A rush transcript of a special edition of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated. For previous show transcripts, visit the “This Week” transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: This Week with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS CO-ANCHOR: Saudi cover up.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We’re talking about a killing. So who did it?
RADDATZ: After Saudi Arabia’s shifting explanations about the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the CIA now reportedly concluding Saudi’s crown prince himself ordered the killing, according to an explosive new report in The Washington Post.
TRUMP: They haven’t assessed anything yet, it’s too early. That was a really premature report. But that’s possible. We’re going to see.
RADDATZ: President Trump pushing back, promising a full report on Tuesday. Who’s really responsible? And how far will the U.S. go to hold them accountable?
TRUMP: I’m not agitated. It’s a hoax. There was no collusion.
RADDATZ: Trump answering Robert Mueller’s written questions.
TRUMP: I’m sure they’re tricked up, because they like to catch people.
RADDATZ: The president says he’ll submit those answers to the special counsel this week. So, is the investigation coming to a close or just heating up? We ask key members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, plus insights and analysis from our powerhouse roundtable.
And at least 35 Democratic women preparing to take office for the first time.
‘Tell me what it means to you to be part of that group.’
Ready to make their mark.
REP.-ELECT DONNA SHALALA (D), FLORIDA: I’m a freshman, but not a rookie.
REP.-ELECT DEB HAALAND (D), NEW MEXICO: It’s great being the first. We never want to be the last.
RADDATZ: These women might all belong to the same party, but they’re bringing diversity of experience and opinion. How will they shake-up Congress? And with a Republican senate and a Republican president, how will they make their voices heard?
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it’s This Week. Here now co-anchor Martha Raddatz.
RADDATZ: Good morning on this Thanksgiving week. For so many it’s a time to take stock of what we’re thankful for. But as we head into this holiday, President Trump might have less on his list as storm clouds gather over his presidency. Three we’re watching in particular.
The new class of freshmen Democrats has hit Washington. And with their arrival comes the promise of Democratic-led investigations into the administration. The Russia probe is intensifying. While there’s no clear timeline for when Mueller will wrap his investigation, sources tell ABC News the special counsel is in the process of writing his final report. And Trump is facing added pressure as Congress eyes for their action on Saudi Arabia over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, America’s relationship with a close ally hanging in the balance.
But on Saturday, the California wildfires were front and center taking the president west to survey the damage. Parts of that state now barely recognizable, ravaged by the so-called Camp Fire, considered the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history.
Trump pledged federal assistance, praised first responders and stood shoulder to shoulder with California Governor Jerry Brown and incoming Governor Gavin Newsom.
Overnight, the death toll from the Camp Fire reached 76 and authorities say there are still nearly 1,300 unaccounted for. Already almost 150,000 acres scorched, nearly 13,000 structures destroyed leaving so many without a home to return to and the fire is only 55 percent contained.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea has seen this devastation firsthand. And he joins me now.
Good morning, sheriff. Can you give us the latest there from that command post in Chico?
KORY HONEA, BUTTE COUNTY SHERIFF: Good morning, Martha. Thank you for having me.
From what I’ve been told things are going fairly well with the fire in terms of that, but we’re expecting some very high wind coming. And that is causing us some concern.
RADDATZ: The number of unaccounted for is so alarming, nearly 1,300. Can you tell us how that list was compiled?
HONEA: Yeah, that list is compiled from a number of sources, people calling in telling us that they have loved ones or friends that they haven’t had contact with, people emailing us. And then we’re also going back through our record system that was collecting data — our 911 dispatch — collecting data during the most intense period of that. So the data that we’re putting out is raw. But my thought on that was it’s better to work towards progress than achieve perfection before we start getting that information out.
RADDATZ: And with this fire going, how are you verifying who is where?
HONEA: Well, that’s a very difficult process. You have thousands and thousands of people who are displaced. And so what we’re asking is for the community to — people to look at that list. If they are on that list to contact our office so that we can be assured that they’re safe. If friends or family know where they’re at, we’d like that information as well. But it is a daunting task. We are still trying to bring order to the chaos that this entire event has caused.
RADDATZ: Do you have any sense of whether the death toll would be that high — close to 1,300?
HONEA: I think that it would — I don’t believe that it would be that high. We are still finding people. I think yesterday we were able to account for several hundred people. And as the night went on, I heard about more accounts of people who contact us and advised that they were safe and well.
RADDATZ: And what should people learn from this in terms of accountability in a natural disaster like this. Checking in? What should they do?
HONEA: Yes, that’s a great question. And this is an unprecedented event. And in the wake of it, there’s so much chaos, there’s so many people displaced, but I would ask that people make every diligent effort to reach out to their friends and family and let them know they’re OK. And then also, check with us and let us know that they’re OK so that we can devote our resources to locating people who haven’t yet been accounted for.
RADDATZ: Thanks so much for joining us this morning, Sheriff and thanks to you and all of those who are helping out in those fires.
HONEA: Thank you, Martha.
RADDATZ: Now let’s bring in Congressman Adam Schiff of California, the incoming chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Thanks for joining us this morning. And I want to ask you about those fires as well, some very near your district. You saw the president there yesterday. Are you satisfied with his response?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well listen, I’m glad that he’s there, I’m glad that he is offering federal funds. That’s what he should do, that’s what a president is expected to do. Of course, I think all Californians were upset with the statements he made earlier in the week when people were facing utter devastation. But we need to focus on putting these fires out, we need to protect ourselves because all too often when the fires are out and rains are coming, then mudslides follow and other tragedy follows, so we — we need to get through this period and — and our hearts are going out to those effected and we’re so grateful for the responders out there.
RADDATZ: The president has criticized California’s forest management — I think that’s one of the things you were talking about there — as a — as a reason for the fires. And yesterday saying officials need to look to Finland as an example. Listen to what he said from the site of the fire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Got to take care of the floors. You know, the floors of the forest. It’s very important. You look at other countries where they do it differently and — and it’s a whole different story. I was with the president of Finland and he said we have a much different — we’re a forest nation — he called it a forest nation and they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things and they don’t have any problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: Does that make sense to you? What do you think of that answer?
SCHIFF: It doesn’t make much sense to me. But the reality is that no single fire has the same cause, every fire is going to be different. The fire in Malibu is different than the — the Camp Fire. Forest management wasn’t going to solve the problem in Malibu. The reality is we’re always going to have wildfires in California. With climate change, they’re going to be worse. And we need to take steps to reduce their frequency, reduce their severity. And yes, forest management is one piece of it, but there are lots of other pieces.
And I think the president needs to listen to the experts because clearly he isn’t one of them.
RADDATZ: Thanks for that. I was to turn to Khashoggi. Assassinated. We heard about the Washington Post report with the CIA concluding with high confidence that the Saudi crown prince ordered the killing. You were supposed to receive a briefing on the case this week. What can you tell us about it?
SCHIFF: Well I can’t discuss the briefing but I can tell you — at least in my opinion and given what we know of how the Saudi government operates and the crown prince, a central role in that, it’s very difficult for me to conceive of a murder of a prominent journalist and critic being carried out without the crown prince’s knowledge. And it is certainly testing the proposition that the enemy of our enemy is our friend. Iran is an enemy, Saudi Arabia is important in pushing back against Iran, that doesn’t make Saudi Arabia a friend.
Our friends don’t murder journalists. And I think —
RADDATZ: It does not sound like — from — from what I’ve seen, that there is a smoking gun there. So how do you convince the president to — just hours after this report was out with the CIA, said wait, wait we’re not finished with this and said he’d do something Tuesday. What do you expect on Tuesday and — and the issue of the smoking gun.
SCHIFF: Well I would say this. The president needs to listen to what our intelligence community has to say, what our best professionals’ assessment is. And it’s vitally important that this administration not allow itself to become part of any Saudi cover-up. Any cover-up, generally, any cover up of the crown prince’s involvement.
The Saudis have already undermined their position in the world, undermined their standing. And the administration makes sure – needs to make sure it doesn’t undermine its own standing.
And we certainly should be engaged in any discussion about bartering the life of another U.S. resident, Fethullah Gulen, this Turkish cleric that the Turks want to get back. We shouldn’t be bartering Mr. Gulen and talking about sending him to Turkey to facilitate a cover-up for the Saudis.
RADDATZ: But – but – but let me stop you there, you have said previously that they – this should be a relationship altering event with Saudi Arabia. But listen to what President Trump said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: They give us a lot of jobs, they give us a lot of business, a lot of economic development. They are – they have been a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development and I also think that, you know, I’m president.
I have to take a lot of things into consideration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: Does the president have to factor that into his decision making here?
SCHIFF: You know, of all of the reasons to maintain a relationship with Saudi Arabia, I think the number of jobs we derive from Saudi Arabia is at the bottom of the list. Look, Saudi Arabia is an important regional player.
They’re important in terms of pushing back against Iran’s malevolence, they have a role to play in the Middle East peace process. They obviously have a role in Syria as well. And we need to figure out how to manage that, but I think what this means more than anything else is, this really needs to alter our relationship.
On its own right, we should be bringing an end to the war in Yemen, but we – we should also recognize that we do not share the same values–
RADDATZ: –What’s the danger–
SCHIFF: –with Saudi Arabia.
RADDATZ: What’s the danger to the U.S. if the relationship is dramatically altered with Saudi?
SCHIFF: Well the – the danger to the U.S. is if the – if we act too precipitously and the House of Saud should fall, that would be completely destabilizing of the region and we don’t know what would follow.
So there are certainly risks here, and we need to figure out how to manage those risks. But first and foremost, we need to bring an end to the conflict in Yemen, but also we need to stop placing so much reliance on Saudi Arabia and in particular on the person of the crown prince.
Any regime that would be involved in murdering a journalist this way we should not be walking hand in hand with.
RADDATZ: And I want to turn to the Mueller investigation. We heard a lot about that this week and possibly there’s some sort of decision coming. He appointed Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, the Justice Department this week defended the move, arguing it’s legal under what they call the Vacancies Reform Act and noted that presidents Obama, George Bush both appointed non-Senate confirmed officials to a cabinet office.
Will Democrats still challenge that appointment and are you concerned about him overseeing the Mueller investigation?
SCHIFF: Yes and yes. I think the appointment is unconstitutional. He is clearly a principal officer and the fact that he is a temporary principle officer doesn’t mean that that is any less subject to Senate confirmation.
Constitutionally it has to be subject to confirmation. I think they’d lose that court – that case when it goes to the Supreme Court. But it’s also in conflict with a more specific statute, and that is there is a succession statute for the Justice Department, which makes the Justice Department different than other agencies which distinguishes it from these other cases that Justice is relying on.
When you have a specific statute that says this is the succession plan and doesn’t say you can also use the Vacancies Act to avoid the succession plan, you go with the specific statute.
So it’s a flawed appointment, but the – the biggest flaw from my point of view is that he was chosen for the purpose of interfering with the Mueller investigation. He auditioned for the part by going on T.V. and saying he could hobble the investigation.
And ethically he should have absolutely nothing to do with the investigation and – and –
RADDATZ: So what will Democrats do about it?
SCHIFF: We will expose any involvement he has in it. He needs to know that if he takes any action to curb what Mr. Mueller does, we’re going to find out about it. We’re going to expose it. And I would certainly call on my colleagues right now to avoid the constitutional crisis, take action now, speak out against this appointment.
You can imagine that if a Democratic president whose administration was effectively under investigation appointed someone as attorney general who had expressed hostility to that investigation, talked about crippling it, the hue and cry, and they would be right.
And we are right to raise this. This is attack on the rule of law, and the question for my GOP colleagues is will they have the same devotion to rule of law and institution that their predecessors during Watergate had?
Because that’s what’s called for right now.
RADDATZ: OK, thanks very much, Congressman Schiff. It’s always good to see you.
Let’s turn to Senator Roy Blunt, a member of the Republican leadership who also serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee. And I want to turn back to Khashoggi first. You heard Congressman Schiff there saying what he thinks should happen. Assuming the reports are accurate about the CIA conclusion, should the president issue sanctions on the crown prince?
ROY BLUNT, SENATOR (R-MO): Well, like Adam, we did have a briefing this week. I can’t really talk about that briefing but I do think that it won’t hurt here for another few days to pass. The president says he’s going to have some conclusions by Tuesday on this. Certainly the way you look at Saudi Arabia and the way it runs, it’s hard to imagine something like this could happen without the crown prince knowing. But I don’t know that we absolutely know that yet. And…
RADDATZ: Just from – just from reading the reports in the Washington Post, look, we’ve heard about phone calls that were intercepted. I know you can’t talk about things like this. We’ve heard phone calls intercepted between the prince and his brother. We’ve heard about tapes inside of the Saudi Consulate in Turkey. What more is needed? The same question that I asked Congressman Schiff. There’s – there doesn’t appear to be a smoking gun but there’s a lot of evidence piling up.
BLUNT: Well, I think a smoking gun would certainly help. If you actually did have that specific thing that is unlikely to be out there or unlikely to be found where someone gave a specific direction and you know that happened, I also agree that the economy is not a reason to worry about this relationship. Balance in the Middle East is. Who’s going to be in control there is. I’m certainly in favor of what we’ve tried to do with Russia and other countries under the Magnitsky Act of barring people from coming to the country, having economic impact. We’ll just have – I think we’ll have to see in the next few days whether we can really make the case that the crown prince would be one of those people or not.
RADDATZ: So if the president comes out on Tuesday, you know what you know and he says we can’t prove anything. What would your reaction be?
BLUNT: Well, I do know what I know and let’s see what the president says on Tuesday. I think the high confidence doesn’t mean that you actually have what you need, if that’s the term that the CIA is using. I’m not talking about what we heard this week but just what we all could read…
RADDATZ: In the public domain, yes.
BLUNT: … In the paper this morning. That is – if that is accurate, it means that we don’t quite have all the information we’d like to have yet. It would be nice – if we’re going to deal with this relationship which does really impact the balance of power in the Middle East, it does really impact how we’d – who – the balance to Iran, which is clearly a bad actor. We need to be absolutely sure we know exactly what we’re talking about and not what the first step is but also what the second and third step that that first step would lead you to, really determines.
RADDATZ: There’s been some question about what the president knew and when on the crown prince’s role in Khashoggi’s death. But take a look at this tweet from President Obama’s deputy national security advisor, Ben Rhodes. “We are faced with the real possibility that Trump has had info from his own intel community that MBS,” Mohammad Bin Salman, “was responsible for murdering a journalist who wrote for the Washington Post, and lied about it. I tried to help – and tried to help MBS get past it. Must be investigated.”
Do you think he knew something before in that Khashoggi should have been warned, or the intelligence community?
BLUNT: Well, I don’t know the specific answer there but I do know that I’m likely to know more about that than Ben Rhodes and I think that’s just pretty wild speculation.
RADDATZ: Are you concerned that the president has ignored the intelligence in order to protect the relationship?
RADDATZ: Not at all?
RADDATZ: I want to move also to what Congressman Schiff said about the Mueller investigation and about Whitaker. President Trump weighed in on Twitter this week, “the inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess. They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with answers they want.” They’ve gone absolutely nuts? Have you seen any evidence of that? Do you know what the president’s talking about?
BLUNT: I don’t know what the president’s talking about but I do know that that’s not news that the president would have this view of the Mueller investigation. He has engaged in this in that way from the very start, just like virtually every member of the Senate. And I think most members of the House have engaged, saying “Mr. President, it would be a huge mistake not to let the Mueller investigation come to a conclusion. We need to get beyond this, we don’t need to start – have this starting again.”
RADDATZ: So you have confidence in the Mueller investigation?
BLUNT: I do. I do.
RADDATZ: And let’s talk about the acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker. Lindsey Graham just said on another program this morning, I don’t know if he’s the best choice. What do you think about that?
BLUNT: Well, what we need is a permanent attorney general. We need to move as quickly as we can beyond whoever is the acting attorney general to an attorney general that’s going to be there for, hopefully, a much longer period of time. So we’ll see.
I don’t know Matt Whitaker well. I’ve known him for some time, met him in Iowa years ago when he was U.S. Attorney. On the occasions I’ve had with him to be — he’s been very responsive and has seen that the Justice Department responded to the things I’ve asked about. So in terms of an acting capacity, he does not — he seems to be a person that has the ability to do that acting job and …
RADDATZ: But not a permanent position; is that what you’re saying?
BLUNT: Well, I would think — I — I would think not. But that’s — the president needs to determine who’s going to be permanently at the Justice Department as soon as he can. Now, you know and I know that one of …
RADDATZ: What are you looking for?
BLUNT: … one of our big challenges in this generally has been that our friends on the other side in the Senate have made it so hard to get anybody confirmed to anything. And so, you know, the president’s unlikely, I think, to make that nomination before the Congress reconvenes and, if he did, we’d be unlikely to be able to do anything with it. We are way beyond the time where you have a hearing and a week later somebody gets confirmed to these jobs, no matter how insignificant they are. And this one, of course, is very significant.
RADDATZ: Just — just tell me what you’re looking for in an attorney general, if not Matt Whitaker.
BLUNT: Well, I think what the president should be looking for in an attorney general is someone who can manage the Justice Department, who understands the far-ranging impact of that Department, hopefully has had some experience working with or in the Department before that, and …
RADDATZ: And as for the Mueller investigation?
BLUNT: … As for the Mueller investigation, I — I think the Mueller investigation is going forward. I …
RADDATZ: In terms of an attorney general.
BLUNT: … Well, in terms of an attorney general, you know, the — the big question here on the Mueller investigation, I think, is whether the Congress has any ability to tell the president who can work in the executive branch. That’s a Constitutional question, it’s — it’s different than the question of whether Mueller should be allowed to continue, it’s what could you do about that.
You know, this idea that we’d have a debate, and have a vote and put a bill on the president’s desk that he wouldn’t sign. I don’t think that’s nearly as impactful as members continuing to say, Mr. President, we need to get beyond this; you need to let this come to a conclusion. And I think — I don’t have any reason to believe that Matt Whitaker feels differently than that.
RADDATZ: OK. Thanks very much for joining us this morning, Senator Blunt.
BLUNT: You bet.
RADDATZ: Up next, the midterms delivered a wave of women set to join Congress next year. So how will they change Washington? We sat down with a group of new members this week to find out. And later, Chris Christie and our powerhouse roundtable discuss the president’s latest attacks on the Mueller investigation. We’ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: I have overwhelming support in my caucus to be Speaker of the House and certainly we have many, many people in our caucus who could serve in this capacity. I happen to think that at this point I’m the best person for that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think of Marcia Fudge trying to challenge you or considering challenging you.
PELOSI: Say it to everybody, come on in, the water’s warm.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: The water may be warm, but Nancy Pelosi says she’s confident she’ll be the next Speaker of the House. Her fate may very well be decided by the newest representatives on Capitol Hill, including that surge of woman coming to Congress, bringing the female House ranks from 84 right now up to more than 100 for the first time. To get a sense of what these new members bring to Washington, we spoke with five incoming Democratic Congresswomen with unique backgrounds.
An Air Force veteran, a former CIA officer, one of the first Native American women in Congress, the youngest African American woman ever elected and a former cabinet secretary. I started by asking them what it means for so many women to be joining the ranks of Congress.
CHRISSY HOULAHAN (D), PENNSYLVANIA: It’s a remarkable privilege to be part of this group and it really is an important step for Congress to more represent — better represent the face of the nation. And as you can see from our faces, I think we’re a better representation of what’s been missing in Congress.
RADDATZ: Abigail, what do women bring to Congress?
ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D), VIRGINIA: I was a former CIA officer, we’ve got an engineer, we’ve got a bevy of experience here. And I think part of who I am, part of how I view the world is informed by the fact that I’m a woman, that I’m a mother, that I’m a sister and a daughter and wife. And I think in everything that I’m looking at and in every topic I’m considering, that perspective is a valuable one.
DEB HAALAND (D), NEW MEXICO: The other day I was walking across the Capitol to go take our freshman photograph and two young Native girls from South Dakota ran up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder and their mother came over and they were all crying. Like, all of us were crying. And —
RADDATZ: To have a Native American on the Hill.
HAALAND: Yes, yes, for us, for a group of folks in our country who have been here for thousands of years and being so underrepresented in Congress, I think it means a tremendous amount to folks in those communities
RADDATZ: And Lauren, part of the diversity is age.
You are the youngest African-American member of the House…
Our voices have not been heard in the halls of the Congress for too long. And so now we have not just one vote at the table, we have a caucus. We have a true Millennial caucus now in the House of Representatives. And I think that that is a significant step forward and opportunity for progress.
RADDATZ: Do you think you view things differently?
UNDERWOOD: I think my approach to problem solving, the process with which we make decisions can be more transparent, can be more open, can be more inclusive. Even this week, our use of social media, taking a peek behind the veil of what the Congress is actually like.
RADDATZ: And Donna, you’re a newcomer as well to Congress but not a newcomer to Washington.
SHALALA: That’s true. I’m a freshman but not a rookie.
SHALALA: And it’s been pretty exciting. People in the halls that work here say welcome back, because they remember when I was here as a Cabinet officer.
But I also think this is a revolution.
RADDATZ; And I know you’re all optimistic. But be realistic here, there’s still a Republican Senate, a Republican president. How do you really make progress?
HAALAND: Why not start with an issue or with folks and something that you can agree on? And so I almost feel like we need to find what those things are, what can we agree on. Let’s make some friends. Let’s reach out. In the end it matters that we are representing our districts in the right way and they expect us to come here and do some work and not just start fights
UNDERWOOD: Well, as Deb mentioned there is an agenda that we all agree on, but in the 115th Congress they wouldn’t call a floor vote. One of the prime examples in my mind is paid family leave. Donald Trump campaigned on — he deputized his daughter, Ivanka, to go and be a shepherd in the Congress and she couldn’t get it done because they wouldn’t call a floor vote. And so when I think about opportunities for bipartisan action there are many opportunities that now we have a House that’s willing to call a vote that creates the foundation with which we can build upon.
SHALALA: We just went through hard elections.
UNDERWOOD: That’s right.
SHALALA: We flipped the House, and we’re tough enough and strong enough and focused enough, I think, to get some things done. In my case, I want to work on health care. That affects everybody. We won our election very much with health care as one of the major issues. And you can’t ignore that.
RADDATZ: Is that, to you, the one thing that Democrats have to– have to make happen before 2020?
HOULAHAN: It is the issue of my district.
RADDATZ: Is investigating President Trump and his administration a priority for you?
SHALALA: Of course we want to hold this administration accountable, but at the same time we need to deal with the health issues, we need to deal with the environmental issues.
RADDATZ: Do you worry that any of your Democratic colleagues might overplay the hand on investigating Trump?
HOULAHAN: I actually worry that the, frankly the media is overplaying that. There is a time and a place for the oversight that needs to happen, but I think it’s really important that the narrative of our, of our Congress is about what we’re getting done for the people.
RADDATZ: How do you deliver — you’ve seen the Democrats in the party — there is more traditional, there’s a progressive — how do you square those and have a Democratic message going into 2020?
UNDERWOOD: I think that there’s always going to be a spectrum. We are a big tent party. But when we step onto the floor of the house and cast votes and when we lead, we have to carry forward the voices for the people back home. And so we cannot fall down these rabbit holes about ‘what kind of Democrat are you?’
RADDATZ: OK, let me go down the row and ask you all the same question. Are you planning to vote for Nancy Pelosi?
SHALALA: I am.
UNDERWOOD: I have not made up my mind.
HAALAND: Yes, I am.
SPANBERGER: No I’m not.
HOULAHAN: I haven’t made up my mind
RADDATZ: What will help you make up your mind? Her staff, everyone will say look she helped get you all elected.
HOULAHAN: No, I have enormous respect for Leader Pelosi. But I do want to make sure that I understand to the degree that I can what kind of reform can happen in the, in the floor so that young voices and new voices can be heard.
RADDATZ: And Abigail, you’ve been pretty firm on this all along that you would not vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker. Why not?
SPANBERGER: I think that we — if we are going to turn a page and bring civility back to the political discussions we need to change the people who are directing that conversation. And I, like Chrissy said, I have tremendous respect for everything that Leader Pelosi has done. I think we’re all sitting here in part because of the– the path that she has blazed for us. But I have been very, very clear and honest about my intentions.
HAALAND: She’s the only person, I believe, that we need in this tumultuous time with the president we have to stay on track, to make sure that we are fulfilling the promises to the American people.
RADDATZ: Donna, what would you say to Abigail about Nancy Pelosi and who — who worries about the civility?
SHALALA: I would look at what the job is and it’s a little bit of herding cats and it’s a little bit about keeping a Democratic Party that’s full of lots of different points of view.
And I think that Nancy has demonstrated that time and time again, she has a backbone. She’ll stand up to a president. You know, this is not forever. But right now at this time in this transition for the next two years, I’m with her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: And we’ll have to wait and see what happens, our thanks to them for that conversation. Welcome to Washington. The Roundtable is up next. We’ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I will tell you I’m extremely upbeat. The White House is running like a well-oiled machine. It’s doing really well. I have great people. I will make some changes, but not very many.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: President Trump says he’s upbeat but will Democrats coming to Washington change his outlook? The roundtable’s all here to debate that and more. We’ll be right back.
RADDATZ: And there you have it, the freshman class for the incoming 116th Congress. As you saw earlier from our conversation on the Hill, a record number of women were elected to the House and all but one of them are Democrats. Our colleagues at FiveThirtyEight note that just 15 percent of the women in the next Congress will be Republicans, down from 27 percent currently serving. We’re going to talk about that and much more with our roundtable.
Former New Jersey governor and ABC News contributor Chris Christie, Democratic strategist and ABC News contributor Stephanie Cutter, Reihan Salam, executive editor of National Review and author of the new book “Melting Pot or Civil War?: A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders” and Mary Jordan, national correspondent for the Washington Post.
Welcome, everybody. And I’m going to start with you, Mary Jordan. You saw that class picture of the incoming number of women, you heard all the women I talked to. Do you think they really make a difference?
MARY JORDAN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: I do think that in all the excitement and the significant gains we’ve been talking about, three out of four members of Congress are still men. And we are still way behind most of the rest of the world. So I think first of all, men are still in charge here, but there is an enormous amount of new energy to get things done. A lot of women who were never in politics are coming to the Hill. And I think they’re going to bring fresh perspective and they’re going to focus on two things.
I heard over and over and over that they’re going to focus on healthcare and stopping the kind of incivility and trying to heal things. And if they do that, that would be a pretty significant change in conversation on Capitol Hill.
RADDATZ: And everybody comes in with a great agenda. We’ll hope they keep their — we’ll hope they keep their energy up. And Chris Christie, to that point about women, Congress’s newest members were up on Capitol Hill, as we just saw.
RADDATZ: Let’s just take a look at the Republican freshman class in the House, I guess, you know, to rub it in.
OK, look at the faces there. And here is just some of the Democratic freshman class. Little bit different. Should that lack of racial and gender diversity be cause for concern among Republicans, especially when you look at the midterms?
CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I think that we should always be looking for ways to make our party more diverse and more representative of what the country looks like. So I think that should be a goal. You know, I come from the most ethnically diverse state in America. And so for me, you know, the fact that my party – let’s say in New Jersey, look significantly different than that class picture, just tells you it’s possible to do that.
RADDATZ: OK, but we’re not just talking about New Jersey. We just had the midterms…
CHRISTIE: No, but I’m saying…
RADDATZ: … But what do they need to do?
CHRISTIE: Well, I think you got to focus on it, you got to recruit. I mean, candidates – like you said, a lot of these folks who came in on the Democratic side had never been involved in politics before. How did they get there? Well, some of them were self-motivated to get there but some of them, Martha, were recruited. And I think it’s incumbent upon the leadership of the party to go out and recruit members of our country, citizens of our country, who believe in Republican philosophies and Republican approaches to government, and get them to come in to give our party an even more diverse look at what is going on and how we solve some of the problems the country has.
RADDATZ: And speaking of those problems, Stephanie, it – the midterms went for the Democrats from good to really very good, or you might even say great. But you still have a Republican Senate, you still have a Republican in the White House. So what happens in the next two years? How do you bridge that divide?
CUTTER: Well, I think that Democrats have two roads. One is to get things done that matter to people. You know, I was struck by the women that you just interviewed and talking about paid leave, that the current House of Representatives wouldn’t even bring it to a vote. I guarantee you, under Democratic leadership, that will be brought to a vote. And that will matter to people to see their Congress voting on something that impacts their daily life.
The second thing is, I think that this House will be an important check on the president’s power. And that’s a necessary part of our democracy. You know, whether it’s the abuse of power through cabinet agencies or the president making executive rulemakings without the proper process, or dividing and demonizing certain segments of our society, those are the types of things that I think this House of Representatives and, I think, one of the reasons they were elected, is to make sure that that abuse of power, there’s some sort of a check on it.
That’s the checks and balances that are instilled in our government.
RADDATZ: OK, on this side of the table, we have our partisans today. On this side of the table, Reihan, I’m going to go to you. President Trump called the Senate results an epic victory. You wrote this week, however, you see troubling signs for the Republicans.
SALAM: That’s right. The main sign is that the Republican Party is eroding among suburban upper and middle-income, college-educated voters, and yet the party was not growing among working class voters. Those voters were enormously important in 2016. They helped propel the president to victory. However, he has the support of some white working-class voters. He seems to have lost some of that support and he has not built support among working-class voters who are not white.
And when you think about the party’s long-term trajectory, yes, the Democratic caucus is now very diverse but its voter base has become a lot more suburban, a lot more affluent, and that, in theory, creates an opportunity for Republicans to appeal to a broader swath of the working class. But to really do that, you need not just cultural politics. You need something a little more substantive as well on economic and domestic policy. And that’s what we haven’t seen so far from the president, even though he seems to have those instincts.
Right before the election, he said “Hey, we needed a middle-class tax cut. I’m going to give you one right before the midterms.” That, of course, didn’t happen. But he realizes, he appreciates, that running against the safety net, running on a very narrow, small government agenda that doesn’t necessarily speak to working class voters, he didn’t do that in 2016 but he didn’t follow through on that more populist–
RADDATZ: And Mary, you’re out there with the voters as a reporter.
JORDAN: You know, Donald Trump got an enormous amount of traction by talking about, I’m going to take care of the forgotten man and women. And when I’m talking to people out there, many of these people who believed him and voted for him, they still feel forgotten. And so especially for people, you know, yes that there’s a little – there’s a bump in the economy, but I think people don’t feel that they got what they wanted from Donald Trump. And 2020 is all going to be about that.
It’s going to be about, who is going to help the middle-class people and low – because we think – that there’s a feeling that rich people, they’re doing just fine. And again, 2020 is going to be about the middle class.
RADDATZ: And Stephanie, I want to go to you, and speaking of 2020, let’s take a look at Florida, what happened. Andrew Gillum has now conceded in the governor’s race. It doesn’t look like the Democrats will hold the Senate. I think the final recount is — is today. Looking into 2020, can Democrats win back the White House without Florida, without Ohio which was also very red?
CUTTER: They can. It’s very difficult but there are pathways. Florida is the ultimate battleground for both Democrats and Republicans. And it’s, you know, the — you see it switching back and forth every two years between Democrats and Republicans.
We’ve got a lot of work to do there. Obviously, it’s a recount so it is a very, very close race. But we need to look very carefully, what are the lessons that we can learn? How can we better organize? What — what went wrong? There’s no reason why Bill Nelson shouldn’t be winning handily in that Senate race.
But, you know, we were also fortunate to expand our playing ground when — with bringing Arizona into the Democratic column, which opens up new opportunities to get to 270 electoral votes in a — in a presidential election. But I guess I would say, while we had great results a little over a week ago, almost two weeks ago, looking at the lessons learned from 2018 and how they apply to 2020, we have a tremendous amount of work to do.
RADDATZ: And — and — and Chris, I wanted to ask you, another race getting a lot of attention is the Senate race in Mississippi. The president just announced he’ll be heading there to campaign on the behalf of Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith who’s in a runoff election with Democrat Mike Espy. It seemed like it should be an easy win for the Republicans until this happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CINDY HYDE-SMITH, R-Miss.: If he invited me to public hanging, I’d be on the front row.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” she’s saying to a supporter there. How concerned are you about the race?
CHRISTIE: Well, I think we have to be concerned when candidates say stupid things, right? So I mean, I remember when I was chairman of the RGA, the Republican Governors Association, in 2014 and we had got off a bunch of races. You’ll remember, in 2012 where Republican candidates had talked about rape in a way that was completely inappropriate. One of the things I said to the new gubernatorial candidates in ‘14 was if anybody says the word ‘rape,’ I’m not going to fund your races.
I mean, candidates matter. And so now this race will be much more watched. I think the Republican will still win but I think it’ll be much more watched because when candidates say things that, you know, aren’t — aren’t right, aren’t smart, they get more attention.
But I’d say one other thing, Martha, to what you were saying before about 2020. You know, the president and every president goes through this — President Obama went through it, President Clinton, President Bush 43 — when you go through a midterm and the results aren’t exactly what you would have hoped or worse, it’s a time for re-examination, re-examination of how you’re going to present yourself and, I think, even more so for this president now because he has a Democratic House he has to deal with. And so he’s going to have to decide, does he want to be the New York dealmaker, which is part of the way he ran, or does he want to be a doctrinaire Republican.
And I think that, Reihan, what you’re saying is absolutely right. He has an opportunity to grow the Republican base in a way that’s going to play into the map Stephanie spoke about but it’s his decision, he’s got to decide how do to do it.
JORDAN: But isn’t — isn’t the red alert here that the Republicans can’t get women to vote for them? What the (ph) …
CHRISTIE: Well, that’s not true though, Mary. It’s not …
JORDAN: … the exit polls show a profound gender gap that we have never even seen that women …
CHRISTIE: … But Mary, there’s always been a gender gap. I — I don’t — I …
JORDAN: … No, no, not like this.
CUTTER: Not like this
JORDAN: This is a record.
CHRISTIE: … Listen, listen — right. And this — and — and — and this was a bigger gap in a midterm election. So let’s see what happens in a presidential year election when an even number of people turn out to vote. You always should be concerned about who’s not voting for you because you want them to vote for you — whether it’s gender-based, ethnicity-based, whether it’s regional as you were talking about before as we see great regional differences, or whether it’s based upon educational background and affluence — you should be concerned about all that because you want every vote you can get. That’s the way you win.
CUTTER: So at this point in 2010 — and I’ll be quick, Martha — the — the pundits gave President Obama a 17 percent chance of winning re-election. And we sat down and figured out what — what do we need to do to change.
CUTTER: And we decided we need to expand that group that we were talking to, not just our base but those that we needed to persuade that we were on a pathway to a better future. Compare that to President Trump threatening to shut down the government this week over his border wall and using the caravan as a message to divide us …
CHRISTIE: But I would also …
CUTTER: … Is he learning that lesson?
CHRISTIE: … Well, I don’t know but I — I — I’m pretty confident, as I recall 2010, that President Obama’s epiphany didn’t happen within 12 days of the midterm. He sat down with advisors like you and others over a period of weeks and said, OK, here are the numbers. Here’s what we have to do.
CUTTER: But you know what — what he wasn’t doing?
CUTTER: He wasn’t threatening to shut down the government …
CHRISTIE: But …
CUTTER: … over an incredibly divisive issue that has already divided the country over the past two years.
RADDATZ: The partisans are on this side of the table.
I’m going to launch back over to this side of the table with our journalists over here. And Reihan, I know we want to launch ahead to 2020 but what about the next two years? What do you see happening in the White House? We heard a lot about, once again, staff shake-ups. We see President Trump who appears to be getting a little, a little unsettled about all this. What are you seeing in terms of the Trump White House now and where he goes in the next two years?
SALAM: Well, one really important thing to keep in mind is that Donald Trump presented himself as a very independent figure, a figure who was quite different and distinct from conventional mainstream Republicans, that was a big part of his appeal. Now, when you had House Speaker Paul Ryan, a man who has many virtues, of course, but someone who was dedicated to an agenda that dated back to the ’90s, that’s something that really did wind up constraining President Trump.
The fact that President Trump on more than one occasion has said he’s willing to find Republican votes to back Speaker Pelosi — now you can say that’s just being playful — but also he is someone who has repeatedly said I want to talk about infrastructure. I want to talk about middle class tax cuts. You know, his daughter, Ivanka, as a previous congresswoman-elect mentioned, was talking about paid leave and what have you.
It’s quite possible that he is going to try to triangulate. Now whether or not he can succeed in
doing that, given the fact that people have very strong opinions about him one way or another, is an open question. But clearly the president himself wants to shake the kaleidoscope of American politics and do something a bit different between now and 2020.
RADDATZ: You’ve got 10 seconds.
JORDAN: He’s got to — when he ran before, he didn’t have a record. Now he has a record and people are going to say where’s the infrastructure? Where is the help for the middle class? And all of us voted for you, what are you giving to us? I think that he’s got a much higher bar now in 2020 and he’s losing women by the droves. And they vote more often than men.
RADDATZ: Very good on the 10 seconds.
Thanks to all of you. We’ll be right back.
RADDATZ: And that’s all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out World News Tonight and have a great Thanksgiving.