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JOHN DICKERSON: It’s Sunday, September 16th. I am John Dickerson and this is FACE THE NATION.
Florence has been downgraded to a depression, but her fury continues as North Carolina faces catastrophic flooding and record rainfall. We’ll have the latest. Where Florence is headed next and what she has left behind from our CBS team covering the storm, the head of FEMA, Brock Long. Plus, two senators whose states have been hit hard, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham.
Another storm making headlines this week, Hurricane Maria, which left an estimated three thousand dead in Puerto Rico a year ago. The President disputed that figure drawing criticism from both parties and the families of the victims.
And the clouds darkened over the White House as former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort accepted a plea bargain from special counsel, Robert Mueller. Just what impact will that have on the case?
We’ll have plenty of analysis on all the news coming up on FACE THE NATION.
Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION. Hurricane Florence is now officially a depression but the rain and threat of flooding will continue over the next few days, as Florence creeps through Western Virginia, the Ohio Valley, and, finally, New England. Parts of North Carolina have received record rainfall, in some places over thirty inches, and today the state is expected to get another six to twelve inches of rain. More than five hundred and eighty people have been rescued from the storm in the Carolinas and at this point the death toll stands at fourteen. There are more than seven hundred and thirty-five thousand without power and officials say that number could reach millions in the next couple of days.
CBS EVENING NEWS anchor Jeff Glor has been leading our coverage since before the storm hit and he joins us now from his post in Wilmington, North Carolina. Jeff.
JEFF GLOR (CBS EVENING NEWS Anchor/@jeffglor): John, good morning. North Carolina has taken a nearly nonstop punishment from Florence for days now and as this storm continues its slow, painful slide inland there are new concerns this morning about potentially catastrophic flooding.
JEFF GLOR: A mandatory evacuation order has been issued for everyone living along the Little River and the Cape Fear River, about sixty miles northwest of here. That’s about twenty-eight hundred households. The Cape Fear is expected to crest at a record sixty-two feet tomorrow or Tuesday with water possibly going a mile beyond its banks. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper is urging residents to take the threat seriously.
ROY COOPER: We face walls of water at our coasts, along our rivers. This system is unloading epic amounts of rainfall. In some places measured in feet and not inches.
JEFF GLOR: In Jacksonville and New Bern, hundreds who had defied earlier evacuation orders had to be rescued from rising waters yesterday by rescue workers and volunteers. The mayor of Fayetteville, parts of which are in the evacuation zone under the new orders warned his residents not to make the same mistake.
MITCH COLVIN: If you are refusing to leave during this mandatory evacuation, then you need to do things like notify your legal next of kin, because the loss of life is very, very possible.
JEFF GLOR: President Trump has issued a disaster declaration for North Carolina which will make federal money available to those affected by Florence. And late last night, the governor of Virginia issued a warning to those in the southwest portion of the state about possible flooding. John.
JOHN DICKERSON: As you’ve been saying, it’s not just the wind, it’s the flooding. Jeff Glor. Thanks so much, Jeff.
Mark Strassmann has ducked out of the rain and is in a hangar at the U.S. Coast Guard air station in Elizabeth City where helicopter crews have been hard at work rescuing those trapped by floodwaters.
MARK STRASSMANN (CBS News Correspondent): Good morning, John. That significant inland flooding that Jeff just talked about remains a significant threat. And a rescue challenge and these air– these air rescue crews where the Coast Guard expect another busy day today. They saved fifty-seven people yesterday, hoisting them by cable to safety from cars, roads, and rooftops. In one case they rescued thirteen people, including an elderly woman who leaned on two crutches to wade through waist-deep water. She was raised forty feet in a rescue basket to the helicopter, an elderly woman. We flew with the Coast Guard yesterday from the air, you’d sense the scope of the challenge how unreachable some flooded neighborhoods seemed. In the days ahead there will be more rain, more flooding, more rescues needed by these helicopters and, in some cases, they will be saving people that rescue boats can’t reach. John.
JOHN DICKERSON: Thanks, Mark.
We want to go now to the head of FEMA, Brock Long, who is at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. Good morning, Administrator Long. Let’s start with a statistic I have been thinking about all week. The number of people who die from wind is down around eight percent. This from the Associated Press but storm surge, flooding, that’s almost fifty percent.
BROCK LONG (FEMA Administrator/@FEMA_Brock): Yep.
JOHN DICKERSON: Is that the big concern with this storm?
BROCK LONG: Well, initially, when– when a hurricane makes landfall particularly one that has major what we call major category winds, Category 3, 4, or 5 winds, storm surge has the highest potential to create the most amount of damage. But, unfortunately, it– it also has the potential to cause the most loss of life. One of the storms I want to point out is Katrina. Two hundred and seventy people lost their lives in Mississippi because the ocean rose well over twenty-five feet in some areas. And anybody that didn’t evacuate from that doesn’t live to– to talk about their experience from storm surge–
JOHN DICKERSON: And so is that a concern now?
BROCK LONG: Well, so initially, Florence, it’s a different storm than Katrina. Obviously, we didn’t have a Cat 5 landfall in– in Florence, but what happens is you saw a lot of damage, you see a lot of people being rescued from storm surge on the coastal islands, the west side of the Pamlico Sound. But now, it’s turning into a flood event. And the flood event, you know, people fail to heed warnings and get out or they get into the floodwaters trying to escape their home. And that’s where you start to see deaths escalate. So wind– even though, hurricanes are categorized by wind it’s the water that really causes the most loss of life.
JOHN DICKERSON: What about the interruption of– of medical care from these kinds of events? We reported over seven hundred thousand are without electricity. What about the interruption of medical care? How dangerous is that?
BROCK LONG: So what we always do is work with our partners over at HHS and we forward deploy disaster medical assistance teams. You know there’s– there’s hundreds of people out into the field and not only, you know, to support the medical needs but also we– we are ready to support any evacuation transportation needs.
JOHN DICKERSON: The interruption of medical care that you were just talking about was responsible, I believe, for forty-seven percent of the fatalities in Katrina and is a big part of that number that’s been disputed this week about Puerto Rico–the three thousand number. So the President said that three thousand number didn’t exist, that they didn’t die. So, how is it true that you’re preparing for an interruption of medical care in Florence, but the President says people who died as a result of interruption of medical care in Puerto Rico are not worth counting?
BROCK LONG: Well, you know, look, these– these studies are all over the place. The Harvard study was done differently, studies a different period of time versus the George Washington study. There’s a big discrepancy whether it’s direct deaths or indirect deaths. You know, if– if you look at the– the– the– the root cause of any problem is one– you know, round here one death. These guys know one death is a death too many. We work every day to make sure that we try to prevent that. But if you want to get into Puerto Rico from the standpoint of what needs to happen next.
JOHN DICKERSON: Well–
BROCK LONG: We’ve got to fix aging infrastructure that wasn’t ready to support, you know, the Commonwealth before the storm hit. And when– when they were blown out and the infrastructure is blown out, it exponentially causes problems on the back end.
JOHN DICKERSON: The reason– but the reason it’s so important, obviously, is if you figure out how people died last time, you can keep it from happening again. You say the numbers are all over the place, but the numbers are more than zero which is what the President said. And he– he said the deaths didn’t happen. I guess my question is this, the G.W. report, as you mentioned, again, the bulk was from interruption of medical care which you’re trying to take care of in Florence. They interviewed people from FEMA to come up with that number. So who’s right? The President who says those deaths didn’t happen or the FEMA officials who helped G.W. put together that report?
BROCK LONG: Yeah. I don’t know who they interviewed with him my agency. They may have looked at funeral benefits to help, you know, calculate whatever number. And– and that’s a number, you know, that– that’s the only number that we would really be able to contribute to any study going forward. But– but as far as–
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you this.
BROCK LONG: Yep.
JOHN DICKERSON: Puerto Rico might get hit again during hurricane season. People who worry about dying from interruption of medical care, which is the bulk of those deaths that– that get to the three thousand number. Is FEMA concerned about people who might die from that result in– in Puerto Rico?
BROCK LONG: What we do is we coordinate the fire power of the federal government down. So, for example, FEMA– you know, FEMA doesn’t rebuild power grids. We– we, basically, pay for it and help to coordinate the resources they need. And that’s the same case that would be within the health and medical industry. And, you know, my authority to support rebuilding the power if you get the power back up that solves ninety-five percent of the problems–
JOHN DICKERSON: I mean–
BROCK LONG: –you know, bottom line is, we push forward on that authority as much as we can. And Puerto Rico is a very vulnerable place right now. But we’re focused on putting billions of dollars of work to– to prevent this and build it more resilient so that it doesn’t happen again.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you a– a final question. The Wall Street Journal has some reporting which–about you and your state, and it suggested that because of your use of travel that there was an inspector general’s report and that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen went to you and– and discussed whether you should– you should continue in your job. What’s your response about that?
BROCK LONG: Yeah. That– so that narrative is that, yes, there is an ongoing investigation. We’ve been working with the OIG. You know very clearly– and I can come back and put context around that. But in regards to Secretary Nielsen I’ve never been asked to resign. Secretary Nielson and I talk every day. We have a very professional, functional relationship. You know we are both focused on Floyd right now. And you know let’s put some context on what the vehicles are that they’re talking about. So this job is incredibly complex. All my shoulders is Presidential Preparedness Directive 40, which means, you know, I have to make sure FEMA has to make sure that the executive branch of government works on its worst day at any given time regardless of what we see and a lot of that is continuity of government. Those vehicles are to supply me with secure comms. The program was developed in 2008 way before I even got here–it ran for me the same way that it ran for anybody before me and we comply every day. We’ll make meaningful changes. You know I have never made– I would never intentionally violate any rules, you know, that I was there– aware of, so.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Administrator Long, thanks so much for being with us and good luck with that long to-do list.
BROCK LONG: Thank you.
JOHN DICKERSON: For more about the impact of Florence in North Carolina we turn to Republican Senator Thom Tillis. He’s at the Red Cross shelter in Charlotte. Good morning, Senator.
SENATOR THOM TILLIS (R-North Carolina/@SenThomTillis): Good morning.
JOHN DICKERSON: Senator, how’s your state holding up in the wake of this storm?
SENATOR THOM TILLIS: Well, we’re doing as well as we can. This is a weather event that I believe will exceed the damage that Matthew did just two years ago. So while we were still recovering from that event we’ve got the same areas engulfed and rivers that are going to overflow their banks over the next few days and I think some of the worst part of this storm will actually hasn’t even occurred, yet. It will as we see the rivers flow back to the coast.
JOHN DICKERSON: When– when you say it hasn’t occurred, yet. What– what do you expect?
SENATOR THOM TILLIS: Well, what the– with the rain levels and some of the cresting estimates for the– the Cape Fear River a number of the other rivers and tributaries that had, ultimately, to our sounds are out to the ocean. We’re– we’re talking about crest amounts that exceed what we saw with Hurricane Matthew. And we’re just now– I’m in Charlotte–we’re just now beginning to see the rain bands more consistently dump water in this region and suppose to move up through the mountain. So the river basins are going to take a matter of days before we’ll see the full effects of this storm and we’re already seeing a number of roads cut off interstates likely to be closed over the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. That creates a number of challenges for the local communities and for disaster relief.
JOHN DICKERSON: Are you getting the federal help you need?
SENATOR THOM TILLIS: We are. I think that the FEMA assets were positioned as well as they could be before we knew where this storm was going to make landfall. The Red Cross is doing an extraordinary job. We have four evacuation centers here in the Charlotte area that have people from as far as Wilmington, Jacksonville and Columbia, South Carolina. Here it’s at capacity. We have three others that continue to have capacity. We’d expect to see some of those fill up as the storm progresses through this part of the region.
JOHN DICKERSON: During Hurricane Harvey there were troubles with emergency services–people having difficulty getting through. Is that okay in this case?
SENATOR THOM TILLIS: At this point in– in our section of the state, yes, there are– there are certainly areas in the eastern part of the state where Florence made landfall where flooding, downed power lines, downed trees are creating challenges. But the reports that we’re getting is we’re working through them. Duke Power’s on the– on the scene. They’re trying to do everything they can to restore electricity to hundreds of thousands. And– and I don’t believe we’ve seen the end of that. We’ve seen several thousand homes in– in my own county here in Mecklenburg County in Charlotte that are out of power. That’s going to continue. That will likely be weeks before it’s all fully restored.
JOHN DICKERSON: And, Senator, when you get back to Washington you got a vote on Tuesday and the Judiciary Committee which you sit on. There’s been some information about sexual misconduct allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, the President’s nominee. Have you looked at the letter that is now a part of his file? It’s a– it’s– have you looked at that?
SENATOR THOM TILLIS: I haven’t seen the letter. As a matter of fact I believe that the member that first received the letter was as late as July. And, quite honestly, I am shocked that the matter didn’t come up in the nearly thirty-two hours of testimony that Judge Kavanaugh was before as in the open session or the nearly hour, hour and a half session that we had in a closed session. That– that information never came up. So when we get back to Washington this week we’ll take a look at it but it really raises a question in my mind about if– if this was material to the confirmation process, why on Earth, over the past four to six weeks, hasn’t it been discussed among the committee members?
JOHN DICKERSON: That’s right and we should make it quite clear this is something he’s denied categorically. This is something that– that allegedly happened much more than thirty years ago. But now that it is in the mix, is your– is your feeling that this is a ploy of some kind or that this is while it is so long ago sufficient– sufficiently important to look at look seriously and– and put into your calculation and others as they make their vote.
SENATOR THOM TILLIS: Well, I’ve– I’ve spent most of my time focused on Hurricane Florence, but the– the questions that we will ask and seek answers to next week are, “why sit on it for weeks?” We understand that the person who wrote the letter is not willing to come forward. So we have a– a confidential witness not willing to sit down at least in a closed setting that’s problematic to me. And, as you said, Judge Kavanaugh has categorically deny– denied the allegations and I put some weight on that.
JOHN DICKERSON: Very quickly, Senator, you think he’ll be confirmed by the Senate?
SENATOR THOM TILLIS: Oh, I do.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right.
SENATOR THOM TILLIS: I think that we’ll move forward to report about the committee and confirm him before October.
JOHN DICKERSON: Senator Tillis, thanks so much for being with us.
And we’ll be back in one minute with a look at the situation in South Carolina. Senator Lindsey Graham will join us. So, don’t go away.
JOHN DICKERSON: South Carolina is also seeing significant rain and flooding. We turn now to Senator– Senior Republican Senator from the state, Lindsey Graham, who is in Clemson this morning. Senator, how’s the state doing?
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-South Carolina/@LindseyGrahamSC): We’re just waiting on it to get to where I live but it’s– it’s hit the same areas that Matthew hit two years ago and the water from North Carolina, eventually, makes its way to South Carolina. North Carolina took the brunt of it. But the people who were flooded out two years ago are going to get flooded out again. And I don’t know how these communities make it quite frankly. I– like Williamsburg County’s just going to be years to recover.
JOHN DICKERSON: Quickly, Senator, are people– did they heed the warnings?
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Most did. Some didn’t. If you live near water you should’ve left a long time ago. The rivers are the most dangerous thing now. Most people did. So I can’t– the governor did a good job. The Trump administration’s called me about four or five times, “what you need that you don’t have?” So I’m pleased with the federal and state response but it’s really up to individuals to sometimes, you know, use good judgment and, unfortunately, some people have not used good judgment.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you a couple of other pieces of news that are in the news. Senator, in the Mueller probe you’ve been focused on collusion, this question of a conspiracy that has–
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Right.
JOHN DICKERSON: –been alleged during the campaign.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Right.
JOHN DICKERSON: So there’s now been a plea deal from Paul Manafort, the chairman of the campaign. How do you read that?
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: I don’t know yet. I know that from the judiciary point of view, we found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. I think Richard Burr said from the intel point of view that he’s seen no evidence of collusion, but we’re waiting on Mueller. Let’s let Mueller do a– do his job. I don’t know what Manafort has to offer. I don’t know if it’s anything meaningful but I am intent on making sure that Mueller completes his investigation without political interference and I can answer questions about the report once it’s issued. I am very disappointed. No Democrat seemed to be worried about the corruption in– at the Department of Justice and the FBI regarding the Clinton e-mail investigation, the early stages of the Russian investigation. I am worried about that. But when it comes to Mueller, let’s let him do his job.
JOHN DICKERSON: The– you’ve trained prosecutors. You were a prosecutor. Give me your sense of how a prosecutor is doing if he’s– if he’s indicted more than thirty-two people, three companies, gotten six plea deals, and initiated actions that have led to two more plea deals and gotten them a victory in court, how is that prosecutor doing?
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Right. Well, you’ve got to look at the substance of what people pled to. Some people pled to lying to the FBI like Papadopoulos and got two weeks in jail. So, I don’t see this a big event. Manafort could have a lot of stuff or he could just have stuff around, you know, financial transactions. I don’t know yet. You don’t look at the numbers. Flynn would know a lot. I don’t know what kind of deal Flynn’s going to get. At the end of the day, I haven’t heard anything coming out of the Mueller world showing collusion between Trump and the Russians, but that’s why you let a guy like Mueller do his job. I trust him–
JOHN DICKERSON: Mm-Hm.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: –to be honest and fair, and time will tell.
JOHN DICKERSON: It’s I guess– what I was hoping–your experience as a prosecutor and– and also an impeachment manager who– who had to deal with a case–
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Yeah.
JOHN DICKERSON: –that started out about a land deal it was a real different thing when it got to you.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Right.
JOHN DICKERSON: So this started with collusion may end up somewhere else. But you know the President has called it–
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: That’s great point.
JOHN DICKERSON: –and continues to call it a– a witch hunt. So given that record though is it a witch hunt or is it proceeding as you would expect a prosecutor to go forward?
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think it’s proceeding in a way that these things start with a land deal and cattle futures and wind up with a blue dress. This started with an accusation of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Now, we’ve got, you know– you know, all kind of things in New York and Mister Manafort’s lobbying business apart from before he met Trump. So, I don’t know where it’s going to go and the only thing I can tell you, not one Republican in the Senate has done anything to stop this investigation. The leadership of the House and the Senate are Republicans have pledged their efforts to make sure that Mister Mueller finish (sic) his job. I wish I had some Democrats concerned about Strzok– Strzok and Paige and Bruce Ohr. That’s going to be done later but–
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me–
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Nothing’s going to happen to Mueller’s investigation politically. He’s going to be allowed to finish it.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let’s move to quickly to North Korea when you and I last talked it was some time ago you had suggested that– that the military think about moving dependents out of South Korea.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Yeah.
JOHN DICKERSON: That– you mentioned that on the show. Bob Woodward talks about that in the book and that President Trump was considering that option and the two of you discussed it. Is that covered accurately in the book and what happened?
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Yeah, there was a point in time where it looks like nothing was going to happen. There was no dialogue going. And the– the way you lead up to this is that once you start moving dependents out of South Korea that’s a signal to everybody that we’re running out of time. Now, we have– we have engagements that I think are going to be fruitful. I hope they’re going to be fruitful. We’re not out of the woods, yet, when it comes to North Korea, but the whole discussion was around what should I do to handle this threat to our homeland. And here’s what the President was willing to do. If he has to, he’ll use military force to stop a missile coming to America with a nuclear weapon on it originating in North Korea. We were really close to having to make that hard decision. Now, we have some time. Are they playing us? I don’t know. If they’re playing Trump we’re going to be in a world of hurt because he’s going to have no options left. This is the last best chance for peace right here.
JOHN DICKERSON: The way it was characterized in the book and I want to get see if this is right with you is that the President was one tweet away from suggesting moving dependents out and that that was read at the Pentagon that if he sent that tweet out it would have looked like an act of war. Is that the way it went down?
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: He was very frustrated with North Korea saying one thing and doing another. I had suggested to him, along with others, that once you start moving your dependents out then you’re preparing yourself for a military conflict. That’s the last decision you make and we got very close to that, but we pulled back and now we got a chance, I think, to get a resolution to this peacefully, to convince North Korea you’re better off without your nukes than you are with them, in terms of security and survivability. But it got close and the President is serious. The whole point here is, President Trump has no place to kick–
JOHN DICKERSON: Okay.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: –the can.
JOHN DICKERSON: Senator–
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: For the last thirty years everybody has got it wrong and he has run out of options.
JOHN DICKERSON: Senator. All right. And we’ve run out of time. Senator, thanks for being with us.
We’ll be back in a moment.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Sorry.
JOHN DICKERSON: It was a difficult week for a lot of Americans and we had some tough news here at CBS, too, but we would like to end on a joyous note. Margaret Brennan and her husband, Yado Yakub welcomed seven-pound eight-ounce Eamon Brennan Yakub to their family. And we at CBS and especially FACE THE NATION could not be happier for the new parents. Margaret is going to take some time off to get used to her new role but she’ll be back in November. Oh, and Eamon. From the son of one journalist to another you’re a lucky guy.
JOHN DICKERSON: And we’ll be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION, including our panel and chief White House correspondent Major Garrett is here with his new book about the Trump White House. Stay with us.
JOHN DICKERSON: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. It’s time for some political analysis. Susan Page is the Washington bureau chief for USA Today. Jeffrey Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Atlantic. Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor at the National Review and a columnist for Bloomberg View and Jamelle Bouie is Slate’s chief political correspondent and a political analyst here at CBS News. It’s great to be back with all of you. Susan, let’s start with the plea deal from Paul Manafort, the President’s former campaign manager. Excuse me, campaign chairman, not campaign manager. What does it mean?
SUSAN PAGE (USA Today/@SusanPage): Well, it means that Robert Mueller does not tweet. It means Robert Mueller indicts–
JOHN DICKERSON: Mm.
SUSAN PAGE: –and he convicts, and that is a powerful statement, indeed, to have the President’s personal lawyer, the President’s former national security advisor now his campaign chairman it is really quite a remarkable thing. And I think it does signal that we are approaching some kind of decision point when it comes to the most fundamental question of all about collusion and the President’s role.
JOHN DICKERSON: Jamelle, what could Paul Manafort give? And it– it looks like from the way this was done he has already handed over something–
JAMELLE BOUIE (Slate/@jbouie): Right.
JOHN DICKERSON: –as a part of the deal that he structured.
JAMELLE BOUIE: I mean he could help shine light on things like the change in the Republican Party platform in December 2016 about Ukraine. He can help shed light on particular claims within the Steele dossier and– and things that have not yet been confirmed or– or just add more insight into things that have been confirmed. So, it’s– it’s– he provides a I think a potentially substantial amount of evidence or substantial amount of confirmation for the ongoing investigation and I have to imagine that the President is very concerned about this given his tweeting about the Mueller investigation.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG (The Atlantic/@JeffreyGoldberg): My guess is that there are things we don’t know we don’t know. In other words, the deal with Manafort is so good for Manafort, some of these charges were dropped by Mueller that in their– in their negotiation. I think Manafort, obviously, it’s full kimono now as they say, and– and Manafort shared–
JOHN DICKERSON: Opening the kimono meetings?
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Oh, yeah. He’– he’s now going to unload everything that he knows obviously. And– and as you point out he already has in the sense because they wouldn’t make this deal without knowing what they’re going to get. And so there are– there might be subjects that will surprise us. Manafort is the closest person in in Mueller’s universe right now, the closest person into having actually watched this campaign for a pretty long period of time despite what Donald Trump says about Manafort’s marginal role.
JOHN DICKERSON: Right.
RAMESH PONNURU (National Review/@RameshPonnuru): It reduces the plausibility of the President’s constant attacks on the Mueller investigation as a witch hunt. It is finding real witches. It creates the possibility that we’re going to get more information or Mueller’s going to get more information about Russian interference in our election. Whether or not connected to Trump himself he may know things about the other end of this problem. And it, you know, it’s worth stopping for a second because we often talk about what does this mean next for the investigation, but the mere fact that the former campaign chairman has pled guilty to multiple counts of corruption is in itself a massive story and if we didn’t have this other controversy constantly swirling around this President we would all stop and think wow, that’s a really big deal. If that had happened to Obama, if that had happened to George W. Bush, we’d be talking about that pretty substantially for a long time.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Obama wore a tan suit once and it was a controversy–
JOHN DICKERSON: Yeah.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: –by contrast.
JOHN DICKERSON: Ramesh, let– let me follow up on that because you heard Lindsey Graham, I was trying to, you know, he– he was a prosecutor and he’s also been an impeachment manager or something that started with the land deal. So, he knows how prosecutions can move. He– he brought up a couple of times investigations into the FBI. This certainly we’ve heard from the president as well saying with each new movement for Mueller, yes, but we should be looking at these other things. Assess that as a both a policy argument but also politically does that work?
RAMESH PONNURU: Well, look, almost anything that comes out of the administration works with a hardcore of supporters of the administration, which is a minority of the public, but a majority of Republican voters. It keeps his base. It doesn’t help him win the argument with the public at large. And more people according to most of the polling that I have seen trust Mueller, believe in the process then believe in the attacks on him.
JOHN DICKERSON: Susan, what’s your sense– we got an election coming up. I mean, we– as you quite rightly pointed out, the Mueller investigation happens almost as if it were another time before electricity in terms of its patient, quiet and not
SUSAN PAGE: Mm-Hm.
JOHN DICKERSON: –but what happens if this comes out in a month–of– with the election coming up or how do you have– what’s– how do you sort through all that?
SUSAN PAGE: You know, one of the amazing things about when you look at the midterm elections is that the economy is doing great. People are the most optimistic about the economy they have been in a decade since the crisis in 2008 and the President’s approval rating is sinking below forty percent. Why is that? It’s because President Trump is not getting the credit he wants for the economy, not because they think somebody else created a good economy but because they are overwhelmed by the news we get every day about chaos in the White House and about the investigation by Robert Mueller. It has– it has swept away the possibility that Republicans could do okay in their first midterm. They’re going to have a very tough midterm in fifty-one days.
JOHN DICKERSON: Right. Well, this is– this is our segue to talk about politics.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Stipulating– stipulating that President’s two years in often loose seats.
JOHN DICKERSON: Yes.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: The majority party, the– the– ruling party loses seats. The Republicans should not be losing seats in either House right now. The economy is swimming along. We have no major international crises except self-imposed or self-created. And– and the fact that he’s under forty percent and the fact that Republicans are already discussing who to blame come November means that something is off the rails here, and this is– this is a process that’s being blown by a Republican President, Republican party, and that– that shouldn’t be blown.
JAMELLE BOUIE: What’s– what’s interesting is it’s not clear if the President himself recognizes the amount of dangers the administration is in, should Democrats have not just a good November, but a very successful one is what the polling is suggesting. If Democrats take the House, if they narrow their margin or even take the Senate which is not out of the realm of possibility, all of a sudden a whole world of investigative options are open. And I don’t think from my observation that the President is really quite aware of what that will mean for his administration, what that will mean for his ability to function insofar that he’s even functioning now.
JOHN DICKERSON: Ramesh, could– could follow-up on that, but also could Republicans say, “Economy is doing well, let’s not mess this up in the middle of it. Let’s not lock up the government with the investigations the kind Jamelle is talking about, so don’t elect– elect Democrats.” I mean is there a way to use what Jamelle is talking about as an electoral?
RAMESH PONNURU: I think the problem with the economy for the ruling party is that in a midterm election, you’ve got to motivate people to come out to vote. Midterms usually go badly for the party in power because the opposition is more revved up. And the message that things are okay is not the message that moves people, a message of grievance is what moves people. Twenty fourteen, you had a good economy, you had no international crisis, the party in power, then the Democrats got slaughtered in both the House and the Senate. That’s the problem, they need– I think, fundamentally, for midterms, you need a more grievance-based message than a message of be grateful for the tax cut, be grateful for the economy. And too many Republicans don’t get that.
JAMELLE BOUIE: I think that’s right. I think also, you know, you look at the polling and voters say they want accountability, they want Congress to act as a check on the worst impulse of the White House. And I think there’s a way in which the Republican Congress by not being more aggressive as a check has created the situation where voters may be very satisfied, but they’re saying to themselves, “Listen, we actually want some accountability here. We want someone to take– take the reins here.” And, the way– it looks like the only option are Democrats.
JOHN DICKERSON: Susan, the Senate, there’s been a lot of talk about how the Senate may now controlled by Republicans of the Senate may be in play. Is that right because we started this whole narrative with, “Oh my gosh, there are a lot of Democrats running in states that Donald Trump won handily.” What’s your assessment about it?
SUSAN PAGE: I think it’s still a pretty much a long shot. I think every single thing has to go Democrats’ direction for them to take control of the Senate. But I don’t think they need control of the Senate to overwhelm and undo and– and upset the– the order that President Trump has gotten accustomed to. If– if Democrats just win the House and it looks like that is a likely possibility they will not just consider impeachment. He’s going to get investigated in his administration for–
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: He’s got a lot of subpoenas–
SUSAN PAGE: –for a dozen other things that the Republicans have refused to take control of. It’s going to be a different world. If they also took the Senate, think about confirmation battles that would follow for anybody judicial in his cabinet that the President wants to nominate.
JOHN DICKERSON: I want to get to the Kavanaugh confirmation battle. We’ll do that after the commercial. But, quickly, Jeffrey, as we’re talking about how things may change, there has been some reporting about the secretary of defense and his re– relationship with the President–
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Yeah.
JOHN DICKERSON: –and– and– and what do you– what do you think about that–the idea is that the relationship which had been pretty good relatively speaking–
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Right.
JOHN DICKERSON: –to his relationship with other people who have either been fired or attacked on Twitter, what– what do you get– what’s the sense you have about the relationship between the Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the President?
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: The relationship is somewhat difficult because Jim Mattis, secretary of defense, is an internationalist. He’s a supporter of American alliances. He– he– he– he– his belief system is completely different than Donald Trump’s belief system, but he’s there to serve the American people and to be the grownup in the room. He also does not pay obeisance to Trump in the same way that many Cabinet members do. He doesn’t laugh at– at the jokes as Helene Cooper pointed out in The New York Times yesterday. He doesn’t do all of the, sort of, things that Trump seems to like doing. He is very popular in the military. Obviously, he’s a revered figure in the military, and that might keep the Trump administration from moving against him too quickly. He might get fed up with the discord where constantly being surprised by White House announcements of policies that he disagrees with and leave. And he could be the leading edge of an exodus of senior administration officials post-election.
JOHN DICKERSON: Okay. We’re going to hold it there. We got much more. So stick with us, more from the panel. We’ll be right back.
JOHN DICKERSON: And we’re back with our panel. Susan, pick up on this idea of a lot going on possibly with the exodus. Jeffrey talked about at the same time for this administration.
SUSAN PAGE: Right. General Mattis may leave soon after the midterms. We think Jeff Sessions survives long as attorney general. There could be others who leave. And I am struck by the comparison with President Clinton when he faced impeachment, a very serious matter in his– in his second term and his cabinet stayed put. That give– that was an– a source of enormous strength for him because it kept the government running in a– in a coherent way. And if President Trump faces several of his key cabinet members leaving, he could have trouble delivering on just regular government services all around him.
JOHN DICKERSON: Ramesh, I want to ask you about something else that happened this week. The President while Florence is bearing down on the East Coast tweeted about the Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, which– which was about a year ago from now and said that the three thousand deaths that have been– and there have been in lot of numbers, but they have been three thousand, is about the mid-range of– of the numbers, said that they didn’t happen. What did you make of that tweet and then the fallout from it?
RAMESH PONNURU: So the President treated it as suspicious that the estimates of the number of deaths directly and indirectly from the hurricane have been rising. That’s not suspicious. It’s not even surprising. And it’s certainly not exculpatory of the administration’s record or the federal and local response to the hurricane. You would expect over time, especially, when there’s significant power outages lasting for several months for that death toll to rise. And either the President doesn’t understand this point or thinks that a lot of his supporters won’t understand this point, but either way it is not a great sign about the ability of the administration to respond to natural disasters.
JOHN DICKERSON: And we also have and I was looking at the Hurricane Katrina numbers were kind of solidified three years after. It happened, and there’s still debate about– about that. Jamelle, obviously, there is– the– the sort of the fundamental point here is that we’re talking about human lives.
JAMELLE BOUIE: Right.
JOHN DICKERSON: These– these are not just numbers, they are very important for assessing what happened and how to prepare to face it again. But one of the major criticisms against President’s team from his own side is that he was treating the death of people as a kind of numbers game in– in terms of how his administration had done.
JAMELLE BOUIE: It’s– I think it’s very easy to go numb when reading the President’s tweets, there’s so many of them, he said so many outrageous things over the past couple of years that it’s– it’s easy to say, here’s just another one. But I think– I think this is genuinely remarkable in that indifference of the fact that– that people died. Potentially, thousands of people died, some of them–
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Americans.
JAMELLE BOUIE: –Americans. Americans died, potentially, preventable deaths. And for the President of the United States, who– who sworn oath to the Constitution to the American people to say that they didn’t happen and to suggest that the number themselves are some sort of opposition plot to discredit him, I think it’s a– I think it’s a serious offense. Even if it’s just a tweet it represents a profound violation of what the President is supposed to do and what he is supposed to be here for. I was, as you do, perusing The Federalist Papers a couple of days ago. And–
JOHN DICKERSON: People are doing that more and more.
JAMELLE BOUIE: In Federalist 65, Hamilton lays out sort of why– what impeachment is and why they’re giving it to the Senate as sort of a duty. And he think– then he notes that this is– impeachment is a political process and it’s not just for– for crime crimes, it’s for things like go against the– the oath of the office that go against the integrity of the office. And I’m not going to suggest that Trump ought to be impeached for the tweet, but I think we should think broadly about the ways in which he has violated the integrity of the office and I think that tweet, that sentiment is a profound violation of the office of the President.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: As they say in Federalist 10, sorry. We’re– we’re going to leave that. Ther– there’s an interesting new phenomenon, and– and the word numb is I think the crucial– the crucial word here. We do go numb to this. This is hurricane denialism. This is a new phenomenon in– in conspiracy mongering, from the administration that we’re, you know, somewhat used to now, sort of the– the floating of– of strange conspiracy theories. It– it– it is– I think it’s remarkably different in kind from other– other tweets. But I would say just to add to what Ramesh said, that there’s a good chance or a reasonable chance that the President doesn’t understand how these death tolls are calculated. He thinks that if you don’t die in the storm, three or four days of a hurricane, that means that anything that happens after is immaterial and– and we know that that’s not true. So there might be just a– a cognitive issue here or an– an issue of analysis that he doesn’t quite understand.
JOHN DICKERSON: And we heard from Brock Long preparing to prevent the deaths in Florence that are the key to the number getting to three thousand–
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Right.
JOHN DICKERSON: –in Maria. Susan, let’s talk about Brett Kavanaugh, President’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Where– what do we make of these allegations which are wisps from high school, or hard to figure out, what– what do you make of that?
SUSAN PAGE: You know we do– there’s so much we don’t know–
JOHN DICKERSON: Yeah.
SUSAN PAGE: –about these accusations and we don’t know where they’re going to lead at the moment. We don’t know that they’ll necessarily lead anywhere. But what struck me was how different the climate is today from when Clarence Thomas was being considered. Then you had a woman of real standing, testifying under oath, before a committee, that by the way, was all male, and her complaints about sexual harassment were not taken seriously, were not believed. And now we have a situation where climate is different. If this woman came forward and had a credible story, raising questions about sexual harassment, even in high school, it would be taken seriously today. And I’m not saying that’s going to happen and we don’t know that she’s going to come forward and we don’t know precisely what happened. But I do think that this is a different time.
JOHN DICKERSON: Ramesh, what do you think will– will happen? Seems like the nomination is still on track to be con– confirmed.
RAMESH PONNURU: Well, I think Susan raises the key question which is whether the person behind the allegation comes forward and attaches her name to it. If that doesn’t–
JOHN DICKERSON: Although then– even then it’s a he said, she said, right?
RAMESH PONNURU: That’s– that’s absolutely right but it does change it. If that doesn’t happen then I think this just goes forward, we have a Judiciary Committee vote on Thursday, which is favorable to Judge Kavanaugh and then you move forward. And there’s no reason I think that you wouldn’t expect the Senate Republicans to have this done by the end of the month.
JOHN DICKERSON: Jamelle, in our third– last thirty seconds or less, there are a lot of red state Democrats in the Senate who are up in states where Donald Trump won. What do they do about this vote?
JAMELLE BOUIE: You know, I– I tend to think that elections are– are very national and that voters don’t pay attention to that much to the minutiae. I think that they could vote against Kavanaugh and it’s not going to make much of a difference for– for their– for their prospects. Voting for Kavanaugh isn’t going to help them escape any attacks from the President, it isn’t going to help them escape any attacks from the Republican opponents. So it seems to me that the– the thing to do is just to vote with the party and– and given that Kavanaugh does seem to be an unusually weak nominee, he’s unusually unpopular for a Supreme Court nomination. There’s a possibility that a unified Democratic front could– could throw a wrench into the process in a way that it wouldn’t if one or two peeled off.
JOHN DICKERSON: Okay. We’re going to have to leave it there. Thanks to all of you. And we’ll be back in a moment.
JOHN DICKERSON: Major Garrett, our chief White House correspondent here at CBS News, is the author of a new book, Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride. He joins me now. Welcome, Major. What I think you’re trying to do in this book is amazing. You’re trying to cover an administration–
MAJOR GARRETT (CBS News Chief White House Correspondent/@MajorCBS/Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride): Yes.
JOHN DICKERSON: –with all the plates spinning in the air–
MAJOR GARRETT: Right.
JOHN DICKERSON: –and you detail here what that is like just day to day. But you’re also trying to say, wait a minute, there are transformations here that are enormous and different, let’s step back.
MAJOR GARRETT: Right. The question is does the world need another Donald Trump book? It’s a legitimate question. Maybe yes, maybe no, what did I try to do. To say, look, the emotional reaction, the national– national debate that constantly goes about Donald Trump what he is, what he isn’t, how he’s affecting our politics– politics rages hour to hour, day to day and, yet, things happen or don’t happen. This book is about what happened. Not about what didn’t. Not about the intrigues inside the White House that derailed things or carried out a vendetta or got someone to create a scenario that works around something the President said, but what actually happened, what’s going to be with this country whether you love Donald Trump or hate Donald Trump five or ten years from now. That’s a big task. It was hard to do. But I believe this book does it better than any book that’s out there right now.
JOHN DICKERSON: Now, just on that kind of– what do we call it, the– the excitement you deal with day to day in the White House. Before we get to the transformational parts of the presidency, one point you make which I want to highlight a little bit is that the– the– the chaos inside the White House, if that’s the way we want to talk about it, it’s not just relative to previous White Houses, all White– but it’s also relative to the goals the President would like to achieve himself. In other words, some of this has gotten in the way of what he wants to do himself.
MAJOR GARRETT: Sure. Sometimes he changes his mind and derails something and that frustrates people and that creates a sense of instability, like, what does he really want, am I doing the President’s bidding, which I thought it was and they changed his mind. How do I react to that? That’s one part of it. The other part of it is Republicans won’t come into this administration, they are understaffed. They don’t have people with existing bureaucratic and political knowledge who could assist this administration. Sometimes they don’t want them because they were never a Trumper or minor league, never Trumper. That’s a problem. When you’re not fully staffed and the op-ed in the New York Times highlighted this tension–
JOHN DICKERSON: Yeah.
MAJOR GARRETT: –who do we believe, who do we trust, who can we believe, whatever that continuum or answer is they don’t have nearly as many people as they need. That’s a problem. The President’s willingness to change his mind sometimes on a dime also is a problem. And one of the casualties of that sometimes is what the President himself would like to accomplish.
JOHN DICKERSON: Now let’s go back to the core argument of the book which is transformational things are happening, give people sense of what those big transformational things are and what hangs in the balance.
MAJOR GARRETT: Well, look at the Supreme Court and the federal bench. President talks about that all the time, not without legitimacy. Brett Kavanaugh is, so far as we know, likely to be confirmed, that’s two Supreme Court justices in two years. A dozen federal appellate court judges in his first twelve months, more than any President in the history of the country, that didn’t happen by accident. I point out in the book that when Donald Trump first thought about the Supreme Court, he said I want a list. No one ever put a list together before. That’s an act of political originalism. It’s probably going to stay with the Republican Party for a long time. They laid the question of the future of the Supreme Court before the country, and a lot of Republicans adhered to Donald Trump for that reason principally even if they made all the other reservations. That’s worth noting.
JOHN DICKERSON: Yeah. And– and those Republicans said ignore the noise, this is what matters forty years on the benches.
MAJOR GARRETT: And it very well might.
JOHN DICKERSON: Yeah.
MAJOR GARRETT: The Donald Trump court may be something we’re talking about or the Donald Trump federal judiciary something we may be talking about thirty years from now.
JOHN DICKERSON: And one of the things you point out about these transformations, tax cuts would be another one.
MAJOR GARRETT: Another one. We’ll be living with that for two decades for sure–
JOHN DICKERSON: That’s right.
MAJOR GARRETT: –and all the underlying politics.
JOHN DICKERSON: And if you ignore the excitement of the– it looks kind of like traditional standard Republican stuff.
MAJOR GARRETT: In certain respects. Not on trade and not on immigration, but certainly on deregulation. And there was a conversation during the panel about what if Democrats take over. I would say something worth pointing out and listening to and reading in the deregulation chapter. Because early in the administration the White House, the office of legal counsel sent a letter to Congress saying you don’t have to respond if you work in this administration to anyone who’s not in the majority. Charles Grassley, Republican from Iowa, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, said that’s outrageous. You can’t say that. White House said it anyway. Imagine now how that document might be used against this administration should Democrats take control and be in the majority because they have been now empowered–
JOHN DICKERSON: Right.
MAJOR GARRETT: –by this administration to be the ones you answer first and answer most readily.
JOHN DICKERSON: And that document originally, though, was meant to, what, not answer from–
MAJOR GARRETT: It disempowered the minority Democratic Party.
JOHN DICKERSON: Yeah.
MAJOR GARRETT: Okay? That’s in the book. That’s there. This is coming. If Democrats take– and I’m not predicting it but if they do, this administration, quite apart what the inclinations of the Democratic majority might or might not be, has by its own words and its own piece of paper empowered them if they are in the majority.
JOHN DICKERSON: We got about twenty seconds. Can the presidency go back after Donald Trump even if for Republican or is this just all very Trump idiosyncratic?
MAJOR GARRETT: What I say at the end of the book is what was unknowable in 2016 is knowable now. The country will decide whether we want to go back or not. But he won’t decide that in a vacuum.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Major Garrett, it is a fascinating read. Thanks a lot for being with us.
MAJOR GARRETT: Thank you.
JOHN DICKERSON: And we’ll be right back.
JOHN DICKERSON: That’s it for us today. Thanks for watching. For FACE THE NATION, I am John Dickerson. But I’ll see you tomorrow on CBS THIS MORNING.
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