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MTP Daily, Transcript 4/17/2017

Guests: Kristen Welker, Richard Haass, John Podhoretz, Beth Fouhy, Harold Ford Jr, Courtney Reagan, Bob Gray

Show: MTP Daily Date: April 17, 2017 Guest: Kristen Welker, Richard Haass, John Podhoretz, Beth Fouhy, Harold Ford Jr, Courtney Reagan, Bob Gray

KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: If it`s Monday, Washington`s got whiplash.

(voice-over): Tonight, Pyongyang provocations. What does the end of strategic patience really mean for the future of U.S. diplomacy in the Trump era?


SEAN SPICER, U.S. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Drawing red liens hasn`t really worked in the past.


TUR: Plus, will tomorrow`s special election in Georgia shake out as a referendum on President Trump? One of the top Republicans in this crowded race joins me.

And happy, fill in the blank. From Patriots Day to the Easter egg roll, how many celebrations can Americans squeeze into one day?

This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.

(on camera): Good evening, I`m Katy Tur in New York in for Chuck Todd. Welcome to MTP DAILY.

You could argue that President Trump is in the midst of a political identity crisis and nowhere is that more apparent than his foreign policy. Whether it`s Syria, Russia or China, he has abruptly veered from nationalism to pragmatism to interventionism and everywhere in between.

He is unpredictable. He is unpopular, according to many polls. He is on unfamiliar terrain and now he faces, perhaps, the biggest test of his presidency on the world stage.

Right now, there are newly escalating tensions with the nuclear North Korea that is commanded by one of the world`s most enigmatic and dangerous strong men. Kim Jong-Un`s regime suggested today it would ignore the Trump administration`s warnings. Those warnings were set off by a failed missile test this weekend, a parade of military artillery and concerns of a nuclear test.

A top official in Pyongyang told the BBC today that it would now conduct missile tests on a weekly basis. That official also warned of an all-out war if the U.S. intervened militarily.

Also today, North Korea`s envoy to the U.N. cautioned, quote, "Nuclear war may break out at any moment on the Korean Peninsula." Their defiance comes after Vice President Mike Pence had this message for the regime. Here`s Pence speaking alongside South Korea`s acting president in Seoul.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And all options are on the table. Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan. North Korea would do well not to test his resolve. We will meet any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective response.


TUR: The vice president took questions from reporters, while touring the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. He floated possible negotiations with Kim Jong-Un and he also wouldn`t rule out a preemptive strike.


PENCE: The era of strategic patience is over. President Trump has made it clear that the patience of the United States and our allies in this region has run out.


TUR: So, what will President Trump do next? Today, he shout -- he took some shouted questions from reporters during White House Easter egg roll festivities. But he offered little in the way of answers.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any message for North Korea?



TUR: And the answers from the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, at today`s briefing were similarly unclear.


SEAN SPICER, U.S. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You`re not going to see him telegraphing how he`s going to respond to any military or other situation. For to us telegraph what we`re going to do or what we`re going to ask others to do would not be a smart strategy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does this president believe there are viable military options for dealing with North Korea?

SPICER: Taking anything on or off the table would, in itself, limiting your options to some degree. And so, I`m not going to even discuss that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would it take to restart some sort of talks with North Korea?

SPICER: I`m not going to get ahead of the policies right now.


TUR: I`m joined by NBC White House Correspondent Kristen Welker. Kristen, thanks for joining me.

Big question, what is the White House policy towards North Korea?

KRISTEN WELKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Great question, Katy. Based on my conversations here behind the scenes, they are focused on getting China to ramp up pressure on North Korea. They think that the fact that the president met with the president of China two weeks ago has had subsequent conversations is starting to pay off, is moving in the right direction. But they acknowledge there`s a lot more that China can do.

What has China done so far? Well, not only have they sent that message to North Korea, but they`ve also actually started to withhold some oil shipments to North Korea. So, they`re actually taking some strategic steps in that regard.

But having said that, a lot of analysts don`t believe they`ve actually gone far enough. And you saw this latest provocation over the weekend so North Korea clearly not stepping down. Clearly not listening to what has been a lot of bluster.

[17:05:02] Now, based on, again, my conversations, it seems like military action is a last resort. They don`t want to go down that path with North Korea which has a nuclear weapon.

At the same time, the statement by Vice President Mike Pence is certainly significant. It indicates that you are seeing a shift in thinking here behind the scenes. That they would, potentially, if they felt as though North Korea were capable of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile, that the White House might take some action of its own. But the White House says that they`re not at that point yet, at least they don`t think they are.

So, I think what you are going to see, Katy, is more diplomacy, really trying to turn up the heat on China. Now, the counterpoint to that, and I was just having a conversation here is that some people think that that`s a strategic error. That, ultimately, China doesn`t have the same interests as the United States.

So, the question remains, will these tensions continue to escalate? This is a situation that President Trump very much continues to monitor behind the scenes that overshadows this White House as he approaches his first 100 days in office, Katy.

TUR: Kristen Welker, thanks for keeping an eye on things at the White House for us.

I`m joined now, via Skype, from Tokyo, by Anna Fifield, who`s "The Washington Post" Tokyo Bureau Chief. Anna, thanks for joining us. I want to get a reality check from you. We`ve heard a lot of saber rattling when it comes to North Korea in the past. Is this time different?

ANNA FIFIELD, TOKYO BUREAU CHIEF, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, we don`t know yet. I mean, certainly, North Korea does have this history of bluster, of making all of these incendiary threats. You know, the threats on one of the few reliable exports that it has. And it`s, you know, a master of propaganda.

But, in the past, you know, when they have done this kind of thing, they ratcheted up the tensions to try and get something out of U.S., to try and get a reward for stopping ratcheting up the tensions.

But this time does feel a little different in that Kim Jong-Un has made it clear that he doesn`t want to return to denuclearization talks, to just saying he doesn`t want to bargain his way out of this.

And with the progress we have seen with all of these missile launches, with this huge parade at the weekend, suggest that he has the clear political will that he is hell bent on pursuing this missile and nuclear weapons` program.

The different thing this time is that we have an unpredictable leader. Not just in Pyongyang but in Washington as well. It`s the idea, especially in South Korea, people are worried that Donald Trump is a more unpredictable president than America has had before. They look at Syria and what happened and they wonder whether he might do something rash with North Korea as well.

TUR: Leaving many world leaders to wonder which shoe will drop if one of those shoes ends up dropping. But talking about Vice President Pence who was on the DMZ today, he talked about potentially having negotiations with Kim Jong-Un.

And given what you just said, that Kim Jong-Un doesn`t seem to want to have anything to do with taking away nukes from the conversation, what would those nuclear -- or what would those conversations look like?

FIFIELD: Right. So, there`s been talks, like, several years now again about restarting nuclear negotiations. And North Korea has always put conditions on this that are just completely unpalatable for the U.S. Like, for example, they`ve been saying, we`ll come back to talks if you stop the annual military exercises that do you with South Korea. Which is just a nonstarter for the U.S.

So, been making these, kind of, ridiculous offers which, of course, going to be declined. But even then, when they`ve said that, they`ve said, we`ll come back to talks as long as denuclearization is not an option. So, they`ll talk about everything else, not about giving up their nukes.

So, from the get go, it seems like a very hard bargain. But the people I`ve talked to who are working behind the scenes on this, say the idea is just to get both sides sitting back at the same table. You know, whatever they have written on their actually agenda and see if the conversation can go from there to talking about the nuclear weapons program.

TUR: Anna, over the weekend, as part of the celebrations in Pyongyang, there was also a missile test, a failed missile test. Now, there`s a lot of speculation that the U.S. might have had something to do with sabotaging that missile test. What do you know?

FIFIELD: Yes, there is a lot of speculation about this. The experts that I`ve talked to say they highly doubt that the U.S. is able to sabotage individual missile launches.

But, perhaps, there is -- has been a way to get some malware into the system where North Korea is importing some of the technology it uses in this program. And then, maybe there is a way that the program, itself, has been infected rather than one by one on these missile launches.

TUR: Got it. Thank you, Anna Fifield. I appreciate your time.

Now, let`s bring in Richard Haass. He`s the president of the Council of Foreign -- on Foreign Relations. He was a principal advisor to secretary of state Colin Powell. He`s also held the rank of ambassador and was special assistant to Bush 41.

[17:10:03] Richard, thank you for joining us.


TUR: Help us, if you can, decode the president`s options. What can he do when it comes to North Korea? What might he want to do?

HAASS: Essentially, he has three sets of options. One is to let it happen and to basically turn to deterrence and missile defense to contend with the North Korean program. The other is to use military force in one way or another to prevent it.

The third option is diplomacy, essentially against the backdrop of a military threat, with Chinese help, with sanctions to basically enter into a deal with North Korea. Not that would denuclearize them as a first step but rather would come up with some kind of a freeze, no production of nuclear weapons. No testing of weapons or missiles. No sale of any nuclear material to any third party.

We`d have to agree on how it would be verified. And, in exchange, you`d probably have direct talks, some sort of a reduction in sanctions, maybe some sort of a peace agreement, ending the Korean war.

TUR: Would Trump have a political appetite to negotiate a deal that would look something like the Iran deal? After all, he slammed the Iran deal over and over again, saying that it would ultimately lead a nuclear holocaust.

HAASS: Well, again, it`s not a solution to the problem. It would -- it would cap it. It would be simply your first step. And what we would tell the North Koreans is that if they wanted sanctions elimination or any sort of normalization of relations, that would have to await denuclearization and the rest.

But at least this would avoid a situation where North Korea gained the ability to be able to shoot a missile with a nuclear warhead that could reach California. It doesn`t solve the problem but it would park it in a place we could at least tolerate.

TUR: Richard, there`s so many questions about what exactly Donald Trump`s foreign policy is. What does the Trump doctrine look like? Is it interventionalism? Is it nationalism? There`s a lot of confusion about it.

So, my question to you is, what anchors him? And the flip-flops that we`re seeing, are they rooted in pragmatism or are they rooted in ignorance?

HAASS: Well, a couple of answer, Katy. One is I think it`s way premature for anyone to talk about a Trump doctrine. He hasn`t been in office 100 days. And doctrines are usually conferred from the outside on policies that are big and lasting. It`s simply premature to even be thinking about that.

You`re right. We`ve seen inconsistencies. I think, to some extent, he`s finding his sea legs in the job. And I do think he has this idea of trying to keep others off balance. He does believes in unpredictability which can be a blessing or a curse. And he`s basically a disruptor at heart. Rather than wanting to continue, he wants to introduce a lot of new factors.

Here with North Korea, that`s not so bad. This has been drifting for nearly 25 years. The drift has brought us to a crisis point. And I would argue that even if Hillary Clinton were the president, the United States would probably be selling signaling that what North Korea was about to achieve might well be intolerable.

TUR: Richard, there`s always a learning curve no matter the president. They`re always going to change their opinions and their policies somewhat when they get into the Oval Office and see the realities of what we are facing in the world.

But specifically, when I ask about ignorance, I`m referring to something that Donald Trump said about his meetings with President Xi of China. He told "The Wall Street Journal" that after listening for 10 minutes, I realized it`s not so easy, talking specifically about the Chinese relationship with North Korea.

And the history there and why it`s not so easy, necessarily for the China - - for China to control North Korea. When you hear about that -- when you hear about Donald Trump saying, I listened for 10 minutes and then I changed my mind. I realized there was more going on, what does that say to you?

HAASS: Well, I`m actually glad this is happening. It`s a learning curve. It comes from listening. The Chinese already fought in the first Korean War. They have, you know, important interests in North Korea, different than ours but, to some extent, overlapping. And I think it`s important the president get a feel for this stuff.

Katy, you know and I know, there`s a fundamental difference between campaigning as an outsider and governing as an insider. And what we`re seeing is the transition from the former to the latter. This is essential and, essentially, we`re seeing it take place before our eyes.

TUR: Absolutely and I don`t -- I don`t argue with you on that. But he had to have the Chinese leader explain this to him. Doesn`t he have his own advisers that can explain this to him from an American perspective instead of getting the Chinese perspective on it?

HAASS: Well, sure, and I expect he got some of that. But there is something particularly powerful about a Chinese leader talking about the Korean War from a Chinese perspective. And how Chinese forces intervened, went across the Yalu River and so forth. And to basically say, here`s what counts from our perspective.

And it`s one thing to have an American say, this is how Chinese people think about this. And I expect it`s quite another when the Chinese president, essentially, paints a picture in his own words, in his own terms. It has a certain power and a certain authority that no CIA briefer could possibly convey.

[17:15:08] TUR: Richard Haass, appreciate your expertise as always.

HAASS: Thank you, Katy.

TUR: Coming up, an important American ally just took a big step closer to authoritarianism.

Plus, Washington whiplash. The president`s change in policy positions have people on both sides of the aisle wondering what it all means.

Stay tuned.


TUR: Welcome back to MTP DAILY.

In an election that`s been criticized by international monitors, Turkey voted, by a slim margin on Sunday, to overhaul its system of government, paving the way, critics say, for authoritarian rule in this key U.S. ally.

Demonstrators marched in the streets today, calling the refer -- calling on the referendum to be canceled. The organization for security and cooperation in Europe which monitored the vote, said there were irregularities that created an uneven playing field favoring the referendum.

The Turkish president supported the measure which eliminates the post of prime minister, grants sweeping powers to the president and also resets his terms, meaning he could stay in office until at least 2029.

My colleague, Richard Engel, has more from London.

RICHARD ENGEL, CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: The presidency was supposed to be a figure head position, one that rises above politics. Now, the prime minister will be -- will go away and it will be a presidency where Erdogan is officially now calling the shots and running the country.

Erdogan supporters say that this is a good thing. That this gives him a more streamlined chain of command. That it`ll allow him to take decisive action to boost the economy, to fight terrorism. And they say it`s a presidential system not very different from the American presidential system where you have a strong executive branch.

The opposition, however, say that this is, really, the end of the Democratic opposition in that country. And that it paves the way for Erdogan to be a more authoritarian leader for, potentially, the next 10 years -- Katy.

TUR: Richard Engel in London.

We`re back in 60 seconds with the panel.


TUR: Welcome back to MTP DAILY.

President Trump`s reversal on multiple foreign policy positions last week have left some in Washington with whiplash.

Senator John McCain, one of the most outspoken hawks in the U.S. Senate, told Chuck he was pleased with some of the president`s moves toward the establishment.


CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: There some that will say, no, the Washington establishment sucked him in.


TODD: Well, OK.

MCCAIN: No, on national security, I do believe he has assembled a strong team and I think, very appropriately, he`s listening to them.


TUR: Let`s bring in tonight`s panel. The former Democratic Congressman from Tennessee, Harold Ford, Jr. He is a professor at the University of Michigan`s Ford School of Public Policy. Beth Fouhy is the Senior Political Editor for NBC News and MSNBC. And John Podhoretz is a Columnist at "The New York Post."

John, I got your name right this time.

JOHN PODHORETZ, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK POST": You did. Beautiful. Thank you very much.

TUR: I`m very proud of myself. First question to you, sir. Donald Trump`s move toward the establishment. Is that going to be OK with his base of supporters?

PODHORETZ: It`ll be fine with his base of supporters, assuming everything goes well and assuming that his ideological base, which is a much smaller and much more contained thing, doesn`t decide to, sort of, go to war with him and try to convince the larger group of supporters that they should oppose him which I doubt.

TUR: Does he have an ideological base? I mean, truly, are the Trump voters people who --

PODHORETZ: Well, I mean the -- I mean the -- sort of, the -- this group of America first, you know, semi-isolationists, don`t do -- don`t go to war anywhere, don`t do anything, focus your attention on trade wars and that sort of thing. He is -- has, obviously, gone back on his absolute campaign commitment not to do anything in Syria. And there he is, he bombed the Syrian air field.

TUR: So, if Trump doesn`t pay for his political flip-flops, do members of the Republican Party end up paying for them?

BETH FOUHY, SENIOR POLITICAL EDITOR, NBC NEWS: Well, I think that the foreign policy flip-flops are a little different than his decision to, you know, back -- you know, not back certain trade deals and such that were really, really central to his message to the base.

The base -- you know, Trump`s base, the people who support him who want him to succeed, are going to support his efforts overseas if they look successful. Essentially, what you were saying.

And, right now, things are very contained. The strike in Syria does not yet say to too many people that we are going into a quagmire in the Middle East, the way George W. Bush did, for example.

The Korea brinkmanship`s, sort of, standoff is very scary. So far, he seems to have been quite measured while using rhetoric that`s a little ratcheted up. But his actions, their actions so far are pretty contained.

TUR: Is it boots on the ground that will make a difference? If he actually puts troops in foreign countries?

FOUHY: Well, that`s always -- that`s always the line that we all draw, in terms of looking back at past presidents. It`s very hard to see boots on the ground going into North Korea.

However, this, you know, stand-off over a -- over a nuclear weapon is very frightening. And yet, he has been winning plaudits from John McCain, from others in the national security space for seeming very decisive and standing up and doing things that Obama did not. He`s winning -- he is definitely winning points on that.

So, if the base is not yet fully comfortable with it, he certainly is getting a lot of -- a lot of support elsewhere.

TUR: Is his move -- are his moves overseas, his more hawkish moves overseas, a true sign that the, you know, Bannon contingent within the White House is losing influence? Or is it just the fact that he is in the White House now and he`s now getting presidential daily briefings and he`s seeing what`s going on in the world?

HAROLD FORD, PROFESSOR, FORD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY: We`re thinking it might be more of that. You know, George W. Bush said that he was not in the nation building and we undertook one of the great nation-building exercises. President Obama, then senator, said he was close to Guantanamo. He didn`t.

So, I think a lot of people, to Beth`s point, you applaud what looks as if there`s some maturing on his part. You know, President Obama had promised to do something in Syria and didn`t do anything. And I think it concerned some Democrats and Republicans alike. And you have to give the president some credit on that front. And a lot of Democrats did, including his former opponent.

Korea is different. And the question becomes, is he right? How far is this -- how far does he push? Are we able to engage China in a more constructive way? Some have said that even on the trade argon, that he`s actually changed on trade, particularly as it relates to China because of foreign policy.

So, I think we`ll give him -- we`ll give him some room there. But whether or not it means Bannon`s winning or Jared Kushner`s winning, what I really think it means is something that you were probably thinking but just didn`t say it. Is that McMaster and Mattis are finally playing a bigger and more constructive and, thank God, a more meaningful role.

TUR: Are they the ones that are ultimately in charge of the White House, when it comes to foreign policy?

PODHORETZ: Well, I don`t think they`re in charge of the White House. One is the secretary of defense. One is the national security adviser. Steve Bannon is a guy who ran a Web site, who helped run his campaign. He doesn`t know anything about foreign policy.

[17:25:00] FORD: He was removed from the National Security Council.

PODHORETZ: And was removed from the National Security Council.


PODHORETZ: The simple -- the simple fact of the matter is that, you know, Barack Obama, from what we can tell, told Trump, during the transition, that North Korea was the single largest problem in the world for the United States and that something was going to have to happen there.

So, he is, if anything, following a pattern of some kind of continuation, at least of the advice that he was being given by his Democratic forebear. As opposed to Syria where he clearly had a free field of option -- free field of movement among Republicans, because one of the criticisms of Obama was that he had been so passive and had refused to act.

TUR: Is all this --

FORD: And someone -- and someone (ph) you just head on. Richard Haass has said it`s the hardest intelligence problem in the world, especially for us because we the don`t know what comes after Kim Jong -- we don`t know what comes after this little guy or how the military may behave. So, there`s no --

TUR: Or how he may behave.

FORD: Correct.

PODHORETZ: We also don`t know --

FORD: It makes sense what John just said.

PODHORETZ: -- we don`t know where the sights are. There`s so much that we don`t know but he -- that we have to find out.

And so, part of this question really is, can Donald Trump, who is a person who clearly has very short attention span on issues, can he conduct a serious foreign policy over many months with a -- with a -- with a foreseeable -- you know, with a pursuable goal? You know, with steps, tactic that lead to a strategy? And that we don`t know at all.

TUR: And here`s another question. And Richard Haas didn`t really criticize Donald Trump for this but it is certainly jarring to hear the president of the United States say that he learned from the president of China what the relationship really is and why it`s much more complicated.

I know he`s not a foreign policy expert. I know he`s not a politician. He`s a businessman. He`s coming with a -- coming into this with a different set of eyes. But what do Republicans think, John, when they hear their president saying they`re learning something about the world from the Chinese president?

PODHORETZ: OK. So, Republican voters like him. The people who voted for him still like him. They`re not fleeing from him. People who are interested in foreign policy matters are as disturbed, I think, by anybody else by the notion that the president could say, yes, we had a really nice piece of cake and he talked to me for 10 minutes. And now, --

TUR: That`s an unusual piece of cake.

PODHORETZ: -- it turns out -- it turns out I can`t just tell China to, you know, fix North Korea and they`ll fix it. Which, by the way, I think is the wrong message which is so, President Xi says, it`s so complicated for me. And Trump could say, I don`t care whether it`s complicated for you or not. This madman is getting a -- is going to get a nuclear weapon with ICBMs. Do something.

TUR: Which is what he promised he was going to do. He was going to be hard-lined. It was very simple, black and white. This is the way it`s going to be. I`m going to go in there and fix it.

FOUHY: But, you know, let`s give him some credit. Even the people who don`t like Trump, as opposed to his base, one has to think that there`s a recognition of lesson (ph) maturity here. This is admitting publicly that he didn`t know what he didn`t know. And he is finally stepping forward and saying, you know what? I need to know more.

Then, that gets to your point that was, how long is the attention span? How could he, sort of, choose a strategy to follow and stick with it? It`s one thing to say that you know that you need to learn a little bit more. But that doesn`t, then, make you an expert and make you an expert going forward in this most fraught of foreign policy challenges.

TUR: OK, we`ll see how much more he does learn. Harold, Beth, John, stay with us.

Still ahead, it`s the election that could send shock waves through Congress. Now, President Trump is weighing in on Georgia`s special election.

Stay tuned.


KATY TUR, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back. For the first time in more than a year, there were no empty seats on the Supreme Court bench today. Judge Neil Gorsuch suited up for the first day on the job. The court welcomed the 101st associate justice a little over a year after the death of Antonin Scalia. Gorsuch was welcomed by Chief Justice John Roberts right before the court was called to order.

The nine justices heard three cases today and Gorsuch didn`t seem to have any first day jitters. 15 minutes into the first case, he began to throw questions at the attorneys. He even apologized at one point for quote, taking up so much type. More "MTP Daily" ahead. But first, here`s Courtney Reagan with the "CNBC Market Wrap." Hi, Courtney.

COURTNEY REAGAN, GENERAL ASSIGNMENT REPORTER FOR CNBC: Hi, thank you, Katy. (inaudible) closing higher. The Dow had session highs closing 183 points higher. The S&P rising by 20. The Nasdaq up 51 points. China`s ant financial has upped its offer by more than a third and a bid to buy Moneygram, beating the closest U.S. rival.

This as China reports faster than expected economic gains (inaudible) and government stimulus. And Netflix shares fell sharply down 4 percent before rebounding after the company reported it added fewer subscribers than expected after the bell today. That`s it from CNBC, we`re first in business worldwide.


TUR: Welcome back. Tomorrow is the day politics junkies have all been waiting for. The special election to fill HHS Secretary Tom Price`s seat in Georgia`s sixth congressional district. Democrat Jon Ossoff is trying to ride a wave of money and democratic activist support to cross the 50 percent threshold tomorrow. If he gets there, he wins.

If not, assuming he has the most votes which is what we expect to happen, Ossoff will then go head to head with the second place vote getter in a run-off election in June. Democrats are doing everything they can to win tomorrow when there are multiple candidates on the ballot because it gets much more difficult for Ossoff to win in a head to head election in this red leaning district.

President Trump got in on the action this morning as well tweeting the super liberal democrat in the Georgia congressional race tomorrow wants to protect criminals, allow illegal immigration, and raise taxes. Ossoff responded by saying the president is misinformed. There are a handful of republicans running but none have separated themselves from the pack and endorsements are pretty well spread out among a few big names.

Joining me now is one of the big names, Republican candidate in the sixth district congressional election, Technology Executive Bob Gray. Bob, thank for joining us. First question, do you think this race is a referendum on Donald Trump? BOB GRAY, RUNNING FOR CONGRESS IN GEORGIA: Well, it certainly seems the liberals are trying to frame it as such. And as I go across the district and knocking on doors and making phone cause, you see I think since November 8th election, even more enthusiasm for President Trump than you saw just a few months ago. TUR: Do you think that running against Ossoff, if you end up going head to head with him, would you want the president to come down there and campaign for you? If you believe he is as popular as you say he is? GRAY: Yeah, no question about it. I think he is gaining popularity for sure since the election. But the republicans in this district are conservative base and they`re gonna rally around whoever wins on Tuesday. TUR: But this is a district that didn`t do so well for Donald Trump in the general election. He did win it, but not by much. Hillary Clinton almost sneak it out. Given that, are you concerned that he comes down and campaigns for you, it could backlash? GRAY: No, not at all. For the reasons I just said, the president has gained significant popularity since November. And we know how the rally around our Republican candidate.

TUR: What is your evidence of that?

GRAY: Well, just I can tell you from walking across the district and knocking on many doors and making many phone calls. We`ve got a very strong ground game team. We`re getting tremendous feedback and a lot of positive ideas about how this race is gonna turn out tomorrow.

TUR: You`re campaigning on a familiar face. Draining the swamp. Do you think this president has done enough so far in this administration to do just that? GRAY: I think he is making every attempt he can. But I think he`s learning how deep that swamp really is. If you look at the actions to resist the executive orders and health care repeal and replace, it would be a very good example. All of D.C. and the establishment if you will is doing everything they can to thwart his agenda no doubt.

TUR: There are things that are more difficult, certainly like repeal and replace Obamacare. But there are things that are pretty easy to do. One those would be to release visitor logs at the White House. The press secretary, Sean Spicer, was asked about that today and he said it is a privacy issue.

That is an example of a very easy thing to do in order to make this presidency more transparent to prove that he is doing just what he said he wanted to do which was drain the swamp. Do you think that is something that this White House should do?

GRAY: You know, I missed that one this morning. I`ve been out all day campaigning. So I can`t really give you much insight into that issue.

TUR: Do you think they should release the visitor logs to find out who is going to the White House and who has the ear of the president? GRAY: Yeah, honestly, I`m not sure. I haven`t study that one at all. So I`m focused here on the sixth district. Spending time with Georgians. I haven`t really thought about what happens in D.C. with the visitor logs at the White House.

TUR: Are you confident that Georgians do want to see a repeal and replace of Obamacare? Would they rather see a fix of Obamacare?

GRAY: No doubt about it. There is a strong desire and expectation for us to do a full repeal of Obamacare. That has been eight years in waiting. I think we in the house -- I think something close to 50 votes on it to repeal it. So I think this is just a matter of getting things put together smartly and we`ll see a repeal.

TUR: Are you -- are there any issues where you don`t see eye to eye with President Trump?

GRAY: In his state of the union speech, the Joint Session of Congress, o think we saw -- I think the whole country saw him grow into the role. And he outlined 22 promises. And that characterizes his agenda. There is not a single one of those promises I disagree with.

TUR: Do you have anything that he said so far, done so far in this administration during his time in the White House that you do not agree with? GRAY: No. I wouldn`t say that. But I will say that as we`ve seen even today, more concern around North Korea, an area that I would like to see greater investment in cyber security. You know, that missile is going to get launched someday. And I much rather be able to prevent it from taking off than hope we can shoot it down.

So that`s a significant area of capability that I think we need to spend more time investing in and perhaps there will be some additional details coming out from the president here as we see how things unfold over the next few days.

TUR: If you`re in, you`ll be serving under the leadership as of now of Paul Ryan. Do you support him? GRAY: Well, I think he is in a tough spot. He has quite a group to corral. And it is about leadership. So I`m expecting that the president will partner with him and that given how important the agenda items are, that the house is working with the president, I think we should all expect Paul Ryan to exert the leadership that`s necessary in his role as speaker of the house to deliver on the president`s agenda.

TUR: So let`s talk about the race you`re in right now. Why did your campaign launch? A hoax press release that said that, Karen Handel endorsed you, less than a month out from the -- that was less than a month out from the election. Do you consider that to be a dirty trick? GRAY: You know, On April fools, if we can`t have a little fun with ourselves, I think we`re missing something. TUR: Is that a funny April fools joke when you`re in a race, a close race with a number of other republicans, to say that one of those republicans endorse you or is that something that is going to maybe seed in someone`s ear and make them think that she dropped out of the race? GRAY: No, I`m pretty clear that everyone in Roswell in the sixth district understood what that was. TUR: Bob Gray, appreciate your time. Good luck tomorrow. I got quite a bit of campaigning still left to do up until the very last minute.

GRAY: Thank you. Four and a half hours. Thank you.

TUR: Still ahead, what you didn`t get to see from Chuck`s exclusive interview with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. Stay tuned.


TUR: Welcome back. This weekend on "Meet the Press," Chuck sat down with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. Here`s part of that interview you didn`t get to see about the fight of against ISIS and that mother of all bombs in Afghanistan.


CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR, "MEET THE PRESS DAILY": One time you said you`re not going to win this thing by dropping bombs on these people, referring to defeating ISIS. We just dropped what is known as the mother of all bombs in Afghanistan. Effective use?

JOHN KELLY, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: It was designed to do what it was dropped on. It is a very, very useful. It`s a conventional bomb. It is a big bomb and designed to do exactly to penetrate the earth to some degree and get after deeply hidden -- in this case, I believe there is a cave or a tunnel system. It is certainly capable of doing that to bunker systems and things like like that. So a conventional weapon designed to do exactly what it was -- it did. TODD: But you said you`re not going to win this fight with ISIS.

KELLY: Not just by dropping bombs. We have to change way Middle Easterners think. You know, there is obviously a civil war going on between the Sunnis and the Shia. I mean, I served in the Afghanistan on full size all over Iraq. I understand the faith. I don`t understand the hate between the two groups but while I was in Iraq leading marine soldiers, airmen, working with the Sunni tribes, working with the Shia tribes, there is a solution.

But the solution is not -- the only solution is not dropping bombs. We got to change the dynamic in these countries relative to everything from democracy to how they live their lives. And get -- somehow get our arms around this issue of opportunity in the Middle East. It is probably not really our problem, our job. It is the job of those countries, any international community to help. It is not an American job necessarily. But we`ve got to change that. In the meantime, we got to keep killing ISIS as fast and as efficiently as we can.




TOM COTTON, JUNIOR U.S. SENATOR FROM ARKANSAS: I`m wondering if you`ll take the initiative to have him release those returns. The president said he is still under audit.



TUR: It is time for "The Lid." Beth Fouhy, John Podhoretz, Harold Ford Jr. You are all back guys. Let`s talk about taxes. I keep getting this question over and over again on Twitter. Why don`t reporters ask to see Donald proof that Donald Trump is under audit? We do. We can`t say unless the IRS confirms it. The IRS cannot legally confirm it, so we are (inaudible). Why don`t reporters ask for Donald Trump`s old taxes? We have.

We`ve asked for the taxes that are not under audit. The reality is unless Donald Trump wants to release them, we are not gonna see them. The only other option is if somebody leaked them. So, given that political or that just playing in basic reality, is there a point down the line where Donald Trump is going to pay a political price for not releasing his taxes, John? JOHN PODHORETZ, WRITER, COLUMNIST FOR THE NEW YORK POST: I think the political price he pays is the stimulation of democratic and liberal hatred which will be ever present and will always be able to be tweaked and pushed like a bruise whenever the taxes are mentioned. But will he pay a price with republicans? No. This has now moved into a different category. They`re now -- as Tom Cotton himself shows, you go along with him on this. TUR: Why don`t republicans care? PODHORETZ: Well, I think the story is that if he had lost, they would care, you know. I mean, they don`t care because obviously, he doesn`t want them released and they don`t want to give him trouble, that`s why. They don`t want to be cross-wise with him.

BETH FOUHY, NBC NEWS SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR: And essentially, Trump said that very thing in a tweet this weekend. He said I won the electoral college. Why are they still asking for my taxes? As though having defied all predictions and won that race, all those nagging questions that hung out before the election and has since hung out should just be sort of wiped off the ledger. TUR: Every president since Carter did release his taxes. Are we left to assume -- we are left to assume that Donald Trump is hiding something. That there is something that he doesn`t want us to see in his taxes. What could that be? FOUHY: I couldn`t believe was today, Sean Spicer was asked the question about the taxes that Trump presumably will file tomorrow. And Spicer said we`re in perpetual audit. Like, how could they know that? How could they know that they are in audit for taxes that are, you know, just coming due now.

TUR: He can see the future. You didn`t know that?


TUR: No, but seriously, I mean, Spicer was also asked by Jon Karl very bluntly. You give the same answer over and over again. Donald Trump is under audit. Why not just come out and say you`re never gonna release his taxes?

PODHORETZ: Why can`t you release taxes when you`re under audit? The whole thing is a non-sector anyway. You can release taxes when you`re under audit. That was just a line that he promulgated and Spicer will obviously say anything to get himself through a difficult question to the next question.

There is literally no reason why he shouldn`t release his taxes except that according to American law and not only is the president not subject to congressional orders of this sort, but we are all -- our taxes are private business. You are not obliged. You cannot be forced to release.

TUR: You cannot be forced. But Donald Trump is a public figure and not just a public figure, he is the president of the United States.

HAROLD FORD JR., FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Hopefully it comes up in the Russia investigation. (inaudible) you see a lot of (inaudible). TUR: Yeah. What are the options that the democrats have to find to get them?

FORD JR.: Well, you know, watching Burr and Warner when they looked as if they appeared to be the adults in this whole thing, if they come forward three weeks and say our investigation has reached a point where we need to see these returns. That would be the only thing to your point about republicans coming forward and see I think a moment you watershed in a lot of ways.

PODHORETZ: I mean, the.

FORD JR.: I think a lot of -- I didn`t mean to cut you, a lot of the grassroots movement, I hope after tomorrow`s election, they move to the districts and states in which members of congress on this committee in the house or in the senate saying, look, we want his tax returns, we want part of what you`re doing, and we hope that you ask for it. Short of that, I think John, I think Beth are right. He won and he`s of the belief that if people really wanted to see them, they wouldn`t have voted for him. PODHORETZ: I mean, it turns out.

FORD JR.: I don`t know if that`s right or wrong. It`s what happened. PODHORETZ: Turns out that the idea that you had to do it turned out not to be true. Now, the other thing about it, weird to me is, when the taxes came out, 2005 taxes came out, turned out that he paid $38 million in federal taxes, that wasn`t harmful to him. TUR: It was a good story. PODHORETZ: It wasn`t harmful to him. He paid and it meant he was as rich as he said, which is also the part of this whole thing, right, which is maybe he`s not released them because we are gonna find out he doesn`t have as much money as we thought he had, he doesn`t want us to know that. FORD JR.: It`s still a lot, I think.

PODHORETZ: Yeah, I know.

FORD JR.: People saying he doesn`t have as much are people who are, you know.

PODHORETZ: That`s right.

FORD JR.: (inaudible). He has a billion opposed to $4 billion. It`s plenty.

PODHORETZ: I know, yeah.

TUR: You can say this for a whole host of issues here. But I can`t even begin to fathom the uproar that republicans would be holding or having, they would be having if Hillary Clinton decided not to release her taxes. PODHORETZ: All I would say is that every time presidents do things and they change the reality. Bill Clinton was a man who had pretty much been exposed as a philanderer before he was president and had things going on in the White House when he was. He got away with it because he won. You would have said 10 years earlier no person running for president could have survived that. Trump now creates a new reality. TUR: To our viewers, we asked for the taxes, Donald Trump could choose to release them, somebody could choose to leak them, or the voters could hold him accountable. One of those three options are on the table. Thank you Harold, Beth, and John for joining us. After the break, happy holidays. Stay tuned.


TUR: In case you missed it, Americans like to celebrate. And we (inaudible) a lot into just this one day. First off, it is still passover until tomorrow evening and it is also Easter Monday, which means different traditions for different cultures in different parts of the globe. If you look at Massachusetts, it`s a state holiday, Patriots Day. Officially, it is where they commemorate the battles of Lexington and Concord.

It`s also of course Marathon Monday. Meanwhile in D.C. today, they are marking Emancipation Day, the anniversary when slavery was abolished in the nation`s capital back in 1862. It`s also when you got an extension on your taxes. The IRS and other government offices were closed today. It was also President Trump`s inaugural White House Easter egg roll hosted by the president and his family. You know what? Those weren`t the only reasons to feel festive today.

A quick Google search tells us that at least according to the internet, today is also National Cheese Ball Day. And it`s National Bat Appreciation Day because April is apparently when bats start to emerge from hibernation. It`s Malbec World Day, yes, the wine. But don`t worry, you can celebrate wine (ph) tomorrow too, we won`t judge. That will do it for me. "For the Record" with Greta starts right now. Greta, I`m gonna go get fatty about Malbec with a bottle or a bag of cheeseballs.


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