'This Week' Transcript 3-4-18: Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, former Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Chris Murphy, Wilbur Ross

This is a rush transcript for "This Week" on March 4, 2018.

ByABC News
March 4, 2018, 9:27 AM

— -- GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC, NEWS: President Trump unleashed on his own, his inner circle shrinking, his son-in-law Jared Kushner under fire.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: I think he’s been treated very unfairly.


STEPHANOPOULOS: But privately, Trump is questions Kushner’s role, did he mix his White House work with family business? Was he vulnerable to foreign blackmail? And is all that daily chaos in the White House crippling this presidency? Questions this morning for Trump’s first Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, and the ally he chose to run his transition, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Plus --


TRUMP: Take the guns first, go through due process second.


STEPHANOPOULOS: The president surprises democrats by backing their calls for sweeping gun legislation, before backing down in a late night meeting with the NRA.

Then he defies his top economic advisors with a surprise announcement on trade.


TRUMP: What’s been allowed to go on for decades is disgraceful, it’s disgraceful.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Was that the first strike in a trade war? Will you pay the price? And is the president’s ambivalence burying new gun control again? We cover it all with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, democratic Senator Chris Murphy, plus insight and analysis from our powerhouse round table.

We’ll break down the politics, smoke out the spin, the facts that matter this week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From ABC News, it’s THIS WEEK, here now Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, hope you had a good week, and in case you lost track, here are just a few things that happened at the White House this week. The president’s closest personal aide resigned, just one day after she told the House Intelligence Committee, that working for the president required her to tell lies.

Hope Hicks is the president’s fourth communications director, the 25th top official to leave since inauguration day. The president’s son-in-law was stripped of his top security clearance amid questions about his vulnerability to foreign manipulation and reports that his family business received more than half a billion dollars in loans from banks that he met with in the White House.

The president called his hand picked attorney general disgraceful. The latest salvo in an unprecedented public war that’s drawn the attention of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, this time Jeff Sessions fought back, defying and enraging Trump by vowing to run the Justice Department with quote integrity and honor.

And more than a year after America’s intelligence agencies reached the unanimous verdict that Russia interfered in our elections, the admiral in charge of the National Security Agency told Congress that President Trump has not ordered any new actions to counter Russia’s cyber threat.

At any other time with any other White House any one of these stories would trigger non-stop coverage, full scale scandal watch, and I didn’t even include the gyrations on guns and trade.

It almost makes me feel sorry for Chief of Staff John Kelly.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The last thing I wanted to do is walk away from one of the great honors of my life, being the secretary of homeland security, but I did something wrong and god punished me, I guess.


STEPHANOPOULOS: With that, let’s bring in the man Kelly replaced as chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and president Trump’s first transition director, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, now an ABC News contributor.

And Reince, let me begin with you, want to put up a front page of the Washington Post this morning. Pure madness is the quote, dark days inside the White House as Trump shocks and rages.

Some of the other quotes in that piece from Trump allies, we haven’t bottomed out yet, morale is the worst it’s ever been. So do you think John Kelly knew what he was getting into when he replaced you and how does he fix things now?

REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I -- I -- I think he did, and I also think that people understand that you -- you can’t look at the distractions. I think what the -- the staff has to do is focus in on the results.

And so I think what the president does and he writes about it even in his own books, is he puts rivals around him intellectually. You have people like Wilbur Ross who’s going to be on your show and Gary Cohn, and he puts those two guys in front of him says and says OK, fight out tariffs in front of me, and they fight it out, the media covers the fight, but ultimately the decision is made.

And if you look at the president’s decisions, which I always try to have people focus on, look at the economy, look at ISIS, look at the courts, the decisions and the things that President Trump has done, have put him on a great course -- if -- if you’re a republican, you couldn’t be happier.

So the drama is there, but that is how the president makes decisions, and that process while different, has gotten to good results, and that’s what I think people need to do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I guess the question, Chris Christie, is the drama taking over everything else right now?

CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER GOVERNOR, NEW JERSEY: Well unfortunately from the beginning, and I’ve been saying this from the beginning George, staff failures to the president have exacerbated this problem.

The president’s a unique political figure, the tweeting and the other things that he does make him unique and it’s part of what made him popular and made him able to win, and it also creates some downsides.

But, you know, the Rob Porter situation was not a situation the president created. Which has led to all the other things we’ve seen this month. If the Rob Porter


STEPHANOPOULOS: -- classification (ph) taken away.

CHRISTIE: Yes. Listen, the fact that that was not handled correctly from the beginning, the fact that you had all these people on interim clearances has created a lot of these problems. And so it’s nice enough to say well, you know, the president creates some drama and -- and we have to look away from that. I agree with Reince on the issues of the courts and deregulation, the tax cut.

But the problem is the president has been ill-served, in my view, by staff over the period of the last 15 months where they create a lot of the distractions through their infighting, their leaking and all the other things that we know have been going on here.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And the leaking has continued. But Reince, on that question of security clearances, of course you were White House Chief of Staff for the first six months. We now know that -- we now learn this week that not just Jared Kushner but 30 White House officials -- approximately 30 White House officials losing their security clearance. How did this go on for so long and how did it get by you?

PRIEBUS: Well first of all, George, when you -- when the first crew comes in, it takes time to get the security clearances through. I was -- by -- by an example, I was the very first package to go through to the FBI and the DOJ. I got my temporary clearance and the end of December. I didn’t get my permanent clearance until the end of April. I haven’t missed a mortgage payment, I’ve had one wife for 19 years. These things take time.

By the time I left, there -- which was the end of July, it hadn’t yet risen to the level that it has today.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you knew there were problems with Rob Porter’s security clearance, right?

PRIEBUS: Certainly there were some things that were popping up -- none. None at all. And as I understand it, there’s some kind of agreement between the White House and the DOJ as to how and when staff is informed of particular issues that particular employees are being faced with. So that is something that by the time I left hadn’t reached me from the White House security or the White House Counsel’s office.

So -- but look, I mean obviously it was known at -- at some point in January and how it’s handled is something that I agree with Chris on. How it’s handled can reflect poorly on the president. I certainly am not happy at times, when I was at the White House, at (ph) things reflected poorly on the president. And certainly leaking against each other is something that’s terrible and it’s distracting and it’s embarrassing.

But certainly now, I think, you know, when you have leaking against the president, it’s something that’s fireable. And I think that he deserves, you know, better coverage for the things that he’s getting done and I just always try to focus people on the results as opposed to the distractions. Because I do think he’s doing a great job.

STEPHANOPOULOS: This is following, most heavily now, Christ Christie, on Jared Kushner. What a week he had. Loses his top secret clearance, series of stories about these meetings with the bankers, his vulnerability to foreign blackmail. At the end of the week, this report about one month after his father met with the finance minister of Qatar was refused some financing, Jared Kushner organizing actions -- diplomatic actions against Qatar.

Does he have to go? Is he still well serving the president?

CHRISTIE: Well listen, the president’s going to have to make that judgment. And this is most particularly sensitive because it’s a family member. And this is why lots of --

STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s part of the problem.

CHRISTIE: Well, of course. And that’s what I was going to say, George, that -- that the situation is made much worse by the fact that we have family members in the White House. It makes it much more difficult. And there were (ph) many of us who counseled the president -- and not just about Jared, but about any other members of his family having official positions. Not because they weren’t competent or qualified or that the president didn’t trust them, but because when circumstances come up that the president couldn’t have been aware of -- and in a normal situation, you might terminate a staff member for that reason. Becomes a lot more difficult if you’re going to be sitting at Thanksgiving dinner with that person. And so for Jared and for Ivanka and for all the other members of the family we were involved in one way or the other, I think everybody’s got to focus on what’s best for the president. When I was chairman of the transition, when I was endorsing him and working to try to get him elected, my focus all the time was what’s the best thing for the candidate and then for the president elect. And I think everybody on the staff here has got to get back to that, from -- from General Kelly right on down. What’s best for the president and the country. And I think unfortunately we’ve had a -- you know, because of all the infighting and all the leaking, they’re ill-serving this president. And people talk about the drama he creates. I would suggest he only creates half the drama that goes on in the White House and the other half is caused by staff who are killing each other. I’ve seen these stories attacking Kellyanne Conway from people inside there -- who seems to be the only person who’s been hanging in there with the president and -- and -- and putting his message out there. This is the kind of stuff that’s just unacceptable.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How does Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, even do his job right now? Supposed to be the point person on Middle East peace, the point person on relations with Mexico, yet he doesn’t have access to top secret briefings.

PRIEBUS: Yeah, I'm not sure, George. I will say -- there's not a whole lot there I disagree with what the governor said. It does make it more complicated with family. But -- and so everything he said is true -- but I do think that Jared and Ivanka over the course to the last six to eight months have really found, I think, a place for them that fits in nicely with their portfolio. I think initially it was a little bit more complicated, because everyone kind of had access and there was a little bit less of lines of authorities in place. But I think over time they've found a much better place. But there's no doubt..

CHRISTIE: George, let me say this.

PRIEBUE: ...it makes it harder to get those things done.

CHRISTIE: Let me say this, that may, in fact, be true that they've found a better place. But we're not talking about things that happened a year and a half ago. And this is the problem. It's not what's been happening in the last few months. I think Ivanka did a fabulous job on the child care tax credit as part of the tax reform discussions, but that's not the point, the point is now we're talking aboutstuff that happened 14, 15, 16, 18 months ago. This happens all the time in administrations, and you know that. But what makes it more complicated this involves family.

And I feel badly for the president in this regard, because now you're sitting across from afamily member, from a son-in-law, from a daughter, and have to have hard political conversations with them, which are never easy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And it sounds like from our reporting that at this point at least he's telling some people he wishes Jared would find a way to leave.

CHRISTIE: Listen, I think, again, that's why I emphasized this morning, George, that I think what the staff has to do is in fact what Hope Hicks I think did. I think Hope Hicks saw that between the Rob Porter situation and some of the other things that were going on, that she was becoming a distraction for the president and less of an asset in her mind, and she did the noble thing in my view, which was to say, you know what, if I'm not 100 percent an asset for the president, I'm going to back away.

And I think she deserves credit -- and I don't think she's getting a lot of it in this kind of scandal driven stuff that's going on -- but she deserves credit I think for saying, you know what, this is about the president and the country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Reince Priebus, one person who not going anywhere, it appears, is the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Extraordinary back and forth with the president this week, followed up by that dinner he had with his top two deputies at the Justice Department. You've been involved in the middle of this since year as White House chief of staff. And I want to look at an excerpt from the Gatekeepers where you were -- discussed how you tried to keep Jeff Sessions from resigning, said the president told you don't try to slow me down like you always do, get the resignation of Jeff Sessions. Once again, Preibus stalled Trump, according to White House insider. He told the president if I get this resignation, you are in for a spiral of calamity that makes Comey look like a picnic.

So, what happens now? You stopped him once before. What would happen -- what would it mean if Jeff Sessions left right now?

PRIEBUS: Well, I agree with that interpretation. I think it is a problem. And I don't think that it would be good for the president for Attorney General Sessions to leave. But I also think the president has made up his mind in regard to how he feels about the recusal. He feels that was the first sin, the original sin. And he feels slighted by it. He doesn't like it. And he's not going to let it go.

And so I think when he feels frustrated about the Russia probe and all of those things that he watches on television, or he reads about in the paper, he feels slighted by it and he's not going to let it go. He is a person who doesn't really pull a punch. And he said that as much when he was campaigning. He told the American people what they were going to get. He doesn't pull a punch. And you know what, for better or worse, that's what you have.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that is the question right now.

PRIEBUS: Again, I go back to the results. I go back to the results, that is what the American people knew and they voted for him and he's doing a great job.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring this now to Governor Christie, he just said for better or worse. You've got this -- again, we've never seen anything like this between a president and an attorney general in public. We also now know that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking at these actions as part of an obstruction of justice case.

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, a few things. I would say you're right that the public nature of it is a bit different. But you know that in the past there have been really frosty relations and animosity...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But they keep it private.

CHRISTIE: Right, but then it leaks out, George. How do you and I know about it. We know about it -- whether it was between Janet Reno and President Clinton, whether it was between President Nixon and some of his attorneys general, some of which became public, some of which didn't. These things...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Caused him a heap of trouble.

CHRISTIE: Of course. And in the end, I think what we have to look at in this piece of it is, is the work of the Justice Department going? Is it still happening? And I think you see with Robert Mueller's investigation it's proceeding apace. I mean, he's working hard and he's producing a lot of results. I think you see Chris Wray making real difference at the FBI and seemingly unmoved by any of this stuff.

I mean, I can tell you I look at the way Chris Wray conducts himself from day-to-day in this job with all the tumult that's going on, Chris Wray doesn't even look like he's affected by any of it. And I think that's the kind of leadership that we need to make sure that...

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you would counsel Jeff Sessions to stay?

CHRISTIE: Listen, I would counsel Jeff Sessions to do what he said he was going to do awhile ago, which was he was going to stay as long as he thought he was serving the president, the Justice Department, and the country in the best way that it could be served.

But I also will say, as a former chief executive, the president has the right to do what he wants to do. And if the president has absolutely no confidence in the attorney general, then the president has to act, not just criticize, but act. And he has the right to do that. And as a chief executive -- former chief executive, I wouldn't deprive him of that right.

But in terms of Jeff Sessions' own decision, he has got to decide am I being effective? And am I serving the country well and am I serving the people at the Department of Justice well, because it matters.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris Christie, Reince Priebus, thanks very much.

We're going to dig into the debate on guns right now. You saw the president at that extraordinary session on Wednesday seeming to back Democratic proposals. Let's take a look.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY, (D) CONNECTICUT: 97 percent of Americans want universal background checks and yet we can't get it done. There's nothing else like that where it works. People want it. And we can't do it.

TRUMP: But you have a different president now.

MURPHY: Well, listen...

TRUMP: You went through a lot of presidents and you didn't get it done. You have a different president. And I think maybe you have a different attitude, too. I think people want to get it done.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And we're joined now by that Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Senator Murphy, thank you for joining us right now.

You saw the president right there. It sure seemed in that meeting with you he was backing universal background checks, met with the NRA that night. And they came out tweeting no more gun control. Your reaction?

MURPHY: Well, listen, the president has the potential to move mountains here. The gun lobby, as I noted in that meeting, has had veto power over legislation that 97 percent of Americans support background checks. And if the president wants to do this, all he has to do is get about 10 or 15 Democratic Republican senators to the table.

Listen, I think the president is trying to have it both ways. I think he knows that the mood of the country has shifted such that he and his party are going to pay a huge price in the polls in 2018 and 2020 if they don't start supporting things like universal background checks.

At the same time, the NRA was one of his earliest supporters once he was moving towards the nomination, as he was trying to consolidate the Republican establishment in 2016. And so he's trying to keep them happy as well.

The fact of the matter is, his instincts in that meeting are not wrong. And if he and the Republicans don't start showing some movement in the wake of Parkland, there aren't going to be as many Republicans around for him come 2019. And for his entire agenda, and perhaps for his political salvation, that's not good news for him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Don't you need the president to take the lead here? It's not going to get done if he doesn't.

MURPHY: Yeah, he sort of sent us out of that meeting and said you guys work it out, you know, work the universal background checks in with the Fix NICS bill, the piece of legislation I have with Jon Cornyn. You know, but as I told him, that can't happen if he's not willing to lead.

Republicans have been so tied to the NRA over the years that unless he tells them that they have to move, nothing is going to happen. And sort of like what happened on immigration, there's a meeting in which he suggests he's willing to do a deal and then he walks away from the table.

From what I can tell he hasn't had any kind of conversations with Republicans since that meeting to try to push them to get to an agreement.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, do you have any hope that he's going to come back around to your point of view on guns?

MURPHY: You know, I have a feeling he's going to continue to bob and weave. And what I take confidence in, though, is that the movement that he showed in that meeting is reflective of what are at his foundation not terrible political instincts. And maybe his performance in that meeting is a signal to Republicans that if they don't deal on the issue of background checks, that they're going to pay a price, because they're on the ballot in 2018, not the president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me -- you're also a member of the Senate foreign relations committee. Let me pick up on this conversation by Jared Kushner with you as well. I mentioned with Chris Christie and Reince Priebus this story how his father, Charles Kushner, met with the Emirates finance minister trying to get -- Qatari finance minister trying to get financing for their skyscraper here in Manhattan, did not get that financing, and then a month later, according to The Intercept -- I want to read you this, "the failure to broker the deal we followed a month later by a Middle Eastern diplomatic row in which Jared Kushner provided critical support to Qatar's neighbors, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a group of Middle Eastern countries with Kushner's backing, led a diplomatic assault in culminated in a blockade of Qatar. Kushner, according to reports at the time, subsequently undermined efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to bring an end to this standoff.

What do you make of that report?

MURPHY: Well, if it's true, it's damning. If it's true, Jared Kushner has to go. For many of us that follow the Middle East closely, we could not understand why the Trump administration was so firmly taking the Saudis side in this dispute between the Saudis, the Emiratis and the Qataris, because the United States has very important interests in Qatar.

At the top of the list are thousands of U.S. troops that are stationed in a base there. And so to so firmly take the side of the Saudis against the Qataris, potentially resulting in the downward spiral of the Qatari economy, put thousands of Americans at risk.

If the reason for this -- if the reason that this administration put U.S. troops at risk in Qatar was to protect the Kushner’s financial interests, then that’s all the evidence you need to make some big changes in the White House.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Letting you also breathe, (ph) we’re going to have first (ph) Secretary of Commerce, Secretary Wilbur Ross coming later in the program. You saw the president’s announcement of steel -- steel and aluminum tariffs on Thursday. Expecting the formal announcement this week. Do you think there’s a national security threat in imports from Canada, Mexico, South Korea and Japan?

MURPHY: Well, I think the president needs to recognize that none of these actions take place in a vacuum. I can support some targeted sanctions against China. They’ve been dumping into the United States for a long time. But at a moment when you need the Chinese to be the heavies on North Korea, to try to disabuse them of their nuclear ambitions, you’re -- you’re jeopardizing American national security interests.

And the president’s new enthusiasm for opening up a trade war with Europe is also a gift to Russia, that loves it when the United States and Europe start to split. So I just think the president needs to understand that there are times when these targeted sanctions are necessary but you’ve got to do it at the right moment and you have to realize that none of it takes place in a vacuum.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris Murphy, thanks for your time this morning.

MURPHY: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Up next, the first mid term votes we cast this week and this year, a record number of women are running. How will these candidates and voters change the country in the age of Trump? We’re on the ground (ph) in Texas.


STEPHANOPOULOS: The mid term elections officially kick off this week when primary voters in Texas head to polls on Tuesday, and this year a record number of women are running for office.

In Texas, where women represent only three of the state’s 36 congressional districts, more than 50 are running for Congress. Our Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce traveled to southwest -- Southwest Texas to meet three of the women challenging incumbent Congressman Will Hurd.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The -- the -- the donkey.

MARY BRUCE, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, ABC: In the land of longhorns, cowboy hats, and seemingly endless pasture, a new women’s movement is on the rise.

Judy Conales is one of more than 50 women running for Congress just in Texas alone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, Judy, no Judy (inaudible).

BRUCE: Across the country, women are running in record numbers, more than 400 female congressional candidates, that’s double the number that ran in 2016.

JUDY CONALES: I cannot believe our country went in this direction, and so we’ve got to do something better.

BRUCE: Conales could be the first Latina to ever represent Texas in Washington, she tells us the president’s words about Mexican Americans and immigrants are too painful to ignore.

CONALES: How dare he talk about my heritage and my community in that way.

BRUCE: She recalls the moment a friend helped her realize this was her time.

CONALES: They said to me you said you always wanted to run, and I said you’re right I did, and I thought wow I think this is it, and so I thought I’m going to -- I’m going to go for it.

I’m going to go for it, and here I am.

BRUCE: Yes, it’s OK. So this district is basically a political see-saw. Right now, it’s being represented by a republican, but in the presidential election, it went for Hillary Clinton. This is the kind of place that democrats are going to have to win if they have any hope of turning red states like Texas blue.

A year ago democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, a career civil servant was working for President Trump’s administration. Now, she’s running against his agenda.

GINA ORTIZ JONES: It just became hard personally and professionally to be part of an administration that I found to be quite frankly, erasing many of the opportunities that were critical to me, just growing up healthy, getting an education and serving my country.

BRUCE: Erasing the opportunities?

JONES: That’s right. It can’t be surprising that the number of women running, the number of women of color running, that -- the people that have the most to lose, you cannot be surprised that they have stepped up and said you know what, I am done assuming somebody is going to do for that which I can do for myself.

BRUCE: While democrats are hoping female candidates will fuel a blue wave come November, there are plenty of Republican women running to support President Trump.

In Concan, Texas, we met Dr. Alma Arredondo Lynch on her ranch. She has deep roots in this state.

ALMA ARREDONDO LYNCH: I (ph) follow me (ph) (inaudible).

BRUCE: Her beloved longhorns come when called.

LYNCH: (Inaudible). Come on (inaudible) -- come on (inaudible), ran (ph) mother ran (ph).

BRUCE: She keeps a gun tucked behind every door and her colorful cowboy hat collection on proud display. She feels passionately that republicans in Congress have not done enough to back the president, which is why she’s challenging the republican incumbent.

LYNCH: So we get enough people that are conservatives like myself will have the passion in their heart, yes, we can shake up Washington.

BRUCE: Do you think it’s going to take more women to shake up Washington?

LYNCH: Conservative women, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Outside a local steakhouse, voters tell us the issues driving them to polls range from immigration to education and gun rights. But they do agree on one thing.

BRUCE: Do you think Washington understands the concerns of voters like you? Do you think --



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, probably not.


BRUCE: Without hesitation? For THIS WEEK, Mary Bruce, ABC News, Del Rio, Texas.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we will be reading the first tea leaves on Tuesday. Powerhouse round table up next, and later the president’s commerce secretary on a brewing trade war.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to take steps to harden our schools so that they’re less vulnerable to attack. You know I really believe -- you don’t know until you test it, but I think I -- I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon. And I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too.

STEPHANOPOULOS: For a few minutes on Monday (ph) that was the biggest news of the week, from President Trump speaking to governors. But it turned out to be a tumultuous one. We’re going to talk now -- about it now on our round table with our Chief Political Analyst Matthew Dowd, Senior White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega, the Former Editor of Bloomberg Businessweek Megan Murphy, Van Jones from CNN and Megan McCain from The View. And -- and Matt, kind of where -- where to begin.

You saw Reince Priebus at the top of the program say yes, yes, a lot of chaos this week but let’s focus on results. Hard to do that this week.

MATTHEW DOWD, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST, ABC NEWS: Yes, I thought March Madness was a basketball tournament. And (ph) it describes perfectly, I think, what’s been going on for the last week and a half. Really, the last 13 months in (ph) this. One of the things I didn’t quite understand from Reince’s comments was he said judge by everything that’s been done and everything is great. Right? That’s what he said, everything’s going great.

I don’t know what metric Reince is using for that because one, every -- almost every single international country in the world has less confidence in our leadership. Two, the president’s job approval ratings are at historic lows for a president this point in time. Three, two-thirds of the country thinks we’re off on the wrong track. And four, most of the -- all of the economic gains that the country has had has gone to the top five percent of people in this country.

So I don’t know really what metric that he’s -- wants to apply here. This president, of all of the time we’ve talked about this, is in incredible turmoil at the White House. And I don’t actually see a path out of it. Because the president -- in order for it to change -- it’s not changing General Kelly, it’s not Hope Hicks leaving and it’s not Jared leaving and it’s not Ivanka leaving, it’s all those things. It’s fundamentally about the president and the president will not change.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Cecilia, does increasing (ph) what you guys are hearing over at the White House, covering it every day and people becoming more open, I can see how that would frustrate the president, people becoming more open about talking about his isolation, his mood swings and the problems it causes.

CECILIA VEGA, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Take a (ph) look at that Washington Post headline that -- from a Trump ally, this is not going to end well. I mean, that’s someone inside the White House. He is becoming increasingly isolated, he is increasingly angry. If it’s as bad -- if we’re at the point where he is angry with his own son in law, I think they’ve got a problem. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it this bad in the White House and that says a lot.

We talk about chaos, we talk about turmoil, we talk about palace (ph) intrigue on a regular basis covering this administration. It’s really bad right now and the reason it matters is because the president has no loyalists left. He -- he has no -- Hope is gone, Keith Schiller, his bodyguard is gone. The -- the only person outside of his family in the West Wing right now from the very original campaign core is his former golf caddy, now -- Dan Scavino -- turned social media manager.

That’s a problem for someone like Donald Trump who needs allies, who needs people he can trust in order to govern.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No one can reign them in.

MEGAN MURPHY, FORMER EDITOR, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK: No one can reign them in and I think the tariffs policy is exactly the kind of symptom of someone who’s drifting away. You know, we look at this -- if you’re -- if you’re a Donald Trump voter, if you voted for the president, this is a smack in the face to you. This is going to make your every day goods cost more, it’s going to cost American manufacturing. You have to only do the math on this.

We’ve only got about 150,000 workers in the steel industry, got 6.5 million other workers who are dependent on finished product production of steel. This is going to make it less economically advantageous for them. It’s likely that we have people go elsewhere to buy that steel, making it more difficult for our companies to compete. He did this policy on the hoof, they haven’t been able to defend it with any economic sense so far and this is a president who’s isolated, who’s doing things that even his closest advisors and his own party say is wrong.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And -- and -- and Megan, I mean (ph) Cecilia talked about no loyalists inside the White House. With an action like this on trade, he alienates the leaders in Congress, the Republican leaders in Congress who have been backing him when he needed it.

MEGAN MCCAIN, CO-HOST, THE VIEW: Yes, and this is coming off his discussion about the NRA and his seeming (ph) hedge on the second amendment earlier this week. You want to talk about loyalists leaving, start screwing with the second amendment and your -- the cost of what your beer will cost with your aluminum can, I’m telling you that will be something that will finally make his base move.

Going off what you’re saying about no loyalists inside, I think it can’t be emphasized enough how important it is to have people who have been with you from the very beginning, people that really know you.

Hope Hicks from all reports served an emotional purpose as well, and I think for whatever reason he is surrounded by people who leave the tenant (ph) that you can never become the story, and the principle should always be the story, and you have every figure in the White House becoming tabloid fodder at the same time.

And I think going forward, whomever replaces her has to understand that it only can be about President Trump and the principle.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How does Jared Kushner stay?

JONES: Well first of all, let me just say that if President Obama had one week like this, he would be in Guantanamo. OK, they would (ph) just say (ph) this guy has lost, he’s completely -- he’s driving all over the road like a drunk driver, we have no idea what to -- and he would just bite (ph) (inaudible).

STEPHANOPOULOS: Wait (ph) I was thinking about that, and you mentioned -- we’ll come back to this in a second -- you mentioned the due process thing, the second amendment.

If President Obama had said forget about the due -- due process, take the gun.

JONES: (Inaudible) there would be millions of people in the street right now, and the reason that there are not --

MURPHY: (Inaudible) with me (ph) (inaudible) can see that this as well, it’s (ph) that it would be like a dictatorship, would be calling President Obama a dictatorship if (ph) for some reason you got (ph) that you could go over the Constitution and due process.

And I 100 percent echo that republicans have to be intellectually honest in how we analyze this situation in the same way we would have (ph) Obama.

DOWD: Though -- though the president and his comments about China saying we should copy their dictatorship, there seems (ph) some senses (ph) maybe that’s what he wants.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, Jesus take the wheel.

JONES: Here’s -- here’s -- here’s what -- here’s what is amazing, you have President Trump veering to the left of the -- of the Sanders people on trade, he veers to the left of any democrat I’ve ever heard on guns.


JONES: For a minute, and nobody responds, why? Because nobody believes a word he says anyway. Everybody knows it, in 15 seconds it could be something totally different. That is more dangerous than any of these policy positions or personnel decisions, you now have a president of the United States who literally can say anything and nobody on planet Earth believes him.

That’s a -- that is a crisis.

VEGA: I don’t know that there’s anything new in this, though. We saw the same thing happen in the DACA meeting, and if you -- my favorites part about the NRA meeting in the White House this week was watching Dianne Feinstein’s body language as President Trump seemed to be, as you said, giving away the second amendment.

Consistency is not something President Trump needs to govern, it’s not something he has stood by as a principle in his path, but I think the bigger issue facing this White House right now is are they actually going to get anything done in the middle of all of this.

Republicans in -- in Capital Hill has made it very, very clear they are waiting for him to take the wheel on guns and he’s not going to.

MCCAIN: And let’s talk -- let’s unpack this confiscation and due process, let’s not allow the NRA to continue to wrap themselves in the only constitutional man hoods that exist (ph).

Other countries have implemented programs to take back weapons that are particularly dangerous, that have been used in mass shootings that have been used to kill first graders, teenagers, et cetera.

There are programs in place, 97 percent of this country wants background checks, a substantial majority want tighter gun control, let’s not do as we’ve done so many times before by saying the second amendment, due process constitutional rights.

This is the time, if there’s one thing this week, a week of worry, a week of turmoil (ph), a week of chaos, but a week where children, teenagers can sit (ph) forward and say enough is enough and things may finally change.

And that -- this may be the week we remember for that.

DOWD: As the -- as the gun owning Texan at the table, where I have five -- five rifles and I went hog hunting last week in Texas with a whole group of guys, all of whom are gun -- gun carrying Texans, all of them say why can’t we get this done?

The problems at the NRA -- the NRA doesn’t speak for most of Americans, the NRA doesn’t even speak for most gun owners, the NRA speaks to a very small sect of people that have drawn a line that says you can no restrictions, which of course the Supreme Court has never said, the Supreme Court has said you can have reasonable restrictions in this.

It all goes back to a president, I was thinking of this on Oscar night tonight, is who does this president most remind me of in a movie? And the best one I can come up to is Charles Foster Kane from Citizen Kane.

And it’s in the way he acts and how isolated he has become and his behaviors, and so the only thing I can think is maybe we should go down to Mar-a-lago and see if there’s a sled with rosebuds on it to really (inaudible).

MURPHY: I thought you would have said The Emoji Movie.

VEGA: I’m worried that we’re too old, that people haven’t seen Citizen Kane.


STEPHANOPOULOS: But mean time (ph), in May, you might agree with this Megan, if the president has now decided that he’s not going to follow through on what he’s said -- told the democrats on Wednesday on guns, on universal background checks, on raising the age, now it’s just a concept, it’s not going to happen.

MCCAIN: I disagree with you, Matt, that the NRA does speak for me in a lot of ways. I'm a proud NRA member. And I do think that it is confusing when President Trump had such huge ardent support from NRA members, spoke at the NRA convention, even though I think secretary all of us thought he was an Upper East Side liberal that didn't really have a lot of experience in gun country like the rest of us.

But I -- it's like Ben Sasse said, it's whomever has his ear last. And for me, the sincerity of where he stands and his political convictions has always come into question, but particularly now when you're talking about things like the Second Amendment, which I'm sorry unlike Australia isn't going to evaporate into thin air. And I do think going forward it raises a lot of questions just about what's goingto happen with his base. Becuase it is making a lot of people that I also know...

DOWD: The NRA doesn't speak for you -- do you believe in universal background checks?


DOWD: OK, so the NRA doesn't speak for you. Do you believe in bump stocks should be banned?

MCCAIN: I'm not go into a tit-for-tat...

DOWD: What I'm saying is the series of things the NRA, as you have...

MCCAIN: I was offended by the way Dana Loesh has been treated at the CNN town hall and a lot of different places. And what happens is it makes people like me very tribal over our guns and o ver the Second Amendment and over things like that and what we're talking about situations where you're saying no due process, we're just going to take the guns and talk about it later.

JONES: That's the president.

MCCAIN: I know, but it makes people like me very paranoid.

DOWD: But no Democrat has said confiscate the guns and no Democrat has said...

MCCAIN: Yeah, we have our president doing it who is supposed to be a Republican, which is even worse, Matt.

DOWD: I know. But that's what I'm saying.


JONES: You mentioned our town hall, and I do want to say that those young people are just extraordinary. I mean, you've had now a year of adults acting like children. And now the children are acting like adults and trying to get something done. You may not like everything that they say, or everything that they want, but the fact you have young people in this country who are willing to stand up and call it like it is -- you've got -- I went to high school. The worst thing that happened to me in high school was late homework and some bullies, I never had to hide under my desk and were -- and drill so I didn't have my brains blown out all over my classroom, that's happening in every classroom in America.

So, you have a generation of young people that I think we need to stand with and listen to very carefully, because they're on the -- the police and the young people who are on the front lines are saying the same exact thing about guns.

MCCAIN: They're demonizing legal gun owners.

DOWD: There's two -- go picking on something Van just said, which is we're now in a mid-term election year, and Mary Bruce's piece I thought was very apt. And she was reporting from Texas, and I've seen it, is there's two groups that are highly, highly motivated, two big groups, young people, who are very much opposed to the Trump administration, and women. And women have filed in greater numbers than ever filed before. And every piece of information we've seen from Virginia to New Jersey to Alabama to all of the special elections, the most enthusiastic motivated people in this country now are all against the president and against the GOP.

And we just saw, I just saw in Texas -- we just had early voting. And for the first time in more than a decades, Democrats turned out in the Democratic primary in higher numbers in Texas than Republicans turned out in the Republican primary. So, we are about to face -- it's going to be a wave, the only question is the size of it. And I think the president's ability to accomplish anything is totally contingent on that and the GOP is putting themselves in a position where they're way out of step with where the country is. And it's about to fall on them in November.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And it's coming up in November, another big factor -- ahead of November, of course, is the Mueller investigation. We've certainly, Cecilia, have seen that intensify in the coming -- in the last several days and weeks. More focus also -- I'm going to bring this back to the question I asked Van awhile ago, Jared Kushner. His position in the White House now facing all of these questions from Mueller, this barrage of news stories. How solid is it? How long do you expect him to stay.

VEGA: The people I've been talking to in an -- let me back up, there are two camps in the Trump administration. There are Kushner loyalists and there are people who are throwing knives in Kushner's back. Both sides right now are call Jared Kushner a distraction in this White House.

From what I've heard, I think a lot of people expect Jared Kushner to hang on perhaps hold on for a couple months and find a soft landing and leave. Perhaps Ivanka stays in the White House. That's just the speculation at this point. I don't think anybody really knows. What we do know is President Trump is not someone, despite his famous catch phrase of you're fired, that fires anybody, let alone his own family. So, I think it will eventually be up to Jared Kushner as to whether he stays or goes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And more indications now, Megan, that Robert Mueller expanding is widening his net, widening his net, looking at money flows, foreign money flows, into the Trump campaign.

VEGA: Absolutely, I think Jared Kushner, the noose is circling very tightly now. When we look -- when we're not just talking about Russia in this probe, when we're looking at the UAE, we're looking at what exactly happening in the Middle East with Saudi Arabia. Bloomberg has been reporting on that for months and months that this web of money is very tangled. And indeed it is hard to see how he stays. It is hard to see if they can find him a soft landing. But there is every indication that this flow of money, the family business, the ties, potential money laundering, totally separate from an obstruction of justice, things we know he's been looking at with Paul Manafort and Gates as well. So this is going to be number one to watch. And it looks like Jared Kushner is front and center still in that investigation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Jeff Sessions still attorney general by the midterms, Megan?

MCCAIN: Oh, go, I'm out of the guessing game with this. But I think it would be, as Reince said, I think it would be cataclysmic politically if he ended up firing him.

JONES: Look, I think he'll wind up staying. What I was really impressed with was he actually started sticking up for himself. You have to work hard to get a Van Jones to feel sympathy for Jeff Sessions, OK, that's how badly he's been treated by Donald Trump.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to have to end on that. Thank you all very much. Great roundtable.

Up next, the president's commerce secretary on this trade fight. We're back in just 30 seconds.



TRUMP: People have no idea how badly our country has been treated by other countries, by people representing us that didn't have a clue. We'll be imposing tariffs on steel imports and tariffs on aluminum imports and you're going to see a lot of good things happen. You're going to see expansions of the companies.

It'll be 25 percent for steel, it'll be 10 percent for aluminum.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: President Trump signaling his intention to impose new tariffs. Formal announcement expected this week. We're joined now by one of the men behind the plan, commerce secretary Wilbur Ross.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us this morning.

WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: Good to be on with you, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are we still going to see the formal announcement of these tariffs this week?

ROSS: I believe so. I don't know exactly what day, because the lawyers are working away, but some time this week.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've got a lot of allies lobbying for modifications before the formal announcement. Will the president consider exempting any countries, allies like Canada and Mexico, Germany, or is this going to be a blanket imposition of tariffs?

ROSS: Well, I know he's had conversations with the number of the world leaders. The decision, obviously, is his. But as of the moment, as far as I know, he's talking about a fairly broad brush.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, no exemptions?

ROSS: As I say, I have not heard him describe particular exemptions just yet.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What is the national security threat posed by steel imports from our allies like Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Japan?

ROSS: Well, under 232, which is the legislative provision under which we're imposing these tariffs, national security is very broadly defined. It isn't just military defense, that part is a small percentage of steel, but it also includes the impact on the economy overall, it specifically includes the impact on jobs, includes the impact on infrastructure, all kinds of things that you would not necessarily think are national security, but the truth is economic security is national security.

STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, Europeans have vowed to retaliate against Harley Davidson, bourbon and blue jeans. And President Trump responded to that threat yesterday with this tweet, I want to put it up on the board, that says, "if the EU wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a tax on their cars, which freely pour into the U.S. They make it impossible for our cars and more to sell there. Big trade imbalance."

It certainly sounds like we're already in a trade war.

ROSS: Well, think about it, we have unilaterally given away all kinds of concessions ever since the end of World War II. And in the beginning that was probably good policy to rebuild Europe and rebuild Asia after the ravages of the war. The mistake that our trade negotiators made way back then and continued to make was not time limiting it, concessions that were perfectly reasonable to make to Germany in 1945 or China in 1945 don't make sense anymore. Those are now very mature, big, strong economies.

So, there's a lot of history that needs to be undone.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that means -- that sounds like we are in for some more escalation. The president said also in a tweet earlier this week the trade wars are good and easy to win. Do you believe that? Are trade wars good and easy to win?

ROSS: Well, I think what the president had in mind was that unlike the Smoot-Hawley days in the 1930s, back then U.S. had a big trade surplus and the world was in a depression. Now, we have a big trade deficit. Well, if we have big trade deficit with our other partners, they have a lot more to lose than we do, because those hundreds of billions of dollars in their pockets now, not ours.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It sounds like...

ROSS: So, that's what I believe he meant.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It sounds like a lot -- (ph)

ROSS: So that’s what I believe he meant.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It sounds like a lot of the president’s political allies believe this is going to hurt their voters in their states. You’ve got the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan warning against unintended consequences. You’re already seeing electoral elects (ph) in Tennessee put on hold a $250 million (ph) investment. The Wall Street Journal says this is the biggest policy blunder of the Trump presidency, that it’s going to cost jobs, cost American consumers.

ROSS: That’s really not true. Let me give you some actual numbers. Those sloganeerings don’t really mean much until you put them into numbers. On an average car, it’s $175 worth of steel increase is the maximum that would come from a 25 percent tariff increase. That’s not much.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that’s assuming no more retaliation from the Europeans.

ROSS: No, let me continue. Similarly, all the other products, the total amount of tariffs we’re putting on is about $9 billion in a year. That’s a fraction of one percent of the economy. So the notion that it would destroy a lot of jobs, raise prices, disrupt things is wrong. As to the idea of retaliation, sure they (ph) may well be some sort of retaliation. But the amounts that they’re talking about are also pretty trivial. It’s some $3 billion-odd of goods that the Europeans have threatened to put something on.

Well in our size economy, that’s a tiny, tiny fraction of one percent. So while it might effect an individual producer for a little while, overall it’s not going to be much more than a rounding error.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Certainly sounds like the president’s going to go forward and (ph) you’re committed going forward as well. Any concern that if the president goes forward this week, his top economic advisor in the White House, Gary Cohn will resign?

ROSS: Gary Cohn has been a big participant in the interagency process that came to this conclusion. The president likes to hear every side of every argument, that way he's sure he's gotten all points of view. And so we've had lively discussion, but Gary Cohn, as far as I know, is certainly not going to walk out.

STEPHANOPOLOUS: Mr. Secretary, thanks for your time this morning.

ROSS: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we’ll be right back after this from our ABC stations.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And now, we honor our fellow Americans who serve in sacrifice. In the month of February, one service member died in Iraq.

That is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Later today, our Oscars coverage starts here on ABC and Jimmy Kimmel kicks off the ceremony tonight at 8:00 Eastern. We’ll have a full wrap-up tomorrow on GMA.