'This Week' Transcript 9-13-20: Jason Miller, Symone Sanders, Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Jeff Merkley

This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, September 13.

ByABC News
September 13, 2020, 9:53 AM

A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, September 13, 2020 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.



JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Why did you lie to the American people...


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Such a terrible question. I didn't lie. What I said is, we have to be calm.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Explicit recordings of the president admitting he downplayed the COVID threat.


TRUMP: I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down...


TRUMP: ... because I don't want to create a panic.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: While this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose.


STEPHANOPOULOS: A new whistle-blower says Trump officials also downplayed Russian interference in the election.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Very disturbing, yet part of a pattern we have seen before.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Overnight, Trump on loaded on Biden at a packed Nevada rally.


TRUMP: I can be really vicious. Sleepy Joe Biden surrendered. You know where he is now? He's in his damn basement.


STEPHANOPOULOS: The fallout this morning with senior advisers to both campaigns, Jason Miller for Trump, Symone Sanders for Biden.

And wildfires ravage the West Coast, in Oregon, half-a-million in evacuation zones, over a million acres burned.


GOV. KATE BROWN (D-OR): Right now, our air quality ranks the worst in the world.


STEPHANOPOULOS: The fires a clarion call for action climate change.


GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA): We have to start thinking they're more climate fires.


STEPHANOPOULOS: We're live from the fire zone with Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley.

Plus, our powerhouse roundtable analyzes all the week's politics.

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

Here now, chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."

Just over seven weeks to Election Day, and the voting has already begun in the battleground state of North Carolina. Georgia and Minnesota start this week in an election that will break new records for early voting and vote by mail.

And with the days ticking by, President Trump still fighting from behind, dealing with the fallout from those explosive Bob Woodward tapes.

Our brand-new poll with Ipsos indicates it's taking a toll on the president; 65 percent of Americans now disapprove of how the president has handled the pandemic; 67 percent think he acted too slowly. Less than one out of three trust what Trump says about the pandemic, compared to 51 percent who trust Joe Biden.

Let's take that straight to the Trump campaign.

Senior adviser Jason Miller joins us this morning.

Jason, welcome back to "This Week."

Those are some pretty harsh judgments about how the president is handling this crisis. How do you turn it around?

JASON MILLER, TRUMP 2020 CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Well, George, good morning, and thank you for having me.

What you didn't mention is that Americans very much trust President Trump to help us recover with the economy. And Americans also believe that President Trump is the one who is best positioned to lead us to a vaccine, something that President Trump, I believe, will deliver this calendar year and a return to normal in 2021.

But, George, one other thing I got to point out that we didn't hear from in the intro, there is a reason why Bernie Sanders and other Democrats are so concerned about Joe Biden and the lack of enthusiasm with his candidacy.

Last night, I was with President Trump in Northern Nevada. And what we saw were thousands of enthusiastic people. And listen to this, George, over 20 percent of the people who were at that event didn't even vote in 2016.

That's why our internal numbers show us actually winning Nevada, feel very well-positioned. It's another blue state we're going to flip this year.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And I'm going to ask him Symone Sanders about that.

But what do you make of the criticism that so many people are showing up at those rallies without masks?

MILLER: We take safety very seriously, George. That's why people are given masks when they come in, if they don't already have them. We do temperature checks. We have plenty of hand sanitizer.

We encourage people very strongly to wear the masks. And this is something that President Trump takes very seriously. And we're -- good to see a lot of folks there taking our direction here.

STEPHANOPOULOS: As we approach 200,000 deaths from the pandemic, the president's new refrain is, we're rounding the corner on the virus.

Here's what Dr. Fauci said about that on Friday:


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with that, because, if you look at the thing that you just mentioned, the statistics, they are disturbing.

We're plateauing at around 40,000 cases a day, and the deaths are around 1,000.


STEPHANOPOULOS: So, is the president still downplaying the severity of the virus?

MILLER: Not at all.

But I think the president is accurately saying that Americans are starting to safely and responsibly reopen all around the country.

People want to get back to work. They want to get back to school. They want life to return to normal, where we see football coming back. Saw the NFL start on Thursday. We saw some college football yesterday and more pro football today.

Americans want to get their lives back. And this is a key differential, George, between President Trump and Joe Biden. Joe Biden, I think, wants everyone to stay locked in their basement forever. President Trump wants to be safe, responsible, get us back open.

This is the key, one of the key contrasts in this race.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What evidence do you have that Vice President Biden wants people to stay locked in their basements forever?

MILLER: Well, very simply, when he was asked if he would shut down the economy in January, he said yes.

He said: If the experts --

STEPHANOPOULOS: He said if the scientists --


MILLER: -- then I will. And that’s exactly what I said, George. Was if (ph) the scientists want me to shut it down. He hasn't said who these scientists are. Even Dr. Fauci hasn't said go and shut it down. That’s not something that we need to do.

What we need is to safely and responsibly move forward and developing this vaccine is absolutely critical. And I think it's very dangerous that Biden and Kamala Harris are both trying to throw out these anti-vaxer type rhetoric, casting doubt over a vaccine when, look, all of the vaccine makers have come out and made it very, very clear, it’s going to be driven by the experts. It’s going to be approved by the experts. And that's why we're moving ahead with Operation Warp Speed that President Trump has put into action.

Eight different vaccines that are currently in the works, we’re going to get America back to normal (ph). We’re going to defeat this virus, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I mean, and everybody hopes that we have the vaccine tomorrow. There’s no question about that, assuming that it’s safe. But Vice President Biden said he would take the vaccine if it were safe, if the experts said it was safe, even if that cost him the election.

MILLER: Well, he needs to share that information with Kamala Harris who was very much throwing out some different rhetoric last week. And that’s why they’ve changed their tune.

But the fact of the matter is that Americans know that President Trump, as a businessman, as someone who cuts through all the bureaucratic nonsense, is pushing this ahead.

Think how remarkable this is for a moment, George. The fact that we’re going to have a vaccine the same year we're getting hit by this global pandemic, this is unheard of. And if it was typically going back to kind of the bureaucrats or the swamp monsters and the status quo we’ve seen from Joe Biden, they’d be going super slowly.

You remember back in the swine flu, the H1N1, that even Biden’s Former Chief of Staff Ron Klain said that it was -- that it was fortuitous, that they didn’t have an absolute pandemic, something even worse break out, said they did everything wrong.

Americans don’t want someone like Joe Biden who did everything wrong the last time they had a chance. That’s not deserving of a promotion.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to move on. I would point out only 17,000 people died during the swine flu. It's up to almost 200,000 now from the coronavirus.

I want to talk about the president’s claims that the election is going to be rigged. Yesterday he sent another tweet encouraging people to vote twice in North Carolina. We’ll put that up on the screen right now.

You know, Twitter said -- put a warning label on that tweet and the North Carolina attorney general responded as well saying, do not do what the president directs. To make sure your ballot counts, sign it and send it in early, then track it online with BallotTrax. Do not vote twice. It’s a felony.

Why is the president telling people to vote twice since it’s a felony?

MILLER: Well, let me go and take that in reverse order, George. First of all, the president is not telling people to vote twice. What he is saying is vote, vote early, whether it be by absentee, whether it be early voting this in person and then make sure that your vote is counted, either call or show up to the registrar, call or show up to the polls, make sure that your vote has been recorded and counted.

But let (ph) me tell you something, George, about what they’re doing to try to --

STEPHANOPOULOS: He says, if not, vote --

MILLER: -- steal this election.


MILLER: The fact of the matter -- hold on, hold on. But -- vote. You vote once, vote early, and you make sure that your vote is counted. That’s what all of us should be able to agree to, George. That every American gets the right to vote and their vote counts.

But let me take this in reverse order and go to Nevada here, where we have this clubhouse governor, this Sisolak character -- who, by the way, if you go against him politically and, again, politically speaking, you’ll find yourself buried in the desert.

They went and pushed through in the middle of the night these sweeping changes to where they’re moving to this unrequested mass vote by mail plus they're keeping polling locations open -- many of them open, so you're going to have instances of double voting. They're allowing ballot harvesting which is about a step above organ harvesting. This is some really bad stuff here.

But then, listen to this, I think most Americans would agree with me that you have to vote by Election Day. You have to. You can't vote after Election Day. That's not how it works. That’s exactly what this Assembly Bill 4 that Governor Sisolak put into place will do

You can -- they will receive and they will count ballots that were sent and received after the election with no postmark, think about the fraud and abuse that could happen there. That’s ridiculous.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Final question, the Biden campaign outraised you by almost $150 million in August. From August 10 to September 7, they outspent you on television by 4:1, that has a lot of Republics (ph), including the RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, quite worried. What do you say to them?

MILLER: Well, you're going to see a big increase in spending from the Trump campaign this week, we're expanding into new battleground states. We’ll have ads up in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Some great new ads they we just approved yesterday that are going to be going out the door.

Look, we were outspent bigly (ph) in 2016 and President Trump whooped on Hillary Clinton, so it was a absolute great victory. It doesn’t matter what the Democrats try to spend this year because we're going to have plenty of money to go and run a successful campaign.

We're actually on track to spend more than 2:1 over what we did in 2016 and we have some great ads coming showing what President Trump has done for the country in (ph) his second term. And this is, again, a key difference between the president and Joe Biden.

Joe Biden I think wants to stay in his basement with a bunch of old ideas and 47 years of doing nothing. President Trump is going to lead us forward.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Jason Miller, thanks very much.

Let's get a response now from the Biden campaign Senior Adviser Symone Sanders, who joins us now.

You just heard Jason Miller. Symone, thank you for joining us. Says Vice President Biden wants to stay in the basement and have everybody else stay there, too.


SYMONE SANDERS, BIDEN CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Thank you for having me this morning, George.

What Jason Miller and Trump campaign are asserting isn't true, George. Vice President Biden was out campaigning this week, as you know. He -- folks saw him not campaigning but reverencing and really taking a solemn moment marking the 9/11 this past Friday.

And Vice President Biden will be out next week. He's going on to Florida. We'll be in Minnesota. We'll have some things that we'll be announcing.

So, the reality is Vice President Biden is actively campaigning, as is Senator Harris. But the difference so, George, we're doing it so safely.

We are letting the science lead us. We are listening to the experts. You know, safety is of the utmost importance to our campaign -- the safety of the voters, the safety of our campaign staff.

And that is why Vice President Biden is modeling good behavior. He's wearing mask. We're social distancing, as you’ll see at our events and press conferences.

That stands in stark opposition to what President Trump is doing, having huge rallies with large groups of people who are packed in together. It's not safe and it’s not modeling good behavior.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Vice President Biden has said the president's response to coronavirus is betrayal that has cost American lives. But what evidence do you have that Vice President Biden was calling for a significantly different response early on? Can you point to public statements in January and February where the vice president called for travel bans, social distancing, wearing masks?

SANDERS: Well, I can give you one better, George. In October, 2019, Vice President Biden warned that we were susceptible and vulnerable to a pandemic.

In January of 2020, he wrote an op-ed that warned and cautioned that Donald Trump should take this seriously.

On March 12th, he put out his plan for a COVID-19 response that spoke of widespread testing, making sure everyone had the proper personal protective equipment that operate -- that call for operationalizing the Defense Protection Act. It was a template plan, frankly.

Later on, about a month or so later, Vice President Biden actually had the opportunity to speak with President Trump about this very issue. In public statements, he urged President Trump to take his advice, please adopt his plan, because Vice President Biden was concerned about what’s most important for the Americans.


SANDERS: On the contrary, though, George, I will just note, you know, those Bob Woodward tapes as you noted earlier were very explosive. While Vice President Biden was doing all this public urging and President Trump was speaking privately to at least we know one reporter saying that he knew the virus was deadly. He knew it was airborne.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Right, but, Symone, that was -- Symone, that was back in February, I asked you about January and February. You pointed out in March, March 12th, that Vice President Biden put out a plan, he did.

But he also put out a tweet that day saying a wall will not stop the coronavirus, banning all travel from Europe or any other part of the world will not stop it.

And I asked you specifically about January and February, I saw the op-ed the president -- the vice president wrote in October, I saw the one he wrote in January. But he didn't explicitly call for travel bans or social distancing or wearing mask.

SANDERS: Look, George, in January and February, Joe Biden was not being briefed by national security experts who warned him how deadly the virus was. In January and February, Joe Biden did not have the knowledge that President Trump did.

But I will tell you that if Joe Biden were president in January or February, he would have taken proper precautions he would have warned the American people. He would have told folks to social distance. He would model good behavior and wearing a mask.

But I will note, in January, as you noted, he wrote that op-ed. And so, the reality here is, Donald Trump had information that could have made a difference not just seven months ago but could have made a difference for us right now, George. I’m thinking about the folks who are sending their children to schools across this country tomorrow not knowing if they're safe. I’m also thinking about the parents who are trying to juggle working from home or setting up child care because their children cannot go to school. And they’re setting up schools in their kitchens and basements.

I’m concerned about the folks who are going to work in grocery stores and person to person services who do not have the proper personal protective equipment, because Donald Trump, the president of the United States, has not moved to ensure that it is so.

So, it is Donald Trump here that has failed the American people.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You heard Jason Miller about the Trump's rally in Nevada last night. There is, there have been some polls showing a pretty close in Nevada right now and the president -- I mean, the former Vice President Biden having relatively weaker numbers with Latinos in Nevada, in Florida. Democrats are concerned about that, as well.

Here’s how the president addressed the Hispanic vote last night in Nevada.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our incredible border agents, they’re incredible people, more than half who happen to be Hispanic Americans. Did you know that?

I know all of them. Jose, how you’re doing? Juan, how you’re doing? Everyone is like, every six times I say, hello, Jim, how are you?


STEPHANOPOULOS: Some of the concerns about the Latino voter have been echoed by Bernie Sanders. And there's a front page story in "The Washington Post" that says the -- Senator Sanders has expressed concerns about the Biden campaign to your campaign. The senator has identified several specific changes he'd like to see, saying Biden should talk more about health care and about his economic plans and should campaign more with figures popular among young liberals, such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Are you going to take that advice?

SANDERS: Well, George, look, we know that we have work to do. And we have said from the beginning, and Vice President Biden has been very clear about this, as has Senator Harris, that we are really working to earn every single vote in this country. And we want to earn the votes of the Latino and Hispanic community.

And so we're doing the work, George. You know, you saw Senator Harris out in Florida just this past week. She also did virtual events in Arizona. Vice President Biden himself will be traveling to Florida next week and we'll be doing virtual events and interviews because we're committed to doing the work. We have made an historic investment in our Latino and Hispanic paid media program, more than any presidential candidate ever. And we started earlier this cycle. On June 19th we started a very heavy paid advertising program that's not just television, George, but it's radio, it's digital, it is meeting voters where they are. And we're going to continue to do that work.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Symone Sanders, thanks very much for your time this morning.

SANDERS: Thank you so much.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Up next, a closer look at the deadly wildfires raging across the West Coast.

We'll be right back.



GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM, D-CALIF.: Heat dome over the entire West Coast of the United States; when you have temperatures, record-breaking temperatures, record droughts, then you've got something else at play. California, folks, is America fast-forward. What we're experiencing right here is coming to community all across the United States of America unless we get our act together on climate change.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Stark warning there from California Governor Gavin Newsom after the worst week of wildfires ever, up and down the Pacific coast, apocalyptic scenes, at least 27 dead, dozens more missing, thousands forced to flee their homes. Portland, Seattle and San Francisco now among the worst cities for air quality anywhere in the world. President Trump is heading to California tomorrow.

And we're joined now by Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley.

Thank you both for joining us this morning.

And, Senator Merkley, let me begin with you. I know you spent the day traveling your state yesterday. What have you learned? Where do things stand right now?

MERKLEY: Yeah, George, it is apocalyptic. I drove 600 miles up and down the state. I never escaped the smoke. We have thousands of people who have lost their homes. I could never have envisioned this. The -- the east winds came over the top of the mountain, proceeded to turn the fires into blowtorches that went down and just incinerated a series of small towns, like Blue River and Phoenix and Talent. Just, you have community after community with fairgrounds full of people, refugees from the fires.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Governor Inslee, how is the situation in Washington state this morning?

INSLEE: The same situation, the skies are a smoke that we have never seen before except two or three years ago. It's apocalyptic. And it is maddening, George. And I'll tell you why. I was -- I was in Malden the other day, a town that was absolutely decimated; 80 percent of the homes were burned down, in southeastern Washington, talking to a woman who -- who moved there to try to have a peaceful existence in a small town. And she just broke down and could not stop crying.

And what struck me is, as I was listening to her, the only moisture in eastern Washington was the tears of people who have lost their homes, and mingling with the ashes. And now we have a blowtorch over our states in the West, which is climate change.

And we know that climate change is making fires start easier, spread faster and intensify. And it is maddening right now that, when we have this cosmic challenge to our communities, with the entire West Coast of the United States on fire, to have a president to deny that these are not just wildfires, these are climate fires.

And if this -- if this is not a signal to the United States, I don't know what it will take. Because, as Governor Newsom suggested, it may not be fires in the Midwest. It's floods in Hamburg, which washed away Hamburg, Iowa. It's -- its the rising seas that are drowning Miami Beach. It's the hurricanes on the East Coast.

We need to act, and we need to act now. And these people whose homes were -- were destroyed, that I've seen, with their tears, in the last few days, they deserve action against climate change.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Senator -- Senator Merkley, the president did address that last night in Nevada. He -- he actually bragged about leaving the Paris Climate Accords, and then went on to say this about the fires.


PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP: I spoke to the folks in Oregon, Washington. They're really having -- they've never had anything like this. But, you know, it is about forest management. Please remember the words, very simple, "forest management." Please remember.


It's about forest management...


... and other things, but forest management.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that contributing to this, Senator Merkley?

MERKLEY: You know, the president has said it's all about raking the forest. It's just a -- a big and devastating lie. We have -- the Cascade snowpacks have gotten smaller. Our forests have gotten drier. Our ocean has gotten warmer and more acidic. And this has been happening steadily over the last several decades.

These are consequences of a warming planet that have huge impacts, huge impacts on rural America, with our forests, with our farming, with our fishing. This should not be blue or red. This should not be rural or urban. This is devastating to everyone.

And we need -- just on COVID, we need to have a president follow the science. We need to have a president now who follows the science on global warming. America not only has to get its own act in order. It has to help lead the world to take this on. This is a planetary-scale tragedy of the commons that we need leadership to end.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the other signs of the times here, Governor Inslee, that we're seeing is that the response to this fire has been complicated by a lot of disinformation out there on social media.

Any way to combat that?

INSLEE: Yes. Vote. Vote. And vote on climate.

Get out there and vote against any politician like Donald Trump who has downplayed climate change, just like he's downplayed COVID. And for Donald Trump to say he's a hero of climate change is like saying he's a hero of masks against COVID.

And this idea that somehow we could have solved this problem by timber thinning is just a bunch of malarkey. I was in Bridgeport, Washington, yesterday, a town that lost about 20 homes. And I looked at where the fire came from. And where it came from was grass and bunchgrass and cheatgrass and sagebrush.

It doesn't have a dang thing to do with thinning timber. It's just a bunch of malarkey.

Now, there are places where it makes sense that we thin our timber. And we are doing that. Of course, the Trump administration doesn't want to help us actually finance that. They just want an excuse.

And, listen, it is way too late to be debating this. This is not a debate. The time for excuses, for denial, for downplaying this, those days are over. The days of consequence are upon us.

And the point I want to make about this event, it's not just happening to us. And it's happening today. Look, most of the scientists thought maybe we had a few more years to deal with this. But it's today.

The orange skies over California is something that we thought Hollywood just would portray in some apocalypse movie. But it's today.

So, we need to act. We need to act now. We are doing it. We're building jobs. We're putting people to work. We got a great candidate, Joe Biden, who understands we can put people to work.

You know, that town I told you that burned down, you can see the wind turbines there that are generating clean electricity and putting people in jobs with good union jobs generating clean energy. That's the future that we need.

But we have got to have action. So, what we can do is vote this year.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, Senator Merkley, there's some -- some signs that the weather could bring some relief in the coming days.

What's your greatest need in Oregon right now?

MERKLEY: Well, we are hearing reports that, as the winds start to move back onshore, we may have gusting starting this afternoon. We're very worried about that. This would move the fires back to the east.

It's -- right now, the winds are calm. We have a little more humidity. That's great. But the weather can change, and we're still -- we have fires still burning across our state. So, we're very concerned about this moment and the days to come.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Gentlemen, thank you both very much. We know it's such a tough situation out there.

Thank you.

INSLEE: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Nate Silver and our roundtable coming up.

We will be right back.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Roundtable is standing by, we’ll be right back.


MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: How do you think Joe Biden has done with the Latinx community?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the Latin vote is, honestly, a bit split. I think they're a bit like me. They're, like, Joe Biden isn't Trump, but he's also, like, you know, we're not super up in arms for him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like these last four years has been really tough, particularly for the Latina (ph) community. We're looking to -- you know, to send the message when it comes to -- in -- in November and we -- we want to make -- make sure that the Latino voices are heard.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS CHIEF ANCHOR: Martha Raddatz hears from Latino voters about the presidential race. Four years ago candidate Trump won 28 percent of that vote and recent polls show President Trump is holding his own with Latinos in the battlegrounds of Florida, Arizona and Nevada.

We asked Nate Silver to analyze what that means for this race.


NATE SILVER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: So there is some data showing Trump performing better with Hispanic voters than he was in 2016. And, in fact, this isn't just a recent phenomenon.

A recent Marist College poll of Florida found Trump ahead with Latino voters there 50 percent to 46 percent. And back in June, an analysis by CNN found Trump getting around 33 percent of the Hispanic vote in national polls. That's an improvement from 23 percent at the end of 2016.

So if we take the polls at face value, there's a story here that sort of makes sense. Trump does well with working class white voters. There are a lot of working class Hispanic-Americans, too. So maybe there's something there.

But let me introduce a couple of important cautions as well.

One, Hispanics are not a monolithic group. Cuban-Americans in Florida tend to be more conservative, for example, than Mexican-Americans in Arizona. Two, measuring Hispanic voting intentions comes with a high margin of error. A typical 800-person national poll might interview around 100 Hispanic voters, for example. That's associated with a margin of error of plus or minus almost 10 points.

And, third, while, of course, polls have underestimated Trump in certain largely white states, they've also sometimes underestimated Democrats in states with lots of Latino voters, like Arizona, Nevada and California.

So it's reasonable to ask whether polls are getting a representative sample of Hispanic voters. Still, I think you should usually trust the polls. So I'm going to buy this one.

Bottom line, this is a reason for Joe Biden to be a little bit concerned.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks to Nate for that.

The roundtable's up next.



JON KARL, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: So you won't downplay it again? You won't downplay it again? Because you said you downplayed it. That's what you told Wolf (ph).

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All I'm doing is -- no, I don't want to jump up and down and start screaming "Death! Death! Because that's not what it's about.



FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH R. BIDEN: You saw what Columbia Medical School pointed out. In March, had he acted one week earlier, there would be over 31,000 more people alive; added two weeks earlier, it would have been 50-some-thousand still alive. This caused people to die.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Bob Woodward has done it again, those explosive tapes dominating this week in the presidential campaign.

Let's talk about it now on our roundtable with Chris Christie, Rahm Emanuel, the CEO of Democracy For America Yvette Simpson and Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel, her latest book "Resistance (At All Costs)."

And, Chris, let me begin with you. This is the second week in a row that the president is dealing with damaging revelations, this one pretty self-inflicted.

Does the president need to take a new approach to the COVID crisis? Is it too late?

CHRISTIE: Listen, George, I think what the president needs to do is spend the next 50 days talking about his vision for the next four years and laying out how that contrasts with Joe Biden's vision for the next four years. And there are significant differences between these two men that the American public needs to consider.

And so I don't think it's just about COVID or any of the other issues that are very important in this race, tax policy, regulatory policy, foreign policy, where there are major differences between these candidates.

I think what the president -- the president wants to win. And, you know, I've been saying since, you know, 80, 90 days ago, you have to make this a choice between Donald Trump's vision for the next four years and Joe Biden's vision for the next four years. And when Donald Trump continues to talk about that, he either forces Joe Biden to address it, where if Joe Biden just continues to talk about COVID, I think the American public...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Chris, let me...


CHRISTIE: ... think he's out of touch. So that's...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me just stop you there, because you also said...

CHRISTIE: ... we need to do it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You also said several -- several months ago that, first, you know, the ticket to admission to making it a choice election is dealing with this crisis. And when you have the revelations like the Woodward book, that gets in the way.

CHRISTIE: Well, I don't think -- listen, I don't think the revelations in the Woodward book gets in the way. I think people have generally have made up with their minds about whether they agree with how the president dealt with the COVID crisis at its early stages or whether they don't. And I don't think that Bob Woodward saying what he said in the book, reporting what the president has said to him, makes a whole lot of difference in that, George.

I think, when you look at it -- I saw a poll this morning where literally 100 percent of the people responded either yes or no to whether they agreed with the way the president handled COVID in the early stages. That means there's nobody left undecided on that question. So that's why I think it's only an element of it.

Yes, you need to say how am I going to do deal with COVID going forward in the second term, but as part of an overall second-term agenda.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Rahm Emanuel, 50-something days left, every day matters in this campaign?

EMANUEL: Without a doubt. You know, what I don't -- picking up on what Chris said, Donald Trump has not adjusted to the fact that, in 2020, this is a re-election campaign. And in a re-election campaign, we have history. You either play or you trade. That's what the voters are deciding. And there's nothing on COVID, race relations, the economy, that says "Let's stay the course."

And I think that's what Donald Trump has not adjusted. You have the kind of Ronald Reagan-Bill Clinton model of morning in America, building a bridge to the 21st Century, or the Bush 43 and President Obama model, which is making this a choice. He's done neither one of those kind of re-elect models. And he is paying the consequence to that.

With 50 days -- and one of the things that shocks me about this election, and I'm really surprised at it because it's different than anything else. You have four major events. I feel like I'm in the middle of the book of Genesis or something like that. It's incredibly volatile. Yet the politics is incredibly stable.

And when you look at the polling on this, Joe Biden is in around 48 percent to 50 percent, Trump 43 percent to 41 percent. And no other event, no matter what happens, really adjusts or changes that dynamic.

And to me, that tells you that the American people, as the governor just said, they've made a decision about Donald Trump and therefore they've made a decision on how they're going to vote in November. And the days are now in the sands running through the clock. He's run out of time to try to -- at this point, he's got very little left to make an adjustment to make this a binary choice, which he hasn't done to date and I don't see anything in the next 50 days, except for the debates, where he'll do that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Kimberly Strassel, it is true that nothing much changes the basic structure of this race?

STRASSEL: Well, I would actually argue that's a little incorrect in that, if you look at -- we've been hearing all summer that, you know, Joe Biden has this in the bag; Joe Biden has this in the bag. In fact, what you're seeing, if you look at the polls, now that people are tuning in after the holiday weekend, is that we've got a race, and it is tightening up in the states that matter, OK?

A lot of focus on places like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and I agree that the president seems to have some problems there, but people forget that he actually won last time around with 304 electoral votes. He can afford to lose a couple of places. What matters is those tightening polls that you now see in Florida and Arizona and North Carolina and Pennsylvania. And that is undeniable, and some of the weaknesses in the Biden campaign that you're going to see the president tried to exploit.

I think there's plenty of time between now and the election for there to be some changes and shifts and for people to really focus on this question of whether -- of this choice that Governor Christie was talking about.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yvette, it does appear that, if there's one -- one sign of weakness for -- a couple signs of weakness for Vice President Biden going forward is, Donald Trump has a slight advantage on the economy.

He does appear -- there does appear to be some concern among seniors that Vice President Biden hasn't come out strongly enough against violence. And you saw that weakness with Latinos in places like Florida, Arizona, and Nevada.

YVETTE SIMPSON, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think you know what Bernie Sanders said earlier this week is true.

You have to not just talk about what Donald Trump is doing wrong. You have to give people what you're going to do. And this is where Vice President Biden has the advantage. He actually, compared to Donald Trump, is better on the issues. Why we're not talking about that more, I don't know.

But, with 50 days left, it's all about turnout. And what we know is that, with what's happening in Wisconsin, what's happened with the post office, robo-calls going out in Pennsylvania, and who knows what Russia is doing right now, we need to make sure people show up. They need to be excited. They need to have a reason to show up.

And we need to make sure this election is not stolen. And so the more Biden can talk about what he's going to do, which are all positive things, compared to Donald Trump, and the more he can inspire people to show up, the better we're going to be to have a great turnout, so that we can win this election, hopefully on November 3 and maybe the days following.

STEPHANOPOULOS: There are some signs, Rahm Emanuel, that those votes are already getting out. We know that early voting started in North Carolina this weekend.

We are going to see record numbers of people voting early this year. By the time you get to the third debate, you might have close to 30, 40 percent of Americans having already voted.

EMANUEL: Exactly.

I mean, one of the two early measures -- and they're not exactly voting -- one is money, and that Joe Biden has really excelled past Donald Trump. And the other is the political head of this story about the early voting in these states.

And there's incredible energy by Democrats, revealing what happened in both 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. And there's going to be an incredible turnout, and the energy exists on the Democratic side in the early voting.

One thing I want to pick up on what Yvette said about the economy -- and I think this is true -- Donald Trump has an advantage on the economy. But it is so much about rearview mirror, looking in the past.

It creates an opportunity for Biden to own prospective, not retrospective, the economy. And that's an opportunity that has to be exploited and hasn't fully been energized by the Biden campaign to make this not about yesterday, what happened, but about tomorrow and what you're going to do.

And Donald Trump's retrospective dialogue gives Joe Biden the future;. And that's an -- that's an opportunity to be exploited and maximized for this campaign.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris Christie, it's pretty clear the Trump campaign is going to be trying to do that. They talk about Vice President Biden saying he wants to shut down the economy. We have been through the fact-check on that.

But, at the same time, you do see some strength in the employment market going forward, some strengthen in the economic growth numbers, the stock market a little shaky right now. But how much of that is going to be hampered by the fact that Congress has not come together with the president on a new aid package for these final weeks of the election?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, first off, when you -- when you talk about why this campaign has remained static, I think that's the Biden strategy.

He's literally doing nothing. The guy has basically been not campaigning. I understand why. It's working for him. But that's why the Trump campaign has to be out there and force this guy out.

The real danger here for the Biden campaign now is, as he continues to do less and less and less, and, as Yvette said, speak less and less and less about issues, it is going to increase the importance of these debates tenfold.

And I got to tell you the truth. If I were a Joe Biden supporter, I wouldn't want to be putting all my money up on the pass line on Joe Biden's debate performances, because, if you look at his debate performances in 2020, they have been average, at best, and some debates much lower than average.

And so I think that what we're really heading towards now is September 29, and that first debate is going to be monumentally important. I'd say there has not been a more important single presidential debate since the Reagan-Carter debate in 1980.

And that is going to be where a lot of people are going to say, again, who can I trust the most to handle the next four years? And if I were a Biden supporter, the fact that he's not out there doing much right now, George, wouldn't make me feel really good about the fact that his performance is going to markedly change.

Not only has the race has been stable, but his debate performances have been pretty stable. And they have been pretty stable at average or below average.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're at odds with the recent Trump campaign spin, which they’ve been talking about how great a debater that Biden has been in the past.

But I do want to take that to Yvette right there, because -- I mean, lot of Democrats are concerned.

CHRISTIE: I’m not from the Trump campaign, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah. That's why I said you're at odds with them, right?

But, Yvette, pick up on the -- pick on how -- how much this debate is going to matter? Is it really make-or-break for Joe Biden?

YVETTE SIMPSON, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think it matters. And I hope that his team is preparing him for what will be kind of a crazy set of circumstances, and not just because of Joe Biden being on the stage, but because Donald Trump is going to be throwing all kinds of stuff at Joe Biden.

I would disagree with Donald Trump. I think that when you put Donald Trump next to Joe Biden, Joe Biden is going to look younger, sharper, smoother than Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is in his own head. He believes he's the greatest president ever, the greatest orator ever to exist on Planet Earth, he is not. But I do think it's really important for him to be prepared for all the lies that Donald Trump is going to throw, all of the craziness you’re going to hear.

He was saying earlier that he thinks that Joe Biden needs to have drug test. Don't take the bait, and stay focus. Talk to the American people.

You were talking quickly about the economy. Where are people right now? Like, the economy isn't just about Wall Street, it's about the fact that people are unemployed. People don’t know whether they’re going to pay rent or their mortgage.

Talk about how the economy is affecting your people and you can win on that issue, too.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Rahm, let me bring in Kim Strassel first and then come back to you, because I want to stay on this debate for a second, because -- Yvette is correct. The president has often talked about how well he did in the last debate. The polls showed last time around that Hillary Clinton won at least with the audiences every single, all three of those debates and that she really slipped at the end in those final two weeks when Donald Trump was out there campaigning.

Is this -- I mean, how do you handicap the debates going into September 29th?


I mean, one of the problems and risks for the Trump campaign is that you don't know how he's going handle this debate. When the president is on message, he actually has the ability to get some good points across. But you know, he also has a habit of ad-libbing. So, this is partly going to be how discipline can his campaign team get him to be in those debates.

But there are risks for Joe Biden here as well. And one of them is, you know, we talk a lot about how quiet he's been in the basement. I think one of the real risks for the Biden campaign that this debate could be one of first times that Americans are learning a lot about Joe Biden's policies and issues. And, you know, in that regard, the fact that he's been given a lot of softball questions up until now probably doesn't serve him well.

Look at just this week, when he came out and he had to talk about NAFTA, his prior support for it, he was asked questions by Jake Tapper about, you know, why it was the Obama/Biden team did not themselves deal with that issue and renegotiate that deal? You know, that's going to be news for a lot of people who are out there, in particular very important voters, these blue collar voters out in a lot of these states.

So, that’s the risk for the Biden campaign is that a lot of information he plans or doesn't plan or his past positions on things come out, and it does shake or change voters' minds.

STEPHANOPOULOS: This will be his highest stage -- his highest profile stage, Rahm.

EMANUEL: Look, I think there's a lesson here, when you look at both candidates for the debate, two points. When you look at the candidates who went to Kenosha, Wisconsin, the reason it politically worked for Joe Biden is compared to Donald Trump, he looked, sounded and acted like a president we want, somebody that would calm a situation down rather than create more chaos. That tells you something about the debate.

And if you go back to Carter/Reagan first debate, Jimmy Carter and his campaign made Ronald Reagan so extreme, so dangerous it was a risk. And when Ronald Reagan showed up, sounded different than everything they’ve been told to date, it actually worked to Reagan's advantage. I think that's going to be true given what the Trump campaign is doing about Joe Biden.

They're talking about person that is going to show up and actually be different from the person from the basement. It will be the presidential leadership. It will be the qualities, not -- it will be also the substance of what he says, but the way he says it and the way he handles it.

And if he talks directly to the American people about where they live their lives, ignores all the jabs and all the barbs from Donald Trump and says, it's not about you, us, it's about you, your family and your family’s wellbeing, if he does that, and talks directly to them and is different than what they say he is up until this point, that answer the big question about Joe Biden, because everybody has a view of Donald Trump. The question now is Biden, who Biden is, and who Donald Trump has been saying he has been.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris Christie, respond to this point. Has the president seemed to be putting too many chips on this whole law and order campaign, scaring people into believing that if Joe Biden gets elected they're going to have mob rule, those are his words, violence coming to the suburbs?

CHRISTIE: I think if the president didn't respond to what's going on and the violence in some of our cities and states that he'd be called out of touch. I mean this is his response to it. His response to it is, I want to restore personal safety to those folks living in those areas who are being ravaged by this violence. And I think that the president's made the right move in talking about personal safety of Americans in every neighborhood where this is going on.

And I, listen, if I were Joe Biden, what I would do is call some of those mayors and governors and say, listen, please do everything you can to stop the violence so that I don't have to talk about this issue anymore. It's not an issue that's great for Joe Biden. It's an issue that plays into the president's strength. And -- and I think he's just responding to -- to what's happening on the ground, George. And if he didn't, then we'd have commentators rightfully saying that he's out of touch and not responding to what's happening right now in America.

EMANUEL: Chris, it was --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yvette, does Chris have good advice for -- for Joe Biden right there? Yvette?

SIMPSON: You know, no. I mean I think people know -- I think that people know, soundly, that Donald Trump's response to what's happened in our streets, to racism in our streets, to racial injustice has been not good, right? Like that he is actually stoking the fire of violence. The fact that what happened in Kenosha with the shooting of protesters was based on his rhetoric. This young man went to Kenosha with his firearm hoping to restore, quote/unquote, law and order because Donald Trump empowered him to do that.

And so what Joe Biden has to remind people is that people are protesting. Most of the protests are peaceful. The violence gets stoked when you've got outside instigators, whether they are law enforcement coming in from the federal government or individuals who feel like they're empowered to restore law and order in a state they don't live in, we have more violence.

And so I think Joe Biden has done the right thing in focusing on the fact that we're trying to have a more just, equal America where black lives matter and that the violence that has come as a result of that has nothing to do with the peaceful protests and only has to do with the -- the flames that Donald Trump is fanning by encouraging people to go out and take law into their own hands to try and restore order in our streets.

CHRISTIE: Sure (ph).

STEPHANOPOULOS: Kimberly, before we go, we have only about a minute left. You're coming to us from Alaska this morning. And Democrats' hope are rising that the two independents there for House and Senate may actually be able to take Republican seats. Realistic?

KIMBERLEY STRASSEL, WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I don't think it's very realistic, honestly, because you're also looking at incumbents. And if you get down on the ground here, we don't have a lot of polling, so it's a little bit harder. But I think you're seeing the same sentiment among a lot of Trump supporters getting ready to come out. I think they're in a lot better shape than -- than some in the Democratic media establishment would suggest.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Kimberley Strassel, thanks very much.

Thanks to all of you very much.

That is all for us today.

Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us.

This Tuesday, I'm going to be anchoring a town hall with President Trump and uncommitted voters for a special edition of "20/20," "The President and the People: A National Conversation." That airs at 9:00 Eastern on Tuesday night.

And I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."