THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT FOR 'THIS WEEK' on February 26, 2017 and it will be updated. ANNOUNCER: Starting right now on THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS...
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now you finally have a president, finally. It took you a long time.
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GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: In just two days, the president addresses the nation.
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TRUMP: The era of empty talk is over. It's over.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: His first speech to rally Congress, as questions about ties to Russia continue to cloud his presidency.
Will Trump now face new independent investigations?
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STEPHANOPOULOS: -- town hall tumult -- Republicans across the country face mounting protests.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You work for us.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Team Trump downplays the drama.
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MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Despite the best efforts of liberal activists, the American people know better.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: But will this resistance endure and crack Republican resolve?
Tough questions ahead for the White House.
From ABC News, it's THIS WEEK.
Here now, chief anchor, George Stephanopoulos.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning. Can you believe it's been just 38 days -- 38 days packed with the shock of the new, a shock that's energized Trump supporters, terrified his critics, mystified many around the world.
And as we come on the air this week, what have we learned so far about President Trump?
Number one, he's not going to change. Donald Trump intends to be president the way he became president, with Tweets, tough talk so often at odds with the facts and direct attacks from the press he calls the opposition.
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TRUMP: And I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news. It's fake, phony, fake.
TRUMP: A few days ago, I called the fake news the enemy of the people. And they are. They are the enemy of the people.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Number two, he meant what he said about cracking down on illegal immigration. The deportation directives from Homeland Security this week drove that point home. And White House officials promise that his new executive order suspending travel from majority Muslim countries that pose a terror threat will be as tough as the origin travel ban blocked by the courts.
All that, of course, is aimed at securing his most loyal followers, delivering for them with a Supreme Court nominee, executive orders and this week's directive reversing President Obama's policy on how schools should handle transgender youth.
That leaves at least two big unanswered questions as the president prepares his first address to Congress in just two days.
Can he make good on the key promises that require a partner in Congress, especially repealing and replacing Obamacare?
GOP members got an earful on that at town hall meetings across the country this week.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: And what happens next with the president and Russia?
The White House hit by headlines late this week for eliciting the FBI and intelligence officials to counter damaging stories and appearing to interfere with independent investigations, as a veterans group prepares to launch this new ad.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump, the CIA and FBI both say Russia interfered with our election to help you. And we now know your campaign was in contact with them when it happened.
So sir, we're putting you on notice. We're demanding Speaker Ryan and Senator McConnell appoint an independent commission to get the answers, because defending America means finding the truth.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's get answers now from the White House.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders joins us now.
Sarah, thank you for joining us this morning.
So you just saw that ad.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thanks for being here.
Good morning, George.
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REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: You cannot have somebody, a friend of mine, Jeff Sessions, who was on the campaign and who is an appointee. You're going to need to use the special prosecutors statute and office to take not just to recuse -- that's -- you can't just give it to your deputy. That's another political appointee.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: That is a senior Republican, Congresswoman.
What's your response?
SANDERS: Look, I think the real easy answer here is that the FBI has already said this story is BS. Those are their words, so I apologize to my mom. But literally, those are the words of the FBI, that the story is BS.
They came to us, they approached us for putting that story out there. I think the American people deserve to know the truth. And that's exactly what it is, that there's nothing here. Just because reporters say something over and over and over again doesn't start to make it true.
At some point, we get to a place where we've got to move on and start focusing on the things that the American people care about and I don't think this is it.
We've talked about it time and time and time again, asked and answered. Let's move forward. Let's start talking about the economy. Let's talk about education. Let's talk about border security.
SANDERS: Let's talk about national security. That's what's keeping most Americans up at night. That's what they want us focused on. And that's what this administration is doing day in and day out.
STEPHANOPOULOS: A couple of things there.
First of all, the FBI has made officially no comment. The FBI director, James Comey, has had no comment.
You're saying that the FBI told you that it was BS. The FBI hasn't said that at all.
But I was asking a different question. The FBI investigation is continuing right now. The intelligence committees are continuing their investigations right now. And the question at hand is, is it appropriate for the attorney general to oversee that investigation?
Here are the Justice Department guidelines. They say that no DOJ employee may participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation.
How can it be appropriate for a key member of the Trump campaign to oversee an investigation into the Trump campaign?
SANDERS: Look, George, we're confident whatever review that Congress wants to do, I think that's the first step. If they want to take that on, which there are two committees that are currently doing that, we're extremely confident that, whatever review, they're all going to come to the same conclusion -- that we had no involvement in this.
The bigger thing here is if Democrats want to continue to relive their loss every single day by doing investigations or review after review, that's fine by us. We know why we won this race. It's because we had the better candidate with the better message. They didn't campaign in the right places. They didn't have a good candidate. If they want to continue to relive that loss every single day, then we welcome that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That wasn't a Democrat; that was a Republican member of Congress. I'll just say that for the record and I'll take your answer to say you don't believe that the attorney general needs to recuse right now.
On the investigations, though, you also saw Republican members of Congress --
SANDERS: George, I don't think we're there yet.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Hold on. Let me finish the question right there.
SANDERS: Yes, sir.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You saw Republican members of Congress saying this week that President Trump should release his tax returns. Senator Collins said that it may come to subpoenaing these tax returns. If Congress requests these tax returns as part of the investigation, will President Trump provide them?
SANDERS: Well, that's a question you'd have to ask the president. But what I do know is that, again, we've answered this question. I guess I don't know how many times you have to answer the same question, and people start to expect a different answer.
Again, I wasn't saying that he shouldn't recuse himself or that he should. My point is I don't think we're there yet. Let's work through this process. You guys want to jump to the very end of the line. That's not how this works. Typically, you go through a congressional oversight review. We're doing that. Let's not go to the very end of the extreme. Let's let this play out the way it should.
But, again, I go back to, if you want to continue to relive this loss, then let's do that. But, at the same time, while the Democrats, and even maybe some of the Republicans as you mentioned, want to talk about that, what we're focused on in this administration is what we campaigned on and achieving those goals and making sure that America is moving forward.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I was asking about the FBI and the Justice Department investigation, not the congressional.
But let's move on to the state of the union. One of the big questions at the state of the union coming up -- I guess it's not a state of the union; the address to Congress on Tuesday -- will be what to do with Obamacare in this and what the president's going to say should be done.
During the campaign, he said everyone's got to be covered. As recently as January 15th, he told "The Washington Post" we're going to have insurance for everybody. But there's a brand-new analysis out just today about the Republican plans about to be presented. They were presented to the governors yesterday. And it says millions may lose coverage in Obamacare repeal governors told. Policies supported by Republican congressional leaders to replace Obamacare could lead millions of people to lose their health care coverage according to a presentation given to state governors meeting Saturday in Washington.
It estimates the number of people covered by Obamacare through the individual insurance market could be slashed by as much as 51 percent in states that chose not to expand Medicaid coverage and by 30 percent in states that chose -- that did expand the federal-state health program for the poor.
So can the president guarantee that no one who has coverage right now will lose it under his plan?
SANDERS: Look, what I know that the president can promise is what he's been saying, is that this isn't just a repeal program, that we absolutely have to repeal it but replace it with something that's better.
George, even Democrats will admit that Obamacare is simply not sustainable. It's collapsing under itself. It cannot maintain the track that we're on. We have to make big changes. I think both Republicans and Democrats agree with that. This was a program that was shoved through with so many problems and we're still every day finding out new problems to this program. We know that we can't just repeal it and not do anything else. We have to repeal it and we have to replace it with something better. That's what this president's committed to doing --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's what I want to ask you about right there.
SANDERS: -- and that's exactly what we're working to do.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You say replace it with something better. So does that mean that no one who has coverage now will lose it?
SANDERS: I know that the goal is that we make sure that people don't lose their coverage and that we have to put a high priority on people that need it most. We have to lower costs and we have to make sure that the people that need insurance the very most are covered. But at the same time, George, we cannot survive under the current system. We have to make a massive overall to the health care system in America, because it is simply just not sustainable, and everybody agrees with that. There is nobody that argues that we're on a track that we can maintain. So, we're looking at every possible way to do exactly that: repeal a terrible , failed system and replace with something better.
STEPHANOPOULOS; Again, so I'll have to ask one more time. You keep say replace it with something better. So will the president guarantee that he won't sign a plan that will cause people that have coverage now to lose it?
SANDERS: Look, I'm not going to speak specifically for the president on that topic, but what I can say is he's made it a high priority and a number one focus that we make sure that people that have insurance continue their insurance, particularly those in the highest need.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He promised during the campaign that he's not going to touch Medicare, Social Security, or Medicaid. Can he stand by that?
SANDERS: Look, the president is committed to doing that. And I think that so far, as you have noticed over the last 30 days, he's done exactly what he said he is going to do. And I don't see any reason to start thinking differently.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to bring up another topic right now. Just yesterday in The Miami Herald the father of Ryan Owens, the Navy SEAL killed in that raid in Yemen has spoken out about the raid. He did not want to meet with President Trump. And he also went on to say this, “don't hide behind my son's death to prevent an investigation. I want an investigation. The government owes my son an investigation.”
Will he get it?
SANDERS: You know, I certainly can't speak to the military, but I can say that -- as a parent, I can't imagine the loss that he has suffered. I think every American owes his son a great deal of gratitude. We are forever in his son's debt. I know that he paid the ultimate sacrifice when he went on that mission. And I know that the mission has a lot of different critics, but it did yield a substantial amount of very important intel and resources that helped save American lives and other lives.
And, as much as -- again, I can't imagine what this father is going through. I think he's a -- his son is a true American hero and we should forever been in his son's debt.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Does the president want an investigation?
SANDERS: I haven't had the chance to speak with him directly about that, but I would imagine that he would be supportive of that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Final question, we heard yesterday in the president's tweet, he's not going to the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Why?
SANDERS: George, I think it's safe to say I think we all spend enough time around each other as it is. But, look, this wasn't a president that was elected to spend his time with reporters and celebrities, this is a president who campaigned on speaking directly to Americans, and that's what he's going to spend his time doing.
I think it's -- kind of naive of us to think that we can all walk into a room for a couple of hours and pretend that some of that tension isn't there. You know, one of the things we say in the south if a Girl Scout egged your house, would you buy cookies from her? I think that this is a pretty similar scenario. There's no reason for him to go in and sit and pretend like this is going to be just another Saturday night.
I think he's very focused on protecting our borders, national security, growing our economy, and instead of spending a night doing that, I think he'll spend the night focused on what he can do to help better America.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Pretty straight answer. I think a lot would argue the eggs have gone both ways on that. But we're going to have to leave it there today.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, thanks very much.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's bring in the Democratic leader of the House right now Nancy Pelosi. Thank you for joining us this morning.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Good morning. My pleasure.
So, you heard Sarah Sanders right there talk about this idea of a special committee looking into the Russia ties with the Trump campaign. Also, pretty much saying there will not be any recusal, at least for now, from the attorney general. Your response?
PELOSI: Well, as you read the law and saw the law, the attorney general must recuse himself.
But let's just take it back a step, you have seen a flurry of activities that are completely inappropriate, encouraging lawmakers, encouraging intelligence officials to say that something is one way or another. Let's have the investigation and find out the truth.
And we have been called, we have100 now plus one Republican on Eric Swallow's bill for an outside, independent commission to study the personal, political, and financial relationship between President Trump and the Russians.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So far, these the efforts have been quashed by the Republican leadership in the House. And you're getting some pressure from Democrats to go farther.
Michael Moore put out a tweet this week. He said tell your senators and house members now, you want them to cease all business until they appoint a special committee on Trump and the Russians. He gave the phone number there as well. Are you ready to go that far?
PELOSI: Well, let me just say, there is no business. Let me just -- let's put this in time. You did at the beginning of the show. In a couple of days, it will be 40 days, 40 hours, 40 years in the desert -- 40 is fraught with meaning and symbolism.
When President Obama was sworn in on the steps of Capitol, he asked for swift, bold action now for jobs and education for the 21st Century, a list, an agenda. One week and one day from that swearing in, the House passed the ARRA, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. One week later, the Senate passed it. On February 17th, Four weeks from his inauguration, he signed a bill which saved or created 4 million jobs.
He had already signed Lilly Ledbetter, signed SCHIP, the children's health insurance program. By the time he had his first address to the joint session, that is as it is called, the first speech, he could say, this is what I asked for, this is what we have done in the first four weeks.
What has the Trump administration done from their inaugural address, where they talked about decay and carnage? They've done nothing except put Wall Street first, make America sick again, instill fear in our immigrant population in our country, and make sure that Russia maintains its grip, its grip on our foreign policy.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You saw Sarah Sanders right there, they're going to talk about Obamacare on Tuesday night. Would not say that the president can guarantee.
PELOSI: No, they can't guarantee because, you know what, the Republicans have been baying at the moon for seven years, in March it was seven years since the president signed the bill. They've been baying at the moon that they had a better idea.
They've come up with nothing. They say repeal and replace. That has alliteration. But that's all it has going for it because they don't have a replacement. What they have put forth and outlined will cost more to consumers. It will cover fewer people. It will give tax breaks to the wealthiest people.
Imagine in what the president wants to do, the 400 wealthiest families in America will get a tax break of $7 million a year.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But if they do follow through and repeal Obamacare, won't Democrats...
PELOSI: They won't be able to do that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: They're not going to be able to do it?
PELOSI: How can they do it? They do not have the votes. They have alliteration. But they don't have votes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's -- humor me for a second. I they do, won't Democrats have a duty to go in there and help repair it so that the people who will lose coverage, according to your analyses, don't lose that coverage?
PELOSI: We would go in there to repair -- here's the thing, when we did the Affordable Care Act, if everyone loved their care, if everyone loved it, which they didn't, and their insurance, we would still have had to do it because the escalating cost of health care in our country were unsustainable to individuals, to families, to small business, to corporate America, and to the public sector.
The costs were just soaring. So we do the care and had three goals. One, to lower costs. The other, to expand benefits. And the third, to improve -- increase access of many more people, 20.4 million people now have health care who didn't have it before.
But this is the important part, 155 million people who get their health insurance through their workplace have now had expanded benefits, stop the rate of increase of costs. But, no longer will you have a pre-existing condition prevent you from getting care.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I understand that's what's in the bill, but...
STEPHANOPOULOS: … if they repeal it, don't you have an obligation to protect those who are going to lose their coverage?
PELOSI: Well, it isn't a question that you have to have the full package. If they come up with something that keeps lowering costs, expanding coverage, and increases benefits, then we can have something to talk about.
But we haven't seen anything to talk to them about yet in any category. They have put forth nothing.
So when he makes his address on the 40 days that he has been president, he has nothing to show for it but fear in every way. To people who are sick, fear, to people who are immigrants, fear, to people who are concerned about the greed on Wall Street taking us back to where we were.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What kind of a reception is the president going to get on Tuesday night? I've read that some Democrats are thinking of bringing guests who they believe have been impacted by the president's policies.
PELOSI: Well, that would be a normal thing to do. I, myself, would bring a guest who is a DREAMer. I would bring a guest who has been a -- who lost her son through gun violence. And I'll bring a guest who is a symbol of the freedom of the press, which the president, in his authoritarian manner, is attacking.
And I think that's really -- our biggest guardian of our democracy is the First Amendment, the freedom of the press.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are there any issues where you feel that you can still work with the president? Back in November, you talked about infrastructure.
STEPHANOPOULOS: (INAUDIBLE) talked about perhaps a trillion dollar infrastructure plan. We don't know if he's going to propose one on Tuesday. Is that something Democrats can get behind?
PELOSI: Well, let's just talk about that for a moment, because I call him the deflector-in-chief. He has no jobs bill. I talked about President Obama in the first four weeks, 4 million jobs. He has no jobs bill.
So he has got to talk about the press. He has no jobs bill. So he has to talk about kids -- transgender kids in school. He has no jobs bill, so he has to talk about immigrants and have a ban on Muslims coming to country.
So all this is a deflection from the fact that he has done nothing. So we haven't seen -- we haven't a jobs bill. We haven't seen --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have an open mind on it?
PELOSI: Look, if he has -- and as I've said to him and as I've said publicly -- if he has an infrastructure bill that really helps to address the deficit that we have in our infrastructure in our country, let's talk about it. But if it is, yet again, another tax break for his rich friends disguised as an infrastructure bill, we're not going there.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Congresswoman Pelosi, thanks for joining us this morning.
PELOSI: My pleasure.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's turn now to Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio. He is the founder of the House Freedom Caucus, one of many Republicans who faced tough questions at town meetings this week. Let's take a look.
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REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: Hang on, hang on. I want to answer the question.
JORDAN: Hang on. Hang on.
CROWD: Give us your insurance.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Jordan joins us right now. Thanks for coming in this morning.
JORDAN: Good to be with you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You're cleanup crew today. I want you to respond both to the White House and Congresswoman Pelosi.
First on the issue of Russia and these investigations on Russia. Is recusal by the attorney general necessary? Is a special (INAUDIBLE)?
JORDAN: Let's let the process work. I mean, the intel committees are looking into this issue. We've got some call for a select committee, some call for a special prosecutor. Let the intel committees work. If there's more investigation that 's needed, I'm on the oversight committee, we've never been shy about digging into issues and we'll do that. No one's ever accused me of going easy on my own party. So we'll do that.
I do think it's interesting though, that when we had the IRS scandal a few years ago and they were targeting conservative groups, after awhile I called for a special prosecutor. But we let the process work. And when I did, I sponsored the legislation that went through the House. Unfortunately, it -- fortunately, it passed the house. But unfortunately Harry Reid stopped it in the Senate. We did that because we found that Barbara Bosserman, at the Justice Department, the lead investigator on that case, was a max-out contributor to the president's campaign, to President Obama's campaign. We thought that was a conflict. So we said let's have a special prosecutor and, no, Harry Reid wouldn't do that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So if that's a conflict, isn't the Attorney General Sessions a conflict?
JORDAN: Let's see how this all plays out. We haven't seen him put -- put someone on the case who is a maxed-out contributor to the Trump campaign. I don't think that's going to -- so what I'm saying is let it play out --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Attorney General Sessions was right in the middle of the Trump campaign.
JORDAN: Well, what -- what I didn't see back when the -- we were doing this was you in the press call for a special prosecutor when the IRS was targeting people for exercising the First Amendment free speech rights.
So, you know, let's see how it plays out. I think that's -- a deliberative process is the appropriate way to proceed.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We're also going to see how Obamacare plays out. You heard what the Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said right there. She says, you can't repeal it.
JORDAN: We have to repeal it. That's what we told the voters we're going to do. We got to repeal it and we got to replace it. I mean, remember what the American people were sold. They were sold a bill of goods on this thing. I tell people, they were sold a Caribbean cruise and they got the Titanic.
This thing is a mess. We - -and you don't take my word for it. Remember Jonathan Gruber, the architect of -- "The New York Times" called him the architect Obamacare? He told us, he was on videotape telling us that they misled the American people. And so I talk about the nine false statements they gave us. Like your plan, keep your plan. Like your doctor, keep your doctor. Premiums will decline. Premiums will decline on average $2500 we were told. We were told deductibles would go down. We were told the website was going to work. The website was secure, were told. We were told emergency room visits would decline. And we were also told these co-ops that were formed, 23 of them, 18 of them have already gone bankrupt.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's all before, but what about the analyses that say that if you repeal it now, millions are going to lose coverage?
JORDAN: Think how bad sit right now. We have folks -- fewer choices, higher premiums, higher deductibles. Think about what the American people -- of course, there were three elections. Talk about these protests. How about the protests in 2010 on election day, 2014 on election day, and just this past November 8th where the American people said get rid of this law? We know how bad it is.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the key politicians warning against that is your own governor, John Kasich, Republican of Ohio. Here's what he's saying this morning on "Face the Nation".
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: I think there are some very conservative Republicans in the House who are going to say just get rid of the whole thing. And, you know, that's not acceptable when you have 20 million people, or 700,000 people in my state. Because where do the mentally ill go? Where do the drug-addicted go?
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Sounds like he's talking about you. What's your answer to your governor?
JORDAN: Well, we didn't tell the American people we're going to repeal it except we're going to keep the Medicaid expansion. We didn't tell the American people we're going to repeal it, except we're going to keep some of the tax increases that some are talking about. We told them we were going to repeal it and replace it with a market-centered, patient-centered plan that actually brings back affordable health insurance.
We got to remember where we're at. Obamacare said this -- it said we're going to have all these mandates, all these regulations. We're going to drive up the cost of insurance, we're going to make people buy it, and if they don't buy it, they're going to get penalized. What did -- what kind of plan is that? That's what Americans are living under now. And so we have said, let's get rid of that, and let's put on President Trump's desk the exact same plan we put on President Obama's desk just a year and a half ago.
STEPHANOPOULOS; And you're confident you have the votes for that?
JORDAN: Well, we better have the votes for that, because that's what we told the people -- and I'm confident President Trump wants to do that. We just heard from his spokesperson earlier, I'm confident that's what he campaigned on, that's what I campaigned on. And right now, there's one plan that's been put forward, the one sponsored by Senator Paul -- Dr. Paul in the senate, and the one sponsored -- a comparable plan sponsored by the House freedom caucus in the house where we say, repeal it just like we have done, just like we did with President Obama, put that the same bill on President Trump's desk. And then our replacement measure empowers people, families, and doctors, not Washington, D.C. like we have now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You heard Sarah Sanders say the president doesn't want to touch Medicare, doesn't want to touch Social Security, doesn't want to touch Medicaid. He's going to increase military spending. Huge tax cuts and perhaps that trillion dollar infrastructure bill, scan you do that without increasing the debt? And can you vote?
JORDAN: You have got to pay for those things. We've got to pay for those things.
STEPHANOPOULOS: so, you will not vote for a budget that increases the debt?
JORDAN: We have got a $20 trillion debt, George. I mean, do we want to keep saddling our kids, our grandkids, and frankly us right now. And this is such a big problem. Our debt to GDP ratio is now 1 to 1. That is a dangerous place to be. So, we have got to pay for these things.
I'm confident -- that's what Republicans campaigned on. That's what we have to do.
We make this job way too complicated.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman, thanks for joining us this morning.
We'll be back with the Roundtable, and later the new chair of the DNC, Tom Perez, joins us live.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the biggest misconception about what's going on in the Donald Trump White House?
REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, in regard to us two, I think the biggest misconception is everything that you're reading. We -- we share an office suite together. We're basically together from 6:30 in the morning until about 11:00 at night.
BANNON: I have a little thing called the war room, he has a fire place, you know, nice sofas.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: CPAC scored a rare joint appearance by White House rivals Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon this week. And the man who organized it, all, Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union joins our roundtable next.
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TRUMP: We need to define what this great, great unprecedented movement is and what it actually represents. The core conviction of our movement is that we are a nation that put and will put its own citizens first.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: President Trump at CPAC on Friday. We're joined on our "Roundtable" now by Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, of course, they run CPAC. Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter. The editor of "The New Yorker", David Remnick, we're going to talk about your cover story on Russia in just a minute. And also Amy Holmes, political analyst for Rasmussen Reports. And former Clinton Labor Secretary, U.C. Berkeley professor Robert Reich, he's the author of "Saving Capitalism," now out in paperback.
And, David, let me begin with Russia. You have a major cover story this week called "Active Measures." Looks at how the Russian interference in our campaign fits into what they have been doing for many year, how it fits into what they want to do in Europe as well, what Putin is trying to do across the West.
And one of the things I was struck by is a pretty stark divide between how the Democrats you've interviewed on the Intelligence Community speak about this investigations and how the Republicans speak about it.
DAVID REMNICK, EDITOR, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, this is a piece that I collaborated with Evan Osnos in Washington, and Josh Yaffa in Moscow. And let's remember, there's a big history of active measures on both sides. Americans have interfered in regimes and regime change, and altering the Cold War, interfered in elections as well. This has been back and forth. This is nothing absolutely new.
But the extent of this potentially is extraordinary. We have 17 intelligence agencies all saying, asserting, that there was serious interference in our presidential election.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, the administration, you just heard it again right there, sort of doubling and tripling down on the idea that there were no inappropriate contacts.
REMNICK: Well, here's the problem. The problem is that intelligence agencies are not giving us the evidence of this. And here they have a point. And they say, the intelligence agencies, the difficulty of giving evidence is you either give away your human sources or you give way your technological means of this.
And people do have memories on the left and the right of the Iraq War when the intelligence agencies went very bad and did a great disservice to the country in cooperating with the Bush administration.
What we need is a real investigation. And I think people on both sides of the aisle, by the way, Republicans as well, Senator McCain, Senator Burr, have said very clearly that it's necessary to investigate this in a serious way.
Otherwise we go through this cloud of this kind of dissonance of an election that has been spoiled. It might not be the decisive factor or the only factor by any means, but it's deeply important.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You are seeing divides now on the Republican side on this.
MATT SCHLAPP, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: Yes, absolutely. I think -- but let's go back to the fundamental issues. Congress's job is to do oversight. And they should do it aggressively. When it comes to our national security, the intelligence committees are the right place to start. So they should be aggressive and they should go where the facts take them.
As far as the Department of Justice, it is a little ironic, when you have Jeff Sessions waiting for his next three top appointments to get picked and yet literally the news coverage is, well, he couldn't even recuse himself to his deputy because that person is a political when that person isn't a political. They're a career.
So if we look at all of this, it's ironic that we have…
STEPHANOPOULOS: So far he's saying he's not going the recuse himself.
SCHLAPP: But hold on, why would we staff a special counsel when we haven't even staffed the counsel's office? Let's start staffing…
SCHLAPP: To his deputy, because that person is the political.
When that person isn't a political, they're a career. So if we look at all of this, it's ironic that we have...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But so far, he's saying he's not going to recuse himself.
SCHLAPP: But hold on.
Why would we staff a special counsel when we haven't even staffed the counsel's office?
Let's start staffing DOJ and then we can decide about special counsels.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What's the answer to that?
STEPHANIE CUTTER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:
CUTTER: Well, it just seems to me from listening to the White House speak earlier is that they're just trying to kick the can down the road. Like, let's let this process run out.
Fine, let's let it run out.
We know where it's going to end. They've already tainted the percent by trying to get, you know, the chair of the select Intelligence Committee to speak to members of the media on their behalf. They've reached out to intelligence and law enforcement officials to try to get them to speak out on their behalf.
They're trying to influence the process.
Therefore, it needs to be an independent process.
We've been down this road before. We know how it ends. The only way to do this right is to have an independent process.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Any chance the White House breaks on this?
AMY HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Not as of yet. I don't anticipate that. But I think it's also important to clarify that Loretta Lynch did -- actually did not recuse herself in the email investigations for Hillary Clinton. She reserved for herself the right to overrule James Comey if she had a disagreement with him. So I think we need to clarify that there.
Also, Senator Marco Rubio, I think it was just last week, he put out a Tweet, as we now communicate over Twitter, saying that he is very confident that there can be a thorough, robust, bipartisan investigation on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Again, Senator McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, he said that he might want to look at it, too. We know that staffers are already being -- or discussing their access to classified information so they can look (INAUDIBLE).
And I disagree with you, Stephanie, we don't know where this is going to end.
HOLMES: That's why we need to investigate.
PROF. ROBERT REICH, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY: Well, we don't...
CUTTER: I absolutely agree with you...
REICH: -- we don't know where it's going to end, but I think that there is absolutely nothing more important to the integrity of our democracy than public trust that, in fact, our voting system was not tampered with, particularly by a foreign power.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So no danger for the Democrats in pushing this too far?
REICH: I think that there is not a danger right now, George, particularly when you're seeing cracks in the Republican Party. When Darrell Issa says yes, we do need a special prosecutor, when John McCain begins to say, look, we have to get to the bottom of this.
If the public does not trust that the Republicans essentially, by overseeing this process...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
REICH: -- will oversee it correctly, then we have no choice.
REMNICK: -- the Democrats?
SCHLAPP: I don't get this whole thing. The Department of Justice oversaw one of the most politically sensitive issues with the Clinton Foundation. And there was no special counsel. And the voters got to decide whether or not it was handled well or not.
This is for the Congress to handle, through the Intelligence Committee. This is our national security. We have a brand new administration. There's one person over at the Department of Justice. Let's get a few more people populated. That's before the Senate right now. That needs to happen.
If there's anything that's done inappropriately, then you go to the next step. We start...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Hold on a second. Wait a second. You keep saying the FBI investigation exists right now.
SCHLAPP: That's right. And it should.
STEPHANOPOULOS: (INAUDIBLE) actual investigation...
SCHLAPP: And it should.
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- so that the question is, should the attorney general be overseeing that?
But I do want to move on to a different part of this statement. I want to bring this question to you.
One of the other mysteries here that it's been difficult for anyone to get to the bottom of is explaining -- even with whatever context there may have been, what is behind President Trump's sort of courtship of Vladimir Putin?
REMNICK: Well, I think we're going to have to find out through further investigation. I mean there is great concern among -- and you see it in the journalism around it, that there's a number of things. That there are financial interests that have to be looked into. There's the question of contacts between people in the campaign and Russians, which is -- which could lead to some sense of collusion.
Again, this is not conclusive yet.
And then, at the same time, you have the White House trying to block inquiries, trying to get people from the FBI to tamp down stories that are happening in the press.
This is all very serious. And the bigger question, you have, on the one hand, you have the question about the integrity of our democracy, which couldn't be a larger question. And at the same time, you have our conflict with Russia, which is very, very serious.
And one of the motivations of Vladimir Putin to interfere in the first place are because he wants to weaken Western institutions from NATO to the European Union.
So the -- what's at stake here could not be larger. And the -- so the stakes for independent inquiry into this, whether it's journalistic or it's law enforcement or Congressional, it's absolutely essential that they be...
REICH: And George, this is where...
HOLMES: But could I jump in?
In your recitation just now, I think you point to one of the problems and the challenges of this investigation, is we don't know what the target is. We don't know if it's Russia. And if it is Russia, you know, the target, you can't prosecute Russia. So it wouldn't be appropriate to have a special prosecutor in that instance.
That's why there needs to be this investigation moving forward, so you can zero in on just exactly what it is we're talking about.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what about this weakening?
I mean if you really look at it, does anybody think Donald Trump is going to be this kind of push-over for anyone?
You know, we -- I think that it's inevitable that he's going to get at odds with Vladimir Putin. And the other choice was Hillary Clinton.
And the other person was Vladimir Putin -- was -- excuse me -- was Hillary Clinton, who had the gimmicky red reset button and was trying to be friendly.
REICH: This is why John McCain is so very important here, because if we have hardliners and military experts in the senate who are going to say no, we have to have an investigation, and we have got to get to the bottom of this. This gives credibility. As long as this is a partisan issue, it's going nowhere. But when Republicans, particularly John McCain, starts saying we've got to get to the bottom of this, it becomes a completely different issue.
STEPHANOPOULOS; We have got to take a quick break, we'll be right back with the newly elected DNC chair, Tom Perez. Also going the talk about this on our roundtable.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM PEREZ, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: They're going to ask the question of all of us, where were you in 2017 when we had the worst president in the history of the United States? We will all be able to say, the united Democratic Party led the resistance, ensured that this president was a one-term president, and elected Democrats across this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Fiery start there for the new chair of the DNC, Tom Perez, after his election yesterday. He joins us live this morning.
Thank you for joining us, Mr. Chairman.
PEREZ: Always a pleasure to be with you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You got a congratulations from the president yesterday right after your win. He says: "Congratulations to Thomas Perez who has just been named chairman of the DNC. I could not be happier for him or for the Republican Party."
PEREZ: Well, you know, Congressman Ellison and I united. And our Democratic unity is Donald Trump's worst nightmare. And we not only had a good day here in Atlanta, yesterday, George, but we had a good day in Delaware because the real challenge is, can we channel this energy that we see across America into positive action?
And in Delaware yesterday, there was a race for a state senate seat where the balance of the senate was at stake. We came in there, we had a great candidate, the DNC supported, Our Revolution supported, grass roots activists supported. She kicked butt. And we took that state senate seat.
That's what we have to do as Democrats is help elect people in state houses, the presidency, local government, everywhere in between.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is a start, but I think you'd agree it's just a start. And yesterday you had Bernie Sanders...
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, there was some discord at the meeting. And then actually some boos after you won. And Bernie Sanders came out with a warning, of course, he backed Keith Ellison, and said: "It's imperative that Tom," you, "understand that the same old, same old is not working, and that we must open the doors of the party to working people and young people in a way that has never been done before."
How are you going to do that?
PEREZ: Well, it starts with the partnership that Congressman Ellison and I have. We have been friends for a long time. We are united. And our values are identical. We want to make sure that everyone has a fair shake. We want to make sure that that woman I met in Detroit, part of the Fight for 15 movement, she slept in her car the night before I met her with her three children, we can do better.
We want to make sure that people struggling to save for retirement have a fair shake. We want to make sure that when you work overtime you get paid overtime. These are things that Donald Trump is fighting against. And these are things that we're all fighting for as Democrats.
When we lead with our values, we win. And that's what we're going to do.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You are up against a brutal map, both in state houses and in the congressional midterms coming up in 2018. I want to just put up a map from the 2016 election right now showing by county -- the election results by county. That sea of red all across the country, how do you begin to turn that tide of red around when it's so predominant around so much of the country?
PEREZ: We begin by building strong parties in the 50 states and the territories. We didn't invest enough in our state party infrastructure. We didn't invest enough in grass roots organizing. We ignored rural swaths of America. We can't do that.
We need an every zip code strategy. We need to redefine the role of the DNC so that we're helping to elect people from the school board to the Senate. And the best way to do that is to build that strong infrastructure and to strengthen our partnerships with people in the labor movement, with Planned Parenthood, with others who are involved in that grass roots organizing infrastructure.
When we lead with our values, when we're in every zip code, we succeed. I'm very optimistic that we can do this because I think we have the right values. I think we have the right message. We saw it yesterday in Delaware. We're going to see it down here in Atlanta in a congressional election that's coming up here in Cobb County in surrounding Atlanta. And that's what we have to do that everywhere. It's a lot of work but I'm optimistic.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Hillary Clinton put out a video just before the final vote calling for unity. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FMR. DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The challenges we face as a party and a country are real. So now, more than ever, we need to stay engaged. Let resistance plus persistence equal progress for our party and our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: So Hillary Clinton is staying engaged. Are you hoping to see her run again in 2020?
PEREZ: Everyone who wants to run should run. And I'm confident we're going to have a robust field of candidates. What I am also confident about is, as we invest in our state party infrastructures, we are going to build strong capacity to elect Democrats up and down the ticket.
There is such an electricity out there across America. And it's not just the traditional activists, George. It's people who come up to me and say, Tom, I was a casual participant in democracy. And I understand that democracy can't be a spectator sport.
And Congressman Ellison has been spectacular at tapping into that grassroots advocacy. And we're working together to translate this activism into results. Because when we lead with our values, I think we succeed.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Chairman Perez, thank you for joining us this morning.
PEREZ: Pleasure to be with you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's bring this back now to the roundtable. Bob Reich, I want to begin with you. There is a lot of energy out there in what they're calling the resistance. The key question is can it be turned into an enduring and effective movement?
REICH: That is the key question. And right now, there is a disconnect, George, between a rather sclerotic Democratic apparatus which is in complete disarray. I mean, the Democratic Party has not been in this bad shape since perhaps the 1920s. And a huge uprising at the grassroots, mostly against Trump. Now how can Tom Perez, can he actually utilize that, turn the Democratic Party from a vast fund-raising machine into a movement? Hasn't been done before very easily. I mean, you remember in the Vietnam War days, we had a huge uprising. But obviously the Democratic Party had nothing to do with that.
The thing that worries me most of all is that, if you look at the problems inside the Democratic Party, they have a lot to do with the same sort of populist uprising we're seeing across the country, including the Donald Trump campaign. People, for 35 years, have not had a raise. The average American is actually economically in a lot of economic desperation., insecure. We have parts of this country that are -- really, desolate in terms of the economic activity.
And so, you've got a lot of anger out there that nobody, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, have come up from with a way to respond to.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And I guess the question is, Stephanie, can that anger be channeled into something that actually delivers for these people? Or is it enough right now for Democrats and the opposition simply to try to take down Trump?
CUTTER: Well, I think you can never be wholly successful when you're just against something. You also have to be for something. And I think what you heard -- I'm not sure whether to call him Secretary Perez or Chairman Perez.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Either one.
CUTTER: Tom was saying is that we're on the right side of these issues. We've got the right values to make this argument.
So I think what you're going to see him do is not just build -- help build the party infrastructure from the bottom up and provide the right tools to be able to do that all over the country, not just on the coasts, not just in blue states, not just battleground states. But Democrats stick to their values and argue for their values -- not just to prevent Trump from doing bad things. You know, what he's doing with the deportation force. What he did with the Muslim ban. Of course, Democrats are going to speak up about that. But then what are Democrats for? Raising the minimum wage. Increasing manufacturing bases. Providing more opportunities for education. These are all things that we can do to start building a stronger economy, especially for the people who haven't gotten it.
STEPHANOPOULOUS: David Remnick, the immediate question they're going to face is are there any issues where they can cooperate with Donald Trump? Or is the price too high? The price that the activists are going to impose too high on the elected officials?
REMNICK: Well, yes, I think there are issues that people can cooperate on. The infrastructure one is the classic one that people say they can cooperate on. It would create jobs, it would do --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As long as there are no details out there.
REMNICK: As long as there are no details.
CUTTER: How you pay for it.
REMNICK: The question is to what degree are people that consider themselves to be Trump's voters going to be disappointed by the Trump presidency? And how quickly? And how quickly? In other words, all this ideological talk about economic nationalism, which we heard at CPAC too, and CPAC put a name to --
SCHLAPP: I didn't hear a lot of disappointment in that room, just so you know.
REMNICK: Well, that room is that room. The question is the country. And you know there are systemic, painful problems of globalization and de-industrialization that cannot be solved with a phone call or a tweet or an angry speech or trying to isolate the press and the first amendment. Sooner or later, the Donald Trump show -- excuse me. Let me finish. Sooner or later, the Donald Trump show, which is a projection of strength and authority, will have to deliver to his voters. And if he doesn't, in very real terms, if he can't supersede a situation where a president cut the unemployment rate in half, if he can't do better, if he can't open factories and all the rest that he's promised, then I think he's in trouble.
SCHLAPP: I want to agree. We're talking about Democrats and Republicans working together. I agree with the secretary. I actually think if the Republican Party was looking for its most pristine conservative voice, they probably would have picked somebody other than Donald Trump. It's the idea that he's willing to take on things and fight and he's willing to really address these basic economic issues, that's what he has to deliver on.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What are the concrete things that he has to deliver to keep that...
SCHLAPP: Let me be specific about this, which is I think at the end of the day, it is making those Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, working-class people see a real difference in their life. We'll be able to track it through their take-home pay and greater economic opportunity. If that doesn't happen, I agree, we're in trouble.
STEPHANOPOULOS; That is going to have to be the last word. We don't have any time. It's the debate.
REICH: Economic nationalism versus investing in people, in their education, training.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We have got to go, we'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Please tune in Tuesday night. I'm going to be anchoring ABC's live coverage of President Trump's first address to congress. Our whole political team is on hand. That starts at 9:00 Eastern.
And check out "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT". I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA".