For the Record with Greta, Transcript 2/22/2017
Show: For the Record with Greta
Date: February 22, 2017
Guest: Pete Buttigieg, Michael Gerson, Tom Cotton, Mary Story, Valerie Harris, Francesca Chambers, Alex Isenstadt, Michael Sherer, Vaughn Hillyard, Kerry Sanders, Larry Rubin, Jeffrey Davidow
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOR THE RECORD HOST: For the Record, tonight, fake
protests or false claims? The White House doubling down on statements from
President Trump about liberal activists, we`re going go live to a town hall
to see what`s real and what is not. And secretary of state Rex Tillerson
arriving in Mexico on a mission to sell the president`s immigration
policies, you`ll want to hear what a tonight Mexican diplomat said about
that. And a Republican senator raising a possibility of a subpoena for the
Republican president`s taxes, it`s all about Russia and it could lead to a
big, big fight, or maybe even a constitutional crisis here in Washington. >
Tonight, Republicans on the hot seat, sizzling hot, check out this scene
from just moments ago. A long line of people in Arkansas waiting to get
into a town hall for Senator Tom Cotton, that event is about to get under
way. And across the country, members of congress coming face-to-face with
voters, and at times arguments breaking out between voters on both sides of
the issues, Republican lawmakers facing voter heat and getting pummeled
with tough, even some angry questions about President Trump`s agenda. Here
is the scene just moments ago at a town hall in Louisiana with Republican
senator Bill Cassidy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CASSIDY, U.S. SENATOR: And – and those are good goals. Our bill –
our bill is the legislation that accomplishes the president`s goals. Now,
again, our legislation accomplishes those goals. Now, this is important to
me – now, we can say Sanders for president, but I`m not sure that that is
really the focus of this town hall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: President Trump saying, these crowds are, quote, planned out
by liberal activists. And that is not all, today his press secretary had
this to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There is a bit of professional
protester manufactured base in there. When you look at some of these
districts in some of these things, it is – it is not a representation of a
member`s district or an incident. It is a loud group, small group of
people disrupting something in many cases for media attention.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: And former secretary of state Hillary Clinton weighed in
tweeting today, if you can`t stand the heat, get out of the congress.
NBC`s Vaughn Hillyard is in Bentonville, Arkansas, covering Senator
Cotton`s town hall. Vaughn?
VAUGHN HILLYARD, NBC NEWS: Hi, Greta. Excuse the sweat on my face. I was
just outside. It`s about 80 degrees here and there`s at least 1,000-plus
here that were outside. Just came down from Iowa where we had two of Chuck
Grassley`s town halls yesterday. And here where Senator Tom Cotton,
Republican – you know, the funny part, the last time actually I was with
Tom Cotton was in Davenport, Iowa, just before the campaign. A lot of
people were looking at it as Tom Cotton laying down the early foundation of
what to be a 2020 campaign. But, obviously, the November election didn`t
go quite that way. And now he`s here and he`s having to defend Donald
Trump and his policies which we saw yesterday with Chuck Grassley, we saw
with Bill Cassidy, which you just showed here in Louisiana, where a lot of
the people that are here, and they are overwhelmingly Democrats,
independents, as Donald Trump called them, liberal activists. But liberal
activist is all up for – what you believe that that means. I talked to
farmers yesterday, talked to educators that were outside, people that were
retired. I actually want to bring in real fast, Suzy, one of these who –
again, part of this is just picking these people out, asking who they are
and Suzy be step in. Would you mind just telling me your background, why
you`re here? And you drove an hour away?
SUZY BELL: I drove an hour away. My name is Suzy Bell. I am a co-founder
of the free health care clinic an hour from here, and we give free medical
care to patients. We`ve done this for over 11 1/2 years. I am deeply
concerned about the repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act.
HILLYARD: Very good. There`s a lot of people here.
HILLYARD: You drove an hour from here.
BELL: I did.
HILLYARD: Does it mean something though that Tom Cotton is at least coming
here and having a town hall with you?
BELL: I`m grateful that he finally agreed to show up. We did try to talk
with him at his local office and he closed the doors on us, so we`re
grateful that he finally did come.
HILLYARD: Sure, sure, very good. Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: Vaughn?
VAN SUSTEREN: Can you ask Suzy what question she wants to ask Senator
Cotton? Does she have a specific question for him?
HILLYARD: Sure. Sorry about that. Now you can actually see Suzy. This is
Suzy, everybody. Suzy, if you have one specific question for Tom Cotton
tonight, what is that question?
BELL: I want to ask him how – whether or not he would be willing to work
on insurance and pharmaceutical companies to reduce the cost of health
care. And I`m also going to invite him to come to our clinic to see if he
will sit down with my patients and see if he will look them in the eye and
tell them why he`s going to try to take away their health care.
VAN SUSTEREN: Vaugh, thank you. Let`s bring in our panel, Francesca
Chambers, White House correspondent for the Daily Mail, Alex Isenstadt is a
political reporter for POLITICO. And Michael Scherer is Time Magazine`s
Washington bureau chief. Michael, first to you, obviously a lot of
Democrats going to show up at these and they`re going to be quite
aggressive and passionate about their positions. Your thought about the
Republican senators holding these?
MICHAEL SCHERER, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, I think they have to. They`ve
benefited from these for many years because all this anger was directed at
President Obama, you know, in the beginning of his term. What`s different
about this time is the anger seems to be organizing quicker. What`s
similar is that the White House press secretary is dismissing is as, you
know, about much ado about nothing. I remember very well in early 2009,
Robert Gibbs making fun of the tea party which was just then coming out
into the streets and protesting across the street. I think this is
something the White House is going to have to deal with. Some of these
bills they want to get through congress are going to be on very slim
margins. And members of congress do listen to their constituents. The
difference here from the tea party is that in 2009, the tea party was
really focused on reforming the Republican Party, on changing the
Republican Party. This anger here, at least so far, isn`t really targeted
at primaries inside the parties. It`s targeted at Republicans.
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Alex, I was worried that we were sort of just
cherry-picking these, but there are only a few of them. But, frankly, it
does seem the ones we do cover, there seems to be people with a lot of
passion. And, you know, and the fact that Suzy drove an hour, and I don`t
know – Suzy didn`t seem to be a part of some group but she seems to have a
strong reason. She runs a healthcare clinic. I thought that – this
doesn`t seem so orchestrated to me, but a real voter with a real concern.
ALEX ISENSTADT, POLITICO: Right. And you`re seeing this across the
country, and in the rural states and in conservative states. I mean,
you`re seeing it in Charleston, South Carolina, where Mark Sanford over
this weekend had a lot of constituents show up. And this is the kind of
thing that actually really matters because members of congress are
constantly running for re-election. Every two years they`re up for re-
election. So they`re constantly paying attention to what constituents are
saying, what voters are saying, and so if they`re getting pressure in a
particular issue, they`re going to listen to that. And that`s going to
make a difference in terms of what Donald Trump can accomplish in his first
two years in office.
VAN SUSTEREN: Francesca, the voters, they`ll need to make sure that as
passion as they are about the different issues. They need to give their
representatives an opportunity to talk. I mean, shouting them down doesn`t
FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, THE DAILT MAIL: Yes. And I wanted to respond to what
you were saying before about how it seems like this opposition has
mobilized quicker. Part of that is because Donald Trump campaigned on
getting rid of Obamacare, and now his administration in congress is moving
toward doing that already in the first weeks of his administration, and
that`s part of the reason. A big part of the reason that you`re seeing so
much anger among these people, like Suzy who says that they don`t want to
get rid of Obamacare, and one of the things that the White House said today
in their pushback is that some of these people aren`t actually on
Obamacare, they`re on Medicare.
VAN SUSTEREN: Yeah, but their friends are, their family are. I mean, you
know, I heard that they said, well some are on Medicare. But, you know,
even though I`m not on Obamacare, chances are you have a friend who is.
CHAMBERS: Yes. So the – but the members of congress who are dealing with
these are going to have to come up with a clear message that addresses some
of those concerns because clearly that`s not happening right now. And part
of that is because they don`t have a plan that they can put forward and say
it`s better and here`s how it`s better than Obamacare, and they might not
be facing some of this opposition if they had that to bring back to their
districts right now.
VAN SUSTEREN: Alex, do we blame congress for not having a plan or is it
just so difficult for speaker Ryan trying to, like, herd cats when you got
so members that you have to try to satisfy?
ISENSTADT: That`s the big part of it. You had Democrats struggle with the
same thing when they were trying to get Obamacare approved back eight years
ago. Look, it`s easier to oppose something than it is to support
something. And so, it`s easy for Democrats to rally opposition. It`s hard
for Republicans to galvanize support for something. And it`s really a
reverse roles from what you saw happen eight years ago when Democrats were
trying to pass Obamacare and Republicans were opposing it.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Let me go to New Orleans now, where a town hall
with Republican senator Bill Cassidy just wrapped up. Laura Kelly and
Shawan Bernard are residents of New Orleans, they both attended Senator
Cassidy`s town hall. Shawan, first to you, why are you at this town hall?
What do you want?
SHAWAN BERNARD, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: Well, I wanted to come and hear the
senator directly answer the constituents of Louisiana. He didn`t hold
anything in New Orleans, so I came out to Merete just to see what he had to
speak about. In particular, I was concerned about his educational platform
and how he supported Betsy DeVos to be the leader of the department of
education through a movement with charter schools. And being from New
Orleans and having a district – go ahead.
VAN SUSTEREN: No, I interrupted you. I`m sorry, Shawan.
BERNARD: And being from New Orleans and having a district that`s totally
charter, or, you know, 99 percent charter. I`m concerned about how that
will affect the United States in taking that model.
VAN SUSTEREN: And going to this, do you intend – let me go to Laura who`s
there with you. Laura, do you intend to ask harsh questions of the
senator? Do you expect that the crowd will be polite to him but keep his
feet to the fire?
LAURA KELLY, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: I think harsh questions need to be
asked. They haven`t been asked or we feel that we`re not being heard when
they`re asked. The crowd is rowdy but, again, we`re in a town hall meeting
that only seats 200, but there are hundreds and hundreds of more outside
that wanted to come in, which I think added to a sense of frustration here.
And there are multiple issues that we are all concerned about, education
being one of them. The Affordable Care Act being another one. Trump
releasing his tax returns. What will Senator Cassidy do about that? Will
he be one that will stand up and use the power that he has in the senate
and on committees to demand that Trump release those tax returns, so we see
if there`s any conflicts of interest in what interest. What I think we
want are not only answers but more transparency in government, and we
expect that from Cassidy. So, you know, we`re hopeful down here. We`re in
a red state. But so far we haven`t gotten a lot of answers and we haven`t
gotten a lot of reassurances that that transparency is going to be
VAN SUSTEREN: Shawan, let me go to you, have you ever been to a town hall
before? I mean, I`m going to ask the same question to you, too, Laura.
Ever been to a town hall and why did you go this time?
BERNARD: I`ve never been to a town hall, but I`ve been to many government
meetings. And I came this time because I`ve gotten involved in politics
recently with the election, before the presidential election. And I`m
inspired that there are a lot more people who are now engaged, and I`m
hoping that that engagement can lead to some turnover when we have the next
election, the midterm election, so I`m just trying to stay involved and
connect with some of the people who are also just beginning to get involved
in the government.
VAN SUSTEREN: OK. Your turn, Laura, is this your first town hall?
KELLY: So this is my first town hall, and I would concur with what she
said. After Hurricane Katrina, one of the lessons we learned here was the
importance of the local politics. We saw great changes in our city council
and how that, you know, as Chip O`Neal said, all politics is local, and
also the role of the federal government in helping Louisiana rebound. This
last election has shown us how important that level of – that
congressional level is in being really important part in the checks and
balances of the overall system, but also in answering our constituents, and
we don`t feel like we`re being heard down here.
VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, both. And let me go back to the panel. Michael,
I can`t hear what they`re chanting now. It`s just sort of wrapped up. But
here are two citizens who came to get – seem very respectful. They`re
there to get answers. They got real problems. You know, this is
SCHERER: It is democracy. And, you know, it`s been increasing in passion
for decades now. Obama won election in 2008 with a movement behind him,
with enormous crowds. He was getting enormous outpouring of support,
people getting involved in politics who hadn`t gotten involved. And almost
from the day he got into office, all that energy went to his opposition
became a Republican counter-Obama movement. Something similar is happening
here with Trump. Trump came into office with far bigger crowds than his
opponent, Hillary Clinton. Far more energy on his side for change, but in
an angry country, the anger comes against whoever`s in power and that`s
what`s happening here.
VAN SUSTEREN: Now we know that we can hear the pledge of allegiance that`s
in Arkansas. Alex, this has now become – Obamacare has now become Trump-
care because he`s the president. And a lot of the discontent isn`t
necessarily because Trump doesn`t have a replacement. They don`t like
Obamacare. There are some people who just don`t like what they got. They
all want medical care but the prices have gone up, there might be less
choices, and they didn`t get to keep that doctor. Now it`s Trump`s
ISENSTADT: That`s right. And now, Donald Trump is starting to realize
just how difficult it is to govern. Governing is a lot different than it
is than campaigning is. And look, one of the things you`re going to see is
how does this impact Trump`s agenda overall? He`s got a lot he wants to do
here. He`s got a repeal and replacement of Obamacare, he`s got immigration
he wants to tackle, he`s got infrastructure he wants to tackle. There`s a
lot going on right now, and we`re going to start to get a better sense,
perhaps next Tuesday, when he appears in that big building behind us in
congress. We`re going to get a sense of what`s really front and center on
VAN SUSTEREN: Francesca, what do you expect next Tuesday?
CHAMBERS: Well, the White House said today that it would be a positive
message. That he wouldn`t actually necessarily be laying out some of those
goals that we`ve seen in previous – this isn`t a state of the union, but
previous state of the union speeches. Instead, he`s focus on the things
he`s already done and explains how those are accomplishments, and that he
would be vaguely focusing on his vision for America. And then he`s going
to take that across country, potentially do some travel to sell that
VAN SUSTEREN: And I think one of the difficulties he`s going to have is
that so far he`s done much with executive orders, as promised, no
surprises. But some of the things he wants to do next costs money. Even
some of the executive orders and he`s got to get the money from Capitol
Hill and they`re not exactly flush with cash. But we`re going to take a
quick break. Breaking tonight, and this could be a very big deal in the
senate, gearing up to subpoena President Trump`s tax records. That`s not
all. General Mike Flynn will be called to testify before congress. Also,
secretary of state Tillerson just touching down in Mexico, he`s there to
talk to Mexican leaders about Trump`s just-released immigration orders.
But Mexico`s lead negotiator just spoke out and, well, it may not be a very
warm welcome for the secretary. And days ahead of Hollywood`s prom, that
would be the Oscars. George Clooney is slamming President Trump and chief
strategist Steve Bannon. We`ll tell you what the actor said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNINDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obviously, there`s been tension, right, between the
Mexico president and President Trump. Is this a cleanup job for the
secretary of state?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No. I think that President Pena
Nieto and President Trump spoke. Again, the foreign ministers had several
contacts with our staff. I would argue that we have a very healthy and
robust relationship with the Mexican government and Mexican officials. And
I think they would echo that same sentiment. I think the relationship with
Mexico is phenomenal right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: White House press secretary Sean Spicer, today. And a visit
that gets under way during this hour, secretary of state Rex Tillerson
touching down just moments ago in Mexico City, and DHS secretary John Kelly
will be joining Secretary Tillerson in Mexico later tonight. And just one
day after the Trump administration issued new guidelines to crack down on
illegal immigration, Reuters is reporting that Mexico`s foreign minister
who`d be meeting with Tillerson and Kelly says Mexico will not accept those
new rules. And some late breaking news from the White House, sources
telling NBC News that the revised travel ban will be released next week
instead of this week as originally promised. NBC`s Kerry Sanders joins us
from Mexico City. Nice to see you, Kerry, tell me what`s going on down
KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS: Well, I would say that here in Mexico, there`s a
very different description of the relationship right now between the
Mexican government and the U.S. government. Very different than from what
Sean Spicer characterized it as – you know, we do have this quote from
Luis who is the secretary – the foreign secretary here. He`s the
counterpart to Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state. And he said to
Reuters, talking about returning people over the border from the United
States into this country who are not Mexican because the orders that have
been released, the memos suggest that among those who will be deported will
be those to the closest contiguous country, which means folks from El
Salvador, from Guatemala, other countries, could be, as they say here,
dumped into Mexico, creating a problem here. As we heard the foreign
secretary Luis Videgaray, saying to Reuters, we will not accept it because
there`s no reason why we should and because it`s not in the interests of
Mexico. So that very much sets up the meeting that will be taking place
tonight, and then a meeting that will continue Tomorrow with the president
here in Mexico. We`re fortunate enough to have with us Larry Ruben who
possibly could become the next ambassador from the United States to Mexico.
You have a leg in both countries. You`re from Cleveland, but you`re also
from Mexico. You understand both cultures. So, first of all, is this
meeting something more than symbolism?
LARRY RUBIN, PRESIDENT U.S. REPUBLICAN PARTY IN MEXICO: Definitely. It`s
a meeting that is very needed here in Mexico City. It sends a powerful
message about the importance that the U.S. government gives to Mexico. And
I really believe, Kerry, that it`s the right time because it`s the time
when Secretary Kelly and Secretary Tillerson can discuss the new released
issues in immigration.
SANDERS: How would you describe the relationship right now between the two
RUBIN: I think it`s different. Different because Mexico is not used to
working but just with politicians, and today in the U.S. government, we
have a businessperson, right. President Trump comes from a business
background. And definitely, Mexico is adjusting but the relationship is –
has been so strong that once this adjustment period gets under way, I think
both governments will be working very well.
SANDERS: So when he was a candidate, he said he was going to build that
wall, and he said Mexico is going to pay for it. Now as president, he says
he`s going to build the wall and there will be a 20 percent import tax, 80
percent of what leave this country, that`s exported, makes its way to the
United States. I`ve spoken to people here in Mexico, they`re offended.
They say they will never pay this. What is your read of where things are
RUBIN: That`s definitely one of the issues that need to be discussed.
There`s several issues that the Mexican government does not agree with
necessarily with the U.S. stance, and.
SANDERS: Is there a middle ground here? Because President Trump was
elected in many ways by people who believed that he could get this done.
RUBIN: Definitely. I think there is a middle ground. I think it needs to
be discussed. We`re not there yet. I really believe that there`s a lot to
be done. And this is one of the first steps that needs to be taken, that
this discussion with Mexican authorities.
SANDERS: OK. Thank you very much for joining us, Larry. There is going
to be a lot of eyes both here in Mexico and in the United States on
tonight`s meeting, and really on the meeting Tomorrow between the secretary
of state and the president here, the president of Mexico, Pena Nieto.
VAN SUSTEREN: Kerry, thank you. Thank you. With me, Jeffrey Davidow,
former ambassador to Mexico, now a senior counselor for the Cohen Group.
Good evening, ambassador. And, ambassador, tell me, do the Mexican people
and the Mexican government have some sort of solution for the American
people who want to have their borders secure? Do they have a solution?
JEFFREY DAVIDOW, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO MEXICO: I don`t know if they have a
solution, Greta. I think they`re perfectly willing to work cooperatively
with the U.S. government. What`s happened, very interesting to me is that,
you know, all of us who studied history in high school know that anti-
Americanism was really the default ideology of Mexico for much of its
history, and starting 25 years ago with NAFTA. That began to change and
has largely dissipated. But in the last months or so, there`s been a lot
of feeling of being offended and attacked. So the visit of Tillerson and
Kelly comes at a good time if we can get this conversation into serious,
VAN SUSTEREN: They may feel attacked, but there are a lot of Americans
that may feel that they have sort of blurred the lines in the border, and
in some ways taken advantage of the largesse and generosity and success of
the American people. And that we have had certain rules in terms of how to
become citizens and that they have been ignored. Is there any sort of at
least understanding that for some American people that it has not been a
level playing field on this issue? And it`s a real problem for a lot of
DAVIDOW: I think they understand that, but let`s put it from their
prospective. They see the guidelines that were issued yesterday which open
the door for what they see as a good deal of hostile treatment to their co-
nationals in this country. They realize that the United States has to obey
and implement its own law, but it should be done with a certain amount of
humanity, and that doesn`t seem to be coming through.
VAN SUSTEREN: And what would they suggest? Because I think therein lies
the problem because President Trump, he ran on the wall and he`s got the –
he says the wall, and if the Mexican people recognize it as a real problem
for a lot of American people, do they have an alternative for the American
people other than the wall that the president wants to build?
DAVIDOW: Well, I don`t think they see that as their particular
responsibility. The dominant ideology in Mexico is by building up the
Mexican economy and NAFTA really helps on this, there are fewer and fewer
Mexicans who want to come into the United States. You know the figures as
well as I do. There are a million and a half less Mexicans in the United
States than there were a few years ago. The net flow of Mexicans coming
into the United States in an undocumented fashion is zero. There are more
Mexicans leaving the U.S. than coming in. Why? Because their economy is
growing stronger and people want to stay home in Mexico.
VAN SUSTEREN: And I think the one thing that we don`t discuss enough,
though, is that so much of the immigration issue are people who come in
through our airports and they overstay their visas. But that`s a whole
other can of worms. So, I`m sure we`re all going to argue about. Anyway,
ambassador, thank you for joining us.
DAVIDOW: Thank you.
VAN SUSTEREN: And we are keeping an eye on that lively town hall, Senator
Tom Cotton is holding in Bentonville, Arkansas. So far, cheers and jeers
and talking immigration and green cards, we are watching this, and stay
with us. We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody from the Democratic side of the fence who
thinks that – who`s terrified of the possibility of President Trump better
vote, better get active, better get involved, because this man has got some
momentum and we better be ready for the fact that he might be leading the
Republican ticket next November.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know you don`t believe that. I want to go on –
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, NBC NEWS HOST FOR THE RECORD: The N.C. Chair candidate
Congressman Keith Ellison back in 2015 saying Democrats better get ready
for Donald Trump`s campaign. And today, President Trump tweeting, “one
thing I will say about representative Keith Ellison in his fight to lead
the DNC is that he was the one who predicted early that I would win!”
Well, the big vote for that powerful position, DNC chair, is this Saturday.
Former labor Secretary Tom Perez is running, and so is the mayor of South
Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg. He is got support from five former chairs
of the DNC including former Governor Ed Rendell, former Governor Howard
Dean, who endorsed the mayor this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pete is a southbound, Indiana, mayor, 36 years old, two
tours of duty in Afghanistan. Most important thing, he is the outside the
beltway candidate. This party is in trouble. Our leadership is old and
creaky including me. We`ve got to have this guy, 36 years old, running
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Mayor Pete Buttigieg joins me from Atlanta, Democrats are gathering for
Saturday`s DNC chair vote, nice to see you mayor.
PETE BUTTIGIEG, MAYOR OF SOUTH BEND INDIANA: Thanks for having me.
VAN SUSTEREN: Mayor, I don`t think that Tom Perez and Keith Ellison are
necessarily old but they`re certainly more inside the Beltway. Tell me
your 30-second pitch, if I had a vote in this, why should I vote for you
over those two?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, the big reason is that the solutions that our party needs
aren`t going to come from Washington. They`re going to come from
communities that are states and territories around the country. If
everybody is saying we ought to reach out to a new generation of voters and
activists, why not put in somebody from a new generation? If everybody is
saying we got to recognize that the presidency is not the only office that
matters, really get back to state and local work, too, why not put in a
mayor who is doing that work every day. And if everybody in the race is
saying that they`re the candidate of a 50-state strategy, why not listen to
the architect of the 50-state strategy, Howard Dean, who is one of five
former DNC chairs, people who actually know how the job is done, who
endorsed my candidacy. Everybody running in race is a good Democrat and
brings a lot to the table. But this is really a test of whether the DNC is
ready to change. I believe I can bring that fresh start, that new
leadership that our party so badly needs.
VAN SUSTEREN: And of course you have got governors to endorse you – I
mean mayors. Former Governor O`Malley was a mayor of Baltimore and Mayor
Landrieu of New Orleans as well. I know you have other ones. All right,
now, since you like the outreach, tell me what you think about the town
halls where the candidates are getting pummeled, at least we show the video
where they`re getting yelled at. What do you think about them?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, look, you got a lot of Republican members of congress who
are going to have to face a choice, are they going to follow an unpopular
and largely unhinged president all the way off the cliff? Or are they
going to think for themselves and show some independence? The best thing
we can do now as Democrats especially since most of those members of
congress aren`t on the ballot until next year, is make sure that we are
holding them accountable now. But when we`re doing it, it`s not about
obstruction and it`s not anger for its own sake. It`s very specifically
about the issues we care about.
VAN SUSTEREN: You say not anger for its own sake, and I always thought one
of the problems that Democrats had in 2016 was some of the anger that the -
- they sort of pushed aside some of the vote that Vice President Biden
identified. But you just referred to the president as unhinged so you got
a little bit of that, yourself.
BUTTIGIEG: Yes. Look, I think any reasonable person is at the very least
concerned about what`s happening in this country, and when you think about
how it`s affecting our daily lives, look, this is personal to me. I was
sent to war. I owe my freedom to marry to the Democratic Party. My
partner`s mother relies for her life on chemotherapy that she is able to
purchase thanks to the affordable care act. If somebody is trying to take
that away, you bet we`re going to be angry. That doesn`t mean we can`t
have the tone of a happy warrior when we do it. And one of the things that
was extraordinary about a lot of these actions that have taken place, like
the women`s march, for example, right after the inauguration, is that, yes,
they were fierce, yes, they drew some moral lines in the sand, but they`re
also the kind of thing you wanted to be part of it. It felt good to be
part of that. That I think is the tone the resistance needs to take going
forward. It`s one of very strong opposition, but opposition that is
organized around the way we support each other.
VAN SUSTEREN: Mayor, thank you, and good luck on Saturday. We`ll be
watching the vote very closely. And I hope you`ll come back.
BUTTIGIEG: Thank you, I hope so, too.
VAN SUSTEREN: Coming up, Tuesday night is the big night. President Trump
is going to Capitol Hill to address a joint session of congress. Will he
surprise them? Will he surprise us? I`ll talk about it with a former
speechwriter for President Bush.
And this falls under uh-oh. This could be a fight. A Republican senator
saying she will go wherever the investigation of Russia`s role in the
election takes her. This might not be what you expect.
VAN SUSTEREN: We are six days away from President Trump`s first speech
before a joint session of congress. And today Axios is reporting officials
swear the speech will be optimistic and uplifting and decidedly more upbeat
than his inaugural address and the key question, what will President Trump
say to the kinds of people protesting at GOP town halls this week? Here is
the scene just moments ago at the Senator Cotton town hall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would like everyone who is affected by the
affordable care act and affected by health care to stand up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Michael Gerson, former chief speechwriter for President
George W. Bush and he is an op-ed columnist for the “Washington Post.” nice
to see you.
MICHAEL GERSON, OP-ED COLUMNIST WASHINGTON POST: Good to be with you.
VAN SUSTEREN: Ok, so what`s the challenge for the president next Tuesday
night about these town halls? Does he address it or not?
GERSON: Yes, I think he should. He should address what`s out there in the
country. But one of his main audiences is going to be the Republicans in
congress. They`re the ones who matter most as far as the audiences are
concerned. He will try to speak over the edge of the media as he normally
does to the American people. I think he needs to provide some leadership
for Republicans which has been lacking policy leadership. This is, after
all, a policy speech, a budget priority speech. And he needs to provide
some of that and has not been willing so far.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, if it`s partly priority in budget, the minute he
mentions that wall, price tag keeps going up. The last price tag I saw was
$20 billion. Even if he used the old one at $14 billion, he is got the
freedom caucus sitting there. They don`t want to spend a dime. Where will
you get the money? He said during the campaign the Mexicans are going to
pay for it, they say they are not.
GERSON: Yes, you know it`s true. I mean he is deferring in many ways on
both health care and his tax plan. He is not bringing his own plan to the
table. And infrastructure is completely off the table now. I mean, he was
going to do a trillion dollars in infrastructure. That is off the table.
So there are real policy gaps. His policy development organization in the
White House is very broken. They are not doing what they need to do to
give the president the policy he needs to go into a major speech like this.
That is the goal.
VAN SUSTEREN: Have you sort of thought in your own mind, how would you
write a speech for a President Trump who tends to go a little bit rogue and
goes off prompter and you got to capture his voice, you got to sort of
keep, you know, keep the – everything in order. Have you thought about
what it could be like?
GERSON: It`s a big problem, because if he sticks to the text and talks, he
is boring, he is actually not good at delivering a text and never has been
in any setting that I`ve seen. But it`s really possible that he will take
the bait of provocations from Democrats and dominate coverage, you know.
Swamp his own coverage of the speech if he says something too vivid. So
the speech could be too boring or could be too interesting on the part of
the White House. You know if he takes the bait.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is this speech important? I mean, it`s not the state –
it`s essentially like a state of the union, but is this speech something
that is just sort of fascinating for those of us who love politics and love
to sort of dissect it or is this speech really important?
GERSON: Well, you have to remember that the four freedom speech setting
out the whole international order that was going to follow World War II was
a State of the Union Address. It is possible to make large statements. In
2003, in our State of the Union Address, there was one little section that
was the most proud of anything I ever helped with, which was on the
president`s emergency plan for aids relief. This was a proposal that
bipartisan support and that kind of innovation in a speech can change the
debate in many ways. The policy innovation is the way the president gets
things done. And I hope that he has some so of that in his speech.
VAN SUSTEREN: I set my watch, lawyers try cases, and do you second guess
when you see speechwriting work for presidents?
GERSON: Yes, you always do. I would not want this job.
VAN SUSTEREN: Oh, come on, it`d be fun. It`s a challenge. Who wants a
challenge, don`t you think?
GERSON: It is. It`s a great challenge, a rhetorical challenge. He needs
to rise to it. I mean, the country needs him to provide leadership. And I
think this is an opportunity, but I`m actually not very encouraged.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, thanks for joining us, I hope you`ll come back, maybe
come back after speech and talk about in then, nice to see you.
Ahead, we have new reporting on President Trump`s plans for taxes, health
care, CNBC`s John Harwood with his very latest.
And today, a potential bombshell on President Trump`s tax returns and the
word subpoena. Hear what the top Republican senator is saying about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here in Springdale. We`re going Medicare my way.
Not your way. My way I`ve got a husband dying and we can`t afford – let
me tell you something, if you can get us better coverage than this, go for
it. Let me tell you what we have, plus a lot of benefits that we need. We
have $29 per month for my husband. Can you beat that? Can you? With all
the congestive heart failures, open heart surgeries, we`re trying, $29 per
month. And he is a hard worker and now, $39 for me. Here`s my question.
I have sent you one message after the other, sir, about our family. And
you know where we live? I don`t live freeways, an hour from here. I don`t
live two hours from here. I live just down the road a few places from your
office. And I have invited you into our home. And not a word except a
classic regular letter sent. Now, here`s my question. Yes or no. Will
you come to my family`s home? I promise you it will be safe. Sit down
with the three of us and hear our stories from 1991 till now.
TOM COTTON, ARKANSAS SENATOR: So – so, ma`am, I`ll be happy to meet with
you and hear more about your story. We`ve got – we`ve got staff here.
Ma`am, we have – we`ll make a decision about where we meet, but I`m happy
to meet with you. Okay. We`ve got questions up here in the balcony. We
haven`t gone there yet.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you. Can you hear me? Ok.
COTTON: I hear you loud and clear.
VALERIE HARRIS, TEACHER IN ARKANSAS: My name is Valerie Harris. I`m from
Prairie Grove, Arkansas. I want to say I`m a teacher, first of all. Ok.
I work in a residential facility in Fayetteville and I work with special
needs kids. I want to say this. I work three jobs, actually. And the
reason I have to work two more jobs is because my health insurance at my
first place of employment doubled in the last three years. I`d like to say
that there are other stories and there are a lot of people in Arkansas that
do support Senator Cotton. And there are many people like myself, a single
mom, ok, single mom, who pays taxes. My family came here many, many years
ago from Italy, legally. Ok? And, thank you. My question is this.
My son – I have four children, three that went to the University of
Arkansas. My son is graduating. And he will be commissioned in the U.S.
Air force in May. My son has written a letter and given it to your staff
over here, because his detachment is requesting that Senator Cotton come
and speak and be a distinguished guest at the commissioning ceremony. My
question, number one, I`d like to thank you for your service to this
country. And I would like to tell you there are many people, the majority
of people in Arkansas that support you. And I`m asking that you read his
letter and his contact information is there. Thank you, Senator Cotton.
COTTON: Well, thank you. Thank you very much for your son – thank you
very much for your son`s service. We all appreciate and honor it and we`ll
do everything to make sure he has the very best equipment and training and
leadership that he can get. Let me go right here, ma`am, in the scarf.
Yes, ma`am? And I would love to speak if we can make it fit in the
schedule. Thank you for passing along the information.
MARY STORY, PROTESTER FROM FAYETTEVILLE: Thank you, Senator Cotton, for
being here today. First of all, I`m Mary Story from Fayetteville.
COTTON: Hi, Mary.
STORY: And I`m not a paid protester.
COTTON: Mary, can I address that point that you just made?
COTTON: I don`t care if anybody here is paid or not, you`re all Arkansans
and I`m glad to hear from you. So I know –
All right, I know there`s been some talk about that in the media, some
politicians have said that. I just want to say, thank you to everyone for
coming out tonight. Whether you agree with me or disagree with me. This
is part of what our country is all about.
COTTON: Ok. Let`s let Mary Story finish. Sorry to interrupt.
STORY: All right. I`m here, like all the people who came with me tonight,
as a concerned citizen and we are concerned, because it appears that this
administration is trampling our constitutional rights.
I`m a lifelong Arkansan. Five of my ancestors fought in the revolutionary
One of my ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence.
And my 94-year-old father, who lives in Batesville, was awarded seven
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Wow that is the scene at the Senator Cotton town hall in
Arkansas. Obamacare is a key challenge for President Trump, and we`re
hearing tonight there may be a change in those plans. CNBC`s Chief
Washington Correspondent John Harwood joins our panel, Francesca, Alex, and
Michael. John, what`s the story on the long-awaited health care?
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the story that
the new HHS secretary, Tom Price, the one who President Trump had said as
soon as he gets confirmed, we`re going to release our plan, has told house
Republicans the administration will not be sending a plan to the hill.
Instead, they`re going to work with house Republicans on their plan.
Republicans expect the same thing on taxes. So even though the president
said on February 9th, in two or three weeks we`re going to put out
something phenomenal on taxes, they say he is not going to do it and he is
going to work with them and adapt to their plans. The only fallout from
that is may make it harder to reach agreement with the senate and put some
house members at risk of being undercut if the White House turns against
some of the controversial elements.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is this agreeable to Speaker Paul Ryan, he will take the
full responsibility and not the White House?
HARWOOD: I think he likes having his hands on the steering wheel.
VAN SUSTEREN: John, thank you. All right, back to the panel. Wow,
listening to the town hall, Francesca, you have both sides of the aisle,
you got, you know, the woman who has a husband dying then you got the other
woman who says she is got Obamacare and health insurance is twice what it
was in the last three years and she has three jobs. And the interesting
thing is, I think Senator Cotton, you know, he is a freshman senator. You
can`t lay all this on him. He hasn`t created years of this problem, so
FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, DAILY MAIL: I think that it was good that he mentioned
that he doesn`t really care whether the people there are being paid or not.
He mentioned some politicians –
VAN SUSTEREN: In -
CHAMBERS: He is speaking about the president saying –
VAN SUSTEREN: Exactly.
CHAMBERS: Exactly, the president and then the White House suggested today
that those people might be paid, because they`re professional protesters.
And so I think it was good that he addressed that and said, look, I don`t
care why you`re here, but I want to hear what you have to say.
VAN SUSTEREN: Alex?
ALEX ISENSTADT, POLITICO: What is interesting these Republicans are
actually choosing to have these town halls at all because there`s some
political risk in them going out there and taking heat this way in a way
that is very public? It`s going to be interesting to see if they adapt
their tactics going forward. Do we still see these kinds of public events
or do they scale back a little bit and do tele-town halls or find some
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Michael listen to these two people, these are
citizens with real problems on both sides of the aisle. I tip my hat to a
politician who will stand up there and listen and, you know, it`s not easy
for the politicians to sit and listen to that.
MICHAEL SCHERER, TIME`S WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: And it`s wonderful to
witness democracy happening like this, even national democracy happening in
town halls around the country. You know, the issue with Obamacare, it`s
never really just been about Obamacare, it is not just about people in the
individual marketplace or getting subsidies, it is about everyone in
country is upset about how much they`re paying for health care, upset about
increases in health care costs. Republicans are now dealing with the
burden they had laid on Obama for seven years that the bill had been there.
You know, some of these people may not be complaining about Obamacare
specifically, they`re just complaining about the cost of health care. And
Republicans now own that. President Trump owns that.
VAN SUSTEREN: John, is there a remedy in sight? Is there a plan in sight?
HARWOOD: Well, what house Republicans say is that they are by Easter going
to have passed a repeal plan and replacement will be expanded health
savings accounts, tax credits for the purchase of insurance.
VAN SUSTEREN: You have to have some money to do that, don`t you? I mean
those health savings accounts. Don`t you have to have extra change?
HARWOOD: Yes, but they`re going to take some of that money from what`s
being spent now on Obamacare. They`re also going to change Medicaid and
the way they`re going to change Medicaid is to cut it. So they`re going to
shift to a per capita system and that will free up some money as well.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it`s indeed – it`s like within you listen to these
stories, if you`ve been in the hospital, walk through the lobby, and see
all these people suffering. These aren`t political problems. These are
real problems for the American people.
HARWOOD: And they are likely to be more of them under the Republican
replacement, because there are going to be fewer people covered.
VAN SUSTEREN: Indeed. Thank you for watching. See you back here tomorrow
night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, if you can`t watch live, set your DVR and
follow me on twitter @Greta. Check out my Facebook page for behind the
scenes videos and more. “Hardball” with Chris Matthews starts right now.
See you tomorrow night, 6:00 p.m. Eastern right here.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY