't like Donald Trump seem to blame it on Donald Trump. I'm hoping we can get--

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm not blaming it on the President, I was asking about--

MICK MULVANEY: I didn't say-- didn't say--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --his characterization.

MICK MULVANEY: I didn't say you. I'm saying that that's clearly what some folks wanted-- want to do. I've heard other members of-- of the Democrat Party trying to do it, folks at the Southern Poverty Law Center here trying to do it. This was a tragic thing that happened in New Zealand--

MARGARET BRENNAN: They were just saying the number of white nationalist groups has surged by fifty percent.

MICK MULVANEY: Since Trump has become office, right?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, in the past year.

MICK MULVANEY: There you go. So, he-- here's the point. Why can't we--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you disagree that it's a rising threat?

MICK MULVANEY: I-- I-- I-- I disagree that there's a causal link between Donald Trump being President and something like this happening in New Zealand.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But that's not the argument or-- or the suggestion there--

MICK MULVANEY: Okay, good.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --by the judge or by that statistic. Is the President aware that this is a rising threat?

MICK MULVANEY: Again, a rising threat. I think the President you saw-- you saw him asked the other day does he think it's a rising threat and he says, no, I think there's information that would back that up. The-- the issue is how do you stop these crazy people, whether or not there's one of them or four of them, doesn't make a difference if they're willing to go on live TV and stream the murder of people. So I think that's where the time is better spent. Instead of worrying about, well, who's to-- who's to blame, how do we stop from doing this. Donald Trump is no more to blame for what happened in New Zealand than-- than Mark Zuckerberg is because he invented Facebook. There are some terrible people in the world. We need to work with our partners, of which New Zealand is one of, and to try and figure out a way to find them, expose them, and bring them to justice.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, President Trump and certainly during the campaign talked quite a lot about the need to be specific, to name a threat in order to counter it. So why minimize it? Why not directly address white supremacy and, specifically, Islamophobia?

MICK MULVANEY: Yeah. I-- I get a lot of questions about--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because a number of world leaders did and the President didn't.

MICK MULVANEY: I get a lot of questions from people saying why-- you need to tell the President to do X, you need to tell the President to go and give it an Oval Office address on this or on that. That's not how the system works. The President communicates in his way. Different presidents have communicated in their way. I don't think anybody can-- can claim that Donald Trump hasn't done exactly what we would want him to do in this circumstance. We've immediately reached out to our allies. We've expressed the-- the absolute disgust at the tragic-- at the tragic events. We're doing what Presidents are supposed to do. That doesn't mean it's going to make everybody happy because of the hyper partisan times we live in. But again, I-- I-- really, it's-- it frustrates me just as a citizen that everything something-- every time something goes wrong around the world now, not just in our country, somehow the President of the United States must be responsible. And that's just-- that's absurd and it doesn't help contribute to the dialogue that's necessary to fix these problems.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Point taken, but the-- the President of the United States carries a megaphone louder than anyone--

MICK MULVANEY: Mm-Hm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --in the world and arguably this President likes to use his. So because you're frustrated, why not remove any shadow of a doubt? I mean during the campaign, as you know, as a candidate the President called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States. He said Islam hates us. This kind of language in the past leads to these questions of why isn't the President now directly using that megaphone to condemn it.

MICK MULVANEY: Well, then take-- take the-- take-- take-- take the words and put them in one category and take the actions and put them in another. Something the President doesn't get hardly any credit for or any attention to is the work he's done in defense of religious minorities all around the world up to and including Muslims in the Middle East. Some of the religious minorities that are the worst oppressed to the Middle East are some of the ones that this administration has been doing-- going to great lengths to protect. So I hear what folks says, "Oh, Donald Trump said this during the campaign." Look at what we've done while we've been here. I don't think anybody could say that the President is anti-Muslim.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the President's tweeting now about a TV host who was suspended for anti-Muslim rhetoric. So it's-- it's I think a fair question to ask you about this, but I want to move on to one of the fights that is going on in Congress and questions from a number of senators about exactly what programs are going to lose funding--

MICK MULVANEY: Sure.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --in order to put together funding for the border wall. When will the White House give this detailed list, specifically on military projects, to Congress?

MICK MULVANEY: It could be a while and here's why. Here's-- here's what's happening, is that we've already told Congress this, which is that none of the programs that were scheduled to be started or what we call obligated in 2019, so between now and the end of September, will be impacted at all.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The service chiefs have told Congress they have that list, but the White House is not--

MICK MULVANEY: No.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --handing that list over.

MICK MULVANEY: No, no. That that's abs-- I know of no list. And if anybody should, it would be me. There's no list of projects that are absolutely going to not be funded so that the wall can be. What it is, is a list of programs that fit the criteria that I've just laid out for you, which is that they are meant to be funded beyond the end of this fiscal year. Why is that important? Because if we-- if it's going to be a project that would have been funded say in 2021 it gives us another couple of years to what we call backfill. Congress will pass another appropriation this year, next year, so that ultimately none of the programs would be impacted.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Tim Kaine who sits on Armed Services is going to be on the show later in the program.

MICK MULVANEY: Mm-Hm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But when we spoke with him, he, specifically, said that he thinks the White House is withholding these details until after this upcoming vote on the veto override occurs. In other words--

MICK MULVANEY: Yup--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --you're trying to keep Republicans on board and if you fully inform them about what you're going to do to their district, then you might lose their vote.

MICK MULVANEY: I-- I don't-- I'll watch the show and, in fact, if I catch Tim in the greenroom, I'll ask him what the basis is for that. Does he just think it because he wants it to be true or someone told him there was actually a list? Because, again, I'm chief of staff. I'm also still technically over at the Office of Management and Budget.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you still don't know what's getting cut?

MICK MULVANEY: And I know of no list that specifically--

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you don't know what's getting cut?

MICK MULVANEY: That's correct. I know of the universe of things that might be delayed or reduced or cut in a very extreme circumstance that could be funded-- they used to fund the wall, but a list of a decision that's already been made saying this money is going to be cut--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

MICK MULVANEY: --and spent over there, that's not been made yet.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So remove any doubt you say, no matter what these details are, you still have the votes to override--

MICK MULVANEY: Oh, yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --this veto.

MICK MULVANEY: Absolutely.

MARGARET BRENNAN: To block any kind of override.

MICK MULVANEY: Yes. No, we fully expect the veto override to fail in the House.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Thank you, Mick Mulvaney--

MICK MULVANEY: Thanks, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --for joining us.

Just to clarify that host is Fox News' Jeanine Pirro. The network has condemned her commentary and her broadcast did not air last night.

We spoke yesterday with Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. He had just returned from a visit to the Venezuelan border and spoke to us from Bogota, Colombia. We asked Senator Kaine about President Trump saying that he did not think white nationalism was a rising threat around the world.

SENATOR TIM KAINE (D-Virginia/@timkaine): Margaret, it is on the rise and the President should call it out but, sadly, he is not doing that. We saw in the aftermath of the horrible attack in Charlottesville that he tried to say that the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates there were just, you know, good people. But when you see church shootings in Charleston, a synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, you see this hate-filled manifesto of the shooter in New Zealand who is murdering Muslims, we have to confront the fact that there-- there is a rise in white supremacy, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim attitudes. The President uses language often that's very similar to the language used by these bigots and racists. And if he is not going to call it out then other leaders have to do more to call it out and I certainly will.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the President did say it was a horrible thing that happened but he said that the white nationalism issue is just a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. What do you attribute the rise to?

SENATOR TIM KAINE: Well, they have problems but I think the President is using language that emboldens them. He is not creating them. They're out there. But you know at the same time as he was tweeting out yesterday his support for the family members in New Zealand, and that was appropriate, he was vetoing the Senate's rejection of his emergency declaration from Thursday. And he used the word invaders to characterize people coming to the nation's southern borders which was exactly the same phrase that the shooter in New Zealand used to characterize the Muslims that he was attacking. That kind of language from the person who probably has the loudest microphone on the planet Earth is hurtful and dangerous and it tends to incite violence.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about an exchange you had this week that seemed quite tense. You were very clearly frustrated with the acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan because you were asking why a list of military projects had not been provided to Congress that would be directly impacted by funding cuts due to re-allocation for the President's border wall.

SENATOR TIM KAINE: I'm on the Armed Services Committee. I represent Virginia. I have a child in the military so I sent a letter on February 15th to the Secretary of Defense and said if you're going to ransack the Pentagon's budget, tell me what projects you're going to cut or delay or eliminate. They wouldn't provide an answer. At the hearing on Thursday we-- we're now going to vote that day on whether we support or reject the emergency declaration and they still hadn't answered our question, what projects are at stake? At the hearing he said oh, I'll send you the list later this afternoon. And you're right I kind of blew up at him. You're going to give us the list after we vote? This is highly relevant to the vote about the President's emergency declaration. What projects are you going to ransack out of the Pentagon budget? Is it going to be military housing? Is it going to be trying to make our bases safer from terrorism with construction projects? Is it going to be rebuilding Tyndall Air Force Base that got blitzed in the hurricanes last fall? And they said they would give us the list after. But, Margaret, to add insult to injury they had to walk that back. They don't even want to give us the list now at all because we're going to have to have an override vote. I don't think the White House wants us to see the list before the override vote.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why do you think the White House is withholding this information you say is so relevant because of an upcoming vote?

SENATOR TIM KAINE: I think there's one reason.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're-- you're connecting. You think they're trying to influence the outcome of it.

SENATOR TIM KAINE: Absolutely. This is not the Secretary of Defense in my view, this is the White House wanting to hold the list back because they worry that if Senators and House members saw the potential projects that were going to be ransacked to pay for the President's wall they would lose votes. And I think they're going to try to hide the list until that veto override vote occurs in the House and then in the Senate.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You are, of course, in Colombia nearby. What is a country that is really crippled in many ways economically right now, Venezuela. There are about three million refugees who have fled, the energy and oil industry is collapsing as is the economy there. What is it that you were going to the border to see? What did you learn?

SENATOR TIM KAINE: Well, Margaret, I wanted to see a couple of things. One, to support the Colombian government because their effort to provide assistance to these millions of Venezuelanos has been really momentous. But, secondly, learn what more the United States can do. We have worked together actually in an accord between the administration and Congress to provide significant amounts of humanitarian aid, to-- to work together, to pull together a coalition of nations.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Nicolás Maduro still is in charge of that country whether we like it or not. And these sanctions have not seemingly changed his calculus. The visas, the diplomatic isolation, what is this actually accomplishing at this point?

SENATOR TIM KAINE: Well, it's-- it's giving hope to Venezuelans that their fina-- there may finally be some change. The question isn't whether Maduro likes it or not, the question is what do the Venezuelan people want. And the national assembly has determined that the election of President Mazur-- Maduro was illegitimate. There needs to be a new-- new government. So what more can we do?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

SENATOR TIM KAINE: More humanitarian aid, more work together to pull more nations into our coalition. The sanctions are important. They're having an effect. Sanctions are economic but they're also visa restrictions on Maduro and his cronies as they try to travel abroad. We need to give hope to the Venezuelan people that we stand with them and support them. It's a massive humanitarian crisis driven by one person, Nicolás Maduro, and the Venezuelan people are speaking out and they want something better.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Has the Trump administration whose policy you seem to support right now, have they underestimated how strong he is?

SENATOR TIM KAINE: I don't know that they've underestimated it. Look, this is-- this is not easy. It's a difficult situation. And I do generally support what the Trump administration has done with one exception--I think loose talk about U.S. military action is a big mistake. One, because that's not for the President, it's for Congress. But, second, the right strategy here-- there's only one person using the military against Venezuelans and it's Maduro.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Kaine, thank you for joining us. Safe travels.

SENATOR TIM KAINE: Thank you, Margaret. Absolutely.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be back in one minute with a lot more FACE THE NATION.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We are back now with former federal prosecutor Preet Bharara. He was of course, fired by President Trump after he refused to resign as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. And he has a new book out, Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law. Preet, good to have you here.

PREET BHARARA (Former U.S. Attorney/@PreetBharara/Doing Justice): Thanks for having me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I read the book. I want to get to some of the news of the week but first ask you actually how you ended this book because I think it resonates this week in the wake of the terror attack in New Zealand. You recount a story and a case of a-- of a hate crime against someone who wanted to go out and kill Arabs after 9/11 and ended up killing some-- or-- and then injuring some South Asian individuals instead. Is this just a continuation of Islamophobia, of white nationalism? Is there something here or is, as the President says, it's not really a broader issue at all?

PREET BHARARA: Well, thanks for asking about the end of the book. I-- I think a lot of the world is mourning the loss of innocent lives, up to fifty now in New Zealand. And, you know, from my old vantage point as a law enforcement officer, the chief law enforcement officer federally in Manhattan, law enforcement has certain tools, right? You can do surveillance. You can infiltrate organizations that propound hate and try to engage in terrorist acts. You can also hold people accountable after the fact. But one of the points I make in the book Doing Justice over and over again is laws are not enough.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

PREET BHARARA: Law can do some things but at the end of the day if you want to quell people's hatred, you want to make people get along better, you want to have harmony, you have to have good people who are willing to-- to step up to the plate and do, among other things, call out bad things when they happen. In the case that I was referring to that you mentioned in the-- in the end part of the book, it was a Bangladeshi immigrant after 9/11 who was shot in the face by someone, Mark Anthony Stroman, who decided that he wanted to take revenge on behalf of I guess his race for people who had perpetrated the acts of 9/11. Obviously, going and randomly shooting people where they worked. And Rais Bhuiyan was not killed and decided in a way that I think is extraordinary to forgive the person who tried to kill him and tried to get him off death row and-- and spare him the death penalty. He wasn't ultimately successful. But to my mind it's an-- it's an inspiring story of how some people go beyond what the law even requires, beyond what the law allows, to try to have forgiveness and-- and harmony go forward in the world. And I think we need a little bit more of that and a little bit less of the nasty rhetoric and a little bit less of, you know, people like the President not stepping up to the plate and calling out bad things when they're happening.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Important note there in this week. But I want to turn to some of the other news that we've seen on the political and legal front. You know, we saw on Friday the special counsel again ask for the fifth time a delay in the sentencing of Rick Gates who was a-- a Trump campaign deputy because it was said he's cooperating. How should people understand this? What does this mean?

PREET BHARARA: Well, not just cooperating but cooperating qu-- in-- in, quote, unquote, "several investigations." And so you know I'm an outsider now and I don't still run the Southern District of New York and I'm not aware of what's going with various investigations that sometimes, you know, intersect with the special counsel's investigation. But I think people should view with some skepticism the notion that gets breathlessly reported every week that the Mueller investigation is coming to an end. It may be, because Andrew Weissman who is one of the top deputies, in fact, the top deputy with Ro-- Robert Mueller, announced that he was stepping down which indicates maybe it's wrapping up. But then, as you point out, you have this letter about Rick Gates who's cooperating in multiple investigations and they delay the sentencing which seems to indicate that he is substantially cooperating and engaging in some success for the prosecuting team. So you might expect other indictments, other work going forward. So it doesn't seem to me based on that, although I don't know--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

PREET BHARARA: --that the work of the special counsel is ending anytime soon. Unless it's the case-- the one caveat I have is, unless it's the case that the cases on which Rick Gates is cooperating are being parceled out-- parceled out to other U.S. attorney's office-- offices like the Southern District of New York or D.C. or somewhere else so the special counsel team can step back and have its work be done.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Steve Bannon and a few other individuals have said that actually the biggest risk to the President is not from the special counsel but actually the Southern District of New York, which you know well. Do you agree with that?

PREET BHARARA: Well, I don't know if I-- I would frame it that way. It's a sort of a polemical way to frame it. But yeah, in the sense that the SDNY, which I led for seven and a half years, doesn't have the circumscription on its ambit in the same way the special counsel does. The special counsel was appointed, you know, under a particular regulation and was supposed to look at only things relating to interference in the election and potentially collusion, quote, unquote, "collusion" with-- with Russians in connection with the-- with the-- with the election and anything arising from it. And one of those things that ari-- that arose from it was obstruction. The Southern District of New York has a lot of people in it whose mission is only to find crime, be able to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt if it's in the interest of justice to do it. And they're very aggressive and they're very fearless and they're very independent. They don't care about politics. When I was there we prosecuted Democrats and Republicans and it didn't matter who they were, you know, affiliated with.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

PREET BHARARA: And-- and so when one of-- one of the things I tried to say in the book is to explain the philosophy and the culture of the men and women of the Southern District of New York.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And, of course, state and federal charges and how a President's pardon could affect them are-- are different, too. I want to ask you as well about Paul Manafort. He was sentenced in DC this week. The sentence was added to. Before that in Virginia what some would characterize as a light sentence, do you think justice is done?

PREET BHARARA: It's hard to say. You know punishment is a very difficult thing to calibrate. You know whether a few months more or a few months less--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

PREET BHARARA: --is in the interest of justice, is hard to measure like-- like mathematics. I agree with the people who said that the first sentence of Paul Manafort of forty-seven months was a bit low, given the guidelines and given the nature and seriousness of the crime and how long it went on. I think that overall the addition of three and a half years from Judge Amy Berman Jackson makes it overall a seven and a half years sentence which is closer to right. I still think it's overall low, but it's hard to determine.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Preet Bharara, thank you for joining us.

PREET BHARARA: Thanks, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The book is Doing Justice.

We'll be back in a moment.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: There are two more candidates in the presidential race, but it's one who is not in the race, at least yet, who raised eyebrows when he accidentally made a slip in his speech last night. Our Ed O'Keefe reports.

(Begin VT)

ED O'KEEFE: The man many Democrats are waiting for sure sounded like a presidential candidate Saturday night.

JOE BIDEN: I have the most progressive record for anybody running for the united-- if anybody who would run.

ED O'KEEFE: Former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to make it official next month.

SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (campaign video): That's why I'm running for President. And it's why I'm asking you for your support.

ED O'KEEFE: New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today became the fourteenth Democrat to officially launch a presidential bid even though she's been basically campaigning for the job for eight weeks. Gillibrand plans to formally kick off her campaign next Sunday outside Trump Tower in New York. Other candidates traveled to early primary states this weekend hoping to build support.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER (Campaign 2020): We have common pain all over this country, but we've lost our sense of common purpose.

ED O'KEEFE: And Beto O'rourke wrapped up a three-day tour in Iowa that launched his campaign.

BETO O'ROURKE: This is my first time to ever visit Iowa.

ED O'KEEFE: O'Rourke narrowly lost the U.S. Senate bid in Texas last year and presidential buzz has been building ever since. His rollout was treated like a major media event. He told Vanity Fair magazine for a cover story, "I'm just born to be in it." And he sat for his first in-depth interview as a candidate with CBS THIS MORNING co-host Gayle King.

GAYLE KING (CBS THIS MORNING): Do you consider yourself more moderate or more progressive?

BETO O'ROURKE (CBS THIS MORNING): Yeah, you know, if-- if I think about a term like progressive, I will make sure that everybody has a chance, that our democracy fully reflects the genius of this country, that we make the investments in one another, and that's universal guaranteed high-quality health care, it's a living wage for everyone who works, it's supporting those who are looking for jobs. So if that is progressive I'm a progressive.

GAYLE KING (CBS THIS MORNING): You're a progressive?

BETO O'ROURKE (CBS THIS MORNING): Yes.

GAYLE KING (CBS THIS MORNING): All right. All right. So I don't even need to go into moderate then?

(End VT)

ED O'KEEFE: Meanwhile, former Florida governor and 2016 candidate Jeb Bush said this weekend that Republicans ought to be given a choice, suggesting someone needs to launch a primary challenge to President Trump. He named Maryland Governor Larry Hogan as a possible option. Hogan told us a few weeks ago he isn't ruling it out. Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Ed, thank you. More on 2020 when we come back.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be back in a moment.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. Joining us for some more 2020 analysis are Jamal Simmons, Democratic strategist and host on Hill.TV, Amy Walter of the The Cook Political Report, and, of course, our own Ed O'Keefe.

Ed, you just laid out the crowded field. I was speaking to a Democratic strategist this week or fund-raiser I should say who says this is like Waiting for Godot.

ED O'KEEFE (CBS News Political Correspondent/@edokeefe): When we're waiting for Biden.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're waiting for Biden.

ED O'KEEFE: Absolutely.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And still not sure. Godot never shows up.

ED O'KEEFE: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is Biden going to show up?

ED O'KEEFE: I mean if you believe the verbal slip-up last night at the Dover Downs, yes, he certainly made it seem like he is. You know I asked him earlier this week when he was at this firefighters' union event here in DC on (INDISTINCT) what's the hold-up. He says, "There's no hold-up." He just looks at history, which suggests that people who have waited a little longer than this current crop that got in, you know, at the stroke of midnight, essentially, as the year began and-- and thinks that he has some time to-- to, you know, to spend because he's got the name--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

ED O'KEEFE: --and clearly has some money ready and-- and ready to come has locked up some staff. We don't know to what extent there-- the size of his operation will be. But all signs still point to early April some time before Tax Day, April 15th.

JAMAL SIMMONS (Hill.TV/@JamalSimmons): You know, Ed mentions history. And with the vice president, it's-- it's-- history is actually a pretty tough marker for him.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you mean?

JAMAL SIMMONS: Democrats, you know, he's very popular. People all over the country are hungering for him to get into the race, but Democrats have never elected a sitting or former vice president to the White House before. Democrats also, if you look at-- if you go back and look at some of the 530A polling, the person who was ahead in the national polls at this period a year out from election day did not ultimately win the White House. And there's only three times that person won the nomination. It was Walter Mondale in 1984, Al Gore in 2000, and Hillary Clinton in 2016. Hillary is a tough marker. So, the vice president really has to I think take on the fact that he's going up against these trends, and that means he has to do things differently. He needs a more diverse staff then he has had in the past that has got to be willing to talk about progressive issues in a way that's more compelling that he has in the past, and I hope that's what they're planning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Amy, do we need new blood, as former President Obama suggested? I mean he's-- he's not necessarily going to--

AMY WALTER (Cook Political Report/The Takeaway/@amyewalter): He's not the newest person in the-- in the mix for his years there on the Senate side. It's really interesting watching Democrats grappling with their choices this time they have. All kinds of opportunities here, generationally, on race, and--

MARGARET BRENNAN: And gender.

AMY WALTER: And it seems-- and on gender. And it seems that the issue really comes down to this. How safe of a choice do Democrats want to make. And by safe we have to-- we all are going to determine that, the Democrats are going to determine that, too, in very different ways. And the safe being really whose the one who we know can beat Donald Trump. That's the-- that's the question a lot of Democrats are asking themselves. What does that mean versus who is the most disruptive--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

AMY WALTER: --in this field? Waiting for Godot is a good description. I also think primaries are a lot like trying to figure out who you're going to marry. And do you go with the person who really races your heart or do you go with the person you want to bring home to your parents, right? And Democrats, it-- it recently--

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you don't think the two things can be the same thing?

AMY WALTER: Sometimes--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Very nice.

AMY WALTER: Sometimes they can be both.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

AMY WALTER: I think Barack Obama was both.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

AMY WALTER: I think in 2004, remember there was that infamous bumper sticker that said, "Dated Dean, Married Kerry." Right?

JAMAL SIMMONS: How that work out?

AMY WALTER: It was a lot of fun. And-- and that's what the-- and if you're a Democrat-- a lot of Democrats will say, "Exactly, when we made the safe choice, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, we lost." We got to go with somebody who is going to be engaging in a very different way. The other-- just one more quick thing about engaging and broadening, going away from safe, it's also about broadening the electoral map--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

AMY WALTER: --outside of the presidential race, which is the Senate. There are a bunch of Democrats I talked to who say, we could win the White House, but if we don't win the Senate, then guess what, not a lot of this is going to matter. We got to go into places like Texas, Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, those are the races that are going to determine control of the Senate.

JAMAL SIMMONS: Arizona.

AMY WALTER: Yeah. Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It was such a rollout for Beto O'Rourke.

ED O'KEEFE: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I mean, he-- people are acting, like, he is anointed. Is this going to backfire on him?

ED O'KEEFE: Well, and I think to the-- to the charge that the media may have overdone it, we have to remember something, I made this point repeatedly in our reporting this past week. You talk to every other campaign that's involved in this right now, the one name that kept coming up in private conversations--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

ED O'KEEFE: --was always him. Is he going to do it? Do you think he can raise eighty million dollars again? So this was them, essentially, goading us into saying is, you know, they are-- they are scared of him. Very scared of him. And this coffee shop counter-top campaign that he launched this week by jumping up on countertops repeatedly. Was it you that said I hope he brought the Windex along?

AMY WALTER: Yeah. You need some use of, well, Clorox Wipes. People are eating on those things.

ED O'KEEFE: You know, it-- it seems to have gone well for him. And-- and he started very strategically in-- in southeastern Iowa, part of the state where Democrats used to dominate and have struggled in recent years. And repeatedly people said to me, "You know, they don't usually come to this part of the state until later in the primary, so we give him a lot of credit for doing it." And we'll see.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Amy, there has been some attention to perhaps a double standard here, that Beto delayed making an announcement, he had this sort of soul-searching played out in the press, that a female candidate of the five or so we have so far--

AMY WALTER: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --would have been punished for looking indecisive. Do you buy that?

AMY WALTER: There is still-- there is still going-- there will always be a double standard. When we look at whether the candidates of color of women are going to be judged to different standards than white men. At the same time, I do think every one of these candidates gets their little boomlet--

ED O'KEEFE: Mm-Hm.

AMY WALTER: --gets their time to make their case. And this is why the debates are going to be so important. Because all this is right now sort of fluff.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

AMY WALTER: When they're all on the stage together, making the case that they have the best opportunity, I'm the best person here, to go up against Donald Trump. That's when voters really get to see what they are made of.

JAMAL SIMMONS: You know, he is a little  bit. I-- I-- I would argue that Beto O'Rourke is the best natural candidate running--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Natural.

JAMAL SIMMONS: --for this area-- for this era. Right? He understands social media. He is-- he is willing to engage in that sphere in a way that Donald Trump has engaged in, and nobody else really kind of can do that. What we don't know is can he do all the other things that have to be done in a campaign, can he build out an organization, can he raise the money, can he withstand all the hits that are going to come his way? Those are really big things. But, you know, this week, there was a kind of an-- a-- a little bit of an upset. A lot of women I talked to were really upset about the way he talked about his wife and raising their kids. That came up a lot. So I was thinking on myself to start calling around to some of the people and friends and family.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because he said his wife mainly raises the children.

JAMAL SIMMONS: That's right. So I started calling women who don't live in Washington, who don't live in California and asking them. Michigan, Georgia, Texas, Ohio, asking them what they thought. And then what-- the most interesting response was a seventy-year-old woman relative in Detroit who said to me, "Oh, yeah, I saw that. I really liked that." So I think some friends--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Maybe she thought she was giving-- she thought he was giving his wife credit.

JAMAL SIMMONS: She thought he was giving his wife credit.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I got it.

JAMAL SIMMONS: So I think-- I think sometimes that-- that things sound differently to people who live in different places and we just have to-- we have to wait and see how this all--

AMY WALTER: Right.

JAMAL SIMMONS: --(INDISTINCT) out.

AMY WALTER: Which is why the process is so important. You haven't heard Democrats yet. It's going to happen. Say, this process is too unwieldy, we are going to damage the ultimate nominee by having all of these debates and this, you know, lasting far too long. Right now I think it is the only way to determine which one of these candidates meets all of those different criteria that Jamal pointed out, of who is going to be able to raise the money, look like they can stand up to the President, be able to be inspiring, also have a pathway to the White House that looks to voters--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

AMY WALTER: --like a realistic path to the White House.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Well, we'll have the leave it there with the three of you. But more to come when we come back from this break with some analysis of the week that was.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to our panel for some analysis on the other big news of the week. Jamal Simmons and Amy Walter are joined by Ramesh Ponnuru, who is a senior editor at National Review and a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, and Mark Landler covers the White House and foreign policy for The New York Times. Good to have you join us. Ramesh, may I ask you, you know, Amy brought up in the last segment this point about it not just being about the 2020 presidential race, it's also about some of these congressional seats. Senators, some of them we saw with this vote on the rebuke to the President, the accusation that maybe they were a little worried about their seats in 2020 and that may have swayed some Republicans to stick with the President instead of rebuking him. How big of a concern and a factor was that?

RAMESH PONNURU (Bloomberg Opinion/National Review/@RameshPonnuru): Well, I think it's very striking that of the twelve Republican senators who did not vote with the President, who voted to disapprove his declaration of a national emergency, only one of them is running in 2020. There was a risk on both sides, right, there's a general election risk because the emergency is unpopular and the wall is unpopular. But among Republicans, it's-- these things are very popular. And, obviously, I think a lot of Republicans showed that they were more concerned about winning their primaries than they were about the general election.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Who do you have in mind, is-- is it Thom Tillis of North Carolina who took a lot of heat for that eleventh-hour switch of his vote?

RAMESH PONNURU: Thom Tillis in North Carolina, Cory Gardner in Colorado, Joni Ernst in Iowa, all of them voted with the President and not with, you know, the-- the-- the twelve Republicans, like Mitt Romney and-- and Pat Toomey, Mike Lee and others who had these constitutional concerns about what the President is doing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mark, Mick Mulvaney was on this program and said that he-- he thinks the White House, you know, has nothing to worry about with this attempt to override the veto. But how was this received inside the White House? It was the President's first time to use the pen in this way?

MARK LANDLER (The New York Times/@MarkLandler): And it was also first time the President was rebuffed this way by Republicans, as Ramesh points out, that several of them didn't go the whole way, but the fact of the matter is after two years in which the Republicans have been just an absolute reliable sort of bastion for the President in Congress, I thought this was still symbolically important. And I'm sure that President Trump's argument, as well, I didn't pitch as hard as I could have. If I had really asked for the votes, I would have gotten them, but, nevertheless, they must be looking at this and thinking, do we have Mitch McConnell as reliably as we thought we did? And facing the prospect of more unpopular potentially policy decisions and debates down the road, is this the first in what will be a more independent Republican majority in the Senate, a majority that's going to make decisions not just blindly following the White House and President Trump?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Some might say that's wishful thinking?

AMY WALTER: Yeah.

MARK LANDLER: Indeed, indeed.

AMY WALTER: Yes.

MARK LANDLER: And-- and-- and I stimulate that we haven't seen it and we've had the same sort of discussion many, many times in the past, well, this will be the moment that they show their independence, and they continue not to do that. Having said that, you know, this was a somewhat different set of circumstances. It didn't play out quite as well as I think the White House hoped it would, and so that's got to be at least somewhat concerning for them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think this resonates with people at home or is it lost on them?

AMY WALTER: I do think it-- it doesn't really resonate unless the President wants it to resonate, in which case what he does very well is turns it back against congress. I think he loves the idea that, look, I told you people in Washington didn't understand us and our vision for how we keep America safe. They are-- they are trapped in their old ways of thinking, I am here to break us out of this. And so it actually works for him, even when it's members of his own party. I think this is very beneficial to him. And I-- I do agree that with the question of whether this signals more dissension or whether it's just this was a really easy vote. The veto-- they're never going to have to vote on this again. They're not going to have-- it's going to die in the House--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

AMY WALTER: --most likely. They won't have to vote on this again, and then it's in the courts where, ultimately, it means that none of the discussion that we're having right now may ever have to turn into reality.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Ramesh, one of the few areas where we did see some-- some public criticism of the President from Republicans was on the foreign policy front. And, again, going into 2020, I guess there are some questions about, well, what does the President say he delivered on when it comes to North Korea? What does he say he delivered on with a promise to pull all troops out of Afghanistan? And we have some upcoming decisions on both of those things. How much of a political lens should we be putting on them?

RAMESH PONNURU: I tend to think that those sorts of foreign policy decisions are not all that politically significant in a presidential election unless something has gone very, very wrong, and in that case, people start holding politicians accountable and asking why things that they themselves as voters weren't paying attention to, weren't done. So I-- I think the stakes politically are low, even if the stakes for our long-term national security are kind of high. Right now I think the President can say that to his core voters, look, I have been trying to pull out of our commitments overseas, or at least downsize them in an intelligent way. And I think that that is going to be accepted as-- as fine. I don't think that there are a ton of Republican voters who are saying to themselves, you know, we need to be more involved in Syria. We need to be more involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so I think that he's going to be fine on this front.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mark, we had the President go to the Pentagon on Friday for classified briefing. Do we know what threats he was actually getting briefed on?

MARK LANDLER: Well, we don't precisely know what threats he was getting briefed on. The assumption is clear he was probably being briefed on North Korea. He was probably being briefed on Syria, where after all he made this decision to leave some American troops behind after saying he was going to withdraw them, and probably also on Afghanistan. We are in the midst of this peace reconciliation process with the Taliban, and part of that process is setting a definite timeline for withdrawing the remaining troops there. So I am-- I'm sure some combination of those issues, plus Iran were probably all on the table at that point.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And there are about twelve thousand troops still in Afghanistan.

MARK LANDLER: That's right. And that con-- that conversation has become very complicated in the last couple of weeks because the Afghan government feels that we, the United States, has cut them out of the process. We're dealing directly with the Taliban, the Afghans don't have a seat at the table, and that's become very contentious just in the-- in the last week in Washington with a couple visiting Afghan officials raising some very serious criticisms of the administration.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jamal, do you hear anything from this week with what's been described as sort of a blow symbolically to the President or the frustrations and trying to deliver on some of these foreign policy promises? Is there any rich territory for Democrats to message in mind?

JAMAL SIMMONS: I mean think of the Democratic political establishment or the Democratic left, the voters, people are thinking more about Russia and Russian influence than they are about some of the more fine points of foreign policy. They generally get the President is not really doing very well, and the candidates don't seem-- the Democratic candidates don't seem to be that-- that far apart on this. I think what people on the-- on the Democratic side are trying to do is alter an-- offer an alternate vision about what's important. So the reason the President and immigration focus is important is for-- for his base, is because it says to particularly white disaffected voters, I am the guy who's standing up against the brown people coming into the United States and trying to preserve the country for you. I think what the Democrats are trying to say is there's actually a bigger problem that happens. And so if you looked at what happened with the cheating scandal with the schools like there's this sort of mob of people who were at the top they've got all the goodies. So there's goodies mob, I'm not talking about Cee Lo, but there's like a goodies mob out there, right, that is dividing up all the opportunity among each other and those are the people that we all have to be worried about. How do we tilt the scales back in favor of working people, and somebody like Elizabeth Warren who talked about this idea of breaking up big tech companies is somebody who's driving this agenda on the left that says, maybe we've got to change the rules about how we deal with our economy and that's an alternate vision that I think Democrats are trying to establish and it might work.

AMY WALTER: And-- and, yet, that's also going back to the who-- who's the safe choice. And for Democrats, trying to balance these two very important segments of their electorate, the-- the ones who do see that the system is rigged, they're attracted to the Bernie Sanders message, also who's going to turn out that Obama coalition that Hillary did not--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

AMY WALTER: --younger voters, voters of color, but the newest coalition are those white suburban voters who came out, and guess who they voted for? They voted for Beto. That's how Beto came so close in Texas. It wasn't the rise of younger or Latino voters. It was white suburban voters who-- who came out and voted for Democrats in the House and for Beto. How do you keep those voters from either staying home or defecting back to-- to Donald Trump? If you put a candidate, goes the-- the theory, someone like Elizabeth Warren, someone like Bernie Sanders, that's going to turn off those voters who-- who were willing to vote for us, say, Democrats in 2018.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And-- but, Jamal, Bernie Sanders is trying to woo black voters right now in South Carolina. He's trying to make up a difference I guess the lesson he learned.

JAMAL SIMMONS: He's trying. But, you know, there's a funny picture that was going around the internet yesterday of him at an African-American church in South Carolina, but everybody in the room was white, right? So-- so what happened was they-- they built a crowd, but it wasn't actually the crowd of the membership of that particular church. So he's got a-- he's got a little bit of a tougher road. I think of the two of them, Elizabeth Warren probably is the more-- is the one people may buy into a little bit more. But here's my real guess, is that somebody, whoever the Democratic nominee is will end up adopting a lot of the policy choices that Bernie and Elizabeth Warren put forward because that seems to be where the passion of the left is.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We will see. Thanks to all of you.

And we will be back in a moment with a look at a unique new class of congressional interns.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Politics and football meet head-on this spring with an unusual class of interns on Capitol Hill. CBS News special correspondent James Brown reports.

(Begin VT)

MICHAEL THOMAS (New York Giants): --doing a research on a bill--

JAMES BROWN: Michael Thomas--

AUSTIN CARR (New Orleans Saints): Great to see you.

JAMES BROWN: --Austin Carr and Ryan Hunter are used to running, blocking, or catching for a living, but for the last couple of weeks, they have been running around the halls of Congress, tackling the big issues facing the country.

RYAN HUNTER (Kansas City Chiefs): I have been fortunate to sit in on meetings with foreign policy administrators from the Middle East, whether there would be constituents from the state of Missouri and the city of Kansas City, St. Louis.

JAMES BROWN: Ryan Hunter is an offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs. He's interning for freshman Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri.

JOSH HAWLEY: This is fun because we're both new together. So Ryan's new. I'm new. We're kind of learning the ropes together. I think it's phenomenal that NFL players, you know, like Ryan who are very busy guys and have a career that they're pursuing want to be involved in their communities, want to be involved in service.

JAMES BROWN: Michael Thomas plays safety for the New York Giants. This is his second time working for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents his district in Houston, Texas.

SHEILA JACKSON LEE: What a better place to be, not necessarily only in my office, but in many offices where they can be change agents and translate that leadership on the field into making a difference.

MICHAEL THOMAS: After internment last year I said, I got to come back because I saw first-hand what she's doing and how much she's really on the ground, you know, like putting in the work. A lot of things that we were fighting for for criminal justice reform, bail reform, education, you know, re-entry with juvenile detentions and stuff like, that she's already had bills written. You know, they're on the floor. She's proposing these things. I'm like, okay, this is how we can take that next step.

JAMES BROWN: And you are firmly convinced that Capitol Hill, this arena, this venue, if you will, can affect the kind of meaningful changes that you and others who have the same feeling--

MICHAEL THOMAS: Absolutely.

JAMES BROWN: --can bring about?

MICHAEL THOMAS: Absolutely. I mean it's going to take, you know, it's going to take time. You can't-- nothing happens overnight. I can see how other people can say, man, like, they're slow, we need-- we need something now. We need to do something now. And I get that passion. I feel it.

JAMES BROWN: Austin Carr is a wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints. He is pro-life and interested in some libertarian ideas, which is why he is interning for Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

AUSTIN CARR: I'm seeing how hard they work and in particular Senator Rand Paul, how often he's running to and fro to different meetings, different committees, meeting with constituents.

JAMES BROWN: What have you seen in this young man, Senator?

RAND PAUL: We're-- we're glad to have him here, and I think it's good to see another side of our athletes.

JAMES BROWN: According to the NFLPA, the average NFL career lasts just under four years. In 2014 the union started an externship program to prepare players for life after the NFL. Since then one hundred and eighty-three players have had on-the-job training in a variety of fields. Michael Thomas is a member of the union's executive board, and he sees this as an opportunity to speak for his community. Thomas was one of the players who protested police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.

MICHAEL THOMAS: Me being here, being an inside intern, I see the steps that needs to be take-- that need to be taken. I'm willing to put in the work. I'm willing to advocate for it. I'm willing to help out Congresswoman Jackson Lee any way I can using my voice and my platform, same way I did it on the football field in taking a knee.

JAMES BROWN: Austin Carr met with the attorney general of Louisiana to talk about the opioid crisis.

AUSTIN CARR: Nationwide, U.S. consumes eighty percent of opioids in the world, right?

JAMES BROWN: Ryan Hunter learned more about brain injuries after meeting with the Society for Neuroscience.

RYAN HUNTER: I'd rather be here than be in the Bahamas, because I'm learning so much for the future that this-- this experience on its own beats, you know, having an umbrella drink on the beach.

JAMES BROWN: These pro athletes came to Washington to learn from political leaders, but their mentors seem to learn from them, as well.

RAND PAUL: No, I'm glad to see that Austin, you know, believes strongly in his faith and that it sounds like he wants to be part of trying to make things better in the country, but also be an example for, you know, kids out there that look up to our-- our stars.

JOSH HAWLEY: Having players say, I want to be involved, I want to serve, I want to see it from the inside, I want to do something about that, that's awesome, we need more of that. And I think Ryan is a great example.

SHEILA JACKSON LEE: I hope he will be able to be here when we are seeing these bills pass out of the House and the Senate where we have changed the criminal justice system. Wouldn't that be great? That's my heart and passion. And I hope he will be part of it.

MICHAEL THOMAS: Absolutely.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we'll be right back.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's it for us today. Thank you for watching. Until next week for FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.