A rush transcript of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated. For previous show transcripts, visit the “This Week” transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: This Week with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS CHIEF ANCHOR: Diplomatic crisis. Saudi Arabia confirms the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi blaming it on a fist fight gone wrong.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you consider it credible, their explanation?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do. I do. Again, it's early. We haven't finished our review.
STEPHANOPOULOS: President Trump say the Saudis have taken a good first step. But lawmakers and leaders around the world calling it a coverup, demanding tougher action from President Trump and the Saudi kingdom. How will this growing crisis impact U.S. national security and stability in the Middle East?
We are live in Turkey with the latest.
Plus, Jamal Khashoggi's editor from The Washington Post and key members of the House Intelligence Committee.
And sprint to the finish...
TRUMP: Do you promise, you will leave this site, go out and cast your vote right now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Just 16 days from the mid-terms, both parties out in force.
TRUMP: This will be an election of Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order and common sense.
JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This election is literally bigger than politics.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to build a red wall right here.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, I-VERMONT: Stand up, fight back and vote.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Trump is on the ballot. The future of his presidency on the line. Will that personal rallying cry save the House and Senate or the GOP or drive Democrats to victory? We're on the trail in Texas with Senate candidates Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke. Plus, FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver with his latest midterms forecast and our Powerhouse Roundtable.
We'll break down the politics, smoke out the spin, the facts that matter this week.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's This Week. Here now chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning and welcome to This Week.
We begin this morning with that deepening crisis over the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. After weeks of denials in the face of mounting evidence, Saudi Arabia finally admitted late Friday that Khashoggi was killed at their consulate in Turkey. But that concession has only intensified global criticism of the kingdom and its headstrong crown prince.
And late last night, President Trump stepped back from his previous acceptance of Saudi cover stories. "There's been deceptions and there’s been lies," he told The Washington Post.
But Trump also called Saudi Arabia an incredible ally and he has not concluded the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the murder. "Nobody told me he's responsible. Nobody has told me he's not responsible," Trump said.
The big question now, will Turkish audio tapes of the killing prove that the Saudis are still lying about what happened? Can the crown prince continue as Saudi's leader if he's shown complicit in the murder? And how will President Trump and the world respond?
Our senior foreign correspondent Ian Pannell is on the ground in Istanbul with the latest. Ian, thanks for joining us this morning.
Let's begin with that Saudi cover story. They're saying now that it started out as a conversation, escalated into a fist fight, ended with a choke hold on Khashoggi. But, you know, one of the first questions, why did it take them almost three weeks to come up with this story after first saying he left the consulate on his own?
IAN PANNELL, ABC NEWS SENIOR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right. There are a number of key inconsistencies in the story that we've been given, and if those audio tapes exist, then hopefully it will clarify the veracity of that explanation.
Firstly, there is this argument that was put out by the Saudis’ public prosecutor that Jamal Khashoggi had expressed an interest in returning to Saudi Arabia. This is something that his closest friends have said is absolutely untrue. If there are audio tapes, it should reveal that.
Secondly, this contention that there was some kind of a brawl or a fist fight -- bear in mind, this was a 59-year-old man who wasn't in the perfect physical shape. Did he get into this kind of fight? Again, the tapes will show whether or not he did. And that's key, because it will establish whether or not this was premeditated murder.
Those gruesome details have emerged about him being dismembered somehow. This is something the Saudis’ briefing, anonymously, have said is absolutely not true. Those tapes critical to establishing that, something that Turks may well want to get out there.
And lastly where is the body? The Saudis have claimed that they passed it to some kind of intermediary here in Istanbul, but they don't know where it is. Is that credible?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Turkish sources have talked about the tapes, some reports that CIA officials have also heard the tapes. What do we know about whether the Turks are willing to actually release them publicly?
PANNELL: Yeah, the Turks have been under a lot of pressure to release them publicly, and I'm not sensing any indication that that is going to happen. The public and the press do not know the full contents, but there has been active briefing about their alleged content. There's been a lot of question marks, well, why don't they just put them out there? That would clear up this issue and we would know once and for sure.
The answer to that isn't absolutely clear, but the indications are if they were bugging the consulate behind me, or they were using some kind of method that they don't want to reveal -- in other words, a method that they're employing in other embassies, in other consulates, then that would explain why, that this is an act by the intelligence services.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The Saudis have now arrested some Saudi nationals. They fired other top officials. One of the other big questions out there, is it possible at all that a team of more than a dozen Saudis could come to Turkey, carry out this operation without the knowledge and the acceptance and, in fact, the direction of the crown prince?
PANNELL: Yeah, I think that goes to the absolute nub of the argument that has been put out there, how credible, how believable is it? And we're now seeing expressions of doubt, and not just from President Trump, and the Europeans in particular have said they want to see more information being put out there.
Here's why it's partially problematic, is because they're saying that this was an operation that was initiated by the deputy head of intelligence. But they are also briefing that there is a general order out there now to try and persuade dissidents to return to Saudi Arabia peacefully. That is a quotation that has been provided from a senior Saudi source to The New York Times and Reuters.
If that is true, how likely is it in an absolutist, monarchical system that a deputy head of intelligence would go against those orders, initiate this kind of operation, and murder a man who was the most well-known outspoken critic of Mohammed bin Salman.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And so far at least the king of Saudi Arabia standing behind his son the crown prince?
PANNELL: Yes. I mean, there are lots of questions. At one point it was looking as if he might be vulnerable. But this explanation, if it's bought by the Trump administration, also by European governments, that may well be enough. But, yes, there are those questions out there at the moment about who exactly knew what about what was going on there and how believable are those explanations.
But that statement of support from King Salman came in the form of appointing Mohammed bin Salman as head of the committee that's looking at the restructuring of Saudi intelligence as a result of this murder. That is a strong statement of support.
We've also seen it from President Trump as well. And it's going to come down to this, George. Arguably President Trump has been the most honest of -- compared to European leaders and the presidents in saying how much America relies on not just energy but also trade relations.
The Europeans do as well. The U.K. economy is absolutely dependent for those arms deals. If it comes down to a choice between energy and trade versus human rights, I think history would dictate we know which way governments are going to swing.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Ian Pannell, thanks very much.
Let's talk now to Karen Attiah of The Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi's editor at The Post.
Karen, thank you for joining us this morning. We saw what President Trump said to your paper last night. Your first reaction to the Saudi cover story much more pithy, "utter B.S."
KAREN ATTIAH, GLOBAL OPINIONS EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: Yeah, I still believe and The Post as an institution still believes that this is not an explanation, this is an attempt at a cover-up. So much doesn't add up for me personally who knew Jamal, worked with Jamal over the last year.
You know, this idea -- first of all, this idea that he wanted to return to Saudi Arabia is absolutely untrue. There is a reason why he came to Washington and felt free in Washington. He did not want to be arrested. He did not want to face the same fate as many of his acquaintances and associates who have been swept up in this wave of crackdowns.
He knew that, at the very least, under MBS that Saudi Arabia was not safe. So this idea is -- strikes me as -- that he wanted to go back strikes me as not true.
And second of all, you know, this idea that a brawl, you know, this man who is kind and calm and gentle, that any sort of brawl took place that was equal. If anything, if we're going to give any sort credence to this, he walked into an ambush that was set up for him.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Khashoggi was not yet a legal permanent resident of the United States, even though he was working here for The Washington Post. Do you think the U.S. government did enough to protect him?
ATTIAH: I mean, the first questions that we have, looking at the reporting that there was intelligence -- U.S. intelligence, that there was a plan coming from Mohammed bin Salman, connected to him, that planned to capture or try to lure back Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, I was not informed, Jamal never told me of any sort of physical threat to him.
He knew that there were soft attempts to try to get him to stop writing for The Post, and try to get him back. But as far as any threats, at least he never mentioned them to me. But he just knew that there was pressure, there was an increasing pressure on him and on particularly his family.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, why do you think the Saudis were so concerned about him? He was a relatively moderate dissident, wasn't he?
ATTIAH: Right, and if anything, he – he hated the word dissident to begin with. He said, you know, I – I want to speak my mind and if anything reading his work, his work is – is very, with constructive criticism but also one that demonstrated a desire to see Saudi Arabia on the right path.
He felt like he wanted to advise MBS with constructive solutions. Now one thing about Jamal in particular that made him so – so valued as a – as a source for – on Saudi and what was happening is that he was very close to the royal family.
He was an advisor to the royal court for a long time and was very much seen as an insider and this took this turn to become more of a – of a critic, in particular a critic of Mohammed Bin Salman’s behavior over the last year or so.
So, you know, if there was – if this was maybe part of an attempt to silence what he might have known about the inner workings of the Saudi royal family, that is absolutely possible. But again, we do know that his writing for the Post especially irritated those back in Riyadh.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What do you and the Washington Post want President Trump to do now?
ATTIAH: Right now, you know, Trump has said over the weekend that at the very least, again, this – this Saudi so-called explanation is a first step. I mean this admission that Jamal was murdered at the hands of – of Saudi men, if it is a first step then it means that there’s room for the administration to pursue this as relentlessly as it should.
I think the stakes are extremely high, not – not just because it’s just, you know, one man or one journalist who worked for the Post, but the stakes are high for all critics, all dissidents right now who are extremely frightened who now feel that the – the Saudi regime or any other regime now has a free reign or a free pass to be able to go to other countries and snatch people up just for having an opinion.
And I think we would want or we do want and we have been actively calling on the administration to first of all cooperate and to get all the evidence necessary in order to find out what happened.
And if necessary to impose consequences, including sanctions, including possible cancellations or suspensions of arms deals. Human life should not have a price tag on it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Karen Attiah, thanks very much for your time this morning. We are sorry for your loss.
ATTIAH: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We’re now joined by two key members of the House Intelligence Committee, Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff, Republican Peter King. And Congressman Schiff, let me begin with you.
You received briefings on this situation and you said that the Saudi cover story is not credible. What more can you tell us about what you know?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIF: Well I’ve gotten detailed briefings from the intelligence community about what they know, what they can tell us at this point and while I can’t go into the substance of it, I can tell you I don’t find this Saudi account credible at all.
There’s simply no way they dispatched a team this large and that Khashoggi engaged in some kind of a brawl with them unless he was merely fighting for his life. But I think we can see where this is headed.
Ultimately the president is going to accept the crown prince’s denials, but it’s hard for me to imagine that these orders would have been carried out without the knowledge of the crown prince.
I think this ought to be a relationship altering event for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, that we ought to suspend military sales, we ought to suspend certain security assistance and we ought to impose sanctions on any of those that were directly involved in this murder.
This really ought to be something that causes us to do a reexamination of our relationship with Saudi Arabia.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you agree with that, Congressman King?
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I believe that first of all, the president should go all the way on this as far as -- this is a first step. That’s all it is. It’s really not a believable first step. The important thing is they’re admitting that he was killed when he was in their custody. But there’s no way that one person, basically an overweight civilian has to be killed when he’s facing up to 12 or 15 professionals. They could have brought him down in a matter of seconds without causing any physical harm at all.
So obviously there was an intent, I believe, to kill him. That’s number one. Number two though, we do have a relationship with Saudi Arabia that we should try to maintain. Listen, during the Obama administration I led the fight in the House to allow 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia. President Obama fought us every step of the way -- we had to override his veto. So all presidents want to maintain some sort of relationship. But where Adam and I, I think, can agree is that that relationship cannot allow savagery such as this. So I would ask the president to try to thread the needle here, one to -- whether it involves imposing sanctions, whether it involves delaying arms sales, making a clear statement of condemnation at the end but still not hurt ourselves.
Because the Saudis do provide very effective intelligence, they are a bulwark against Iran and they have been working closely with Israel. You put all that together, we have to try to balance it. The world is not that simple. But again, what happened here was savagery and we can’t go along with their cover story.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So -- so -- so Congressman Schiff, that led--gets to the question, if you’re trying to balance this out, thread the needle, if the crown prince was indeed behind it, and by most accounts he is the real power behind the throne in Saudi Arabia right now, can the U.S. work with him?
SCHIFF: Well look, we’re never going to know exactly what took place in terms of the crown prince’s marching orders for this group unless we get a confession from the crown prince which is not going to happen. The folks that were involved in this murder are not going to be speaking out. So we’re never going to have absolute certainty. It’s for that reason I think that the president is going to accept the crown prince’s denials, much as he’s accepted Putin’s denials and Kim’s denials. So I think that’s the reality.
But nonetheless, we can, I think, deal very seriously with this and send a message to the crown prince that we’re not going to tolerate the murder of journalists, we’re going to tolerate these extrajudicial and extraterritorial killings, and it will have a real consequence. I think part of why we are where we are is that we have essentially delivered a message through the Trump family that it’s carte blanche for the Saudi family. They can do what they want where they want and the U.S. will never stand up to them.
And that kind of a policy has got to come to an end.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Other Democrats, Congressman King, have said part of the reason for that is that the Trump organization, the Trump family is actually profiting from their ties to the Saudis. Should the president release all information related to his financial ties to the Saudi kingdom?
KING: Well first of all, I think it’s wrong to inject partisanship in this right now. Nobody was more supportive of the Saudis than President Obama. The large arms deals under President Obama. He fought us tooth and nail, attacked the Congress when we allowed 9/11 families to sue the Saudis. He went out of his way to shield the Saudis. To be making these type of allegations against the president -- if you want to do it three or four months from now, do it.
But the fact is right now the president is in a very delicate diplomatic spot, the same as President Obama was. And I think at least for this, let’s have a certain time out when it comes to making the partisan shots. Let’s deal with it on the merits. What Saudi Arabia did was savage, was evil, to be condemned, but let’s not be questioning the motives of our president right now. He should be the president of all the people at this moment. When the dust settles, their people can make the allegations they want. But again, I just go back to the -- the heat that I took in the Obama administration when I was fighting for 9/11 families to sue the Saudis.
And that’s the only time during the Obama administration that Congress was able to override his veto. But that’s how strongly he felt about shielding the Saudis.
SCHIFF: George --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Go ahead.
SCHIFF: -- if I could just add. I do think we need, in the Intelligence Committee, do -- do a deep dive, a probe in terms of Saudi Arabia in terms of the Saudi efforts, of the war in Yemen, the civilian casualties there in terms of this murder. But we also have to determine whether financial motives are motivating the president and the first family. This is the very problem with the president not releasing his tax returns. It leaves the American people wondering is the U.S. Saudi policy being driven by something other than national interest.
So I do think we ought to demand answers of the administration.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman King, one way to get to the bottom of this would be if the Turkish government released those audio tapes they say they have of what happened inside the consulate. Should the United States demand to hear them?
KING: I think again, that would be behind the scenes, but yes -- the US should hear -- yeah, I'm not telling you the American people have to hear them now. No, our government, our intelligence agencies I believe should be given access to all of this.
Believe me, let me make it clear, I think the Saudi’s the most amoral government that we’ve ever had to deal with. I have no love for the Saudis. I’ve led the fight against them. And yes, I think whatever the Turkish government has, they should make available to us.
And this could be maybe an opportunity for us to perhaps strengthen our relations with the Turks, which has gone bad in the recent years. But yes, they – they have an opportunity now to show us what they have.
It’s important enough so this – this doesn’t just become a fight between Erdogan and the crown prince, this is basically civilizations coming together to find out what happened, condemn it, and do all we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
And also to maintain our standards, our beliefs in human rights.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Schiff, you agree with that?
SCHIFF: I do agree with that, I think we should demand the audio recordings. I have to expect that Turkey is holding them in abeyance for now because they want to have this lever over the crown prince.
There is obviously this regional rivalry between these two countries and that’s manifest in conflict in places like Syria and elsewhere. But – but we should demand access to those recordings, we should demand the publication of those recordings.
And frankly the Turkish explanation, if it is one, that they don’t want to betray their intelligence gathering methods, they’ve already acknowledged they have recordings. So it seems there will be little additional damage done to their methods by disclosing what those recordings have to say and allowing the United States to – and others to hear – hear those recordings.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We will end on that note of agreement. Congressmen, thank you both very much.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
KING: Thank you. Thank you, Adam.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Up next we’re on the campaign trail in Texas with Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke. Plus Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight with his up to the minute forecast for the midterms. We’ll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Back now with the final stretch of the November midterms. Just 16 days to go and tomorrow President Trump heads to Texas hoping to boost Ted Cruz, his bitter rival in 2016, in that surprisingly competitive Senate race with Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Paula Faris went on the trail with both candidates.
REP. BETO O’ROURKE (D), TEXAS: We have one of the most simple, obvious strategies that I’ve seen employed in a -- in a modern campaign. We just literally show up everywhere all the time for everyone.
PAULA FARIS, CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS, VOICEOVER: You can’t go 10 feet without an interruption from a Beto backer.
O’ROURKE: I love you too. Thank you all.
FARIS: You're a rock star.
BETO: No, no. There's just so many great people who --
FARIS: No, you really are. You can't go anywhere without getting noticed.
FARIS VO: O’Rourke, a three term congressman from El Paso, has certainly captured the entire nation's attention as well, hauling in a record $38 million in donations last quarter.
O’ROURKE: Lot of energy out there and so we're -- we’re reflecting back at what's -- what’s coming at us.
FARIS VO: But he's also getting some unwanted scrutiny.
FARIS: President Trump has attacked you. He's called you a flake, he has said that you are, quote, “a total lightweight.”
O’ROURKE: I -- I don't know that it makes any sense to -- to respond. I think the kind of bitterness and -- and name-calling and partisanship that has unfortunately defined so much of the national conversation, you can -- you can add more to it or you can -- you can stay focused on -- on the future and why you did this in the first place. And that's -- that’s what we've chosen to do in this campaign. So --
FARIS VO: Looming large over the race is of course the president. When Senator Ted Cruz ran against Trump in 2016, there was a whole lot of name calling.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS, SOT: This man is a pathological liar. A narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, SOT: Lyin’ Ted. I call him Lyin’ Ted. He holds up the bible and then he puts it down and he lies, OK? Lyin’ Ted.
FARIS VO: Cruz's opponent this time around took a page out of Trump's playbook during one of their debates.
O’ROURKE SOT: He’s dishonest. It’s why the president called him Lyin’ Ted and it’s why the nickname stuck, because it’s true.
O’ROURKE: That wasn't the best phrase for me to use but, you know, I’m -- I'm going to do my best to stay focused on the future.
FARIS VO: For Cruz, the future of his race might be in the hands of his one time foe, Trump, who will be campaigning with Cruz this week in Texas.
FARIS: How do we make sense of this relationship?
CRUZ: Listen, 2016 was an election unlike any other. I mean, it was bare knuckle and there were some hard shots on -- on all sides there were hard shots. That election's over. And you know, on election day in 2016, I -- I really had a choice to make. I had a choice about what -- what the path was going to be going forward.
And -- and -- and I could've chosen to have hurt feelings, to take it personally and say, you know what, I'm going to take my marbles, I'm going to go home, I'm not going to work with the president
And -- and -- and if I put my own personal hurt feelings ahead of representing Texas, that would be abdicating my responsibility. So what I did instead is I went to the president, I said, Mr. President, we've got a unique opportunity. History teaches us this is very rare. A Republican president, Republican majorities in both houses. That's happened four times in the last 100 years.
FARIS: So, friend? Is he your friend? Is he your foe? How do you describe your relationship?
CRUZ: He's the president. And he's the president. I work with the president in delivering on our promises.
FARIS: The President and the Senator agree on most of the Republican agenda, but Trump’s past policy of family separation at the border, it’s one area where Cruz broke with the administration.
FARIS: So if this policy is reinstated, is this something that you would challenge the president on?
CRUZ: Well listen, this is something we should all come together on. When -- when it comes to family separation, everyone should agree. The right place for kids to be is with their parents.
FARIS: If it comes to it, will you say, President, this isn't the right policy?
CRUZ: Well, listen, I've been very clear to the president. We need to enforce the law but we should also keep families together.
FARIS VO: Cruz might be slightly to the left of the president on immigration but O’Rourke has a completely different solution.
O’ROURKE: If things are so desperate in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador that someone would risk their lives to come here, then what can we do to improve conditions there? We’ve invested trillions of dollars in our wars in the Middle East. Can we invest some fraction of that to revive the stability in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America to make sure that people have a reason to stay and raise their families where they were born?
FARIS VO: Even though Texas ranks dead last in voter turnout, it's not hard to find die hard supporters on each side.
FARIS: So Maggie, is there a more fanatical supporter of Ted Cruz than you?
MAGGIE WRIGHT: No. I’m -- I’ve gone to all lengths. Had my car wreck (ph), had a -- a billboard, and for my 50th wedding anniversary, I -- my husband asked me what I wanted and I said --
FARIS: I'm scared to know what you said.
WRIGHT: -- I want Ted Cruz for president.
FARIS: He walks up to me and he unzips his jacket and shows me --
THOMAS TORLANCASI: My Superman style Beto for --
FARIS: -- U.S. -- Beto for Senate.
FARIS VO: Perhaps the enthusiasm this time around might actually translate into voting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And early voting on Monday, right?
O’ROURKE: Monday. That’s -- that’s the message. Monday, Monday, Monday. Get it in the bank.
FARIS: For THIS WEEK, Paula Farris, ABC News, Texas.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks to Paula for that. You can see more of her report tomorrow night on Nightline.
And now we’re joined by America’s top political statistician, Nate Silver from FiveThirtyEight here to break down his team’s latest forecast for the midterms.
Nate, thanks for joining us. So let’s start with Texas, how do you see the race?
NATE SILVER, EDITOR IN CHIEF, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: So the polls have Cruz up by a fairly solid margin there, six or seven points on average. We give him about an 80 percent chance of winning.
We should say though Texas is a tricky state to poll. Beto would rely on Hispanic voters, young voters, people who newly migrated to Texas. If every eligible voter in Texas turned out, that could be a very close race.
If not, you can see him getting 47, 48 percent. You need 50 to win. And it’s still a very red state.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We’re going to be seeing that number 80 a lot from your forecast today. Let’s look at the overall Senate forecast.
SILVER: Yes, we’re in the 80 zone – we’re in the 80 zone with a lot of stuff.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s look at the Senate forecast. We’re going to put it up right now. What do we have there? Two in nine chance Democrats win control, seven in nine chance Republicans keep control, just shy of 80 percent there, 79.
SILVER: Yes, and it’s not a coincidence that it’s very similar to the Texas forecast, because it’s hard to find a clear path for Democrats right now. They have to win one of Texas, Tennessee or North Dakota, which are –
STEPHANOPOULOS: All – they’re all behind right now.
SILVER: And they’re all behind in those races. If you are to have a very good turnout again, then they’re not so far behind where it’s hopeless and that’s where, you know, the 20 percent is a real tangible probability.
But there -- the Senate’s a very race by race driven forecast, and those races that look like toss ups before and have shifted into what we call the lean Republican column, meaning that they have to kind of sweep all the toss ups Democrats and then win one of these that look a little bit difficult.
So you probably need polls to be off overall in the way that they were for example in 2016, where they just beat their polls across the board. Then we’re talking about a possible path (ph), but – but the Senate math is really tough in all these very Red states for the Democrats.
STEPHANOPOULOS: For the Democrats to take control, you might even see Republicans pick up seats.
SILVER: Oh, sure, yes, no, it’s at least as likely that the GOP would gain seats and there are scenarios where they win all the toss up races and they could – they could win three Senate seats even in a world where they lose the House potentially.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, let’s look at the House as well -- a flip side of the Senate numbers right, there. Let’s put up the House numbers right now. You see a seven in nine chance – six in seven chance the Democrats would control, one in seven chance Republicans keep control.
So there it comes down to 85 percent chance that Democrats win control. That sounds a lot bigger than it is, right?
SILVER: Yes, look, I mean if you were running a business and I told you there’s a 15 percent chance or a 20 percent chance that you key supplier won’t make it’s delivery, you would treat that as a very tangible, real world risk and you would do things to hedge against it.
The thing about the House is that you cannot circle 23 districts where you say oh I know for sure Democrats will win these. Maybe 10, 12, 15 look very likely. However you have a field of maybe 80, 90, 100 potential pickups, mathematically probably the dice come up good enough for Democrats in enough of those districts.
But like, there are not a lot of guarantees and the House is very much fought at a district by district level.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And only a handful of seats where the Democrats could lose the seat.
SILVER: And that’s why – I mean it’s – it really is the mirror image of the Senate where Democrats have so much exposure in the Senate. All these incumbents, you know, all these very red states, just a reverse of that in the House where Democrats are kind of in a no lose situation almost literally in the House where they might have four or five seats they could lose versus 100 GOP seats in play.
Not a lot of guarantees, but that’s why we show like a very wide range, anywhere from a 20 seat gain, if the Democrats have a disappointing night which is not quite enough, up to 50, 60 seats if the turnout is – is very high.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What are the biggest X factors that increase the uncertainty in your model?
SILVER: It is turnout, I mean it’s – turnout is always difficult for pollsters to forecast and the fact that you have a lot of districts that have not had competitive races in a long time, turnout’s even more difficult to forecast there than in a state like Florida for example.
And we have two weeks to go, you know. I would not put it past us to have – for us to have another October surprise or two in the era of – of Trumpian news cycles.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is an important caution right there. Nate Silver, thanks very much.
SILVER: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Roundtable’s coming up, and next we’re live in Mexico where a caravan of migrants is heading north. Is has sparked shouting matches in the West Wing. President Trump promises to make it an issue in the midterms and we’ll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Our senior national correspondent Matt Gutman is on the border of Guatemala and Mexico right now. Matt, what are you seeing and hearing right now? You seem to be right in the middle of it.
MATT GUTMAN, ABC NEWS SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You may be able to see this mass of humanity stretched out behind me. That goes back about two miles, we are told. There are many hundred, quite possibly 2,000 migrants, in this procession. They’re all heading northwards away from that border.
Everybody you see here, George, crossed illegally, likely over that river. They probably jumped from that bridge into the river then swam across or came across on rafts. And you can see, they're not carrying much. Many people have plastic bags, maybe a backpack, flip-flops and other shoes.
Many of them say they are not criminals. They are not as assassins. They only want a better life away from the violence, corruption, and the gangs in their home countries of Honduras and Guatemala.
And they say they're going to keep going until they reach the U.S. border, which is about 1,700 miles away, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: 1,700 miles away. They're going to keep going. The Mexicans have been pulling some of them aside, but do they expect to reach the U.S. border?
GUTMAN: We don't know what they expect, but at some point, we are being sort of shadowed by the Mexican federal police. I'm going to get ahead of these people.
We are being shadowed by the Mexican federal police. They are monitoring this. They brought plane loads of extra federal police here. We don't know if we're going to see arrests or these people detained at any point, but there clearly is no stopping them right now. They have commandeered the main north-south highway in this entire region and they don't look like they're going to stop anytime soon.
STEPHANOPOULOS: (Inaudible) down there at the border. Matt Gutman, thanks very much. Roundtable’s up next. We’ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my guy. He’s my guy.
I had heard that he body slammed a reporter. And he was way up. And he was way up. And I said -- this was like the day of the election or just before. And I said oh, this is terrible, he’s going to lose the election. Then I said well wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him. And it did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Gianforte did win that race. He was charged with body slamming that reporter as well. President Trump on the stump this Thursday in Montana. We’re going to talk about the midterms now on our roundtable with Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce, Kim Strassel, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, Juan Williams, a political analyst for Fox News, author of the new book, "What The Hell Do You Have To Lose: Trump’s War on Civil Rights".
STEPHANOPOULOS: Did I say that right?
JUAN WILLIAM, POLITICAL ANALYST, FOX NEWS: You hit it just right.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Republican Strategist Alex Castellanos and Democratic Strategist Karen Finney, long-time advisor to Hillary Clinton. And Alex, let me begin with you. And listen, midterms, we all know, they’re always a referendum on the president. Never more than this year.
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Never more than this year. Trump is on every ballot and we just saw his strength and his weakness there. The same week that a reporter is butchered overseas he’s talking about body slamming a reporter here. But what does that tell us? Trump is all about strength. In an uncertain world where everything is falling apart, where people don’t know what to believe in, where -- where everything is uncertain you want someone to hold it together.
And besides, you know, all the media, all the criticism of Trump and his craziness and all that, there’s another America, as we learned in 2016, that thinks the world’s falling apart and they want a president who projects strength.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Karen, I think one of the things we’ve seen from that projection of strength, as Alex talks about, is a consolidation of the Republican vote, which has really contributed to the rise in the president’s approval ratings.
KAREN FINNEY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It has, although it’s also October and it’s a time when you would expect to see some of this consolidation. And I would actually offer -- not surprisingly -- an opposing view.
CASTELLANOS: Shocked, shocked.
FINNEY: I know. We’re shocked. Which is that I think a lot of people are realizing that the Trump rhetoric is not actually doing for them what they thought it was going to do. They sort of thought perhaps maybe what he’s saying is offensive but I’m going to be OK. And I think what they’re realizing, trickle down economics doesn’t work.
I’m tired of Washington having to spend so much time defending this president, protecting this president. Where are the jobs?
CASTELLANOS: Don’t you think economy’s doing better?
FINNEY: Not for people – I’ll tell you, I spent a lot of time –
CASTELLANOS: How can you give Obama credit for it –
FINNEY: -- we have a 700 and –
CASTELLANOS: -- if Trump isn’t holding it there?
FINNEY: -- but look at the deficit – look, I think the issue is people are realizing this president is offensive, he’s race baiting and so he’s reminding people of some of the things they don’t like about him and that’s a problem for a lot of Republican congressional candidates.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mary, you cover Capitol Hill everyday. One thing Republican candidates, Republican incumbents wish the president would talk about a little bit more is the economy, is their agenda.
BRUCE: Yes, and the president this week made very clear his closing argument, right, he’s going out there talking about immigration instead of necessarily hitting on the economy and some of the other issues that I think a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill want to be talking about.
Because when the president does go out and hits so hard on immigration, it also exposes the flip side, which is that Congress hasn’t been able to do anything on this issue. The president isn’t making an argument about policy here, he’s making an emotional argument and that is a little tricky for some Republicans.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Kim, one of the things we saw in that piece from Ted Cruz from Paula Faris on the – on the Texas Senate race is that even someone like Ted Cruz, it puts him in an uncomfortable position when the president’s talking about immigration.
STRASSEL: Yeah, look, I think if you were to talk to the White House, their argument would be we were out there, we were talking about the economy, our candidates were talking about the economy and we weren’t getting a lot of traction.
But I have put my name out, I’m going to make this a referendum on me, and the only way that we pull this out is to excite our base, get them ginned up and have them turn out.
Now it does put some of those congressional members, especially in those suburban districts in an awkward place, because they have to talk to that base but also backpedal from the president a little bit.
But overall, the belief is is that in addition to the Kavanaugh hearings, which gave a lot of fuel out there for Republicans, the president being out there and saying, latching onto this, they’re about mobs, we’re about jobs, you know, this is what’s changing the dynamic that Nate Silver was describing.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, and I was just saying as-- and Juan as Nate – as we just heard from Nate, this could all come down to who does the president energize more in these final two weeks?
WILLIAMS: Correct, so I mean what you’re seeing is I think they’re playing to the pollsters here, George, and the pollsters are making it clear the tax cuts were not working as a message for the midterms.
He switched now and he said hey, immigration stirs this base. This talk of mobs especially after Kavanaugh stirs the Republican base. And so it becomes a base election in that sense.
Get our people to the polls. What you’ve seen after Kavanaugh is a hike or a spike I should say in the Republican level of enthusiasm for turning out, participating in the midterms.
On the other hand, I think what you see is the president is all too willing to go about body slamming the press or go after the notion that the immigrants are really criminals, they’re all MS-13 or as he said this week, likely Democratic voters.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s pretty clear – go ahead.
FINNEY: I was just going to say but that kind of fear mongering – I mean part of the – the what’s that we’re hearing in the polling is not getting to the why and I do think – remember, it’s energizing Republican men, college educated, Republican women and independents were saying this in the Georgia race are not with the Republican Party –
STEPHANOPOULOS: Georgia governor’s race.
FINNEY: Georgia governor’s race – they are not with the Republican Party, and when he goes out there and talks about, you know, the fear mongering and horse face, people are remind – I don’t like that.
And when – and some –
CASTELLANOS: Look, if I may--
FINNEY: Hold on-- for some of these candidates who ran – hold on, for some of these candidates who were Trumpian in their primaries, it is a problem for them in their general because people are now having to back away.
And he puts them in a very tough position, as you said.
CASTELLANOS: Trump didn’t just drop on planet earth, he’s been this guy, we know this guy. Democrats are already on fire. Democratic women are on fire. We’ve already seen this.
Problem with fire is you can’t set fire on fire. It can’t grow, they can’t get any more intense. The problem for Republicans--
FINNEY: But our base is growing – but the number of vote – people voting for Democrats is growing while the number of Republicans is holding still.
STRASSEL: Can we just step back for one second though? We don’t know what’s going to happen yet in November.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s all stipulation.
STRASSEL: OK, but what we know over the past three weeks, you know, there was a very compelling analysis from Charlie Cook from Cook Political Ratings, he wrote just a couple days ago he goes one thing we do know is that one of the biggest mistakes Democrats have made in a very long time was how they handled Kavanaugh.
You know, three weeks ago the Democrats could have taken over the Senate.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But then the question –
STRASSEL: We’re gonna have a blue wave. That is pretty much done at this point and that’s clear –
STEPHANOPOULOS: It was clear – it was clear three weeks out, the question is that going to be sustained or has it peaked?
BRUCE: Yes, and given the news cycle and the way that things – the conversation can change, who knows how long that will be sustained. And Republicans clearly are betting on the fact that they think they get a bounce from Kavanaugh.
They’re projecting that. But that also could work to their disadvantage. I mean you could see a lot of, you know, moderate Republicans being turned off by the way that Republicans handled this.
So Democrats can also benefit from this entire conversation as well.
WILLIAMS: And don’t forget, Kavanaugh right now is not approved of by most Americans. His confirmation is opposed by most Americans. So when you talk about whether the Kavanaugh spike dissipates, it’s a very real question.
And that's why when Trump goes off message, when it makes it solely about Trump, when he starts talking about Stormy Daniels as horse face, when he goes off on body slamming reporters, I think there's a lot of sense of, yeah, you're playing to the base, but you're hurting us, and you're specifically hurting us in these suburban House races outside of major metropolitan areas with suburban white educated women.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One thing that's pretty clear is that the Republicans are trying to make a lot of this election, at least in the House, about Nancy Pelosi. And it caused some uncomfortable situations for Democratic candidates.
I want to talk -- who are about a third of the non-incumbents -- have refused to explicitly support her. I want to show a little bit of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, D-MASS.: Now, the president likes to call my mom a liar. What do the facts say?
CARLOS BUSTAMANTE, STANFORD UNIVERSITY: The facts suggest that you absolutely have a Native...
UNIDENTIFIED FINNEY: Would you vote for Nancy Pelosi for House Democratic leader.
MAX ROSE, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE N.Y. 11TH: No.
RASHIDA TLAIB, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE MICHICANT 13TH: Probably not.
AMMAR CAMPA-NAJJAR, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE CALIF. 50th: Honestly, no.
ELISSA SLOTKIN, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE MICH. 8TH: I would not support Nancy Pelosi as our next speaker.
MIKIE SHERRILL, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE N.J. 11TH: I don't support Nancy Pelosi. I've put out a commercial saying that I don't support Nancy Pelosi.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: We actually got a little bonus with Elizabeth Warren talking about her DNA on that as well. Technical snafus.
But Mary, this is going to -- this is creating an interesting dynamic. Now Democrats will say that this is overstating her lack of support. These are people who are just aren't willing to come out and declare it. But if the Democrats do take control but it's on the low end of that 23, it's not certain that she will be speaker.
BRUCE: And it all comes down to what margin, right. How many members actually are members who came out and ran saying that they wouldn't support Nancy Pelosi?
What's interesting now is we're seeing her sort of lay some groundwork here. She, in an interview recently, she said do whatever you have to do to win. I don't care if you say you're not going to support me. Everything changes once they -- if they take back the majority.
FINNEY: You know, you're so right about that, because remember if you like your health care, you can thank Nancy Pelosi, by the way. And people remember that. She's a very effective leader on the Democratic side. People know that.
BRUCE: And don't discount Nancy Pelosi.
FINNEY: That’s right.
BRUCE: I mean, she knows very well how much support she has.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Karen mentions health care. That has turned out to be the most effective issue for Democrats in this campaign.
STRASSEL: Remarkable, too, because by the way who landed us with soaring health care prices? The Democrats and yet now they've turned it around and essentially saying--
FINNEY: Although the Republicans are increasing the crisis right now.
STRASSEL: -- well, you know, it's the Republicans fault because they haven't fixed it. And I give them full credit for managing to do that.
But one of the problems for Republicans, they're back where they were in 2006 when they lost the House the first time. And one of the reasons that that happened is because they did not have an effective message on health care and Democrats did and Barack Obama did.
WILLIAMS: And it doesn't help when you have the Senate majority leader this week come out and say, oh, and if we retain control of the House and Senate, we will do severe damage to social entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well actually what he said was -- he actually said they're not going to do it, but this is the real problem behind...
WILLIAMS: And suggested somehow -- and the suggestion was, oh, you know, the deficit spiking and those Democrats are talking about this -- the real cause is not loss of revenue, but the expansion of social entitlement--
STRASSEL: Because it’s not.
WILLIAMS: --but that's not true.
Not, it's -- the revenue is down.
CASTELLANOS: As much as we look at a survey -- ooh, it's up at 14 percent. Number one, issue 14 percent. No one cares. This election is about much bigger things -- a world falling apart, is the president a threat to women, is he going to take women back? This election is about turbulent change.
We've been here before, by the way. We've seen this election in the 60s. The counter culture, which was about which was about women's lib, black power, and the whole Earth catalog. And what did that produce? Richard Nixon and the silent majority.
Today we're seeing -- we're back to the '60s. We have #metoo. We have Colin Kaepernick.
FINNEY: Can I just say--
WILLIAMS: But I think that’s why you have a lot of people saying, the conditions on healthcare, Alex. They want a check on Trump. And that’s a lot of it.
FINNEY: If you're a black woman...
CASTELLANOS: Is a check on Trump -- is a check on Trump bigger than women's -- empowering women? That's one of the tests we're going to see.
FINNEY: But Alex, two things, for some of us in this country, it wasn't just about the '60s. These struggles -- I will say this have been ongoing.
CASTELLANOS: By the way, the '60s won. I'm agreeing with you.
FINNEY: It's not about the 60s, it's that America won,
CASTELLANOS: No, listen--
FINNEY: it's that we progressed and people -- look you say Trump that is about strength. I say he is about buffoonery. My god...
CASTELLANOS: Well, that's the debate we have, isn’t it?
FINNEY: What he's done this weekend alone on the Khashoggi case it sound like what he said about Charlottesville, about people being on both sides of the issue.
CASTELLANOS: I'm not advocating, I am trying to just take a good, strong good look at it here.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Mary, one of the other things you saw on the Khashoggi case is that, even the president's strongest supporters in the House and the Senate, backing away from him.
BRUCE: Yeah, once again you have the situation where the president, his refusal to come out and strongly condemn a situation, puts him at odds with his own party. I mean, you have the president coming out and saying he finds this latest explanation credible. Congress, members of his own party, do not.
The president wants to maintain these arms sale. Congress, members of his own party, want to use that as leverage. And it just creates this incredibly big divide.
And even -- I should say one notable -- people who have not commented yet, leadership. You have not seen Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, Mitch McConnell’s been completely silent.
CASTELLANOS: Now wait a minute. George -- so Donald Trump’s problem now is that he’s too measured? When did we enter this world? Look, there’s a reason Saudi Arabia --
FINNEY: That’s not measured. He’s trying to have it both ways in the same way he’s trying to say, Nazis are OK and…
CASTELLANOS: -- it’s not -- I think we ought to be very careful before we talk about having it both ways. First of all, I don’t know anybody, including the president, who hasn’t condemned this. But the big issue here is there’s a reason Saudi Arabia is the largest purchaser of American arms, is because they use them to project strength in a region where -- we don’t want to do. They do what we don’t want to do.
STEPHANOPOULOS: First of all --
CASTELLANOS: So lives are at stake. If you’re talking about reducing arms sales, you may also be saying we’re going to --
FINNEY: Because we’re so desperate thanks to the deficit, we need that money don’t we?
CASTELLANOS: -- no, we’re going to put American men and women at risk, in harm’s way there.
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- the president’s condemned the death --
CASTELLANOS: -- so you want him to be measured here.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The president’s condemned the death of Khashoggi, he has not condemned --
FINNEY: That’s right.
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- the murder of Khashoggi. But rather the question I have --
CASTELLANOS: But do we know what happened, though?
STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we have a pretty good idea.
FINNEY: I think we have a pretty good sense, Alex, come on.
CASTELLANOS: As far as the (INAUDIBLE) we don’t.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The question I have is that, you know, this has dominated headlines for three weeks right now but does it matter to voters?
STRASSEL: Yes, well I think a lot of people just have a hard time focusing on foreign pol -- I mean, foreign policy is always one of those issues that unless you’re in the middle of an active hot war or something, it’s not something that voters go to for the thing. So it’s something to watch on TV, especially when people are mentioning bone saws, et cetera. But it’s -- it’s not necessarily something that the average voter -- it rises to the level that Alex has been talking about, these huge issues.
WILLIAMS: You know what, I think that the problem --
BRUCE: But -- but what it is doing is -- is taking up a lot of the conversation. When a lot of members of Congress, instead of having to come out and say where they stand in comparison to what the president thinks. They want to be talking about the midterms, they want to be talking about tax reform or the economy or immigration and they’re not being able to do that because of this conversation.
WILLIAMS: But I think a lot of it comes back to what you’re talking about. When you start talking about the grisly dismemberment of a journalist or a dissident voice, people want to see that the American president --
FINNEY: That’s right.
WILLIAMS: -- Is able to dominate on that world stage and command. Instead what it looks like is he is deferring to the wealth of the Saudis, inviting questions about his tax returns -- you heard it earlier on this show from Congressman Schiff. And it’s this -- again -- distraction from the simple idea that if he was seen as in command and control versus the Saudi King, it would be helpful to the Republicans.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s all we have time for today. Thank you all very much. We’ll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out WORLD NEWS TONIGHT and I’ll see you tomorrow on GMA.