'This Week' Transcript 4-1-18: Sen. Doug Jones and Andrew Young

PHOTO: Pictured (L-R) are Sen. Doug Jones and activist Andrew Jackson Young.PlayU.S. Senate | Reuters
WATCH Young protesters will be part of 'redemption of America': Friend of MLK Jr.

ANNOUNCER: This Week with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: President Trump on his own.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have made some changes, because I wasn't happy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Firing another cabinet member by tweet, slamming America's giant retailer Amazon and surprising his foreign policy team with this.

TRUMP: We'll be coming out of Syria like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon.

STEPHANOPOULOS: After the eighth high profile departure in the last month, will Trump keep cleaning house? Is his off the cuff style working? What are the risks of an improvisational presidency?

And...

ROSEANNE BARR, COMEDIAN: Thank you for making America great again.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Roseanne's comeback strikes a cord: the president congratulated Roseanne on her blockbuster debut. His voters helped her score record ratings. What is the message for Hollywood and Washington?

Plus...

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVST: We stand in the most is he segregated hour of America.

STEPHANOPOULOS: 50 years ago this week, Martin Luther King assassinated. His friend and fellow pioneer for civil rights, Andrew Young, joins us this morning. We'll break down the politics, smoke out the spin, the facts that matter this week.

ANNOUNCER: From ABc News, it's This Week. Here now, chief anchor, George Stephanopoulos.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning on this Easter Sunday, celebrated by so many Christians around the world. There you see thousands worshiping at The Vatican this morning. We also offer up our best wishes marking the first days of Passover.

President Trump is spending the holiday at Mar a Lago, capping what passes for a quiet week of his presidency. Sure, it did start with that Stormy Daniels interview and a fresh threat to Trump in the courts, and another cabinet member, VA Secretary David Shulkin, was fired by tweet. Trump's pick to replace him, his personal physician Dr. Ronnie Jackson. And there was that surprise shift on national security. In an Ohio speech supposed to be focused on infrastructure, the president announced for the first time his intention to pull U.S. troops out of Syria soon, blindsiding the Pentagon and the State Department.

With so many top advisers heading for the exits, President Trump is happy now to do what he's always done: to say and do what he wants when he wants.

And this week, at least, he can take some comfort in new poll numbers that show his approval rating creeping into the 40s, a slow but steady climb from recent lows.

And we have a great group here to talk about it. Joined by former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, now an ABC News contributor, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, Jennifer Jacobs, White House reporter for Bloomberg News, and Patrick Gaspard, the president of the Open Society Foundation, former political director for President Obama.

Chris, let me begin with you. I'm not sure whether or not this actually is a new phase in the Trump presidency, but clearly he's got a new group around him, people who are much more in tune with what he wants to do.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Well, listen, I think this what should have happened right from the beginning. And we have spoken about this. The Washington Post story this week on the presidential personnel office tells you everything you need to know. He was ill served right from the beginning by a group of people who threw all the transition work out, 35, 8-inch binders of vetting of over 350 people, that were consistent with his views, that they got rid of, literally threw in the garbage two or three days after the election, started over.

He's been ill-served by that right from the beginning. When he says I'm starting to get the cabinet I think I want, it's because he is finally being able to get people around him consistent with what he thinks and are personality wise consistent with who he is. He was ill-served by folks like Bannon and Dearborn and others around him in the beginning. And I think he's finally starting to move in another direction.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: But the president is operating as if he's on the 26th floor of the Trump Tower.

CHRISTIE: He's not?

BRAZILE: Yeah, he's operating. He's running the government like he ran the Trump organization, by himself, home alone. Extreme staff turnover, George, 48 percent according to the Brookings Institution, senior staffers, six cabinet secretaries. There's a degree of chaos that this president likes around him. He doesn't seem to want a lot of what I call different viewpoints in the room. He's purging the government.

CHRISTIE: Donna, I would just say one second, that's not exactly true. And I think it's -- he got ill-served in the beginning -- that he doesn't like different viewpoints in the room. He does. And I've been there. And I'm usually the one has given him different viewpoints at times over time. He'll give you a hard time back. That's why I'm still here, right. But the fact of the matter is...

BRAZILE: That's why you're here and not inside the government.

CHRISTIE: Maybe it just means I'm smarter. I don't know.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He does seem to be working around Chief of Staff John Kelly.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He does it. And it turns out that this first year was the calm year of Trump's presidency. Now we're getting to the disruptive one. But you know that's a good thing. When things are going well in the country, you want experience and discipline and continuity. That's not why Donald Trump was elected. Things were not going well. He's the rock Americans want him to throw through Washington's window. He is disrupting experience and continuity and discipline.

By the way, it’s been productive so far. ISIS has been crushed, 98 percent of it gone, an economy that’s opening up and deregulation and growing, tax cuts, a huge tax -- he got through that nobody thought he could.

So here, here for disruption. I’m for more of it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But Jennifer Jacobs, it does cause some confusion inside the White House. Just a couple after the White House strikes a deal with South Korea on trade, president says on Thursday, (ph) oh, I’m not sure I’m going to abide by it. And of course, that announcement on Syria blindsided everyone on the national security staff.

JENNIFER JACOBS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: You’ve got to keep in mind how much he wants to be the president who solves North Korea. You really have to understand how much he’s driven by that in so many of his moves with China. So many of his moves with -- with South Korea are based on his desire to be the president of the United States that did what President Obama couldn’t do and he solved the denuclearization of North Korea. So keep that in mind.

But also, I’m told that the turnover is going to decrease. The White House is not expecting a whole lot of more turnover between now and the midterms. There might be a little bit more cabinet shuffling, possibly, but he might -- he’s pretty happy with his cabinet right now. But I’m told that one thing you have to understand about Trump is he doesn’t see this turnover as chaos, as the media keeps describing it. He sees --

STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s the word, too (ph).

JACOBS: Oh, absolutely. But he sees his agenda as being slow-walked. He was very, very frustrated with the omnibus spending bill and how he didn’t get a lot of his agenda through. He’s very frustrated with some of his cabinet members that they’re impeding in his way of thinking, what he wants to get done very quickly. So when he got rid of Rex Tillerson, McMaster, Shulkin, he sees that as his way -- the best way forward to speed progress on his agenda.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So not much (ph) going to get done with Congress the remaining of (ph) this year.

PATRICK GASPARD, PRESIDENT, OPEN SOCIETY FOUNDATIONS: No, of course not. Certainly not in the year of a midterm election. But truly, truly interesting to -- to hear Alex talk about success and Governor Christie to say that this is what should have happened in -- in the first place. Governor, with deep respect, you ran a very mature, sophisticated transition process that was thrown out the window.

But at least in the beginning, there were some adults that managed to get into the room. Now, it’s turned into romp room in the place (ph). And when you say that he’s got people around him who are consistent with his views, I don’t know what consistency there where he changes his mind on gun policy from hour to hour, on trade policy, whether or not he’s going to sign the -- the budget deal.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, ABC NEWS: I can tell you --

(CROSSTALK)

GASPARD: It’s a -- it’s -- it’s a time of chaos and a time where he’s surrounded by cabinet officers who have one conflict after another.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: Well listen, on -- on -- on the issue of chaos, I agree with what Alex said. This is the kind of disruption the American people wanted. They knew who they were voting for. They didn’t think they were voting for somebody who was going to, like, stand at the -- at the head of the ship and just keep it nice and steady. They knew what they were --

GASPARD: Unemployment is less than five percent and we are more energy independent than we’ve ever been. I’m not really sure what this is supposed to (ph) --

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: They knew who they -- they knew who they were voting for and what they -- and what they’ve -- what they’ve seen is they’ve seen a tax system that now has significantly decreased taxes, is increasing jobs, you’ve seen the best employment numbers you’ve seen in a very long time. But -- but let’s put all that aside and go back to your main point. This is a president who is going to lead based upon his gut, what he thinks he wants to do.

And you can agree or disagree with it, but that’s who is. And sometimes it’s going to lead him to firing somebody, sometimes it’s going to lead him to hiring somebody like John Bolton who people think he was never going to hire. This is the way this guy makes decisions --

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- the big question is (ph) what it means for the Russia investigation. Because we -- one of -- his lead lawyer, John Dowd, is now -- according to the reporting we had, John Dowd was resisting this in-person interview with Robert Mueller, trying to reach out (ph) some kind of a compromise. The president says he wants it. That could be dangerous.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL STRATEGIST, ABC NEWS: That is very dangerous, George. Look, the president has been shopping around for a lawyer. Ted Olson said no. He -- he went after another lawyer, Mr. Flaut (ph), no. The president needs a good, stable team of legal advisers around this Russian investigation. This investigation is going to uncover more things than -- than the president even realized.

Because, look, let’s be very honest. We’ve got to put every card on the table. The Russians meddled, it had an impact on the 2016 election, I’m -- I’m -- I’m happy that the president -- I’m going to say something nice. It’s Easter.

CHRISTIE: Hold on, Donna.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: I know. Don’t worry, don’t worry.

CHRISTIE: You’ll ruin your reputation.

BRAZILE: But the president -- no, no, no. No, no. I’m -- I’m pleased that he expelled those Russian spies and close the consulate in Seattle. That’s a good move. I’m also pleased that there’s money in the omnibus to help state and local government. But the president needs good legal counsel. He cannot continue to shoot from the hip.

CASTELLANOS: The president -- it’s hard to believe that someone like Donald Trump, who has been a disrupter all his life, who has flouted his way to business success, that Robert Mueller is not going to dig up something in Trump’s complicated financial history to say look, the president of the United States did this and it was wrong. And it’s hard to believe then that when Republicans lose the House in 2018, maybe by 40 or 50 seats, that House is not going to impeach him.

And it’s also hard to believe that a U.S. Senate that’s going to be scared to death, though may still be in Republican hands, is not going to take a serious look when it has to deal with this president. So get good legal help now, because the storm is coming.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Jennifer, at this point, there’s no one on President Trump’s legal team who can match the kind of roster that Robert Mueller has assembled there.

JACOBS: Right, also another report (ph) I want to make, if Trump says he wants to meet with Mueller, I predict he’s going to do it. Trump is very good at telegraphing what he’s going to do in the future and then following through with it.

Like I’m curious (ph) --

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: As a -- as a former U.S. attorney and somebody who would be sitting on the other side of that table, I -- I -- I said this all along, George has said it here before, he should never walk into that room with Robert Mueller.

Because in the end, one of the things that makes the president who he is, is that he’s a salesman, and salesman, at times, tend to be hyperbolic. Right, and this president certainly has tended (ph) to do that.

That’s OK when you’re on the campaign hustle (ph), that’s OK when you’re working on Congress, it is not OK when you’re sitting talking to federal agents because, you know, 18 USC 1001 is false statements to federal agents, that’s a crime, that can send you to jail.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You made the point the president emphasizing chemistry with his staff (inaudible) that certainly seemed to be the case with this (ph) replacement he’s nominated for David Shulkin over at the V.A., his personal physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson.

Certainly what caught the president’s eye, this performance in the White House Briefing Room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MALE: who eats McDonald’s and (inaudible) and all those Diet Cokes and never exercises is in as good a shape as you say he’s in.

RONNY JACKSON, PHYSICIAN TO THE PRESIDENT: It’s called genetics. I don’t know. It’s -- some people have, you know, just great genes, you know, I’ve told the president that if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old.

I don’t know. I mean, he -- he has incredible -- he has incredible genes, I just assume.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Patrick, I know you knew Dr. Jackson I think in the -- in the Obama White House (inaudible), fine man, fine physician, service in Iraq, but getting a lot of questions raised about does he have the experience to run the veteran’s (inaudible).

GASPARD: Dr. Jackson really is a -- a fine man, and I know many attacked his integrity after that press conference. But I’ll tell you an -- an honest public servant, but you have to call into question whether or not this is somebody who has the capacity to take on the second largest bureaucracy that exists inside of the federal government, an agency that has been challenged even under the most competent leadership.

It seems as if Donald Trump is more interested in rewarding a kind of obsequious loyalty than promoting competence to serve our veterans at this critical juncture.

CASTELLANOS: So things are going great at the V.A., right, with all the experience people’s who’ve (ph) run it before? Planes have shot up through the roof. Veteran’s who’s lives were being destroyed of -- by the pause button.

OK, so now Shulkin comes in, accelerates those claims, cuts them back (ph), and appeals go through the roof because these veterans think they’ve been wronged. The guy was doing a terrible job, and this (inaudible) to be experienced people --

(CROSSTALK)

GASPARD: -- far too long, too many people get on television and disparage the Veteran’s Administration. There is remarkable work that’s been there (ph) that year after year --

(CROSSTALK)

GASPARD: -- millions of veterans under republicans and democrats, of course it’s difficult to manage that size of bureaucracy, but there’s exceptional work that’s been -- that’s been done there and --

STEPHANOPOULOS: What -- what -- what are the prospects for Dr. Jackson in the Senate?

JACOBS: Well the White House thinks that much more information will come out about Dr. Jackson during the nomination process.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Positive information?

JACOBS: Positive information. They -- they are planning a strategy for making sure people know his accomplishments, that he did do some managerial work at Walter Reed, for example, and V.A. Secretary Shulkin offered him a job last fall as undersecretary of the V.A.

They think that more of these facts will come out and it will sway people, and people will get to know him better, whether or not that’s true but that is the strategy (inaudible).

CHRISTIE: (Inaudible) every model (ph) at the (ph) V.A., right? We’ve tried former military guy, just in recent history, former military guy, we’ve tried a -- a big time corporate executive, now we’ve tried David Shulkin, who I know very well, he was a hospital head in New Jersey while I was governor.

He’s a competent, qualified, good guy. I feel bad for him this week in terms of being let go. But the fact is, we’ve tried every other model. The president’s trying a new model. The president’s aware of the fact that they’ve tried all those models before, he’s trying a new one.

Who knows if it’ll work, it’s going to be up to the Senate to decide, but the fact is we tried three different models before under republicans and democrats that have not worked.

BRAZILLE: Well I’m a daughter of a veteran, who in (ph) my daddy received great care at the V.A. I just hope that we put somebody there who’s competent, who understands the magnitude of the job and can get the job done.

It is -- it isn’t (inaudible) --

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: Look, we’ve got a new economy, and the reason this economy is growing and (inaudible) is an open economy. Trump has an idea, let’s open up the V.A. so veteran’s can still have the V.A. but also have a choice.

At least that’s changed and maybe progress that’ll get these veteran’s out of waiting in line.

GASPARD: Open in what way, Alex? Do you mean privatization of V.A. services?

CASTELLANOS: No, I mean giving people a choice. Like you can choose what kind of car you buy. Giving veterans a choice. If they -- if they’re held in the line and can’t get to see a V.A. doctor --

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, but as you know, Alex, the big question there, does that choice come with huge budget cuts in -- in -- in the Veteran’s Administration. And if it does, that leads to privatization.

CASTELLANOS: Trump is -- I’m sorry, has someone accused Donald Trump of being a small spender here?

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: What I’ll also say, though, is that if you travel around the country as I did when I was running for president, there are lots of places in this country where there’s not a V.A. hospital close enough to anybody to be able to get to service.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: So part of what -- part of what the president’s talking about is if you can’t -- if it’s not convenient for you, whether it’s long lines or a long distance to travel, why should you have to travel that long distance if you’re a veteran, go to a local hospital where you can get care. It may mean more spending. But I think as Alex said, this is the president who loves veterans, he’s been very vocal about it and that may be another place where he has to spend more money.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One other thing the president loved this week, the comeback of Roseanne. Record ratings on Tuesday night, the president follows ratings very closely, made a call to Roseanne, here’s what he said on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even look at Roseanne. I called her yesterday. Look at her ratings. Look at her ratings. They were unbelievable. Over 18 million people. And it was about us. They haven’t figured it out. The fake news hasn’t quite figured it out yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: The president loves people who love him. Roseanne, of course, an outspoken supporter of President Trump, plays it in the series. And Donna, is -- is there a message here for Hollywood, maybe for Democrats as well?

BRAZILE: Well, I think it’s -- first of all, the betrayal of white working class Americans, they are often ignored, just like poor people are ignored. So to see yourself on television, to see people who act like you, that’s great. But look, I have to tell you, this was my first time watching Roseanne. I missed it. I missed it.

CHRISTIE: You were too busy, Donna.

BRAZILE: I was too busy in 1988 to 1997. It was funny but I liked the fact that they didn’t mention Trump. They didn’t mention how -- I mean, I saw it as a family struggling with how to deal with the partisan divide and not a family that was taking a stance on one way or another.

CASTELLANOS: We’re all shocked here in New York. Oh my god, it turns out there are working class Americans out there? About half the country? Hard to believe. The thing that’s going to make this show successful is that it’s not pro-Trump, but it is respectful of Trump voters, of that working class, blue-collar America that has been disrespected by the very people they’ve sent to Washington to represent them, by the very people who sell them news, by the very people who create their entertainment.

It respects their point of view and says it’s -- it’s worth debate.

GASPARD: And you know, this is just more of the mythology we have around the politics of grievance. The fact is that the majority of Americans who earn less than $50,000 a year actually voted for Donald Trump’s opponent in the election, Hillary Clinton. So there’s a lot of myth-making around that (ph) working class citizen, how it’s defined. I will say that Roseanne’s original show was fantastic, iconic, incredibly funny. I’m looking forward to watching the new series.

I’m not surprised by the ratings in the least. I will agree with you, Alex, in one way. There is a way that Hollywood, the television industry has long neglected the stories of people who are not elites, who are not the richest people in the country and it’s great to see this kind of a program. (ph)

(CROSSTALK)

JACOBS: One thing we know for sure is that the president it watching Roseanne. Roseanne has his ear and it’s a reminder to Trump about the people he wants to see become more prosperous. He doesn’t want to spend more money in Syria building schools and hospitals in Syria. He wants to spend money here.

GASPARD: If he wants to see those people be more prosperous, he should support the teachers who were on strike in West Virginia. He should -- he should -- well, yes, he should --

(CROSSTALK)

GASPARD: So if you -- if you look at the nominations in this administration where men outnumber women -- two to one, (ph) by the way. But if you look in places like Department of Labor, if you look at agencies like EPA, you see one assistant administrator after another who come out of particular industries who are now administering -- governing over those industries with profound conflicts of interest that are working against miners in West Virginia, who will now inhale more black lung than they ever did before because of suspension of regulations, et cetera, et cetera. There’s a mythology here that needs to be --

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- it’s on that point. Lot of questions now, about Greg (sic) Pruitt at the EPA as well. ABC NEWS reported he had this deal, getting $50 a night for an apartment owned by an -- the wife of an energy lobbyist. And I know Jennifer, you all followed up on that as well.

Is this the end for Greg (sic) Pruitt?

JACOBS: Scott Pruitt.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Scott Pruitt, excuse me.

JACOBS: Yes, well I -- I’ve heard that he has irritated the White House quite a bit with this. I -- I -- I understand that he perhaps was on shaky ground even before this -- this news came out, which was first reported by ABC that he was living in a condo just a few blocks away from -- from the capital for a very low rate.

It’s -- it’s the appearance of impropriety, it’s the -- Americans don’t like to see their cabinet secretaries appearing to take advantage of their position of power, even if it’s just to get a cheap condo or enriching themselves.

The White House isn’t particularly thrilled with the way Pruitt (inaudible) --

(CROSS TALK)

CHRISTIE: Listen, this goes back again to where we started at the beginning of this conversation. This was a brutally unprofessional transition, this was a transition that didn’t vet people for this type of judgement issues, which I think could have been seen very easily in a lot of these people, and you cannot do this with, you know -- Rick Dearborne and Steve Bannon on the back of an envelope in 73 days.

And the president’s been ill-served by this, and if Mr. Pruitt’s going to go, it’s because he should have never been there in the first place.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does he have to go?

CHRISTIE: Listen, I don’t know how you survive this one. And if he has to go -- if he has to go, it’s because he never should have been there in the first place.

CASTELLANOS: In the spirit of Roseanne to bring us all together here, I think we can all agree we need a more competent level of corruption in the swamp, and we hope the Trump administration can get that fixed.

(CROSS TALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: That will be the last word right now, up next we’re going to take a deeper look at the mid terms, the impact of all those GOP retirements, we’re going to talk about what democrats need to do, but a red state democrat has promised to work with President Trump -- that is Alabama Senator Doug Jones.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RYAN COSTELLO, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: There's no question that it was going to be tougher in light of what's happening in the suburbs across the country. In my district, I was just about to say the local Democrats and the left has become more engaged, and candidly more angry by the week as President Trump says things and does things which many Republicans, myself amongst them, from time to time do disagree with.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Another GOP congressman bows out. That is Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania explaining why he became the 23rd House Republican to announce his retirement.

I want to bring in our chief national correspondent Tom Llamas to break down how all these retirements are going to shape the battle for the House.

Tom, these are historic numbers.

TOM LLAMAS, ABC NEWS: Yeah, that number 23 is staggering. It's actually the most since 1974 for either party. And we have to remember that the Democrats only need 24 seats to take back control of the House.

So, to put this in perspective, let's go back to 2006, George, and the last time the Democrats took control of the House. At that point, there were only eight GOP Republicans who had retired. And when we dig a little deeper into these numbers, there's also another big number we have to look at. Besides the 23 retirements, there's 13 GOP members who are also running for other office, either running for Senate, and/or running for governor, in their home state. So, you add those retirements plus the people running for other elections, and you have about 36 districts that could be up for play.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And the Democrats only need 24. But not all of these seats are slam dunks for the Democrats.

LLAMAS: No. And when we dig a little deeper and we go into these numbers, the best comparison is to go back to the 2016 election. So you have 25 districts we think are safe for President Trump and the Republicans. Why? Either he won big there, or the really hardcore conservatives districts. But there are 11 competitive districts. These are GOP-help districts right now where Hillary Clinton won.

And I want to put some question marks right by 25 safe. The reason for that being is that we just saw what happened a couple of weeks ago in Pennsylvania. I was there for that special election. Conor Lamb with the upset winning a district where President Trump won by 20 points. And before the end of the year in deep red state Alabama your next guest, Senator Doug Jones, with the big upset win there against Roy Moore.

Of course, there were allegations, but we can't ignore that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the big targets right now are big blue states where Republicans have held on.

LLAMAS: That's right. And so again the number 24 that we're looking at, there are 25 districts that Democrats are looking close at. These are districts that are held by GOP members right now, but that Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

Now, just 10 of these districts alone are around Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Miami. Those big -- you mentioned big blue states. I've been in and out of those states, in and out of those cities. And though some people maybe upset with President Trump, a lot of them are talking up the economy. We'll see what kind of impact the tax cut has.

The big number, seven, seven months until election day. Still a lot of time, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've got a lot of numbers in there. Tom, thanks very much.

We're going to talk now to one of the Democrats who has already won a seat in the deepest of red states, Senator Doug Jones of Alabama. Senator Jones, thank you for joining us this morning. Happy Easter to you.

You did succeed back in December in that special election. What is your message for the Democrats as they approach these mid-terms?

SEN. DOUG JONES, (D) ALABAMA: Well, George, first of all thanks for having me this morning. I really appreciate it. And happy Easter to you and to all the folks out in your viewing audience.

I think the message that I had in my race, and I think Conor Lamb had in his race, I think Governor Northam had in Virginia is you're going to have to talk directly to people, and you have to talk about issues that mean very much to them on a daily basis. And it's not just talking, you have to listen. And I think that has been one of the biggest problems that the Democrats have had over the years is that there's a perception that we just don't hear, that we do the things that we want to do and we don't hear and we don't listen.

And I think the combination of having those dialogues that we talked about so much in my campaign rather than just monologues is very important going forward in the 2018.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does it also mean, not just opposing President Trump, but finding places where Democrats can work with him?

JONES: Oh, I don't think there's any question about it.

You know, George, last night I was at a play, and a lady came up to me afterwards -- we were leaving -- and she said, I didn't vote for you, I voted or the Republican, but I want you to tell everyone they need to work together. That's a message for Republicans and Democrats. She made a point of saying that to me. And I think that there's a lot of that out there, not just in Alabama, but from across the country.

People wanted to maybe see the chaos. I heard the roundtable talking about that with the president's election. But at the end of the day, they want to see people working together and to get things done. That's the only way we can progress. It's the only way we can get some serious-minded legislation going through congress.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You see a pretty deep division in the Democratic Party now playing out in primaries, though, all across the country. You know, for want of a better word between somewhat establishment, more moderate Democrats and those from the progressive wing of the party who some Democrats say may have energy in a primary, but have what it takes to win in a general election.

JONES: Well, I think that there's some truth to that. We have seen some divisions. But, you know, there's always been divisions in the Republican Party, within the Democratic Party. I think the challenge for Democrats is to make sure that we have those open primaries, that we contest those primaries the way anybody with passion wants to do it. But at the end of the day, we rally around, because we've got a common goal, and the common goal is that people of this country, the people in our respective districts and states.

And I think the challenge is as we go forward, we're going to be trying to challenge in every zip code in every state. I think Tom Perez's I will vote program is really going to have some major impact around here. But the fact of the matter is, at the end of those primaries, we've got to make sure that we sit down and we start rallying around together to make sure those issues are taken straight to the November elections.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You also had a message for Democrats this week on the floor of the Senate on guns. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: You can't simply demonize the NRA and pro-gun groups. While I know that these groups sometimes take what many, including me, consider extreme positions, they also represent millions of law-abiding gun owners who are concerned that their right to bear arms are at risk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, what's your message, senator, to those Parkland students? Everyone we saw march last week in Washington and around the country who say that simply the NRA has had a stranglehold on the senate, on the House. And they prevented even those common sense measures of the kinds that you were just mentioning?

JONES: Well, I think there is some truth to that. I think that's true in the Senate, it's true in the House. But the fact of the matter is, if we want to do something we've got to put those -- that kind of rhetoric aside. I supported those kids. I had one of them in the gallery watching that speech that I had just met earlier that morning. And I support that.

But the fact of the matter is, in order to legislate, in order to do things and get things done, you've got to put some of the far-right, the far-left rhetoric aside. And the fact is that the NRA does represent a lot of millions of Americans who are concerned about that infringement on their Second Amendment.

At the same time, those Parkland students and the other millions of kids around the country also represent a point of view that we have to do something, not just about school safety, but about gun violence and trying to stem the tide of gun deaths in this country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, what does that mean right now?

JONES: Well, we took a step, I think, George, in the budget the other day. We had the fix NICS program. We also cleared up the fact that the CDC can start, you know, kind of doing some investigation and studies about gun violence. Those are small steps, but they're important steps.

I think we can look and find that common ground. We can find -- we can do more on background checks. I'd still like to see the age limit for pistols, which has been 21 for many years, expanded to include all semi-automatic weapons. We can have those kind of dialogues. And I think that background checks, closing the boyfriend loophole, those are things that ought to be bipartisan issues that I think that by and large the vast majority of Americans support.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your colleague, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, has now come around to the idea we have to try again on the assault weapons ban. Can you go that far?

JONES: I'm not sure I can go that far just yet, George. We've got to get done what I think can be done right now. Let's reach across and within our own party to do those things that we can do, and that to me is where I want to focus. I really don't believe that a gun ban is feasible right. And I think that there are things that can be done, that we need to look at, and I think I outlined most of those in my speech on the floor last week.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'd like to get you to weigh in on a couple of these cabinet issues facing President Trump right now, starting with his nominee for the VA, Dr. Ronnie Jackson. Do you have questions about his nomination? Is he someone you can support?

JONES: Well, you've got questions only because of the lack of experience. But I think as you -- as they talked about in the roundtable, there's a lot about him that is not known. And I think that the job of the White House now is to put all of the information out there. He'll go through a full vetting. I don't think anyone should say one way or another right now, because he is such an unknown, whether you'll support him or not support him. I think that once we get into the background checks and the hearings, I think all of that will come out and we'll see -- we'll give him the benefit of the doubt, because he is a presidential nominee. But we'll see how that shakes out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How about Scott Pruitt at EPA? Does he have to go?

JONES: I think he's in real trouble. I think that there is a perception is not good at all. The fact that he has been -- has a controversy with expenses, which I think is one of the things that people are just frustrated with, with cabinet members who seem to want to use taxpayer dollars to fund a life, their own personal lifestyle. And now on top of this, the -- you know, not just the 50 dollars, but the fact that it was going to energy company lobbyists, that -- it just looks so bad. And I think it seems that he may be on his way out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Senator Jones, thanks very much for your time this morning.

When we come back, there's a big step toward the nuclear summit with North Korea this week. And the battle between Vladimir Putin and the west is escalating by the day. We'll analyze President Trump's response with our foreign policy experts next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Those buses contain some of the 153 Russian diplomats expelled (ph) by the west in the wake of that poisoning in Great Britian over former Russian spy. In return, Russia’s expelled 142 western diplomats from Moscow, one sign of the worst relations fee (ph) in Russia and the U.S. since the days of the Cold War.

I want to talk about and other foreign policy challenges facing President Trump and his team with our panel of experts, Megan O’Sullivan, she served as Deputy National Security Adviser for George W. Bush, now an International Affairs Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, author of the new book Windfall: How the New Energy Abundance Upends Global Politics and Strengthens America’s Power.

Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, she held national security roles in the Obama administration, including Deputy Secretary of Energy, now senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.

And Susan Glasser, soon to be staff writer for the New Yorker. And Susan, let me begin with you, because you are also Moscow bureau chief with your husband Peter Baker for the Washington Post during President Putin’s first term.

I guess first of all, do you agree with that assessment I just made about this being the worst relations between Russia and the west since the Cold War, and do you have a sense of what Putin’s end game is here?

SUSAN GLASSER, EDITOR, POLITICO: Well, you know, first of all, a new Cold War, if you look at that right now, you’ve never heard the term more. In the last 25 years, I think it really is a period of the highest tensions that they (ph) really have been arguably, even since before Gorbachev.

We -- we had better relationships and were talking more frequently in the late 1980’s than we are with Moscow today. President Putin has already become the longest serving Russian leader since Joseph Stalin.

He was just re-elected to another six year term, remember President Trump famously was not supposed to congratulate him, but did for this. The question is, what is he going to do with that new six year mandate?

He’s got wars in Ukraine, in Syria, he’s now got this conflict with the west, not just Great Britain, but the United States and other western allies over this poisoning of a former Russian spy.

I think we could be in for a period of additional escalation rather than this scenario of well finally Putin’s going to moderate, I -- I don’t see any sign of that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Ms. Sherwood-Randall, one time (ph) we’ve seen of that, we saw him publicize that ICBM test this week that came in the wake of that diagram he -- he shared just a couple of weeks ago, targeting South Florida, maybe even Mar-a-Lago.

It appears that we could be in for a new arms race with Russia as well.

ELIZABETH SHERWOOD-RANDALL, FORMER SECRETARY OF ENERGY, UNITED STATES: So we need to maintain our nuclear deterrent against all threats, but at the same time, as Susan has just said, we don’t have an interest in escalation into a new Cold War.

And so we do need to maintain channels of communication and we need to be pursuing options that give our president alternatives to resorting to nuclear war.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well you want the alternatives, what (ph) are the things we see (ph), Megan O’Sullivan, is that this sort of disconnect between President Trump’s rhetoric, and what (ph) Susan just mentioned that he congratulated Vladimir Putin, wasn’t supposed to that, and some relatively tough actions by his administration, finally imposing those sanctions, going through with -- with expelling Russian diplomats.

MEGAN O’SULLIVAN, PROFESSOR OF THE PRACTICE OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Well I think it’s true that the actions of the Trump administration have not been anything like people had expected because of this relationship between Trump and Putin.

But we have to keep in mind that this deterioration in the relationship is not just because President Trump is constrained, President Putin also really doesn’t have much of an interest in diffusing tension with the west because he has some internal dynamics.

He can’t deliver economic growth in this energy -- global energy market scenario. And as a result, he has to deliver psychological benefits. And the best way he’s been able to do that is by having this confrontation with the west and the United States in particular.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Susan, one of the places we see the -- the conflict play out is also in Syria, of course. And -- and -- and the president surprising so many with that announcement on Thursday that he wants to pull out of Syria.

GLASSER: You know, I found in many ways that was an extraordinary and very relevant -- if you’re trying to understand Trump -- foreign policy. What did he say? He said let other people take care of it. People talk about the post-American world. That was the post-American world in action. It’s time for other people to take care of it. Trump always has a feeling, it seems to me, when he talks about foreign policy that America’s getting cheated somehow, that other people aren’t doing the hard work of international relations.

And you know, even this action on Russia, we expelled diplomats, we talked tough, we joined our allies, and yet you never saw President Trump personally take responsibility for that or tweet about it or talk about it. And so I feel like there’s really a sense that America is very reluctantly acting to be what (ph) it is at all.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One place, Liz Sherwood, that the president may not want others to step in so aggressively is the -- is the conflict with North Korea. He seems to want that summit with Kim Jong-un for himself. Yet one of the things we saw this week is that extraordinary meeting between President Xi of China and Kim Jong-un, the first visit for -- by Kim Jong-un outside of North Korea. And the Financial Times reported yesterday that it came after a dramatic tightening of oil exports by China.

It seems like President Xi is trying to get in this game and signal that he’s in charge.

SHERWOOD-RANDALL: So this is very important, George. Because we have many interests in the Asian region that go beyond North Korea. So while we want to be aligned with China in putting pressure on North Korea and pursuing the negotiation that will ultimately lead to the denuclearization of North Korea, we have a long game to play in the region. And the Chinese interests and the American interests are not always aligned there.

So our goal needs to be to be firmly aligned with our -- our allies in the Republic of Korea in the South to develop a negotiating strategy that gives no opportunity for us to be pushed out of the region and no bargaining chip should be put on the table that would reduce the American troop presence, reduce our exercising with our allies there, or in any way push the United States out of the Asian region.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say that’s the greatest danger, getting pushed out of the region, but I want to bring that to Megan O’Sullivan. As we talk about this summit, my understanding that when Kim Jong-un, to the extent he may or may not talk about denuclearization, he means getting the United States out of the region.

O’SULLIVAN: Yes. When he says denuclearization, he’s talking about that only in the context of a peace treaty with the United States and a peace treaty is more than it sounds in the sense that a peace treaty includes, as Liz just mentioned, removal of U.S. forces, certainly from the peninsula, and potentially getting rid of the U.N. resolutions that have been in places since the end of the North -- of the Korean War.

So he’s definitely talking about a diminution (ph) of American presence in -- in Korea and as a result, in the region as a whole. And that relates to Japan, and obviously South Korea as well. So China’s not the only country that’s feeling a little nervous that this bilateral potential meeting could -- could squeeze out some larger interest of regional actors that are used to dealing with North Korea to the extent there was any diplomacy through a multi-party framework.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You said potential meeting. Liz, are you convinced the meeting’s going to happen? And what are the risks?

SHERWOOD-RANDALL: There are lots of risks in this meeting, George. First of all, as I noted, we could be in a situation in which we negotiate away something we need to preserve, and that is the American presence in the region. But I also see opportunities, because we have maximum economic pressure right now in place against North Korea. The North Koreans continue to build their arsenal. And that means the time is ripe for negotiation.

And Trump’s fiery rhetoric, which has the risk of escalating into a nuclear war, has created an incentive for everybody to come to the table. So we have some reason to have hope that this can lead us to a -- a new scenario that would be preferential for United States interest.

STEPHANOPOULOS: This is being prepared now by a new national security team for the president. John Bolton coming in as National Security Advisor, Mike Pompeo coming in as Secretary of State. We saw the first meeting this week between Bolton and Jim Mattis as Pentagon Secretary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Ambassador Bolton.

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Mr. Secretary. It's so good to see you. Thank you for inviting me over.

MATTIS: Oh, no. Thanks for coming. And it's good to finally meet you.

BOLTON: Absolutely.

MATTIS: I've heard that you're actually the devil incarnate and I wanted to meet you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: You may not have heard that, there. Mattis saying I've heard you're the devil incarnate. I wanted to meet you there.

Susan Glasser, this team does have strikingly different views from those who came before. We know that John Bolton has been hard liner on Iran. He's been a hard liner on North Korea, the same with Mike Pompeo. And the question is will they be able to follow through on this summit with North Korea? And how?

GLASSER: Well, and on Russia as well, by the way. They all have significantly more hawkish views than the president himself. I think a lot of people look at Bolton's appointment and the summit on North Korea, and they think there increases the possibility that the summit either won't happen or it will be basically a pretext and meant they'll come out and say it failed and let's take that preemptive military action that John Bolton is on the record as advocating.

However, I agree with you that President Trump really wants this summit to happen, right. He personally staked his capital on it. He'd love nothing more than to proclaim himself the deal-maker who got it done where other presidents Bush and Obama couldn't. You could see a scenario where he and Kim come out and say we've done it. We've made an agreement in principle, and then it takes years for it to emerge that this agreement was simply too hard to work out in the details.

So, I wouldn't rule that out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Meghan O'Sullivan, both you and Liz have served on the National Security Council staff, one of the big questions about John Bolton coming in is can he actually fulfill that traditional role of a national security adviser and assure that all views are brought to the table.

Now, this is -- sometimes honored in the breach, but the national security adviser is supposed to be an honest broker.

O'SULLIVAN: Exactly. And that's the term, honest broker. And that maybe the most important part of this job. Many Americans probably look at this job and they think the most important element is advising the president, but really being the protector of the process, that is the key role of a national security adviser. And that's not only being able to represent the views of other agencies when those individuals at the head of those agencies aren't in the room. It also means making sure that all the options are considered as dispassionately as possible, that the president has all his options laid out for him. This is something that takes a very cool, collected calm, maybe non-judgmental approach.

And I think there are concerns about Bolton, not only from his policy views, but also his temperament and whether or not he'll be inclined to encourage Trump to adopt a process in general, which seems to go against Trump's instincts as we've seen them so far.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm afraid that's all we have time for today. Thank you all for a great discussion. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're coming to engage in dramatic, non-violent action to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment to make the invisible visible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: The final Sunday's sermon of Martin Luther King, that was 50 years ago this week, of course, just four days before his assassination.

We're joined now by Dr. Andrew Young, of course a friend and fellow pioneer in the civil rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King. And Dr. Young, thank you for joining us this morning.

I know you were there with Martin Luther King...

DR. ANDREW YOUNG, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I was there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ...with Martin Luther King for that final sermon 50 years ago. What does it bring to mind today?

YOUNG: Well, it reminds me of the fact that we -- we did not complete -- we did not make that clear on the national level. Now once Dr. King was assassinated, what I found is that we scattered. Jesse Jackson went back to Atlanta, I got into politics, he was into Operation PUSH. But we’ve -- almost all of us have tried in some way to carry on Martin Luther King’s work.

But he was able to take it to a national level. And it has never reached there. We’ve made enormous strides, I think, in Atlanta in terms of dealing with the poor, including minorities in business. We had one of the largest business conferences of poor and minority entrepreneurs last week here in Atlanta, some 3,500.

We understand that Dr. King was trying to deal with the triple evils of race, war and poverty. And many of the things that we think of as racial now, a lot of the police violence, a lot of the -- the conflict between the rich and the poor that comes out as -- as much more related to poverty than race. And --

STEPHANOPOULOS: And there does seem -- there does seem to be a real gulf, too, between the way whites and black Americans view this. You see black Americans more -- much more likely than white Americans to think we’re back sliding in race relations.

YOUNG: Well that’s true. And -- and yet -- it’s true that they think that, but it’s not true that it exists, I don’t think. I don’t like statistics. In fact, Dr. King used to be appalled by these statistics quite often. Because what I -- what I saw last Saturday was a continuation of a movement of people -- while it started out against guns, it was -- it was -- it was innocent people being splattered by the blood of their classmates.

And I don’t -- I don’t think -- Dr. King used to say that unearned suffering is redemptive. And I think these young people are going to be involved in the redemption of America from poverty, from war, from violence. And I think that’s -- that’s the key to the future. He always felt that progress was never a steady decline. You’d have up and then you’d go down and then you’d come back up.

And I think -- well, I know. I was in the Congress when we were exactly at this point with President Nixon. And the nation was panicked, but a year later it was moving on in a calm and reasonable way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And --

YOUNG: Now I don’t know that -- that we can repeat that, but we -- we do have a pendulum swing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And sir, if Dr. King were preaching on this Easter Sunday, what would his message be?

YOUNG: Actually, I hadn’t really thought of that. But I think he would always have faith in America. He never lost faith in the American dream. His dream was deeply imbedded in the American dream, and he saw in the Constitution the fulfillment of a promise.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Dr. Young, thank you for your time this morning. And now, we honor our fellow Americans who served in sacrifice. In the month of March, nine service members were killed supporting operations in Iraq and Syria.

Thank you for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out WORLD NEWS tonight, and I’ll see you tomorrow on GMA.

END

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