Show: MTP DAILY Date: April 7, 2017 Guest: Richard Engel, Bill Neely, Chris Jansing, Robert Ford, Joni Ernst, Amy Walter, Michael Warren, Shane Harris CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Yes, it`s Friday.
It`s time of the year for four questions and we`ve got four big ones after the Syria strike.
Tonight, the end game. What President Trump`s first major international test tells us about U.S. policy in Syria going forward.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: This strike was well planned, well executed. It was certainly more than a be pin prick.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We are prepared to do more.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: We`ve the strike on Syria covered from all the angles.
Plus, the North Korea threat. What the strike in Syria could tell China about how the United States might deal with North Korea.
And shaking out the shake-up talk. Are we about to see yet another shake- up in less than 100 days in the Trump White House?
This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now. Good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in Washington and welcome to Friday`s MTP DAILY.
Right now, everyone is trying to decode the president`s military action in Syria. What exactly do last night`s strikes mean? Are we looking at mission creep or mission accomplished? What`s his goal? And the blood shed? Remove Assad? Rattle some sabers?
What`s Mr. Trump`s message to the world? Was this a warning to Syria`s ally, Russia? Was it a warning to North Korea`s ally, China? It happened with Chinese`s President Xi actually staying at Mar-a-Lago.
And what`s president`s message to his base and the public here at home? How does he sell it? How does he navigate the political cross currents? That one question, the one closest to home, may be the most difficult one to answer.
It comes as our ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, says the administration is prepared for escalation. But also, it comes as officials inside the U.S. Intelligence Committee and the United Nations are warning that Assad may have retained a stockpile of nerve agents or reconstituted the ability to make them.
And here at home, the political landscape has been scrambled. Folks, forget everything you thought you knew about the political lines in this country, because after last night`s strikes, none of them make any sense.
First off, President Trump is acting like Hillary Clinton. It almost appeared last night that he was following her advice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I really believe that we should have and still should take out his air fields and prevent him from being able to use them will to bomb innocent people drop sarin gas on them.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air field in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: But it`s not just Trump and Clinton. The top Republican in the House, Paul Ryan, is in agreement the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer. They both support the strike. Republican Rand Paul opposed the strike. Democratic Tim Kaine supported it but they both agree that it -- they believe it was not legal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: It was illegal for President Obama to bomb Libya. It`s also illegal for President Trump to bomb Syria.
SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Doing this without consulting Congress with a vote I think is a clear violation of law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: There are some hard-right Republicans like Congressman Thomas Massey who think it was a big mistake. He might find some allies among progressive Democrats. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, for instance, is warning of nuclear war.
Then, there are the diehard Trump supporters who have turned into diehard Trump opponents, at least on this issue. Some of them may be frustrated because they were told, during the campaign that Syria was not our fight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, THEN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The people that we`re backing, a lot of people think they`re ISIS. That we`re actually backing ISIS. So, what are we doing? We have to get rid of ISIS first. Assad we can think about later on.
Hillary and our failed Washington establishment have spent $6 trillion on wars in the Middle East that we never won and that never end. Now she wants to start a shooting war in Syria in conflict with a nuclear armed Russia that could very well lead to World War II.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: That was days before the election. That was only less than six months ago. Folks, we are in uncharted territory here. Some of the are clamoring for escalations. Others demand we stay away.
So, what is the president going to do? And will Congress or the public let him do it?
Let`s get right to the field and get some updates on things. Richard Engel our Chief Foreign Correspondent. He`s in Turkey, which, of course, is just miles from the Syrian border.
So, Richard, I know we have a satellite delay so let me get my hellos and question in right here which is this. What is -- right now, we`ve heard rhetorical responses from Assad, rhetorical responses from the Russians. But is there going to be more than a rhetorical response to what the United States did last night?
RICHARD ENGEL, CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: At this stage, it does not seem like there will be. U.S. military officials say that on the ground, they`re not seeing any signs of an escalation, no signs of a military response.
[17:05:07] We`ve heard, from both Russia and the Assad regime. They`ve obviously both condemned what happened in Syria. That`s not surprising. But their responses have been fairly muted. The Assad regime calling this strike irresponsible, foolish, politically motivated. None of those particularly sharp comments, no direct threats there.
And Moscow calling it illegal, saying it was an attack on a sovereign nation. And that when the U.S. goes it alone, particularly in the Middle East, bad consequences have happened.
The only actions we`ve seen from the Russians are talk of increasing air defenses in Syria which is the Russians` way of saying, effectively, don`t try and do this again. We will make it more difficult to do this again. But -- and also, suspending a hotline that has been used to deconflict Russian and U.S. aircraft over Syria.
But, at this stage, unless things change, it seems like the Trump administration got away with this one without having a major escalation of the conflict.
TODD: And, very quickly, Richard, was this effective militarily?
ENGEL: Effective militarily to send a message. To send a message to Assad and potentially to send a message to China, North Korea, a message about U.S. credibility. That President Trump won`t hesitate to use the military. Won`t hesitate to use the military when he feels it`s necessary and won`t have to go around the world seeking consensus.
But not effective to significantly weaken the Assad regime, change the balance of power. But it doesn`t seem like that was the goal.
TODD: All right, Richard Engel in Turkey for us, just miles from the Syrian border. Richard, thanks very much.
Now, let`s to go Moscow where we have our global correspondent Bill Neely on the ground. Bill, what do you got?
BILL NEELY, GLOBAL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Yes, good evening, Chuck. There`s certainly no sense that Russia wants to take this beyond statements of condemnation, beyond angry words at the United Nations. And certainly no sense that Russia wants to retaliate militarily.
Yes, there is a Russian warship heading from the Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean. But U.S. officials at the Pentagon already saying that that warship has operated near U.S. ships in the past. They certainly don`t see it as any kind of threat. I mean, I think it`s significant, for example, that President Putin, while making a statement today, hasn`t appeared on camera. There is a sense here that this dispute is being contained.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, is saying basically there`s no reason for this to do irreparable harm. And next week, the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, will be here and he will sit down with Sergei Lavrov.
Of course, behind all this, are the continued hopes, certainly here, that there can be some kind new relationship between the U.S. and Russia. Now, you may say that these air strikes put that back a notch or two. But that`s not really the sense here.
There is a worry that President Trump, in the words of Dmitri Medvedev, the Prime Minister, is kind of being sucked back into the swamp of the Washington establishment, as he put it today. But I think there is still hope that there can be some meeting of minds.
So, I think that, yes, limited air strikes today, limited condemnation from Russia and a dispute, really, I think, Chuck, that is being contained.
TODD: Bill Neely in Moscow for us. Bill, thanks very much.
Now, let me to go Chris Jansing. She`s on the beat right now in Palm Beach at Mar-a-Lago with the president which, of course, he is there in the midst of the summit with the Chinese president.
But, today, Chris, I assume they were ready at least with an answer of, OK, is this the start of a campaign or is this simply a message to be sent and we`ll deal with what the policy is going forward in the future?
CHRIS JANSING, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: a little bit of conflicting response to that, Chuck. I mean, at one -- at one party you have, you know, Nikki Haley and you`ve played that. And she`s said that we`re prepared to do more.
On the other hand, you have Rex Tillerson saying, don`t extrapolate anything. This isn`t a change in policy. And, of course, this has been a president who didn`t want to get involved in messy affairs overseas.
Here`s what we do know, Chuck, and we just learned this this afternoon. Steve Mnuchin saying that the Treasury Department is prepared for sanctions. He said they`re going to be serious. They`re going to be targeted. Maximum affect meant to send a message to Syria.
And we also heard from Rex Tillerson who called what happened last night a great success. But to that pointed question of whether or not this was a one off wasn`t a good entry. He said it`s going to be decided by how we see their reaction.
[17:10:05] Now, of course, this is very complicated. And you could say that this is easy part. The hard part is you have Russian troops mixing with Syrian troops. You have Americans on the ground so that next phase, the possible military phase, is really the difficult question which, Chuck, they have not clearly answered nor clearly articulated and gained here.
TODD: Yes, OK. Chris Jansing in Palm Beach for us. Chris, thanks very much.
I`m joined now by Robert Ford, who was the last U.S. ambassador to serve in Syria. He served in the Obama administration. Ambassador Ford, welcome, sir.
So, let me start with this question. The strike last night, can it -- was -- is that an effective deterrent on Assad from using chemical weapons again?
ROBERT FORD, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR IN SYRIA: I think it was -- 59 missiles is a lot of missiles. And I think they probably did some pretty serious damage to that one air base. But the Syrian air force is not destroyed. My guess is that Bashar Al Assad will stand down for a time. Will stop using chemical weapons for a time.
And after the passage of time, maybe months, two months, three months, he`ll start testing the American resolve again with small scale chemical weapons deployments here and there. Not as big as we saw on Tuesday but just testing the American reaction.
TODD: Well, it`s -- that would be -- that`s exactly what he did, I feel like, in 2013. You had --
TODD: -- little test, little test. You saw rhetorical escalation from President Obama. Then, he got to the red line comment. Then, we got to the point where it looked like there would be strikes and then he backed off.
TODD: What would your recommendation be now if President Trump called you up -- General McMaster called you up, the National Security Adviser, and said, Ambassador Ford, this is your turf. You know it well. What`s the next best step? What would be your recommendation?
FORD: Well, I think a very limited strike solely intended to reestablish deterrence against chemical weapons use, that`s smart. But it only works if you maintain the deterrent.
So, if he begins testing again, we have to stand ready to do another strike. I`m hoping that Secretary Tillerson, when he goes to Moscow next week, will have a somewhat stronger hand now.
And that the Russians will deliver the message from Tillerson, that if Assad stands down, the Trump administration will stand down. But that chemical weapons really are a red line.
TODD: It`s interesting you say stand down. But do you get the sense that the message from the United States could be, look, we`re not going to get involved in the -- in the civil war. But any time they commit a foul, we might get involved. Is that the message you think Tillerson should send or will be sending?
FORD: I think that`s the message he should send and I think that`s the message he will send. It makes no sense to intervene heavily in the Syrian civil war if we don`t have a very detailed plan for both the politics as well as the reconstruction of the country. We decapitated a government in Iraq in 2003, 2004. And that didn`t work very well so let`s not make that mistake again.
If they really want to get involved in the Syrian civil war, they`re going to have to marshal a lot of resources and do a lot of planning. And I have no sentence that Trump administration wants to go down that path.
TODD: Is -- look, you hear from some hawks, both Democrats and Republicans on the hawkish side of things, who believe there should be more arming of those that are resisting Assad. If you can identify them and make sure they`re not part of the ISIS and things like that. Is that still a feasible strategy anymore or is that too hard to make happen?
FORD: I think the window for that to work effectively passed when Russia intervened in a big way in 2015. They really changed the balance of power. And the opposition remains very divided. It`s a problem.
I don`t have an easy prescription for the way out of Syria. And I think anyone who says one thing or two things will fix it doesn`t know what they`re talking about.
TODD: All right. Ambassador Ford, I know you`ve got to get going. I will let you go. But there`s a reason, I think, President Obama used to be quoted as saying, all the Syrian options are a lot of -- and he would have a four-letter word before the word options. I think we know why.
Ambassador thanks very much.
FORD: Yes, thank you.
TODD: Joining me now is Iowa Republican Joni Ernst. She sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and is a Middle East combat veteran herself. Senator Ernst, welcome back to the show.
SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA, SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Oh, great to be with you. Thank you.
TODD: And I know you`re battling some cold wind there. But let me start with a basic question here.
[17:15:01] TODD: You said you support the actions taken. Why and do you want to see more action?
ERNST: Well, I know I -- the second question first. I don`t want to see more action unless it is warranted. This was a one-on-one response. A strike, a very strategic surgical strike against assets that were used in the chemical weapons attack against Syrian civilians. So, do I agree with the actions.
I do agree with them because we have seen those human atrocities that are out there. We have seen the use of chemical weapons, which we believe is against international law. And we also think that there is a threat.
If chemical weapons exist in Syria, knowing how ISIS is spreading throughout that country, it could fall into not the just the Syrian regime`s hands but also into terrorists` hands, including ISIS. And be used against not only our allies but against, perhaps, American civilians.
TODD: You were very clear, just now, that you supported this specific operation. And it sounds like anything more, you believe, the president has to come to Congress. Why is this legal in the first place? I`ve been reading -- you read the Warner Powers Act very closely. It is not clear that the strike was legal, as far as Congress is concerned.
ERNST: Well, I do believe it was under Article Two of the Constitution. Giving the powers to the commander-in-chief to strike overseas when he sees the need to defend against national security. And as I`ve weighed out, there are atrocities happening overseas right now that could impact the United States national security.
However, going forward, I do believe that we need that notification coming to Congress. And if he wishes to do anything further, he does need to bring that specific plan with his reasoning to Congress before we move forward.
TODD: All right, let me ask you this. Do you want him to do more?
ERNST: At this time, I think his action was appropriate. We are still engaging in a fight against ISIS. I think that is the focus that we need to have right now, as the United States. Should anything further happen, if we continue to see the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction, then I do think that we need to go back to the drawing board and have those very, very hard discussions.
But for right now, I think the one-on-one action by the president was appropriate.
TODD: You had said that one of the reasonings that you believe that makes this legal, the threat of chemical weapons could get in the hands of ISIS. Well, is that the compelling reason then to go further here? That, obviously, the Russians violated or either didn`t get all the chemical weapons or Assad still making them and he`s violating the treaty.
Is this a compelling reason then to switch the focus here to Assad, if the concern is chemical weapons are going to get into the hands of ISIS?
ERNST: Well, I think the compelling reason right there is to go to the U.N. Security Council and make sure that they are injecting themselves into this situation. We have Ambassador Haley that`s working very hard on this. I think it`s up to that international community, not just the unilateral action by the United States.
But I do think the U.N. Security Council needs to take a look at this and decide that they are going to go in, start inspections, and make sure that those chemical weapons, if more exist, that they are disposed of properly and out of Assad`s hands.
TODD: What are you -- you`re going to be going home here and from constituents. And you may have some folks that say, Senator, you know, I voted for you. I voted for President Trump. But one of the things I liked hearing him say is, you know what? We can`t get overly involved in the Middle East.
What do you say to that constituent that says, I understand the moral reason to do it but are we getting involved in something we`re going to wish we didn`t get involved in? What are you going to say to that constituent?
ERNST: And what I would say to that constituent is that the president has done a just one-on-one strike against this specific target in response to a specific action. We have not engaged in military actions, as far as sending in troops, additional troops to depose the regime. So, that`s not happening.
What we`re seeing is a direct attack in response to an atrocious, atrocious act by Bashar Al Assad. So, I would reassure them that if the president does wish to engage, we would encourage him to come to the United States Congress and have those very difficult decisions.
TODD: Senator Joni Ernst, Republican from Iowa.
ERNST: Yes, thanks.
TODD: Enjoy the recess.
ERNST: Thanks, Chuck.
TODD: You got it.
ERNST: Thank you very much.
TODD: Coming up, so how will the president sell the Syria strikes to his base and the rest of the country? And later, another day, another round of stories about divisions inside the west wing.
[17:20:08] Stay tuned.
TODD: Yes, it`s Sunday, of course, it`s "MEET THE PRESS." I`ll have interviews with Senator Lindsey Graham and Bernie Sanders. I`ll also talk to Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. When you think about it, we`re going to have all angles of this debate covered. Hawks, doves and those who in the middle.
I`ll be back in 60 seconds.
TODD: Welcome back.
Lots of political and legal questions surrounding President Trump`s decision to launch air strikes on a Syrian air field last night.
Let`s bring in our panel. Amy Walter, National Editor of "The Cook Political Report;" Michael Warren, Senior Writer at "The Weekly Standard;" and Shayne Harris, Senior Writer at "The Wall Street Journal."
Amy, I want to start with the legal question first because I think it is not cut and dry here at all. And, in fact, the closer you read -- and, in fact, I think the administration could make better legal arguments. They`re not making them yet. How much of an issue could this be?
AMY WALTER, NATIONAL EDITOR, "THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT": It was certainly an issue, even in the Obama years. And it was -- wasn`t it the president, himself, who was using the legal issue as the reason -- as one of the reasons to bring a vote in 2013 for authorized use of military force.
But I think it keeps coming back to Congress`s role in all of this and that they need to play a role in this. They`ve done a brilliant job of deflecting this onto the president, onto other folks not taking the responsibility themselves for making what is going to be a very, very difficult vote.
TODD: Well, what`s interesting here, Michael, when this happened. The leadership in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, did not want to vote on any of this.
MICHAEL WARREN, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes.
TODD: They didn`t want to vote on Libya. They didn`t want to vote on Syria the first time and they certainly don`t want to do it this time. But there are plenty in the rank and file who do.
[17:25:00] Because they sit there and say, if you don`t assert Congressional authority now, then you`ve essentially expanded the president`s powers by doing nothing.
TODD: Do you buy that argument?
WARREN: Yes, maybe. I don`t know. I mean, look, this is -- this is something -- going back to the White House for a second. The White House is, sort of, using this argument that the same authorization that authorized President Obama to go after Gadhafi in Libya in 2011 is the same justification for now.
And that`s kind of interesting, right? This has this interesting dynamic with his Republican conference --
WARREN: -- in Congress. A large chunk of them opposed to that operation. And so, I`m kind of curious to see where Republicans sort of in the middle of that debate that you`ve just described between leadership and rank and file, where do they go? Do they support President Trump if he continues to go down this way? Or do they, sort of, stick to some kind of principle?
TODD: And, Shane, how much of this is really predicated on what more does the Trump administration want to do and argue for doing?
SHANE HARRIS, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Oh, absolutely. I mean, so, you actually -- now, you`ve set a red line.
HARRIS: The question is what`s the new red line? So, is it conventional weapons? What about those? Assad has used those to kill hundreds of thousands of people. We have a humanitarian crisis in Syria, unlike anything we`ve seen in the past half century.
So, is it just going to be when chemical attacks happen we`re going to go there? He hasn`t come out and really explained that yet.
And on the legal front, you saw him kind of inching towards that a little bit last night by saying, well, it`s in the defense of the national interests. That`s a pretty thin read to be walking out on but it might actually work.
TODD: Well, it was interesting, there was a great piece, I think it was in "The Washington Post" today that was written. And it noted, you know, President Reagan went out of his way to say, there are Americans in Grenada. You know, and that`s why we did Grenada. And President Bush when he went into Panama.
There are American that are potentially in -- there aren`t Americans in Syria that Trump is protecting. This loose national interest though. But if that`s the case, then him having any chemical weapons, you could say then is a justification even more.
WALTER: Right. Well, that`s -- isn`t that essentially what the president said --
TODD: I think that --
WALTER: -- last night? That`s the justification is the chemical weapons.
TODD: That`s what he was implying.
WALTER: Yes. So, that --
TODD: But it`s not just using them. Having them.
WALTER: That`s right.
TODD: Because fear of them getting to ISIS.
WARREN: No, I think there`s also a geopolitical element to this as well. I know, from my reporting with the White House, that the -- after the attack, even on back channels, private back channels, Russia officials were still saying, look, maybe this wasn`t really Assad. Maybe this had to do with the Al Nusra front. And they were --
TODD: They were trying -- they were trying to sell that, huh?
WARREN: Right, exactly. And that annoyed the administration. So, there`s a bit of geopolitics at play here which you could argue is in the national interest, too, to save face. Look, the United States can`t be made fools by another major world power which is backing, of course, Assad and Syria.
TODD: What about the political fallout for the president? I mean, this wasn`t just an aside when he said he wasn`t interested in military interventions in the Middle East. This was -- he was willing to take criticism to say, yes, the Middle East was more stable when Saddam Hussein Gaddafi and -- were around and Assad was stronger.
HARRIS: Yes, it`s a complete diametric shift from where he was 72 hours ago. And one question I`m fascinated by is what was the trigger? I mean, was it simply the photographs of those children, which are morally outrageous, but was that all it took to get him to completely shift position and take all of the political fallout, all the scrambling that we talked about earlier in the top of the show.
Is that -- will he act impulsively in the future on these kinds of issues? It`s a fascinating insight to watch how quickly he can move and how he can move unilaterally. He spent no time whatsoever trying get hold any kind of international consensus or coalition. It was, let`s go. Let`s do it.
WALTER: But when he -- but he also campaigned as being the unpredictable candidate. And he is not going to warn our enemies about what we`re doing at any point in time. So, that would actually fit right in. And this is about being muscular, being strong, be -- showing the world, right?
This is also a president who wants to build up the military but we`re not going to use it except for as a deterrent. But here`s another the opportunity to show, when you mess with, in this case, it`s not -- it`s not us. But you mess with world standards, moral standards, we`re going to stand up for this one time.
But we can`t say that there is a change in America first policy if there`s no back-up to this. That it is a -- that they -- literally a one off. And we don`t have another military answer.
TODD: I guess, Michael, the question is, does he raise expectations, right? President Obama raised expectations with the -- with the resistance in Syria. And it wasn`t just him. I mean, you -- he had a coalition ready to go. And then, all of a sudden, is this going to raise expectations?
WARREN: No. I think, actually, the administration is trying to lower expectations.
TODD: Sure are.
WARREN: We`ve heard this from Rex Tillerson last night saying, look, this doesn`t reflect, and don`t extrapolate from this, a change in policy.
I think Obama campaigned against Syria. It does effectively change our Syrian policy. The question is, where do we go from here? And there`s a lot of debate, I think, within the administration among, sort of, broadly Republican foreign policy types about what do you do here? Because it`s not so simple as just getting rid of Assad.
It`s -- there are so many different groups within that region in Syria with different motivations. And it is a much messier situation than two, three, four years ago.
[17:30:00] TODD: There is no good option.
TODD: I mean, there is a reason why there`s been paralysis in the American foreign policy on this.
Anyway, you guys are sticking around. Still ahead, was this serious strike a message to China as much as it was to Russia and Syria? Stay tuned.
TODD: Coming up on "MTP Daily," decoding the message President Trump is sending to the world following last night`s strike in Syria. But first, it jobs Friday, not the greatest report. Here`s CNBC`s Deirdre Bosa with the details.
DEIRDRE BOSA, TECHNOLOGY REPORTER FOR CNBC: Thanks, Chuck. Despite that though, stocks stayed steady. And also despite the Syria strike, The Dow down by 6 points, the S&P and the Nasdaq both off by 1 point. Job gains slowed down last month with employers adding 98,000 jobs. The good news, unemployment fell short at ten-year low of 4.5 percent. Meanwhile, Ford continues to capitalize on China`s interest in pickup trucks. The company will start selling its ranger pickup truck in China next year. That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.
TODD: Welcome back to "MTP Daily." As we said, one of the big questions in the aftermath of the strike against Syria is what message President Trump is hoping to send to the rest of the world? The president ordered the strike while hosting Chinese President Xi. How much was this strike a message to China about America`s willingness to act unilaterally when necessary oh, say about a country called North Korea.
Joining me now is former ambassador, Chris Hill. He was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and South Korea. He knows the Korea region very well. Ambassador, always good to see you, sir.
CHRIS HILL, DIPLOMAT WHO SERVED AS THE U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ AND SOUTH KOREA: Pleasure.
TODD: So, you`re President Xi, you`re in Mar-a-Lago, you`re there for the opening dinner, and within three hours the president of the United States announces a strike against Syria. What message do you think President Xi took away from that decision last night?
HILL: You know, I think the Chinese are pretty good at analyzing these things. I think they have a good sense of it. And I think they understood what it means to use chemical weapons and why the U.S. felt it needed to react, especially given the fact that the previous administration reacted so differently.
So I think they will compartmentalize that in Syria. But on the other hand, I think it does say something to them about the person they`re dealing with that is President Trump and his willingness in this case for the first time to use force.
So I think they`re now aware, I should say, better aware of how the president might react to issues. And I think overall, if the president wants to, quote, go it alone on North Korea, and I haven`t heard too many people say that`s a good idea, I think the Chinese would want to take notice.
TODD: I am curious. It felt like as the week began, when North Korea did another missile test, I got to think that is about the last thing President Xi wanted in the days, in the run-up to a summit with the American president, who wants to put North Korea essentially at the top of that bilateral agenda. How much extra leverage does President Trump have in this summit on North Korea right now?
HILL: There`s no question. The Chinese are fed up. They`re sick of this North Korean regime. They`ve never even invited Kim Jong-un to Beijing and I don`t think an invitation is forthcoming. I think frankly they`re kind of at rope`s end. So I`m sure it kind of does help President Trump to say we got to do something about this guy because clearly, he is out of control.
And so the Chinese might say well, as you can see, we can`t seem to control him. And I think the real locus of conversation should be okay, what can we both do? Can`t you do more in the sanctions? And the Chinese would probably acknowledge they can. The trouble with the sanctions though is the nuclear weapons are being developed faster than any effective sanctions could be felt.
TODD: So, our own investigative team has a story that is just out in the last hour. And it is, our reporting indicates according to some intelligence officials that President Trump is going to be presented with two options to respond to North Korea. And among them include, placing American nuclear weapons back in South Korea. It is something that was there 20, and we removed them 25 years ago. That appears to be among the recommendations he is getting. What do you make of that idea and would it serve as a deterrent to North Korea?
HILL: First of all, I don`t think it is a deterrent to North Korea. I think North Korea understands that if we want to somehow go after them with nuclear weapons. And by the way, we don`t say that. We talk about overwhelming response. We usually don`t say nuclear weapons. But we could do that from any platform in the world. I think it would be kind of harmful, to put it mildly, to the South Korean public. After all, their president has just been impeached and she`s awaiting criminal prosecution or criminal trial.
The expectation is a kind of left of center party will take over in South Korea. Traditionally left of center parties have been ones to give a little more slack to the North Koreans and traditionally they tend to be a little more critical of the Americans. I don`t think this is gonna help our relationship with South Korea and that is critical because there`s nothing we can do on North Korea without the support or the acquiescence of our ally in South Korea.
TODD: But there is frustration it seems with the South Korean public with North Korea and there has been more support. I mean, the reason the impeached president, one of the reasons she got elected is she talked tougher on North Korea and it was more than her opponent.
HILL: That`s true. That`s true. Certainly, the left of center party, I don`t want to say they`re way out there on the left, but the left of center party has been a little less supportive of dialogue, and the sorts of things that they usually are supportive of with respect to North Korea. So you`re absolutely right.
But I think putting nuclear weapons back into South Korea would not be welcomed by the public there. I think they want to see America engage. They like it when we get visits from Secretary of Defense Mattis, from Secretary of State Tillerson. But I don`t think they would see that putting nuclear weapons back on their soil would be a step forward.
TODD: And apparently one of the other options out there is finding some way to remove Kim Jong-un. Obviously we don`t have a policy, any official policy in this country. It is illegal to target and assassinate another leader. But is that a functional a lie -- is that a functional option?
HILL: Well, you know, I think most people if they woke up and heard he was gone would consider that a pretty good day. I`m not sure that`s on the list of really feasible options. I think things like what can we do to retard the program? Through cyber attacks or something else. Those are things that I think we need to look at very carefully. And more importantly, as importantly, I should say, is an effort to talk to the Chinese to say, look, this problem is not going away.
We can`t talk about measures that we`ve tried before and have failed. We need to really press this. Because once they deliver or once they have a deliverable weapon, there is going to be a great deal of difficulty in dealing with him. So I think we really need get the Chinese attention including by saying everything is on the table. Even though that everything we have on the table isn`t such a great option.
TODD: That`s all the time I have here. But hey, if you love this conversation, we spent a good 30 minutes going deep on the Korea conversation on the "Meet the Press Podcast 1947." Get that wherever you get your podcast. Ambassador Hill, thank you, sir.
HILL: Thank you.
TODD: Up next, why I`m obsessed with a governing record that keeps getting longer. Stay tuned.
TODD: Welcome back. Tonight I`m obsessed with the longest serving governor in American history who tonight is still serving, even though he is supposed to have a new job and actually should be in Palm Beach right now. I`m talking about Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. He has been governor on and off for more than 22 years. But he is prepared to give it up and move out of the state and out of the country to become the next U.S. ambassador to China.
In fact, the Trump transition announced his nomination way back in December. Formally submitted it on day one. Even though president of China, who is an old personal friend of Governor Branstad, why he was nominated, is meeting with President Trump today in Florida, Branstad is still in Des Moines. What`s the hold-up?
Well, the governor`s office tells us he`s been in Washington to meet with the State Department and the members of congress, and that he has submitted all the required paperwork. But no hearing date has been set by the Republican-controlled Senate Formulation Committee. By the way, they tell us a hearing should be scheduled for early May, six months after his initial public nomination.
And word inside the administration is that they do expect a hearing soon. So for now, the longest serving governor`s record keeps getting longer. And Iowa`s lieutenant governor, Kim Reynolds, will have to wait a little while longer before she becomes Iowa`s first woman to be governor of that state. We`ll be right back.
TODD: Welcome back. White House shake-ups could be on the way. New York magazine details the latest White House clashes. Bannon allies inside and outside the White House say he`s disappointed and that he blames Jared Kushner, the president`s son-in-law, in part, for some of the damaging leaks against him. If before they were philosophical differences in the White House, now there are clearly defined camps.
Source close to Bannon tells our own Katy Tur that allies are telling him to lay low and wait out the storm. Well, that brings us to "The Lid." The panel is back. Amy Walter, Michael Warren, Shane Harris. All right, Michael, trying -- it seems like everybody knows what the camps are.
TODD: There is your Priebus camp which I guess the establishment wing, RNC camp, there is Steve Bannon, the Bannonites, the nationalists, however you want to describe them, and then there is the Jared and Ivanka camp which some refer as the Yorkers--
WARREN: Democrats (ph).
TODD: Democrats (ph). Look, the way it`s been described to me is, they all get along personally. This is not -- this is professional feuds more than anything else.
WARREN: Well, it`s nothing new for a west wing. There is always different camps. You go back to the Reagan era, the conservatives versus the Jim Baker moderates was always the division. The difference with this is there is no real strong leader besides the president himself. So, what you`re seeing now in these, sort of emerged, is that Jared Kushner is that strong leader kind of de facto.
And that`s I think the biggest source of all this confusion of where are these different factions and who is really in charge and who is sort of the insurgence, they`ve all been kind of insurgence, but now Kushner and the New York crowd is on the rise.
AMY WALTER, NATIONAL EDITOR OF THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Isn`t the bigger problem that you have a president who doesn`t have a strong governing philosophy?
WALTER: I mean, he came in as this ideologically flexible -- he`s an ideological flexible candidate, now as president. If you have all these different warring groups saying we got to push this agenda for him. What is the agenda? We`ve now been all over in the place.
TODD: But the real problem, Shane, that I hear is that it is hard. I mean, Gary Cohn and Steve Bannon, okay, just have a different world view. Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon -- this is not -- and at the end of the day, Donald Trump has to make a vision decision.
SHANE HARRIS, SENIOR WRITER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Right, exactly. And another name we didn`t mention is H.R. McMaster who comes in as national security advisor and seems to be having a lot of influence over what`s going on there, too, in terms of maybe bringing some of that coherent policy to him. We were talking about this earlier. It would not surprise me if McMaster and Mattis were very much at the forefront driving Donald Trump on this decision to strike in Syria.
This is a plan that`s clearly been on the shelf for a long time. Once McMaster came in, everybody thought, great, now the grown ups are back in charge again, we`re going to get some clarity and some stability into this process which we haven`t seen.
TODD: The thing to me that seems to be, though -- I don`t know how you get around this -- is the Jared Kushner situation. He is somebody that can`t be fired.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
TODD: Okay, he`s the president`s son-in-law. And on one hand, he has no official title, right? On the other hand, it seems like everybody reports to him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
TODD: That in and of itself creates staff angst.
WARREN: Absolutely. You do have to wonder if we`re going to be seeing some more turnover than we`ve seen in the last week from the west wing. But, again, if that`s how Kushner emerges as sort of a strong leader who really, you know, does reflect what the president wants to do and sort of direct people, the Trump administration, the Trump west wing will benefit from that.
The question is, is Jared Kushner capable of doing that? And can he get the support from all of these other factions who may not like where he is, but at least can respect the fact that he`s got the ear of the president better than anybody.
WALTER: And the Bannon wing has, if you look in terms of putting points on the board, they`ve been much more successful than the other wings.
WALTER: Coming in on--
TODD: With travel ban?
WALTER: At least they put -- here`s what I`m saying--
TODD: I don`t think the president believes they`ve put points on the board. That`s Bannon`s problem.
WALTER: Okay, let`s say this. In terms of putting things forward, travel ban, crackdown on immigration, ICE et cetera--
WALTER: And then Jeff Sessions over at the Justice Department on police reform, right? These are much more in the camp that you would argue is in the sort of Bannon world versus -- I guess the only thing on the other side would be not cracking down as hard on NAFTA, right, sort of a pulled back NAFTA.
TODD: No doubt the economic guys.
WALTER: Yes, absolutely.
TODD: (inaudible) argument, yes.
WALTER: But there is no tax reform yet.
WARREN: But I think that all the successes from the Bannon wing are actually a problem, right? Because now--
TODD: Unpopular (ph).
WARREN: -- well, not just that. I mean, internally within the west wing. Steve Bannon gets put on magazine covers calling him president Bannon. I mean, this is -- this is I think a problem for him. His success, he gets too big for his britches when you have a president who wants all the attention on himself and all the credit for himself. So, this is, I think, a problem for Bannon. He`s just gotten too successful.
TODD: We haven`t mentioned Reince Priebus`s name. It`s almost like everybody assumes it is not a matter of if, but when. Is there a way he can salvage this?
HARRIS: Presumably there is a way, but it seems like there`s not many options for him. Where does he go elsewhere in the White House? He`s not going to be reassigned from being chief of staff even if Kushner is effectively the chief of staff. It doesn`t look great. But this is all the way this palace intrigue has always played out. I feel like when I`m reading, I never know whose version of the script I`m actually reading.
TODD: There is a reality show feel to it, like even somebody--
HARRIS: Omarosa is going to come back.
TODD: It is sort -- I can`t help but wonder. I think the president oddly enjoys it as a spectator. But I think he`s starting to get frustrated. Thank you, guys. Appreciate it. After the break, it may be the most impactful thing that`s happened since President Trump`s election, and no one is paying attention. Stay tuned.
TODD: Well, in case you missed it, in midst of this seemingly nonstop news cycle, 420 days after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a replacement has been confirmed by a vote of 54-45. Neil Gorsuch will be sworn in as the 113th justice of the Supreme Court that will happen on Monday.
The last few weeks, this very important news has been eclipsed by a variety of other very important news. The beginning of Gorsuch`s confirmation hearings, that was the day FBI Director Comey confirmed an investigation into links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Day two of the Neil Gorsuch`s confirmation hearings, that was the day President Trump went to Capitol Hill and told Republicans that they could lose their jobs if the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare fails.
Day three of the Gorsuch`s confirmation hearings, that was the day Congressman Devin Nunes announced President Trump and his associates were incidentally swept up by U.S. surveillance and then took that information to the White House. You know what that led to. By the way, there was a also a terror attack in London on the same day. That brings us today with all eyes on the aftermath of the Syria strike, congress confirmed Neil Gorsuch to a lifetime appointment on the highest court in the land.
By the way, while all this was happening, the senate got rid of the filibuster for the Supreme Court as well, all of it. And, oh, by the way, the entire Gorsuch thing felt like an oh, by the way all the time. Well, you didn`t miss it here. That`s all for tonight. Wel`ll be back Monday with more "MTP Daily."
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