Meet The Press host Chuck Todd joined me for our regular Thursday morning chat today, and it included a unique take on the Paul Ryan retirement announcement:
HH: I’m joined by Chuck Todd, host of Meet the Press. If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press. And Chuck, it’s impossible to say, given the President’s tweet this morning, whether by Sunday we’ll be talking about actual conflict in Syria. But what’s your sense of the situation this morning?
CT: Well, that’s it. I mean, I think, look, the delay, I think, is a correct delay here. I think the reason it hasn’t been quick is because I think they’re rightfully debating the following issue. The last thing didn’t work, right? If the last missile strike was an attempt to dissuade Assad from doing this again, or dissuade the Russians and the Iranians from, and letting Assad use chemical weapons again, and we can get a little detailed on that, it didn’t work. So if you’re going to do this again, obviously you’ve got to do more. You can’t do less. You can’t do the same, since that didn’t work. You’ve got to do more. And what does more look like? Is more a more of a sustained campaign? Is more of a quick, maybe the same length of time, but just a larger scale attack? What’s the, you know, what are you doing on day two? So I think that, I mean, we sort of, part of the delay is that issue, which is what does this look like? What, you know, I mean…
HH: Exactly. Years ago when now-Secretary of Defense Mattis was the head of the Marine Corps Expeditionary Force number one, I went down to Camp Pendleton. And his chief of staff spent a lot of time lecturing me, the civilian, on how civilians never thought through second order effects of military strikes. Here, the Russians have got their S-400 ringing all the Syrian installations. And we are, we’re pretty close to actually hitting a bunch of Russians. And we’ve got the de-confliction, that’s the latest term of art, going. But Chuck, do you think Washington or the country is ready for what might be sort of Cuban Missile Crisis kind of tension?
CT: Not at all. I think part of it is that you know, we’re not, you’re never, because we’re not really sure where President Trump individually is on Putin on any given day, I don’t think we realize how really adversarial Russia is essentially at every other level of government of ours. So the unintended consequences, I mean, we’ve already killed Russians in Syria. Now it happened to be Russian mercenaries who were there, you know, who had basically, Putin couldn’t admit were in country himself, because of how that would look for him domestically. But what happens if more Russians die inadvertently? How does he react?
CT: Does he react the same way if it is official…so there is a lot of, and then, of course, if this attack is going to be something bigger than, say, what it was a year ago. You know, Hugh, he’s got to go to Congress, you know?
HH: It’s interesting, yeah. Yeah.
CT: So you know, that’s the, I think that’s the conundrum here. I think they’re trying to design a strike so that they don’t have to go to Congress, but at the same time, try to design one that might actually work. I don’t know if that exists.
HH: I had Senator Rounds on yesterday, as you did last Sunday on Meet the Press. Great guest, by the way, very smart guy.
CT: Yeah, very.
HH: And he said we need to do a regime-threatening strike. Now that’s a new term of art for me.
CT: It’s an interesting term, yeah.
HH: Isn’t it?
HH: And so what do you think that means?
CT: Well, to explain, I would assume it means something that creates instability in Damascus.
CT: I mean either structurally, and then some. But again, I’m going to go back to what I just said previously. A strike of that magnitude, I don’t think the President can do that unilaterally. I think he’s going to need consultation from Congress.
HH: Well, you know, it’s interesting that when Theresa May is not going to the Parliament. She’s called the cabinet back. They’re meeting probably as we speak right now.
HH: And Macron just is going to act.
HH: But we have a different system here. Let me ask you this. This is a question about responsibility of the media. And you think a lot about this, so I’m curious about this. We’ve got some big stories. Paul Ryan’s retirement is a big story. The raid on Cohen is a huge story from a lawyer’s perspective. I’m fascinated by the piercing of attorney-client privilege. It’s never happened to a president before. But they actually pale in comparison to the idea of our stealth fighters taking out the S-400 Russian manned operating system in Syria. So what do you do? What are you advising NBC to do about this balancing?
CT: We’re trying to be prepared to cover everything. You didn’t, by the way, Sunday night is the Comey book night.
HH: Oh, that’s right.
CT: You know, and I reminded a…
HH: I forgot that.
CT: Well, it’s funny you say this. I reminded a Republican friend of mine of this, who’s working on a rollout of something. And I reminded this person of that and went, and this person actually went, oh, my God, that’s going to be so bad. And I said what do you mean, and he said the President’s not going to handle that very well. And I went yeah, that’s probably true. The tweet storm that comes from the President beginning Sunday night into Monday morning could be quite fascinating.
HH: Yeah, that is, that’s going to be…
CT: If Comey breaks the silent…and I have to ask, you know, Hugh, this is, look, I think I’m sure you’ve thought about it. I’ve thought about this. We wrote about it earlier in this week in First Read. No matter what you think of the President, think about everything going on in his head right now – Michael Cohen, James Comey, what’s happening with Mueller, and he’s got to decide what to do in Syria at the same time. Welcome to the presidency.
HH: Yeah, you know, and the Cohen raid, I assume that it picked up his trust and estates. I assume it picked up all of his divorce papers, every NDA that he’s ever signed. I assume Cohen’s got the most sensitive stuff, and I don’t know where it is. I don’t know what SCIF it’s stored in. It’s certainly of interest to hostile powers. It must be driving him crazy, right? That’s got to be gnawing at him.
CT: It has to be. We know he’s not, you know, he’s, he’s pretty sensitive to any time his personal business dealings get into the media, right? What’s the one time he’s sued authors, all this stuff? Anything involving his finances never, he doesn’t handle that well.
HH: All right, so I want to ask you about Paul Ryan, because as a dad, I said yesterday, I’ve had three teenagers in my house. I know what it’s like to want to be at home. I actually think this is one of those situations where I need to spend more time with my family is actually I want to spend more time with my teenagers before those boys are gone. What do you think about this?
CT: Look, I think there’s a lot, all things can be true. If you’re not finding joy in your work life, then it makes the longing for family life, the thinking about that, even more enticing. You know, so the thing is, you know, you can’t help but ask yourself if he were enjoying himself more, if he and President Rubio were in the midst of a policy, conservative policy renaissance, you know, and they were walking it out, you know, who knows? He may say you know what? I want to move my family to Washington. You know what I mean? Like, so we, I don’t think we can ever know for sure what the Speaker would have done if he were truly enjoying this job.
CT: But you know, look, my dad, he and I were, my dad died when I was 16. I cannot, all I want in my life is to have an adult beverage with an adult grown child of mine.
HH: Yeah, I can assure you…
CT: I’ve never had an adult beverage…
HH: It’s so great.
CT: I’ve never had it, but I never had an adult beverage with my adult father as an adult. I never had that moment.
HH: Yeah, it is so great.
CT: I long for it, okay? And it’s something I crave. So I get that part of it. I cannot, I sit there, and it’s like I think about it myself. I don’t know how long I can be on this same freight train that we’re on. That yanks at you when you had a parent that you lose at that moment in your life. It yanks at you all the time. You know, sons are driven by their father’s ghosts.
HH: Yeah, I have never, I’m glad not to have done that, but I do believe strongly you’re only as happy as your least happy child, and he’s got a wonderful daughter and two great boys, and he probably, boys will do screwball things in high school, as you and I both know.
HH: And less so your older first daughter. But those two boys, I’m sure it’s in there. So now tell me about Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, because if anybody knows whether there’s a real race on, it’s Chuck Todd. What do you think?
CT: Oh, I think, look, it’s a real race. But what’s the number and what’s the race, right? And what does Donald Trump do? Does Donald Trump put a finger on the scale and basically decide to pick the leader? I mean, he could. He could send a message that you know, that he and his people want Kevin McCarthy, for instance, you know, since they’ve had a personal relationship. The President would love to have the leader of the House Republicans owe him, perhaps, right? So to me, there’s a lot of angles to this to play out. Does the, you know, most presidents would never weigh in on a leadership battle. He’s not most presidents.
CT: What does he go?
CT: And then what’s the number? And what’s the race for? If it’s for Speaker, well, McCarthy’s already proven he can’t get 218 once. Can he get it the next time? If it’s for House minority leader, well, Steve Scalise is more of a, you know, a culture warrior than Kevin McCarthy is. And the remaining House Republicans may be a lot more conservative than they look, than the conference looks today.
HH: Interesting. Interesting.
CT: And what about Kevin, and what about all the, if California leads the Republican bloodbath, right? And there’s five or six pickups just in California alone, is that a black mark on McCarthy’s political resume, right? So I think…
HH: Lots of, we will watch on Sunday. I’m not even going to ask who you’re going to have, because it’s 72 hours, and we might go to war. But I’ll be watching on Sunday, America, because if it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.
End of interview.