NBC’s Chuck Todd, host of Meet The Press, joined me today to preview what we will be discussing Sunday (I’m heading back east to be a panelist on the show):
HH: Got a call yesterday, could I fly back to D.C. to be on Meet the Press with my friend, Chuck Todd, and I said you bet, an opportunity to blast the Senate Republicans, the weak-kneed, no spine, round heeled Republicans. I’d absolutely, and the NSC is going to be taken over by NeverTrumpers by Sunday, Chuck. Why not come back for that?
CT: (laughing) Wow, well, Duane warned me. He warned me. He said Hugh’s on fire this morning.
HH: I’ll tell you, the Republicans, the only ones they’ve been down on are Betsy DeVos, Andy Puzder and Scott Pruitt, the ones who’ve the most for the Republican Party. And the weak-kneed, it’s not McConnell. McConnell tried to get Puzder through.
HH: It’s Susan Collins, etc. Do you think they realize how this looks out in the world not surrounded by the Potomac, Chuck Todd?
CT: Well, I think you’re right. I think the base isn’t happy about things like that. But I think you have to, I think, you know, I put the Puzder issue on Mike Flynn, believe it or not, in this respect.
HH: Oh, interesting.
CT: I think that you now have a, you now have a little bit of blood in the water, and I think now it is easier for Senate Republicans to feel as if they can buff the President. I think if there is no Mike Flynn situation, if there is now, you know, basically White House in turmoil, if this White House had finally been able to get its competency act together in the last week, then you’re in a situation where Senate Republicans have a little more respect, collectively. I’m just saying it becomes harder to do things like this. I think the entire environment in Washington, where basically the Trump White House is, nobody fears it, and everybody is just scratching their heads on the organization of it, I think that is contributing to this environment, and makes it easier for the Murkowski’s and others to walk away.
HH: That’s a very astute observation, per usual. A couple of other points. Reince Priebus was attacked by Chris Ruddy rather randomly. Reince is actually in good shape by all my accounts.
CT: Why do you say rather randomly, Hugh? I mean, he starts attacking Reince Priebus after he has dinner with Donald Trump.
HH: Right. He just comes out and tweets it, and then he retweets…
CT: Okay, okay.
HH: You know, he comes out, and he…
CT: I’m just saying, I think we know it wasn’t random.
HH: Well, it’s just, but you’ve got to…
CT: I mean, in that respect…
HH: …put a filter on what you repeat from having a conversation with the President, because then Ruddy was back out retracting it an hour later after he got some blowback, probably from the boss.
HH: And the boss went out of his way to…but then Breitbart opens up on Priebus, and that’s connected to Steve Bannon. I don’t know if it is or not. I do think this Knight’s Landing/Game of Thrones thing has got to end. And over at the NSC, you know, Admiral Harward is widely respected. There’s a serious problem, and there’s a political problem. The serious problem is he worked for Mattis at Centcom. And you know, Chuck Todd, the NSC is supposed to be the honest broker. Has anyone raised that as an issue that it would be tilted to DOD if this very accomplished American, this SEAL, becomes the NSC advisor?
CT: No, it hasn’t, and I’m with you. I don’t understand, you know, it’s funny. We go from one extreme to the other here in an NSC. So no one has brought that up, but I also think that you know, it almost is, this is what happens when you appoint somebody without any government experience as Secretary of State, because normally, the person that would raise that issue that you just said internally should be the Secretary of State.
CT: Because if there’s anybody that has to be an honest broker between specifically two entities, you know, the National Security Advisor essentially the mediator between Defense and State.
HH: Trump can’t have a situation where it’s two, first of all, it usually is eventually two against one, but a lot of times, the two is Defense and State versus the White House, which actually is usually a fairly healthy thing.
HH: That’s a good thing. And Condi Rice spent a lot of time trying to get Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld to agree. That was her job for the first term.
CT: Right. Right.
HH: And that’s what Hadley’s job was in the second term. It was Condi Rice and Bob Gates. And that’s what they’re supposed to. If you bring in a former Mattis deputy, and I mean the is extraordinary. I don’t know him, but I’ve been reading about him.
HH: He’s extraordinary. There’s that. But there’s also this story at the Washington Free Beacon today that basically everyone at the NSC has been given their papers, and in are going to come in all the NeverTrumpers. How long is the boss going to put up with that, Chuck Todd?
CT: Well, it depends on who’s left to keep score on that front. I mean, I think what we don’t know here is where is Kushner on this, right?
CT: I think Jared is the arbiter here. We know where Reince wants to go, and we think we know where Bannon wants to go. And it could be that Bannon’s already played his cards by getting himself put onto the principles committee, right, and it can’t be undone. And that may make, that may make it harder. Or it may that Jared’s been convinced hey, you’ve got Bannon there, we’re going to, you know, isn’t that enough?
HH: Yeah, well, one last personnel question, then I’ll come back. The two big deputies at State and Defense are still not named with the story being President Trump vetoed Elliot Abrams. There is some buzz that Jim Talent is coming back over at Defense as a DepSec, which would make sense. But have you heard anything, because those are the two jobs that actually run the departments while General Mattis is over in Korea and China, and Tillerson is off on his airplane?
CT: Well, it’s my understanding that whatever we were getting close to has suddenly been delayed again after the National Security Advisor.
HH: Yeah, geez.
CT: You know, there had been that issue, too. Look this appointments issue, the White House can, and then Senate Republicans can start, they can blame Senate Democrats for slow walking some of the nominations, but Hugh, there’s a problem with there are not enough nominations.
CT: You know…
HH: There are…
CT: That is, there are just, there is way, way too many empty seats in this government, and we’re almost done with February. We’re on the other side of the halfway mark.
HH: There are 18 Court of Appeals vacancies, soon to be 19, because a 10th Circuit judge is going to take senior status, and that should be John Eastman’s nomination. But 18, soon to be 19, not one nominee, Chuck Todd, not one nominee.
CT: No, and look, there is, I’m sorry, Hugh, there is just a basic White House West Wing competency issue going on right now. It’s Game of Thrones combined with a whole bunch of people on learning curves at the same time. When you’ve both got to learn and fight for turf, that’s a recipe for disaster, and guess what? I think we’re witnessing it right now.
HH: Yeah, it’s Game of Thrones combined with Stranger Things. People keep disappearing.
HH: So Chuck, but let’s get to the substance. I am so…
CT: Dark company, buddy.
HH: I am so appalled by Puzder, because he is a friend of mine, and so you have to discount it.
CT: I understand.
HH: I’m so appalled by it that I see Obamacare not actually being repealed. I don’t know that Mitch McConnell can get the weak-kneed Senators to pull the plug on this thing, even as it collapses in real time. And what, and Tom Price is over there now. What do you hear about Obamacare, repeal, replace, anything about it?
CT: I, it’s, if anything, they’re all waiting for the White House. Again, everything comes back to the White House, because the problem on Capitol Hill is you have, you do have sort of three groups of Republicans. Just repeal the thing, stop the bleeding, stop the digging, then we’ll figure it out. Then you have others that believe there is a compromise that can be written, let’s do repeal and replace at the same time. And you have still others, I put Lamar Alexander in this third category, which says look, you can’t, it’s too hard to undo, there are going to be too many people with the Medicaid expansion, let’s essentially repair it. And guess what? Nobody can do anything until they hear from the White House, which path do you want us to pursue. I really think they’re pursue any of those three paths, but they’re waiting for the President to step in, in here. And everything you hear is nobody knows who’s running tax reform out of the White House, let alone, who’s running health care out of the White House. We know Tom Price is there to be, to basically be the point person, but nobody know what does Trump want, right?
HH: The only good news is that Secretary Mattis, formerly General Mattis, now Secretary Mattis, seems to be in complete control of the Department of Defense. Let me close by asking you this, Chuck. Who are you bringing back for Sunday, and what’s the main get? Reince needs to be on steroids. They’ve really got to, I hope they put him out there, and I hope they’re sending…
CT: He needs to. I agree.
HH: Yeah, send the message that this is the guy who’s in control. But what do you hear? And what do you expect to be covering this weekend?
CT: Well, I think we’re going to be covering a lot of Russia still. I think there’s that. I am going to speak with Senator McCain, who’s going to be in Munich for the conference out there. So we’re going to talk, I think basically where are Senate Republicans on all of this. I mean, that’s another dispute that’s going on in Senate Republicans, which is who should be in charge of this investigation?
CT: And they haven’t, they’re not in agreement. I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but you’ve got literally Burr and McConnell in one place, but you have Corker, McCain and others, it’s not just McCain and Graham in the other place. It’s a growing number of Republicans who want it out of Intel.
HH: And by the way, Jim Mattis says this in NATO yesterday, cut number 24 from Europe.
JM: It’s a fair demand that all who benefit from the best defense in the world carry their proportionate share of the necessary costs to defend freedom.
HH: He went on to say they’ve got to care more about their children than we care about their children. There’s a debate about that going on as well. It really is kind of chaos.
CT: My favorite, I agree. Hugh, my favorite chart of the day is from our boy, Mike Allen, at Axios. Did you see his great, and it’s, he threw the NATO defense percentage chart in there of all the NATO nations.
HH: Got it right here, yeah.
CT: Yeah, I think five countries are at 2% or more, five. You have Estonia, we’re there for you. Thank you, Estonia.
HH: Greece is one of them.
CT: But where is everybody below Estonia?
HH: Yeah, but Greece is one of them. That’s really astonishing. I think they must be paying us in falafel. Hey, Chuck Todd, I’ll see you on Sunday on Meet the Press. Follow Chuck Todd @ChuckTodd on Twitter, and Meet the Press @MeetThePress on Twitter. And I’ll see you there on Sunday.
End of interview.