'This Week' Transcript 12-29-19: Amb. Robert O'Brien, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Andrew Yang

This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, December 29.

ByABC News
December 29, 2019, 9:48 AM

A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, December 29, 2019 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.

ANNOUNCER: "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" starts right now.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to have a great year.


KARL: 2019 comes to a close with a booming stock market and some of the biggest bipartisan accomplishments of the Trump era. But, as 2020 gets under way, the country faces even bigger challenges at home.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Let's quit the charade. This is a political exercise.


KARL: And abroad.


TRUMP: Maybe it's a nice present, where he sends me a beautiful vase, as opposed to a missile test.


KARL: As we turn the page to 2020 and what may be the most bitter, divisive and consequential election of our time, we look at the first major issues of the new year.

We will talk live to National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien about the threat from North Korea, a Sunday exclusive.

And we will ask Democrat Chris Van Hollen about the Democrats' strategy for an impeachment trial.

And with just 36 days until the Iowa caucuses, the most surprising breakthrough candidate of the year, Andrew Yang, joins us live.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's "This Week."

Here now, Chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl.

KARL: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week" on this last Sunday of the decade.

It's been 11 days since the House impeached Donald Trump, and we still have no idea when the Senate trial will begin or even if there will be a trial.

That uncertainty has infuriated President Trump, who spent the holidays criticizing Nancy Pelosi for delaying a trial he believes would exonerate him.

As negotiations over the trial play out, Democratic voters are preparing to cast the first ballots of the 2020 presidential campaign.

All of this is happening as the United States is on high alert for a provocation from Kim Jong-un. North Korea initially threatened a -- quote -- "Christmas gift" for the United States that may now be a new year's surprise.

Joining me now is the president's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien.

Ambassador O'Brien, welcome to "This Week."


KARL: So, let me start with North Korea. Christmas has obviously come and gone. Are you still expecting some kind of a Christmas gift from Kim Jong-un?

O'BRIEN: Yes, we always monitor the situation. And Chairman Un has said that there would be something over Christmas. I think the president has engaged in personal diplomacy at a very high level with him over the years. And they have a good relationship personally.

So perhaps he's reconsidered that. But we will have to wait and see. We're going to monitor it closely. It's a situation that concerns us, of course.

KARL: And what will be the consequences if North Korea resumes either long-range missile tests or nuclear tests.

O'BRIEN: You know, I don't want to speculate about what will happen.

But we have a lot of tools in our toolkit, and additional pressure can be brought to bear on the North Koreans. I -- what I want to focus on is the fact that this was the most difficult challenge in the world when President Trump took office.

President Obama warned him that there could be a war on the Korean Peninsula. Multiple administrations...


O'BRIEN: Excuse me -- Republican and Democrat, have dealt with this situation without success over the years.

President Trump took a different attack -- tack, with personal diplomacy. And, so far, we have had some success. Kim Jong-un promised to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. We want to hold him to that commitment. And we hope he follows through with the commitment that he made in Singapore.

But, if he doesn't, we have other tools in the toolkit, as the United States, and we will use those as necessary.

KARL: So ,there will be consequences?

Because the president obviously has given him a pass for all those short- and mid-range missile tests. If we see long-range missile tests or nuclear tests, there will be consequences?

O'BRIEN: Look, we will -- we will reserve judgment. But the United States will take action, as we do in these situations. And that's -- that's a -- if Kim Jong-un takes that approach, we will be extraordinarily disappointed, and we will -- we will demonstrate that disappointment.

KARL: Your predecessor, John Bolton, who you once called the most experienced Republican foreign policy hand of our generation, said this week that the president's plan of engaging Kim Jong Un has been a failure.

And he said that Kim Jong Un is never going to give up his nuclear weapons.

This is what he told NPR:


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I don't think North Korea will ever voluntarily give up nuclear weapons.

I think the inescapable conclusion is, they're happy to sell that same bridge over and over again, but there's no serious chance they will ever voluntarily give it up.


KARL: Is John Bolton right?

O'BRIEN: Well, look, Jon -- John is a good man. He's a good friend.

I actually worked for Ambassador Bolton earlier in my career and have a high degree of respect for him. The president has a lot of respect for Ambassador Bolton.

But the president and Ambassador Bolton did not always see eye to eye on how to conduct American diplomacy. I think this is one of those cases where, as Ambassador Bolton pointed out, there has been no success, whether in the Clinton administration, or the Bush administration, or the Obama administration, there's been no success with respect to North Korea. The president has taken a different tact. We've gone for a period of time without a nuclear test. We've diffused a very high tension situation, and so we're going to have to see if the president's approach works.

But, look, like Ambassador Bolton, the president has no illusions that this is a very dangerous concerning matter. It was dangerous when he got there, and he's tried to deescalate tensions and get to a point where Kim Jong-un will actually live up to his commitments.

I mean, what the president has promised the North Koreans are a couple things, one he has not insisted on regime change, and number two he's laid out a path that if North Korea gives up its nuclear program, they can have an extraordinarily bright future with a great economy. They've got hard-working people there. So, there's a real opportunity for North Korea.

Now, whether they take that opportunity or not, we'll have to see. And if they don't take it, the United States is still the leading military power in the world. We have tremendous economic power, bolstered because of the fantastic economy that we've under the last three years of the Trump administration and President Trump's policies, so there's a lot of pressure that we can bring to bear and we have to see what happens.

I don't want to speculate, but the president is realistic about the situation there. We hope that Kim Jong-un will live up to the promise he made to President Trump in Singapore.

KARL: I want to get your reaction from a senior, very senior North Korea official, Kim Jong-chul, who said earlier this month "as Trump is such a heedless and erratic old man, the time we cannot but call him a dotard again may come."

Now, again, this is Kim Yong Chol, who you saw, he met with the president in the Oval Office, gave him that first big envelope, was at the dinner that the president had with Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, what do you make of that. Do you -- this statement coming from somebody so close to Kim Jong Un?

O'BRIEN: Well, look, it's their way of trying to negotiate, and you know the president has called Kim Jong Un Rocket Man, or Little Rocket Man, you these things have gone back and forth, and it's all part of the give and take of interesting diplomacy with a hermit kingdom. And, you know, there's not too much to read into that. We'll have to see -- actions speak louder than words, and we'll have to see what actions the DPRK takes and Chairman Kim take.

And, again, he has two paths in front of him, he's got a glorious path for the people of North Korea where they could become like South Korea and be a very prosperous, very wealthy country, or there's another path that takes them down the road of sanctions and isolation and being a pariah state. And we'll see which one they choose.

KARL: Has there been any contact between the United States and North Korea since that meeting with Steve Biegun had in early October?

O'BRIEN: I don't want to get into that. But there are channels of communication that are open between the U.S. and DPRK, but I don't want to get into the details of that communication.

KARL: OK, and I want to ask you about the case of Eddie Gallagher the Navy SEAL who of course was pardoned by President Trump. I want to play some footage that The New York Times obtained of fellow Navy SEAL members, part of Gallagher's platoon talking about him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard more rumors and stuff like that of Eddie like targeting civilians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw Eddie take a shot at probably a 12-year-old kid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They got crazier and crazier.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can tell he was perfectly OK with killing anybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guy was toxic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't let this continue.


KARL: Again, those are Navy SEALs speaking, members of the platoon, of Gallagher's platoon, were you aware of those details, was the president aware of those details, when he was pardoned?

O'BRIEN: Look, this is a SEAL who had a Bronze Star for valor who had been selected for a promotion to senior chief at the time that he was accused. There were issues, very serious legal issues, with his trial and how the prosecutors conducted that trial, or conducted the pretrial portion of those proceedings.

But ultimately the president as commander-in-chief has said that he's got the back of our men and women in uniform. He has the power to pardon and to grant clemency. He exercised that power here. And by the way, he's done that with justice reform for Americans, primarily, you know, minority Americans through his justice reforms efforts, so the president...

KARL: But ambassador, can I...

O'BRIEN: This is a case that deserved clemency.

KARL: But can I just ask you, listening to those statements, I mean, these are, again, Navy SEALs, who knew him well, saying -- one saying they -- saw him he take a shot at probably a 12-year-old kid. He got crazier and crazier. He was perfectly OK with killing anybody.

Do you find those comments troubling? Does the president?

O’BRIEN: Look -- look, it's very troubling that we send folks out that have to make split-second decisions dealing with terrorists, dealing with bomb-makers, in very, very, difficult decisions overseas.

And what the president has said is we’re going to -- we’re going to stand behind our warriors. We’re going to have their backs. There was an investigation. And, by the way, that's a selective group of SEALs. There were also many, many SEALs and many folks in the special warfare community that support Chief Gallagher, that were -- that appealed to the president and asked him for this clemency. So --


O’BRIEN: -- look, like all these cases, the commander-in-chief, and it’s the same with civilian cases, where the president has granted pardons and clemency. He takes a look at the situation and he does what he thinks is in the best interest of the country.

And in this case, he felt that the chief who was out fighting for the United States deserved clemency. But --

KARL: OK. We're -- we’re --

O’BRIEN: We put -- we put these -- we put these men and women in very tough situations. And I think the president took that into account.

KARL: OK, we’re just about out of time.

Two very quick questions. The day after Christmas, the president tweeted about the impeachment proceedings saying, quote: It makes it much more difficult to deal with foreign leaders and others when I’m having to constantly defend myself.

Which foreign leaders is he talking about? Who he’s having trouble dealing with as a result of impeachment?

O’BRIEN: Well, I don’t think there’s any specific foreign leader. I can tell you that foreign leader after foreign leader reaches out and tells him that they're, you know, surprised.

You know, we pride ourselves on being a rule of law -- being the paragon of the rule of law. I’ve spent my entire career promoting the rule of law both as a lawyer and as a diplomat. And I think a lot of folks watched what happened in the House, with the proceedings down in the basement and the inability to call -- the Republicans, to call the witnesses they want and that sort of thing, and it disturbs them. They wonder what's happening in the United States.

So, I think what the president said is, hey, let’s have -- let's get this trial in the Senate, let’s get it over with and let’s go back to the business of the American people.

Record stock markets, amazing foreign accomplishments that you pointed out, whether it’s the China trade deal, or USMCA or getting NATO to pay -- NATO members to pay their fair share, taking justice to Baghdadi.

Let's get back to the business of the American people. I think that’s what the president is asking for so we can focus on important issues.

KARL: All right. And last, your name was floated as a potential future secretary of state if Mike Pompeo runs for Senate in Kansas. Are you interested?

O’BRIEN: You know, look, Mike Pompeo is a fantastic secretary of state. He was one of the president’s best picks for the cabinet. He’s a friend of mine. I enjoy working for him. I hope he doesn't leave.

I love the job I’ve got now. I get to work with the president every day and I’m -- I’m very happy with -- sitting where I am. And I hope -- I hope and expect that Secretary Pompeo will stay.

I spoke with him about this two nights ago. He said he's not running for Senate. He said he's staying in -- as secretary of state. And I’m -- this is one American who’s very pleased that the president picked Mike --

KARL: All right. We’ll --

O’BRIEN: -- and that Mike is committed to staying.

KARL: We’ll mark that down.

Ambassador O'Brien, thank you for joining us on “This Week”. Merry Christmas and happy New Year to you.

O’BRIEN: Thanks, Jon. Happy New Year, my friend.

KARL: Coming up, I’ll ask Senator Chris Van Hollen about the Democratic strategy on impeachment.

And later, the powerhouse roundtable looks ahead to 2020.

We'll be right back.



SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): When I heard that, I was disturbed.

To me, it means that we have to take that step back from being hand-in-glove with the defense.


JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: That's Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska expressing concerns about Senator Mitch McConnell's statement that he would work in total coordination with the White House at an impeachment trial.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland joins me now.

Senator Van Hollen, that -- that's the one Republican senator, and I -- as far as I can tell, the only Republican senator who has expressed concerns about that.

But if you want to call witnesses at this trial, you're going to need at least four Republicans to join all the Democrats.

Are you talking -- are -- are you seeing any other signs of Republicans breaking ranks?

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Well, Jon, that's the entire reason we're focusing on the importance of a fair trial and all Americans, I think, understand that a fair trial means you get to call your witnesses. And Senator Murkowski put her finger on the big issue, right, is Senator McConnell, the Republican leader, going to try to rig this trial right from the start, working in lock-step with the president and his lawyers, or is he going to allow a fair trial, which your own ABC poll showed 70 percent of Americans say that that requires witnesses and documents.

So, that's exactly why we're having the conversation that we're having over these weeks because, you know, we keep hearing President Trump say he's going to be exonerated.

Look, if you have a rigged trial, there is no exoneration in acquittal from the farce and (INAUDIBLE).

KARL: But -- but are -- but are you talking to others? Are you talking to Mitt Romney, are you talking to Susan Collins? I don't even know who -- who else is potentially there for you? Not even Murkowski is saying she wants witnesses.

Are you -- are you going to get those four Republicans?

VAN HOLLEN: There are ongoing conversations. I think it's too early to say how those individuals will vote.

But, look, Jon, they're going to have to answer for the fact that they don't want to see anymore evidence, right?

Those who vote against witnesses and vote against documents are essentially telling the American people they don't want to see anything. They don't want to hear anything. And in doing so, you're really complicit in a cover-up.

I think more of this information will come out over a period of time. We will eventually see more documents. We will find out the truth.

And senators who vote to deny the American people the ability to hear witnesses and get additional evidence are going to be part of covering that up.

KARL: So, what's --

VAN HOLLEN: And I think a lot of senators when it comes down to it are going to have to think long and hard on that vote.

KARL: What's the bottom line there, though? If Republicans do not agree to call witnesses, will Nancy Pelosi send over the articles of impeachment to the Senate?

VAN HOLLEN: I think she's been very clear there will be a trial. And so, yes, she will be sending over the articles of impeachment. I think, right now, we're engaged in this conversation about the importance of being able to call witnesses.

Look, we just saw, you know, not that long ago more documents surfaced out of the White House from Michael Duffey, one of the folks at OMB --

KARL: OMB, right.

VAN HOLLEN: -- very close to the president, to Mick Mulvaney.

And that just highlights the importance of getting access to this evidence and documents.

KARL: But I want to be clear --

VAN HOLLEN: If you look at the previous impeachment trials, they all had witnesses. They all had documents. And this should not be different than that.

KARL: So, but I want to be clear with what you’ve just said. You say that there will be a trial. Speaker Pelosi will send over those articles of impeachment, even if Republicans do not agree to have witnesses?

VAN HOLLEN: Look, ultimately, Speaker Pelosi will, of course, make that decision. But I think she's been clear. She'll send over the articles of impeachment.

But we're in this important period of time right now where people are going home like Senator Murkowski, like others, and having to answer questions about a fair trial, whether this is going to be a rigged trial or a fair trial.

And again, everybody who's, you know, grown up, you know, watching trials, whether it's on TV, whether it's in the movies --

KARL: Yes.

VAN HOLLEN: -- everyone understands, Jonathan, that that requires witnesses in order to be fair.


KARL: And you -- are you expecting --

VAN HOLLEN: That's the conversation right now.

KARL: Are you expecting a trial to start at the beginning of January?

VAN HOLLEN: I don't know exactly when the trial will start. I really don't. I think that would depend totally (ph) on this conversation.

KARL: So, what happened to the --


KARL: Because I’m confused here. Democrats in the House said explicitly that the president is a clear and present danger. Why -- why the delay here? If it's such an urgent and immediate threat, why the delay? Why not get on with the trial?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, an urgent immediate threat requires a fair trial, right? If it's rigged, then obviously, that doesn't address the concerns that the folks in the House had. The House wanted to call these key White House witnesses.

This president has taken the unprecedented stand that he has absolute immunity. No president has ever claimed that kind of immunity before.

Now, in my view, the House has already put on ample evidence to show abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. President Trump, as you know, has said he wants a trial. He wants to exonerate himself.

So, he's going to have to ask for --

KARL: So --

VAN HOLLEN: -- documents and witnesses.

And so, why shouldn't the House prosecutors be able to come forward and put on their full case? If you get an indictment in a grand jury proceeding, it doesn't mean you don't get to call witnesses at trial or have documents at trial. That would be nuts.

KARL: But you have said repeatedly, and -- I mean, over and over and over again, just in the last few weeks, that the House has produced overwhelming evidence to show that the president abused power, to show that he is guilty of what the House has accused him of doing.

So, why do you need to see witnesses? Why do you need to hear from witnesses? You’ve already said that this is overwhelming evidence produced by the House. Didn't they produce the evidence?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, they produced a lot of evidence. They produced enough evidence to get -- essentially, you know, get the articles of impeachment out of the House. But I’ve also said that the president has wanted to put on his case in the United States Senate and that I would reserve judgment on any final verdict until all the evidence it -- is in.

In addition to that, House prosecutors have a right at a trial -- or in most trials, you have the right to put on additional evidence. After all, in the case of the Senate, as you know, you require a two-thirds vote for a conviction.

So, the Constitution is pretty clear that the Senate is supposed to try this case. And there's no such thing as a fair trial where the prosecution doesn't get to put on its witnesses and documents. That is, on its face, a rigged trial. It's a sham trial.

President Trump says he wants to trial. So, why is it that Mitch McConnell seems to say he doesn't want to call any witnesses? That is clearly taking the position that you don't want to see the evidence. And that is irresponsible, and I think it's an abdication of his constitutional responsibility.

He said he won't be impartial, but he's going to have to take an oath to be impartial. And that means listening to all the relevant evidence.

KARL: All right, Senator Van Hollen, thank you for joining us. Merry Christmas and happy new year to you.

VAN HOLLEN: And to you, too. Thank you, Jon.

KARL: Coming up, presidential candidate Andrew Yang joins me live.

We will be right back.


KARL: Andrew Yang is standing by live to discuss the state of his campaign with us just five weeks until the first votes are cast in Iowa.

We will be right back.


ANDREW YANG, 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why am I the lone candidate of color on this stage? Fewer than 5 percent of Americans donate to political campaigns. Do you know what you need to donate to political campaigns? Disposable income. I guarantee if we had a Freedom Dividend of $1,000 a month I would not be the only candidate of color on this stage tonight.


KARL: That was Andrew Yang at the final presidential debate of 2019 making his pitch for his universal basic income plan. The tech entrepreneur has been the surprise breakthrough candidate of 2020, a dozen governors, mayors, and members of congress have already dropped out, but Yang is still there, one of just seven to qualify for that last debate.

Andrew Yang joins me live right now. Thank you for joining us, sir.

I want to start with your campaign slogan, it is "not left, not right, but forward." What does that mean?

YANG: Well, Jon, to me it's clear the reason why Donald Trump is our president today is that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs that were primarily based in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Iowa, the swing states he needed to win. And what we did to those jobs is we are now going to do to the retail jobs, the call center jobs, the fast food jobs, and eventually the truck driving jobs.

We have to have a way forward that works for all Americans independent of your political affiliation, so that's what we mean by not left, not right, forward. These problems are technological and apply to us all.

KARL: So, are you saying that the Democratic Party been too tied to the left, had been too ideological, while the Republicans too far to the right? I mean, is that what we're saying?

YANG: I was an ambassador in the Obama administration. But to me Democrats still have not asked themselves the hard questions as to how Donald Trump won in 2016 where if you look around the country, you see 30 percent of stores and malls closing. You see record high levels of stress, financial insecurity, student loan debt, even suicides and drug overdoses. These are the problems that voters talk to me about when I'm out there every single day.

And the Democratic Party, unfortunately, is acting like Donald Trump is the cause of all of our problems. He's a symptom and we need to cure the underlying disease.

KARL: So, I want to talk about your Freedom Dividend, $1,000 a month for everybody over 18. And it's everybody? Everybody who opts in gets the Freedom Dividend. Why do you provide $1,000 to somebody like Jeff Bezos or for that matter Donald Trump? I mean, math, they don't need it. This plan has already been very expensive.

YANG: Well, I'm glad you noticed the math. It stands for make America think harder.

And my freedom dividend is based upon the petroleum dividend that's been in effect in Alaska for almost 40 years. Everyone in Alaska is getting between $1,000 and $2,000 a year, no questions asked, and that's the richest Alaskan and the poorest. And what this does is it universalizes it and makes it popular. There's no stigma attached to it. There's no you get it, I don't.

And my way to pay for this is by taking a toll from every Amazon sale, every Google search, every FaceBook ad. So we'd be getting hundreds of millions, even billions, from Jeff Bezos. So if we try and send him $1,000 a month to remind him he's an American, it's essentially immaterial.

KARL: OK, I want to turn to your health care plan because you've just released a -- a new health care plan and I'm a little bit confused about where you stand.

First, I want to play clips from two of your ads where you talk about health care.


YANG: We need to move towards a Medicare for all system where every American has access to quality and affordable services.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His ideas are a blueprint for a new way forward. A health care system with Medicare for all.


KARL: But I've looked at your health care plan. In fact, I've got it right here. And this plan does not call for Medicare for all. In fact, it doesn't even have a public option. So why the dissonance here?

YANG: We need to move towards universal health care that's high quality and nearly cost free for Americans around the country. But reality is, we have millions of Americans who are on private insurance right now and taking those plans away from them very quickly would be untenable for many, many Americans.

To me, the goal of the government has to be to demonstrate that we can outcompete private plans and then push them out of the market over time.

KARL: But --

YANG: And that's -- that's what we're proposing.

KARL: But -- but -- but I -- but -- but I'm -- again, I'm confused. Your ad is explicit. Your ad says, Medicare for all. Your plan is not Medicare for all. It's not even Medicare for some because in your plan there -- there's not even a public option.

YANG: Our plan is to expand a universal health care system to all Americans. Medicare for all is not the name of a bill. Medicare for all --

KARL: Well --

YANG: Is universal health care for all Americans. And that is our vision.

KARL: But Medicare for all is Medicare for all, right? I mean --

YANG: Well, our -- our health care plan would be -- would be based on Medicare and expanding it over time to more and more Americans. You'd lower the eligibility age and then you make it widely accessible.

KARL: OK, I -- I -- I didn't -- I didn't see that in -- in -- in your plan.

But -- but I want to move forward to the -- the question of -- of your campaign.

So you have, as we've established, you've been the surprise break-through candidate. Nobody expected you were going to still be here. You were going to be on that debate stage, just one of seven. But you've never really broken 5 percent in any poll in those -- in those early states.

What -- what do you have to do to actually break through to the next level?

YANG: Well, Jon, I certainly love being described as a surprise break-through. That -- that seems very positive. And you and I both know, they have -- there hasn't been a poll in the early states in over a month. I can't wait for some new polls to come out that show how much we're growing, how much the energy and enthusiasm and the crowds are getting bigger every time I go to any of the early states.

I'm on my way to New Hampshire a little bit later today to celebrate New Year's Eve. And you're going to see, when the polls come out, we'll be at 5 percent or higher. I think significantly higher.


And you've had some interesting statements on -- on impeachment. You say, first of all, nobody ever asks you about it out on the trial. You suggested Democrats spend too much time talking about it. But you support the impeachment of Donald Trump, correct?

YANG: Yes, I do support the impeachment process, but voters don't ask me about impeachment, they ask me about health care and child care and education and climate change. And the fact is, we need 20 Republican senators to have a change of heart or a change of mind in order for impeachment to be successful. So this strikes many Americans like a ballgame where you know what the score is going to be. And until that changes, to me, we need to be focused much more on presenting a new and positive vision that Americans will get excited about. That's how we win in 2020.

KARL: So -- so what's your advice for Democrats? Should they forgo a Senate trial? I mean if this is a ballgame where you already know the final score and they're going to spend -- it could be the better part of a month, maybe longer, on a trial on all these issues that you say voters don't care about, should they just forgo the Senate trial? I mean they've impeached him.

YANG: Well, we -- we've impeached him. And if you're going to have the trial, you should make it happen as quickly and expediently as possible.

I've already said that I think that the other candidates who are in the Senate, Senator Warren and Sanders and Booker and Bennett should feel free to continue their campaigns during the trial because the fact is, we have an election to win later this year and a case to make to the American people.

KARL: And you've suggested that you would be open to pardoning Donald Trump if you were elected. Is that -- is that -- would you? Do you think that there should be a pardon issued for Donald Trump by whoever wins the Democrat -- if a Democratic wins in November?

YANG: My focus is on solving the problems that got Donald Trump elected and moving the country forward. And if you look around the world, unfortunately, it's developing countries that have fallen into a pattern of the new president or the new leader prosecuting and sometimes imprisoning the former leader. That's not a precedent that’s been set here in the U.S., and to me, that's something that I would be interested in maintaining.


YANG: It's not in the country's interest necessarily to look backwards. We need to look forwards.

KARL: So, you would not want to proceed with prosecuting Donald Trump after he left office and you would be open to a pardon? Or you think he should be pardoned?

YANG: Well, we would have to see what the facts were. We’d have to see what the charges were and what the attorney general advises. But my interest is moving the country forward.

KARL: All right. Andrew Yang, thank you for joining us here on “This Week”. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you.

YANG: Happy holidays, Jon.

KARL: The roundtable is up next. We will be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you stand by your earlier statements that you wouldn't comply if you were subpoenaed to testify in an impeachment trial before the Senate?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Correct. And the reason I wouldn't is because it's all designed to deal with Trump doing what he's done his whole life, trying to take the focus off of him.

Well, first of all, I would obey any subpoena that was -- that was sent to me.


KARL: After saying he would refuse to comply if he were subpoenaed to testify in the Senate impeachment trial, Joe Biden has now cleaned up those remarks, reversed himself and said that he would comply.

And now, the powerhouse roundtable is here. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Democratic strategist Stefanie Brown James, ABC News political director and co-host of “Powerhouse Politics” podcast, Rick Klein, and NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis.

Thank you all for joining us.

So, Governor Christie, clearly, Nancy Pelosi has gotten under the president's skin by holding back these articles of impeachment. I mean, he, every single day of this holiday break, has attacked her over this on Twitter.

Why does he -- why is he so eager to have a trial?

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Well, I just think he wants it over with, right? I mean, we all know what the result is going to be. And I think he just sees this as an opportunity to continue to fire up his base and to beat on somebody in Nancy Pelosi who’s made, in my view, a huge political mistake.

And these are the worse political mistakes to make. As somebody who’s involved in this business, I made my share of mistakes overtime. The worse ones are the ones you know are a mistake when you do them and you get talked into it.

Nancy Pelosi's instincts were -- no impeachment unless there's bipartisan support. She got talked into it by the radical elements of her -- of her caucus. And now, she’s got to live with the results which are the president's numbers going up in all key states. He's beating every Democrat now in every swing state.

So, when I think she sees this and what you’re seeing with the tweeting is the president saying he's got a winning hand and he keeps playing it, and that's what he's doing.

KARL: Stefanie, what is -- what is Speaker Pelosi trying to accomplish with this?

STEFANIE BROWN JAMES, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think what you call a mistake is what I call Speaker Pelosi working to make sure that we can defend democracy by saying that we need to hold this president accountable.

And she's waiting to move forward with the -- with the impeachment moving forward because she wants to see how Mitch McConnell is going to play this.

Are we going to have a fair process in the Senate, where we can have impartial senators really look at the facts of this?

CHRISTIE: Like Van Hollen, who just said in this interview -- Van Hollen just said...

KARL: Overwhelming evidence.

CHRISTIE: Overwhelming. I have already seen it, overwhelming evidence. That's impartiality?

BROWN JAMES: But, at the end of the day, Mitch McConnell is the head of the Senate.

CHRISTIE: No, no, no, but wait. But answer that.

BROWN JAMES: And for him to say on FOX News that he will do everything he can to work in lockstep with the White House also is extremely disturbing, as his own Senator Murkowski has said.


CHRISTIE: What is the difference? What is the difference between he and Van Hollen?


BROWN JAMES: He is the leader.


CHRISTIE: Van Hollen has already made his judgment. That is not impartiality.


BROWN JAMES: Listen, I agree with you on that.

CHRISTIE: Right. That's all.

BROWN JAMES: But the difference is, Mitch McConnell is the head of the Senate.

CHRISTIE: Good. I'm done.

BROWN JAMES: And he has a responsibility to take leadership and to have people follow him, knowing that he is going to be having a fair and just process.

CHRISTIE: There's only 100 of them.


KARL: Actually, I want to play a flashback right now from the 1999 Senate trial of Bill Clinton. This is a very interesting moment. I remember it vividly, covering it.

It was the one objection, one and only objection issued by a senator. It was Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, who objected to people referring to him and other senators as a jury. Take a listen.


SEN. TOM HARKIN (D-IA): I do not believe it would be a valid precedent to leave for future generations that we would be looked upon merely as jurors, but something other than being a juror.

And that's why I raise that objection, Mr. Chief Justice.

CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAM REHNQUIST, U.S. SUPREME COURT: The chair is of the view that the senator from Iowa's objection is well-taken, that the court, the Senate is not simply a jury. It is a court in this case.

And, therefore, counsel should refrain from referring to senators as jurors.


KARL: That's Chief Justice Rehnquist actually ordering the House impeachment managers not to refer to the Senate as jurors.

RICK KLEIN, ABC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And I think what's so important about that perception is that, if this is a political process, that is something that is -- that's Donald Trump's comfort zone. That's Republicans comfort zone on this.

And that -- discovering politics in this, that's like gambling in the casino, right? And if that is where things land on this, and that's where the public perception is, this is a political process, Republicans are comfortable there.

Where the disconnect continues to be is that Nancy Pelosi, her team's view is that they have gotten what they have wanted out of this delay or pseudo-delay, because they have -- they have gotten under the president's skin. They have got at least one moderate Republican who has started to have some concerns about this.

And maybe that puts pressure on Mitch McConnell. McConnell's view, though, is the opposite. He says, look, we know where the numbers are. We know that this is a political process. He is comfortable on that ground.

KARL: So, Susan, McConnell is not going to agree ahead of time to have witnesses.


KARL: And I thought -- I thought that Van Hollen was interesting.

I mean, he says, look, we're going to trial. Does that mean Pelosi is going to back down?

DAVIS: Well, there's a precedent here.

I think that they're probably going to land on what happened in the Clinton impeachment, is that they were -- they achieved a first -- very bipartisan 100-0 vote on just the process, the rules of the road ahead, how many hours of witness testimony -- or how many hours of evidence you're going to hear and that kind of thing.

And at the end of that process, they decided to hear from more witnesses. That was a partisan vote.

KARL: Which took 51 votes.

DAVIS: Which took 51 votes. I think they got about 54, but it was more of a party-line vote.

That's more realistically -- the Senate is a chamber of precedents. That is the precedent. That's more than likely the place to follow.

What I think Pelosi is trying to do is give her counterpart in the Senate, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, as much time and leverage as possible to help him cut a deal with Mitch McConnell on that first bite of the apple, to get something like a process that Democrats feel like will give at least a full airing to what the House findings are.

KARL: So, where's it going to go? I mean, we're...

CHRISTIE: McConnell has already said what he's going to do.

And he's going to do exactly what you said. He's going to sees this as -- do it like we did in the Clinton years, which is, let's have all the evidence presented. And then we will have a vote. And if you can get 51 votes for witnesses, then we're going to have witnesses.

He has said that's not what he prefers, but if there's 51 votes for it after all the evidence -- all the evidence is presented, then there's 51 votes for it.

And I think that's where they're going to land. And I don't think Schumer can get a better deal than that.


DAVIS: The big wild card here, though, is, the Senate trial is the first time we're actually going to hear from the White House.

They have -- they did not participate in the House process. They will be on the floor of the Senate. We believe the defense will be led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone, although they could have more counsel there.

How the White House performs here could affect how these senators feel about more witnesses. And if the White House counsel doesn't perform better than, say, Mick Mulvaney did that day at the podium in the White House, where he tried to make things better, and made it a lot worse...

KARL: I remember.

DAVIS: You remember that day?


DAVIS: If that's a performance like that, you might find 51 senators who might want to hear from Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton.

So don't count out how the White House plays this does affect that second agreement on witnesses.

KARL: Well, and, also, I mean, the president has been on a different page here.

He wants witnesses.

CHRISTIE: Pat Cipollone will do a very...

KARL: Yes?

CHRISTIE: Listen, he's one of the -- one of the best lawyers in Washington, D.C. He's very measured and he's very reasonable.

He will come across really well. You're right. The wild card in Washington, as it has been since January 20 of 2017 will be President Trump, and how he conducts himself...

KARL: He says he wants Mulvaney testifying, he wants Pompeo testifying, he wants Biden testifying, he wants...

CHRISTIE: Take a breath, though, Jon. You know what, he also said he was going to testify in front of Bob Mueller.

KARL: I remember that too, yes.

CHRISTIE: The president will say these things to push what the outer limits are going to be and then tack back from there. He's done that dozens of times.

KARL: So, Stefanie, do you think it would be a mistake for Pelosi to back down and to send the articles over if she doesn't have an agreement on witnesses?

BROWN JAMES: She's definitely going to have to move forward in some kind of way, but I agree...

KARL: She has to move forward, no matter what?

BROWN JAMES: I think she will end up moving forward, but I agree she is waiting for her colleague to make what he can do happen in the Senate in working with Mitch McConnell, who again has already said he's going to work in lock step with the White House. So, I think that she's going to continue to press forward, because she's already come this far, and she's not...

KARL: Are there going to be Democratic defections? We saw Democratic defections in the House...

BROWN JAMES: I doubt it.

KARL: Manchin is going to be on board?

BROWN JAMES: I think what we're most likely to see is GOP defections. I think we're going to see Collins comes around, I think definitely we're going to see Romney will be there, so I think that is more what the story is going to be is how the GOP does.

CHRISTIE: Keep an eye on Joe Manchin and Doug Jones.

And let's remember the other politics of this, which no one has really talked about, but I think is a key part of this, one of the other reasons I think she's delaying here is she does not want this trial over before the State of the Union She does not want the president to come in to that chamber being, as he'll call it, the exonerated, acquitted president of the United States to make the State of the Union. She's going to want that cloud still over him for politics and the White House should start talking...

KARL: That would also put it right up against the Iowa caucuses.

CHRISTIE: She doesn't care about the Iowa caucuses, because she's not running.

KARL: So Rick, how is this playing for Democratic candidates. We heard Andrew Yang saying -- I mean, he didn't say no trial, but he basically said let's get this thing over with. He didn't sound like a guy who was looking for a lot of witnesses. He says nobody talks to him about it on the campaign trail.

KLEIN: And he's right. And that's what all the candidates are saying and all the campaigns are saying is that there is this disconnect.

They can't do anything about it, especially the five of them who happen to be senators and are going to have to be there for the trial. They're stuck in this. But it is an enormously frustrating thing for the Democrats running for president that they are dealing with this thing.

They obviously want to replace him. They all want to impeachment him. They all believe that he is unfit for office and should be replaced, but they do not want to be talking about this. And they're not getting a sense from voters that this is going to move the needle, that is not where this game is being played for them. And it's frozen so much of the national conversation at a time where in normal circumstances we would be talking about the Democratic primary.

KARL: So, speaking of frozen needles, I want to put up a couple numbers up for you. This is from FiveThiryEight's average of polls, presidential primary polls. And we have got one from March, you know, the beginning of the year, that showed Biden in first place, Sanders in second, and we have one just from Christmas Day. Look at the numbers for the two front-runners basically haven't changed. We've had how many debates, Rick?

KLEIN: Yeah, five of them so far, six of them so far.

Yeah, everything has happened but nothing has happened in this race.

KARL: I mean, we've seen a lot of movement in the lower half. I mean, we've seen...

KLEIN: People like Andrew Yang and Pete Buttigieg. The dropouts are interesting, but, yeah, to have these frozen, too. And it feeds this sense in the Democratic primary, a lot of strategists are saying, these are the two guys that are probably going to be left standing. And that is a nightmare scenario for a lot of Democrats, to look at these two folks, both of them in their late 70s, who represent different extremes of the party -- it's not like they're going to move toward each other.

KARL: Stefanie?

BROWN JAMES: Yeah, listen, it's going to be exciting time to see what happens in Iowa. I mean, we still have -- yes, they are the two front-runners, but we still have Elizabeth Warren in there. We still need to see what's going to happens with Pete Buttigieg, so I think Iowa and then South Carolina and then Nevada, I think we're going to start seeing some movement come out of those states when we have the primaries.

But, yeah, I agree, I think at the end of the day we're going to see at least these two continue to remain in the top three for the long haul.

KARL: And I'm trying to imagine the Democratic convention -- I'm jumping ahead here, but I'm trying to imagine -- are we going to see arm in arm Warren and Biden, you know, Bernie Sanders and...

KLEIN: Yang.

BROWN JAMES: We have to.

KLEIN: They're all going to come together on this?

BROWN JAMES: We have to. We have no choice but to.

KARL: And Mayor Bloomberg with Elizabeth Warren on the stage.

CHRISTIE: Mayor Bloomberg, never has a guy spent more money to less yield so far than Mike Bloomberg.

BROWN JAMES: He's gone up in Iowa a little bit. He's got 7 percent in Iowa, I mean, from 0.

CHRISTIE: For spending more money than all the rest of the candidates combined, we're going to give him a victory lap for 7 percent. He should get 7 percent just for -- I'm sure he is -- no, you know who are? His consultants, who are making a fortune. They are the happiest people in America.

KARL: And so we talk about the presidential candidates, how is this playing for congressional candidates?

DAVIS: Impeachment?

KARL: Yes.

DAVIS: Honestly, it's a bit of a wash. I think one of the things you talk about, especially when you look at the House vote, is part of reason why they did get there, it wasn't the radical left, it was the moderate centrists.

KARL: That was the key moment.

DAVIS: That pushed the party in that direction.

And to the one they have said, you know, if I lose my seat over this, it will have been worth it. I mean the -- the lack of sort of political fear about that vote was very surprising at the end of the process from where we started. We thought there would be a lot more nervous Democrats.

So, I kind of agree with Rick, is that I'm not sure that impeachment is going to be what 2020 is waged on, either at the top or the bottom of the ballot.

KARL: It's something we forget about, yes.

DAVIS: It seems like -- is what we keep talking about it.

CHRISTIE: Jon, you know what's happening -- you know what's happening in blue New Jersey, OK. Blue -- a very blue state. Jeff Van Drew switches from Democrat to Republican in the majority party to the minority party in the middle of impeachment because of impeachment.

Andy Kim, who won his seat two years ago, is now losing to Katie Gibbs, who is his Republican challenger. And Tom Malinowski is now losing to Tom Kean Junior, the son of the former governor, in that district. You could wind up flipping three seats back in New Jersey two years later in this race. And I think impeachment is a large part of it, at least it is in New Jersey. Even in a blue state where Donald Trump's approval rates are in the high 30s.

KARL: Stephanie.

BROWN JAMES: Yes, I definitely think across the country, though, to your point, people are not talking about impeachment in the way that they think, OK, Donald Trump is going to get removed from office. It's really about what's going to happen in the elections in November. And that's what people are preparing for.

KARL: All right. That --

CHRISTIE: You win three seats in New Jersey -- Republicans win three seats in New Jersey, it's going to be a Republican House.

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

Thank you to our roundtable.

That is all for us today.

Before we go, I want a big thank you to give to everyone who worked so hard behind the scenes to bring you THIS WEEK every week. Have a happy and healthy New Year.