"This Week" Transcript 12-24-17: Sen. Jeff Flake and Rep. Charlie Dent

PHOTO: Pictured (L-R) are Sen. Jeff Flake in Washington, D.C., Oct. 24, 2017 and Rep. Charlie Dent in Allentown, Pa., Nov. 2, 2016.PlayAP | Getty Images
WATCH President Trump 'inviting' a Republican or independent challenger in 2020: Sen. Jeff Flake

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT FOR 'THIS WEEK' on December 24, 2017 and it will be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This Week, with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.

JON KARL, HOST: Ending the year with a bang.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm keeping my promise. I'm signing it before Christmas.

KARL: A big win for the president on taxes, his first major legislative victory.

TRUMP: We are making America great again. You haven't heard that, have you?

KARL: And a rare moment of unity for Republicans.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) WISCONSIN: Today we are giving the people of this country their money back.

KARL: The president says the tax cuts will be rocket fuel for the economy and help the middle class. But who really benefits? And will the new law help or hurt his party in 2018?

Plus, we talk to two of Trump's biggest Republican critics.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE, (R) ARIZONA: I rise today to say, enough.

KARL: Ahead of their retirements in the Senate.

Are you saying the president is a liar?

And in the House.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was the president a factor in your decision to leave?

KARL: What Senator Jeff Flake and Congressman Charlie Dent are saying about the future of the Republican party and of the country.

And, as Trump's first year in office comes to a close...

TRUMP: From this day forward, it's going to be only America first.

KARL: We have come to expect the unexpected.

TRUMP: Hey, I'm president. Can you believe it?

KARL: ...from this unprecedented president.

TRUMP: We want to start winning again.

KARL: Our Powerhouse Roundtable take on the year in politics. What's fact? What's fiction? What matters? This Week.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's This Week. Here now, chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL; Good morning and Merry Christmas. This week, the president's biggest legislative win yet. But behind all the back-slapping and self-congratulations, it's still an anxious time for Republicans and to the White House.

Several year-end polls show the presient's approval rating at or near his all-time low, and historically low for a first-year president.

This, as the political landscape is set to change with over two dozen Republicans already saying they won't seek re-election to congress next year.

But Republicans are holding on to the tax bill as their ticket to success. And at least for this week, they had a lot to celebrate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: A bang of the speaker's gavel, a stroke of the president's pen, a big tax cut, a big political victory.

TRUMP: It's going to be a tremendous thing for the American people. It's going to be fantastic for the economy.

KARL: The president says the middle class will benefit most. But the biggest tax breaks go to corporations and the wealthy. And while polls show the vast majority of Americans don't like the plan. Republicans are betting that more jobs and more take-home pay will turn an unpopular bill into a political winner.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY: If we can't sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work.

KARL: Not a single Democrat voted for the Trump tax cuts in either the House or the Senate. They think found a defining issue for the 2018 midterm elections.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA: Don't throw me a crumb and tell me that I'm benefiting when you're robbing the future by increasing the debt, rewarding the rich, as you ransack the middle class.

KARL: The other big battleground? Over Obamacare.

The president claims he killed it this week by getting rid of the requirement that all Americans buy health insurance or pay a penalty.

TRUMP: I hate to say this, but we essentially repealed Obamacare.

KARL: In reality, almost all of Obamacare remains in place. And Healthcare.gov enrollment numbers for next year shows almost as many signups as last year.

TRUMP: It's always a lot of fun when you win.

KARL: And in all, this week was a welcome relief for a White House and a Republican congress after a year of political in-fighting. For now, at least, all is forgiven.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: And the Powerhouse Roundtable joins me to break down the GOP's big week. We have National Review editor Rich Lowry, ABC's Cokie Roberts, Washington Post political reporter Eugene Scott, and Bloomberg News senior White House correspondent Margaret Talev.

So Rich, to you, if this tax bill is all that Republicans say it is, all the president says it is, why is it so unpopular? I mean, if you look at the latest CNN poll, you have the majority of the country opposing it, only a third at this point actually favoring it.

RICH LOWRY, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, I think there are a couple of things. One, it's associated with President Trump, and anything associated with President Trump is not going to be popular at the moment. Two, the most pro-growth elements of this bill are corporate tax cuts, which I think are worthy and will be pro-growth, but they're not an easy political sell.

I think the two big political upsides to this. One, they would have just -- their voters would have quit on them if they didn't get anything done this year, two, it will allowthem to take credit for an economy that appears to be kicking into a higher gear. And finally a third point I'd add, is just most people, bad things aren't going to happen to them from this bill. They will actually get a tax cut despite the Democratic rhetoric that it's terrorizing the middle class.

TALEV: It really might come back around for the Republicans. It might not be in time, but it will come -- I think the combination of the fact that the standard deduction has doubled. And the child care tax credit is so big that some families will not pay taxes at all. And so, I think a couple of those -- a couple of things will be popular.

But the Democrats running against the Republicans as the party of big business works. It's worked since Herbert Hoover. And they're expecting to be able to have it work again.

KARL: Well, Eugene, I mean, the Democrats are talking about the sky is going to fall because of this bill. And in fact, if you look at the Tax Policy Center's analysis, 91 percent of middle-class earners get a tax cut on average of $1,100. So once people see that money coming back into their paychecks. And maybe not so many terrible things happening in the short term, isn't this going to backfire on the Democrats? Aren't they overplaying their hands here?

SCOTT: I think there definitely will be some voters who will look a Democrats and say, things were just not as bad as you said they were.

But I think what's a big concern for many Democrats, is that we're living in a time where there is so many conversations about inequality. And the reality is that although most people will get a cut, it's very clear that some people will get more of a cut than others. And I think A lot of voters are uncomfortable with that idea.

KARL: I mean, one thing about this is the tax cuts for individuals are temporary.

TALEV: That's right.

KARL: The tax cuts the for corporations are permanent. That's a hard thing to sell, but the temporary is -- I mean, they're not going to expire for several years.

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG NEWS: I mean, that's right. Ten years will get Republicans through the midterms and the next presidential election.

KARL: They've got bigger problems...

(LAUGHTER)

TALEV: There are a couple of elements that are in play here and one is the sort of blue state versus red state factor, which tracks, to some degree with the president's base and where those folks live, but there are Republicans in coastal states who are a, going to be turned off by this, and b, it may affect reelection prospects in the midterms. And while the effects -- the beneficial effects in the near-term are not really going to be realized for more than a year, those elections are coming up in November. And there are deficit implications as well.

KARL: Now, most of the media coverage of this, including, frankly, my own, has portrayed this as the president's sole big legislative achievement so far. The president...

ROBERTS: Well, fair enough.

KARL: The president seems to have a different method. Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Our country is doing very well. We have tremendously cut regulations, legislative approvals, for which I'm given no credit in the mainstream media, we have I believe, it's 88, which is number one in the history of our country, second now, is Harry Truman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Help me out, Rich. What the heck is a legislative approval? Because I've been covering this for a long time...

LOWRY: It's a new term. we'll have to have -- we have a tutorial later on with what little of the year is left to learn what a legislative approval is.

But look, this tax bill, I would think really tilted over to a pretty solid year of accomplishments. The tax bill is a big deal. As he likes to remind people, the individual mandate is repealed in it, which as a stand-alone matter, that would have been considered a big deal. Drilling in ANWR, something Republicans...

KARL: There is a lot in this bill beyond taxes.

LOWRY: Deregulation. Judges. Victory against ISIS. This is a pretty good year that looked for awhile like it really could go wrong.

ROBERTS: Some of what he's talking about happened very early in the term, where the Republican congress was able to overturn a lot of regulations. And, that's what he's proud of that.

Now, whether the American people like that or not is another question, because some of those regulations were things that protect our health and safety, and so -- and our water. And so I think that that -- you know, that on balance, it's probably not a positive.

KARL: But on this point of the legislative approval for bills that have passed. I mean, facts actually kind of matter here. So, if we take a look -- he said 88. Actually, there have been 96 bills that signed into law. So he's short-selling himself. But take a look at this, every president going back to Eisenhower, he's actually dead last even on that metric -- Eugene.

EUGENE SCOTT, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think that is something that the president isn't incredibly worried about when he's talking to his base, because he'll put that message out , people that are already on the Trump train will stay on board and use this false stat in arguments with other people this holiday season.

But the challenge to the president has to remember is that the majority of American voters are not in his base and will hold him accountable and will prove that what you say you actually did, you did not do.

And even though you may have done some of the things that your base likes, you didn't handle CHIP the way we would have liked. You didn't handle DACA the way we would have liked, and these things are going to come up in mid-terms.

KARL: Well, the interesting thing here is, this was entirely Republican --

TALEV: Right.

KARL: -- just like health care. The -- entirely -- which was entirely Democrat, was entirely Republican on this bill.

But if you look at next year at what's coming up, and you have one less Republican seat in the Senate, he's going to need to have bipartisan accomplishments -- infrastructure, DACA --

TALEV: Well, good luck on that. It just got --

SCOTT: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

TALEV: -- that much harder, that's right.

KARL: Yes.

TALEV: And, so, we've already seen --

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: It's good -- you won't be able to do anything on solely --

TALEV: Yes.

KARL: -- Republican --

TALEV: We've already --

KARL: -- votes.

TALEV: -- seen Mitch McConnell say welfare reform and entitlement reform --

ROBERTS: Perhaps.

TALEV: -- OK, let's start with something -- maybe we can do infrastructure. The immigration stuff's going to be very difficult. Democrats want DACA, but they don't want to do any wall stuff.

I think in terms of legislative accomplishments, it's almost impossible to argue that any one bill has been more consequential than this tax bill. It's going to have implications for foreign policy, there could be trade wars, there could be a global cutting rates competition. Obviously, there are class implications in the U.S.

But I think more than legislation, you could argue that a combination of the regulatory actions, or deregulatory actions he's taken, the judicial confirmations, and some of the immigration policy that he's been able to do through executive have been more important than the bills.

ROBERTS: But getting legislation next time around, next session --

KARL: Yes.

ROBERTS: -- is going to be -- his biggest problem's going to be in his own party.

KARL: Hmm.

ROBERTS: Because the -- if he wants to do infrastructure, which he's (ph) -- clearly does want to do --

KARL: He wants $1 trillion? Sure (ph).

ROBERTS: Yes, good luck with that with the (ph) Conservative Republicans.

And, I mean, I see Rich nodding away here.

(CROSSTALK)

SCOTT: (LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: Yes (ph), exactly. (LAUGHTER) And (LAUGHTER) --

KARL: "The National Review" will be leading the way.

ROBERTS: -- and the -- and the --

TALEV: Well, because where's the money going to come from, right?

ROBERTS: -- and same thing with immigration.

TALEV: Yes.

ROBERTS: I mean, there've been Republicans ready to do an immigration bill since George W. Bush. But, they haven't been able to do it because they can't agree inside their own party. So that's where his big problem is, really (ph).

KARL: And this is going to be fought out in the midterm elections. So, Rich, I want you to look at the -- what we call the generic --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

KARL: -- ballot polls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

KARL: -- you know, do you favor Democrat or Republican party.

Take a look at this -- three recent ones. We have --

LOWRY: Yes.

KARL: -- 18 point advantage. Fifteen, 11, which, those numbers spell disaster for the Republicans next November.

LOWRY: Yes, and it's hard to see how they get better -- maybe there's some black swan event next year, maybe the economy does kick into higher gear, and take some of the edge off of it.

But the problem is, I think this wave that's building is built fundamentally on a lot of voters finding Donald Trump personally repellent. And how do you fix that? Especially when the president has no desire to reign in his own conduct, or his own tweeting.

ROBERTS: Yes, but, I mean, you -- the point you were making earlier about other presidents and Donald Trump being dead --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

ROBERTS: -- last instead of dead first as he put out, he says quite openly, I can say whatever I want to say, and people will believe it. So there are some people who will believe whatever he has (ph) -- says. But there are a lot of other people who say, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, those aren't the facts," and that's a big problem for him.

KARL: And you get to this point where, actually, you have people that won't believe anything he says, and people that won't believe anything --

ROBERTS: We say.

KARL: -- that we say.

ROBERTS: (LAUGHTER)

SCOTT: But, I mean, it's true. But we did see a poll from Quinnipiac that said the majority of Americans do believe the media over Trump when they have to choose between the two, but not by much.

And the reality is, we have a trust issue, the government has a trust issue, and all of us have more control in changing that.

(CROSSTALK)

LOWRY: And so, even if it (ph) takes all of us --

SCOTT: And the reality is --

LOWRY: -- is out trust issues, right?

SCOTT: (LAUGHTER)

KARL: Yes, there you go.

ROBERTS: (LAUGHTER) I know what you're talking about, right.

SCOTT: And there's all these other truths (ph).

KARL: Bannon -- Steve Bannon, the president's former chief strategist, saying and quoting to "Vanity Fair" that there is a 30 percent chance that he will finish his term. In other words, a very great, great chance that he won't. That he'll be impeached --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They'll (ph) kick him out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (LAUGHTER) Yes (ph).

ROBERTS: I --

KARL: -- and (ph) removed from office -- we'll support it.

ROBERTS: -- don't think that's true.

TALEV: Steve Bannon has been a firebrand bad a lightning rod since he came into the Trump campaign. Was that only, like, a year and a half ago? And --

ROBERTS: I know, exactly, right?

TALEV: -- look, he's a provocateur, and he's going to continue to provoke to try and turn out the base, and affect implosion and change inside the Republican party.

But President Trump was going to face next year a problem that President Obama faced in his second term in the midterms, which is, how directly and personally does he campaign? Where do they use Pence instead of Trump? Will Trump step back willingly in --

KARL: And --

TALEV: -- places where it would hurt the incumbent to have him there?

KARL: And, Rich, do Republicans run with Donald Trump --

LOWRY: Yes.

KARL: -- in 2018, or do they run against him --

LOWRY: It's going to be a --

KARL: -- away from him?

LOWRY: -- really tough choice. And what we saw the last couple months, you had Ed Gillespsie, gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, running away from Donald Trump, getting swamped by a blue wave of losing. Roy Moore had his own problems running towards Donald Trump also getting swamped --

KARL: Yes.

LOWRY: -- by a blue wave. So it's --

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: In Alabama.

LOWRY: -- a tough year ahead.

KARL: Sounds good. (LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: In Alabama.

KARL: All right --

ROBERTS: It wasn't so much a blue wave as catching the waves.

KARL: It wasn't a crimson tide.

ROBERTS: (LAUGHTER) Yes (ph).

KARL: All right. Up next, a candid conversation with two Republican members of Congress -- one from the Senate, one from the House, both choosing to get out, rather than to continue to deal with President Trump, or to face the voters. Sen. Jeff Flake and Congressman Charlie Dent give their stark warning on the state of the Republican party when we come back.

ANNOUNCER: "THIS WEEK" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KARL: That was the White House celebration Wednesday. The president and congressional Republicans taking a tax cut victory lap. Missing from the group photo and the ceremony itself, Senator Jeff Flake. He voted for the bill, but he has big issues with Donald Trump. We'll hear from Flake and another retiring Republican after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're all on the same page. There's a great spirit in the Republican Party like I have never seen before, like a lot of people have said they have never seen before. They have never seen anything like this, the unity.

So I think a lot of very good things are going happen. It's going to happen very fast.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: That's Arizona Senator Jeff Flake sitting right next to the president three weeks ago. The president presenting a unified front when in reality, they have been feuding since the campaign.

Flake, who announced this fall, that he'll retire from the Senate next year, has been a constant critic of the president, most recently over his support for Judge Roy Moore's failed Senate campaign in Alabama.

Flake even wrote a check for the Democrat Doug Jones, tagging it country over party.

So, I sat down with Flake to talk about his future and the future of his party. We began with the fallout from Alabama.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL: The president was all in at the end for Roy Moore, the Republican National Committee supported him financially...is this a permanent stain on the party?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE: I hope it's not permanent, but it will be lasting. That will be used by the Democrats. If we were the Democrats, we'd do it too. So it'll certainly be used by the other side and it's not... that wasn't our best foot forward by any means.

KARL: Steve Bannon was supporting Moore from the start and by all accounts, helped convince the president, though I don't know if he needed much convincing to support Moore. What's Bannon's role in this party now?

FLAKE: Well, I hope it's being marginalized, the last thing we need is to push that ultra-nationalist, ethno-nationalist, protectionist kind of element of the party. That's not good for us.

KARL: So what's the risk if the party continues in that direction, the Bannon direction, the Trump direction, that you could lose, could you lose the Senate, could you lose the House?

FLAKE: Most definitely. Most definitely. When you look at some of the audiences cheering for Republicans sometimes you look out there and you say, "those are the spasms of a dying party." When you look at the lack of diversity sometimes, and it depends on where you are obviously but by and large, we're appealing to older white men and there are just a limited number of them, and anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy. So you have to actually govern and do something, and sooner or later the votes will figure out, I think they are and have, that we've gotta have something else.

SENATOR FLAKE, A LIFELONG REPUBLICAN, DID NOT VOTE FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP IN 2016.

KARL: So what about the president himself? First of all, do you, what do you think the odds are that he doesn't serve out all four years?

FLAKE: I don't know. You know the talk of impeachment and what not I don't get caught up in that. There's a lot of it on the left. So, we'll see, we'll what goes forward. I hope...I mean I look at that last campaign, and think was that campaign even capable of colluding with anybody? It was so chaotic and what not. But the problem is as they always say the cover up and the sensitivity that the White House has to the Special Counsel and this investigation is troubling. I still cannot figure out the rationale for the timing of the Comey firing. And if the president continues to try to undermine the legitimacy of that investigation and if Republicans continue to try to help with that, I think that puts us in peril -- that we shouldn't participate in the undermining of our institutions that way.

KARL: When you look at the firing of Comey and what Comey said the President said regarding the Flynn investigation. When you look at the calls to key figures in Congress to back off the investigation, is there already layman's terms here, is there already an obstruction of justice case to be made here?

FLAKE: I'd wait for the Special Counsel to make that case if he's going to make that case. But I'm not prepared to make it now.

KARL: And what if the president fires the Special Counsel?

FLAKE: Then that would be a big problem. A big problem. And I don't think that would go over well at all here in the Senate. I don't think he'll go there, he shouldn't go there.

KARL: And if he does?

FLAKE: Then we'll cross that when we come to it, but I don't think it would be received well here. Not by me.

KARL: And if he pardons Michael Flynn...

FLAKE: That's equally troubling. So if it's part of the investigation as a way to circumvent the investigation somehow, that would be very troubling.

SENATOR FLAKE HAS CALLED ON REPUBLICANS TO SERVE AS A CHECK ON PRESIDENT TRUMP.

FLAKE GMA: It's up to us to stand up and say this is not acceptable.

BUT JUST A FEW WEEKS AGO, HE WAS THERE AT THE WHITE HOUSE SITTING NEXT TO THE PRESIDENT

TRUMP DEC 5: This group of wonderful Republican senators is here to discuss the tax bill. Very importantly, we're also going to be talking about trade, and NAFTA.

KARL: There you are, you're with the president, face to face, did you use the opportunity to confront him on any of the things that you've confronted him on --

FLAKE: Certainly, on NAFTA. Some people expect if you disagree with the president on some things, I do quite vociferously, sometimes on some policy things and some of his behavior. But that doesn't mean that I should try to hobble him. I think there was an op-ed written a while ago saying it was my responsibility to hobble him.

KARL: But you supported him on so many of the big issues. I mean you supported the Obamacare repeal, you supported him on tax cuts, you've voted with him the majority of the time.

FLAKE: Let me put it this way, before the president came along on health care reform, repeal and replacement of Obamacare, I voted on it some 40 times. Should I change just to spite the president because he happens to favor the same reform that we do? Same with regard to tax reform, I've been pushing corporate tax reform in particular for years. Should I now turn the other direction just because the president happens to share our view? But on the things that we disagree on, for example when it was the Muslim ban during the campaign later changed to the travel ban, now I do believe it's constitutional, it's just not wise. I speak up every chance I get against that. NAFTA, getting out of NAFTA would be a disaster. TPP, to exit that trade agreement, disaster. So those things I'll continue to speak against.

NOW - THE OUTSPOKEN SENATOR, WHO ALREADY MADE HEADLINES WITH HIS STUNNING RESIGNATION SPEECH -

FLAKE SENATE FLOOR SPEECH: We must stop pretending that the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal.

IS SET TO GIVE A SERIES OF SPEECHES ON THE SENATE FLOOR ABOUT THE STATE OF THE UNION

KARL: the first one you want to do is about Trump's relationship with the truth.

FLAKE: Right.

KARL: What do you mean? What's this about?

FLAKE: Well we need as a democracy, as a country, shared facts that we can agree on. We need to know and people need to understand that our institutions are solid and durable and when we undermine them by talking about alternative facts or talking about statements that are just demonstrably false, like would have won the popular vote for example, or that this, our institutions are sick and is it a rigged system, talking about our electoral system. That's just not good and it's just not right.

KARL: So are you saying the president is a liar?

FLAKE: I'm not saying that.

KARL: Well why not? You're saying what he says is not true. Isn't that the same thing?

FLAKE: We can all choose our own words. I don't use that word.

FLAKE PLANS TO CONTINUE TO SERVE IN THE SENATE UNTIL HIS TERM IS JUST OVER A YEAR FROM NOW. GIVING HIM THE OPPORTUNITY TO HELP PUSH TRUMP'S AGENDA THROUGH - OR STAND IN THE WAY. BUT DOES HE HAVE PRESIDENTIAL AMBITIONS OF HIS OWN?

FLAKE: That's not in my plans. But I do wonder, I do worry, that in the future we'll be faced with a a a President Trump running for reelection on one side, Drilling down hard on a diminishing base and on the other side you might have you know somebody like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren on the far left of the Democratic Party. That leaves a huge swath of voters in the middle, that may be looking for something else.

KARL: But you are open to running for president in 2020.

FLAKE: I don't rule anything out, but it's not in my plans.

KARL: It's coming up by the way.

FLAKE: (LAUGHS) It is.

KARL: Would you be more likely to run for the Republican nomination against the president, or as an independent candidate?

FLAKE: Like I said, I haven’t thought that deeply about it. But I do believe if the president is running for reelection, if he continues on the path that he’s on, that that’s gonna leave a huge swath of voters looking for something else.

KARL: So you’re saying if he is the Republican nominee again , we’re likely to see an independent candidate, whether or not its you…

FLAKE: Oh yes, I think he’s inviting that. He’s probably inviting a Republican challenge as well. But certainly an independent challenge, yes.

KARL: What would it take for you to leave the Republican Party? I mean you've already been as harshly critical of your party's president as you really can be.

FLAKE: Well, I can say that you know the fact that Roy Moore lost his election is a good sign, that maybe the Republican Party, maybe we can turn back, but if we continue to go down that path, just to drill down on the base, then I think you'll have a lot of people realize there's no future for them in this party. I know a lot of them. Some are family members. Some are you know Republicans I've known for a long time who've been lifelong Republicans, who simply say this is not my party, this is not where I want to go. But I hope, like I said, that with the election results in Alabama that maybe the party's realizing, we've gotta change.

KARL: That's Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona

On the other side of the capitol, ABC's Mary Bruce dropped in on another soon to be retiring Republican, Pennsylvania Congressman Charlie Dent. Dent is a prominent voice of the moderate middle, and also a Trump critic.

But the conversation kicked off with an area where he agrees with the president: the GOP victory on taxes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARY BRUCE: It's not a popular bill. Are you confident that this will ultimately be a political win for Republicans?

REP. CHARLIE DENT: Well I've never felt that legislative success translates into electoral success. I mean just ask the Democrats. I mean they passed Obamacare, Dodd Frank, and the stimulus, and then they were wiped out in the election. So while this bill certainly is not polling well right now, I think there's still a lot of confusion about what's actually in the bill. There's a lot of good policy in the tax bill. We'll see, you know, we'll see if that translates into any political support. But I would just tell you that this is going to be a tough year 2018, for my party just based on history.

BRUCE: On the deficit though, even conservative estimates say that this bill could add half a trillion dollars to the nation's debt. Can Republicans still run as the party of fiscal responsibility after this bill passes? DENT: Look, well I don't believe that this legislation will pay for itself in full. I think it will pay for itself partially. I do think it's important that we start to do more to generate growth in this country. We've had anemic growth for a very long time. I think we can do better. And I'm hoping this bill will help drive some investment and help us drive growth which, when we do drive growth

BRUCE:: Now, you are retiring. You never endorsed President Trump as a candidate. You didn't vote for him. Was the president a factor in your decision to leave?

DENT: Yeah. A factor, not the factor

BRUCE: How so?

DENT: It was a factor. I've been in elected office now for nearly 28 years. I had 14 years in my state legislature, 8 years in the House, 6 years in the Senate. Now 7 terms in U.S. Congress. I've run for office 13 times. I'm 13-0 and I don't want to spoil a perfect record. And the only thing I can say about that too -- and I had no serious electoral threat from the left. And no credible threat from the right. I mean I had no real issue. But I just felt it was the right time. I'm young enough and healthy to do something else, so there were personal reasons involved. But there are other issues too. Certainly the president has been a factor. You know, it's, I've often said that this administration at times is taking the fun out of dysfunction. I expect a certain amount of dysfunction in government. And sometimes you can laugh at it, but it's not so funny anymore. But to be fair you know, some of my own frustrations predated President Trump, particularly when it started with the 2013 government shutdown.

And I just felt at that time there were a lot of folks around here that just forgot what their basic responsibilities were which is to keep the government functioning and operating. That is an important thing that we have to do and make sure the country doesn't default on its obligations. But the simple basic tasks of government have become Herculean tasks. There are too many people here who've taken saying no to an art form, a lot of people here just can't get to yes.

BRUCE: you are the co-chair of the Tuesday Group, the group of moderate Republicans. You've mourned in the past how ideologues have seized sort of the upper hand in the party. Does the president play a role in that?

DENT: Yeah but it's interesting. You know, before Donald Trump became president the litmus test for Republicans was, it was really about the ideological purity and conformity. Now the litmus test has changed. The issue is loyalty to the man, to the president. And for some you know loyalty is not enough you have to be angry and aggrieved. I've often said to some folks around here that if I set myself on fire for them they would complain that the flame of the temperature of the flame isn't hot enough. I mean that's what we're dealing with now, it's not about ideology anymore. It's about loyalty to the president. And the president doesn't always inspire party loyalty. I mean let's face it, Democrats were taken over by Bernie Sanders, he didn't even win the nomination. He's not even a Democrat. And the Republican Party has been taken over by Donald Trump and he's nominally a Republican. That's where we are.

BRUCE: The president has told advisers he wants to get out on the road in 2018, he wants to be campaigning more. Is that a good idea? Is that good for Republicans or is that likely to just give Democrats more ammunition?

DENT: It depends where he's going. There are some areas of the country where he would not be very helpful, obviously, and there's some where, I'm sure in some very ruby red Republican districts, I'm sure it would be beneficial to have him come in for those candidates, but in some marginal swing districts in the Northeast, I suspect a lot of candidates probably would rather that he not visit.

BRUCE: When you look at some of the recent elections, especially in Alabama and Virginia, are you concerned that the Republican Party may be alienating Hispanic voters, African-Americans, younger voters, women?

DENT: Yes. I mean yes!

BRUCE: Without hesitation?

DENT: Of course. I mean, we can't run these candidates who appeal to a very narrow base. I mean this Roy Moore candidacy even before the very serious allegations of sexual misconduct, this man was unfit. I didn't support him either. I said I would never support him and the party shouldn't have gotten behind him. This candidacy was a disaster, nominating people who have no appeal outside of a very narrow base, I do believe hurts us very much with constituencies where we have some challenges. And so I think it's, it absolutely does damage to the party because there's - a lot of these people, they're not about expanding the base. You know politics and getting elected is about, it's about addition, not subtraction. Inclusion, not exclusion. And when you hear people like Roy Moore and the Steve Bannons and others, they're talking about exclusion. And I think that is very unhealthy.

BRUCE: So looking forward if we can, you've been in office now more than a decade. What is the biggest difference between the Congress that you arrived to and the Congress that you're to be leaving behind?

DENT: I guess the biggest difference is that not only Washington and Congress, but the country generally has become much more polarized than when I first arrived. I guess you can make a case it was becoming more and more polarized over several decades. But it's the polarization has now reached the point of paralysis. And I guess the other issue is that we don't, there just doesn't seem to be the bipartisan collaboration upfront that there needs to be, a lot of these big issues. I think that people are now just throwing up their hands and saying, you know the two sides are just so different and so opposite that they can't they can't agree on anything. And so why even try?

BRUCE: So is Washington worse off or better off?

DENT: I think it's worse off. I just don't see how this is sustainable for the long term. But I believe things will right themselves. Sooner or later.

BRUCE: What's it going to do to bring back that bipartisanship. You sound optimistic and yet you're not seeing it.

DENT: I think that the primary problem in this country. I mean our primary process leads to the candidates who tack to the fringe or tack to the to the base. And I think we've seen too much of that, there’s too much political reward for tacking really hard to the base and not enough reward for consensus and agreement, or heaven forbid, compromise. Now I do believe that most of the American people are not over here on the fringes. I think there's somewhere in between. I've found that. I've told my colleagues they are not going to get your head shot off if you come out of your foxhole once in a while. It's OK. You know you can stand up and do what you think you have to do and go sell it. Most people are going to be fine with that. Some of the fringe, yeah they're going to carry on they're going to hyperventilate and scream yell but most everybody else will say thank you.

BRUCE: Do you think that's going to change in the 2018 midterms?

DENT: It may, it may change. There's clearly, you know, the Republican Party, my party is going experience losses. It remains to be seen whether or not we’ll lose the majority in the House or the Senate. But I guess you have to be concerned. The president's approval rating, I checked in Alabama over the weekend, was 48 percent in a state that he won by a very large margin. I've told my colleagues, look we're going to be running into a headwind, you better be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. But be prepared for the worst because this could be a really tough year.

BRUCE: And what's next for you personally? There are some rumors that you may be considering becoming a political analyst. Is there any chance you're leaving here early?

DENT: Well you tell me I can take your job?

BRUCE: Do you want to change seats?

DENT: No I have no definitive plans. I really don't. I've talked to a number of people in a number of areas. Yes, have I talked to some people on television? Yes. Do I have any definitive plans? No. But plans can change though.

BRUCE: Well thank you very much.

DENT: Thank you.

KARL: Our thanks to Mary and Congressman Dent.

Up next, the ROUNDTABLE's back to tackle an extraordinary year in politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KARL: Coming up, the roundtable looks back at the wild year in politics, and the moments that defined 2017. And don't forget to download the ABC News App for breaking news and alerts on politics, the White House, and President Donald Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Again, I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas. I have some beautiful pens over here. I think I'm probably going to hand some of them to the press.

Does the media -- would any of the media like any of the -- oh, look at these cavalry (ph) guys. Many of you have worked hard, very fairly, and we really appreciate that. So, here you go, folks. You want the box with it, or no?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL (voice-over): The president throwing a rare bone to the press handing out ceremonial pens from his tax bill signing. Back now with the roundtable.

And, Cokie, when you look at the president's accomplishments this year -- when you look at putting a Conservative on the Supreme Court, obviously, the tax cut bill, unemployment under five percent, the economy growing, ISIS largely defeated in Iraq and Syria, the stock market hitting record highs -- has the Trump presidency done more, accomplished more than his critics said?

ROBERTS: Well, the country is in better shape than some people had feared, but whether we can attribute to Trump is another question.

I think the main thing that he's done is change the nature of the presidency. And I don't know whether that's permanent or not. But he's certainly, through his tweets -- which he feels very strongly is a way to get to the American people directly without us interfering -- is something that is -- it -- we've never seen before, and really changed the future of how presidents communicate forever.

KARL: I mean, Rich, you worked really hard to keep him from getting --

(CROSSTALK)

LOWRY: Yes.

ROBERTS: (LAUGHTER)

LOWRY: I can't deny (ph) that's --

KARL: -- elected -- getting the Republican nomination.

LOWRY: -- very true. Thanks for reminding me.

ROBERTS: (LAUGHTER)

KARL: But you recently compared his presidency to what was once said about Wagner's music -- "better than it sounds."

ROBERTS: (LAUGHTER)

LOWRY: Yes, so you had the tweets, and they suggest here's this wild-eyed guy with all these resentments and acting irrationally. Then, you have actually the policy and the presidential decisions that hasn't been that all. In fact, for the most part, it's been entirely conventional.

And I think this is one of the extraordinary --

KARL: Well --

LOWRY: -- things about this year. Steve Bannon came in in the White House, whereas, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, some rocky moments, but at the moment, are warm allies of this White House.

So you've seen this on and off relationship between the Establishment and Trump; this past week was its consummation.

ROBERTS: He hasn't been conventional at all on the question of immigration, and on refugees, and all of that, and he hasn't been conventional at all on trade, and these are two areas that really can have a huge impact on the United States' role in the world, and that's the place where I think he's been most unconventional.

LOWRY: Yes, well, the trade --

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: But there's --

LOWRY: -- you've seen a lot of huffing and puffing, but no action yet.

ROBERTS: Yes, except pulling out of TTB.

LOWRY: We might see some --

ROBERTS: Well, except pulling out of TTB --

LOWRY: -- we might see some this year --

ROBERTS: -- but you --

LOWRY: -- but immigration, I think, has (ph) been a welcome change in the party's orthodoxy. And I think now, if you're running for national office as a Republican, you're going to have to be restrictionist on immigration.

ROBERTS: Well, that's going to be a problem for the party in the long run when you talk about the things that we just heard Sen. Flake and Congressman Dent talking about, that the -- you win elections by adding not subtracting.

KARL: And, Eugene, I mean, the first thing on the docket, or one of the first things for January is --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: DACA.

KARL: -- the immigration bill.

SCOTT: Right.

KARL: Is this finding legal status for the dreamers something that, not only many Republicans are against, but many people in the White House?

SCOTT: Yes, and it's going to be really interesting to see now whether or not Congress is going to be able to make significant progress in that area.

Mitch McConnell has said that, only if he can get at least 60 votes to support it, and Jeff Flake was (ph) -- made a promise that he's letting everyone know that he would have some idea presented to him by January. That direction is not yet clear, but it's something that many members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, at least in the last week, have expressed deep concern about, and directed towards their party's leadership.

ROBERTS: Yes, the Democrats are in trouble on this issue as well --

SCOTT: Yes.

ROBERTS: -- because all of the energy in the Democratic Party is with the young immigrants.

SCOTT: Yes.

ROBERTS: And also, the energy in the Democratic Party is with the progressive wing.

SCOTT: Right.

ROBERTS: And that's going to be a problem for them in 2018. I mean, there are lots of problems for Democrats in 2018 that we haven't talked about.

SCOTT: Yes.

ROBERTS: But the fact is is that the party is energized by a wing of the party that will probably have trouble winning general elections.

SCOTT: And energized in places that people usually don't see them energized.

I was in Alabama covering the Senate election, and what I was most surprised at was the number of women, the number of LGBT communities, the number of Latinos and black young voters from Alabama on the ground --

ROBERTS: Yes, yes.

SCOTT: -- really mobilized trying to make their state what they consider great, opposed to what the president considers great.

TALEV: You know, when I think what's his biggest accomplishment, it may be disruption. And to a large extent, this has affected the Republican Party so far, but there's also implications for the Democratic Party --

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: Absolutely.

TALEV: -- and we're seeing it --

SCOTT: Yes.

TALEV: -- in terms of some of these female candidacies. Whether the --

SCOTT: Right.

TALEV: -- disruption ends up helping President Trump I think is really not yet clear, and we will --

SCOTT: Yes.

TALEV: -- see that in the coming year.

But if you try to judge it on some of these metrics -- stepping on his own message, he really can't get anything done, it's too, you know --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

TALEV: -- the Republican Party controls both chambers. But I'm not sure that's really the goal; I'm not sure that's ever been his goal.

ROBERTS: Yes, it's not his goal, and it's also not where the voters are right now. All of the energy in the electorate is not around economics.

You know --

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: Right --

ROBERTS: -- we always say --

KARL: -- nobody's really counting bills passed when you come right down to it.

ROBERTS: -- right, exactly. And, you know, you always say it's the economy, except when it isn't.

TALEV: Yes. (LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: And right now, all of the energy is around issues like #MeToo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

ROBERTS: And so, I -- it really can have an impact in a way that Republicans don't know how to deal with.

(CROSSTALK)

LOWRY: So what that (ph) does mean --

ROBERTS: Where does that leave them, then (ph)?

LOWRY: -- but this -- I think --

ROBERTS: Yes (ph).

LOWRY: -- there's a lot of room for the Democrats to move left on economics. But what they can't get their heads around, it's going to be very difficult for them to do, they need to moderate on cultural issues.

ROBERTS: Yes.

LOWRY: Whether it's immigration or something else. And that is very hard to see the party doing.

ROBERTS: Abortion is the place where they really need to make a difference, change their tune, because, you saw in Alabama -- if Roy Moore had won, it would have been over the issue of abortion.

KARL: And if Doug Jones had been a pro-life Democrat, it.

ROBERTS: He would have run away with it.

TALEV: And the center is there for the taking. I think what we saw Jeff Flake intimating is that they are there for the taking for the Democratic...

KARL: So, first of all he sounds like he's going to run.

(CROSSTALK)

SCOTT: Or at least he's not not going torun.

KARL: But doesn't he make a point? I mean, if you have an Elizabeth Warren or a Bernie Sanders running against a Donald Trump, I mean, I don't know.

TALEV: Someone get some money and go for the middle. But the Democratic Party does not seem...

KARL: It seems like the last election would have been like perfect for an independent candidate and it didn't happen.

SCOTT: And I wondered, quite frankly, is that why we're seeing people like Joe Biden enjoying such high favorability rating right now from people on both sides of the aisle, and McCain is doing better with Democrats than Republicans.

KARL: It's the youth movement.

(LAUGHTER)

LOWRY: Well, the problem Flake has is the Republican Party is now completely bonded to Donald Trump, with some exceptions, Republican women in suburbs foremost amongst them, but if he ran in a primary at the moment against Donald Trump, Flake would be an asterisk. And then he's not a natural match as an independent candidate, a Goldwater style libertarian Republican running in the middle of national politics doesn't make sense.

ROBERTS: But you know what you have just said something that's very key, Rich, which is...

LOWRY: Thank you. Finally.

ROBERTS: No.

You just said Republican women in the suburbs. There are not going to be any Republican women in the suburbs by the time this is all done, because this is so -- this presidency is offending those women. And that's what the base doesn't understand.

KARL: Cokie, what does the #metoo movement go from here?

ROBERTS: I think it -- the energy of getting women candidates, the numbers are astounding of women candidates running at every level. And the...

KARL: And this is -- you're talking about women Democrats?

ROBERTS: They are mostly Democrats, there are some Republicans, but they're mostly Democrats, but they're running for congress in numbers you have never seen before and they're running for state legislatures in numbers you have never seen before.

And you saw in Virginia, 11 women flipped seats from Republican to Democratic. Those were women. And if they really run in the kinds of numbers that they are now talking about, that's where the energy of the movement goes. And that's a very useful place for it to go, because that's into elective office where you can really change policy. And I think that what you are seeing is people are saying, jeepers, you know these guys just are screwing up and we really need to get some women in there to fix it.

TALEV: You could see multiple women in nominating contests for president rather than one woman in each party's nominating contest for president, also. I think that's interesting.

But when you look at what President Trump signaled all year, foreshadowed all year, I go back again and again to day to the presidency standing at that CIA wall just blowing up...

KARL: First full day in office.

TALEV: Just blowing up orthodoxy. The idea that there is no hallowed ground in American politics or policy where you can't make a political statement. You can't signal your political intentions. And I think the rest of the year has followed along that front. He's very much...

ROBERTS: Well, with the Indian Codetalkers.

KARL: The Pocahontas comment.

TALEV: He's known that the regular rules don't apply to him. I think the question is has he blown up the regular rules for everybody else?

KARL: But to Rich's point, he's been obviously brutally harsh on the press.

TALEV: Right.

KARL: You know, fake news and all that, enemies of the people, over the top. But he's actually been an incredibly media friendly president even before he started handing out pens. I mean...

LOWRY: Did you get a pen, Jonathan?

(CROSSTALK)

TALEV: You know, there is a duality there. In the short-term, in the day-to-day in terms of coverage and that sort of access, absolutely. There is a ton of interaction with the president. In the long-term, in terms of if you believe that the free press is sort of a pillar of American democracy...

ROBERTS: Or the Department of Justice, or the FBI, or our intelligence agencies.

TALEV: It's been very destructive on that front in the long-term. And so it's both, it's kind of like short-term, long-term, on the surface.

LOWRY: But there's this love-hate relationship on both sides, because Trump loves to beating up on the press, is irritated by the negative coverage, but watches it obsessively, and even changed the date of his signing ceremony because of what he was hearing on the news.

ROBERTS: And pointed to one reporter and said, you were one of the people who said that.

LOWRY: Exactly.

And at the press hates him I think the way it hasn't hated any president since Nixon, but also just loves the spectacle of it and loves the ratings.

SCOTT: To me, all of this comes down to how will voters respond to that? Will they believe what the press says is a really important issue that needs their attention and that they should considering when they go to the polls, or if they will just view it all as entertainment, which is what they have done through much of Donald Trump's time in the spotlight. I think it gets down to the people.

KARL: But one thing that the war on the press has done and the fake news, over and over again, is it's made -- it's you really do have people with their own set of facts. I mean, it's not just for --

(CROSSTALK)

TALEV: (Inaudible) it's the Internet.

ROBERTS: And that's actually very troublesome. Because you can't make policy without facts. You can disagree about what the policy is and what the facts imply for the policy, but you can't really disagree about facts and make policy.

SCOTT: And we've seen these reports on red Facebook feed versus blue Facebook feed, that people are getting different types of news, and some from very uncredible news sources. And they're taking that approach to how they're viewing these policy issues, and we're seeing partisanship reach levels that we haven't seen in recent years.

TALEV: This is the lever of power, right, to confuse when you -- you confuse when you muddy the water, makes people that, well, you're not sure what to believe.

KARL: All right, that's all the time we have.

TALEV (?): Merry Christmas.

(LAUGHTER)

KARL: Merry Christmas to all of you.

And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK).

KARL: As many of us prepare to gather with family on this Christmas Eve, I want to close with a personal note. This past week, we lost one of this show's most loyal viewers, a towering influence on me and a man who dedicated his life to helping hers. My father, Wayne F. Karl. My dad ran an auto body shop. He loved baseball, NASCAR, gardening, country music, and absolutely anything involving his children and grandchildren.

For more than a half century, he was a volunteer firefighter. For the first 10 years of my life, he was a fire chief. Some years ago, our hometown name his the citizen of the year. Actually proclaiming a Wayne Karl Day. The official proclamation reading, "It should be noted it is impossible to acknowledge all that Wayne has done for the community."

Thank you, dad. I love you. An I will never stop thinking about you.

And to all of you, a Merry Christmas.

END

Comments