UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, did you refer to African nations as (EXPLETIVE DELETED)?
STEPHANOPOULOS: After a heated confrontation with senators in the Oval Office.
SEN. RICHARD J. DURBIN, D-ILL.: He said these hate-filled things. And he said them repeatedly.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Trump condemned about that vulgar slur about immigration from Africa and Haiti.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, R-MAINE: It's highly unfortunate and really out of bounds.
STEPHANOPOULOS: All this on the weekend we celebrate Martin Luther King.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Dr. King opened the eyes and lifted the conscience of our nation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But trump's racially charged remarks behind closed doors have critics calling him a racist. Supporters scrambling for explanations.
And right now, they have scuttled progress on immigration reform.
And the fallout from that false alarm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not a drill.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Panic in Hawaii after a ballistic missile scare.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News it's THIS WEEK. Here now, chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.
Another immigration meeting. This one behind closed doors in the oval office, where the president repeated that profanity when discussing immigration from Africa and Haiti, stunning remarks that put a lingering question in stark relief: is president trump a racist?
TRUMP: Today, we celebrate Dr. King for standing up for the self-evident truth Americans hold so dear, that no matter what the color of our skin or the place of our birth, we are all created equal by God.
STEPHANOPOULOS: President trump at the White House on Friday, praising Martin Luther King like so many presidents before. Then came the questions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, will you give an apology for the statement yesterday?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, are you a racist? Mr. President, will you respond to these serious questions about your statement, sir?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Questions about the vulgar and racist slur he used when discussing immigration from Africa and Haiti. It happened during an Oval Office meeting with legislators on Thursday. The president was frustrate by a bipartisan plan that would scale back the visa lottery program, but eliminate it.
Multiple sources confirmed to ABC News that the president asked those in the room why they would want people from Haiti, Africa, and other expletive countries coming into the United States?
Instead, he suggested the U.S. should bring the more people from European countries like Norway. The White House didn't deny the president's statement.
The next day, Trump tweeted an ambiguous denial.
And Democrat Richard Durbin said Trump could not have been more clear.
DURBIN: He used these vile and vulgar comments, calling the nations they come from (EXPLETIVE DELETED). The exact word used by the president. Not once, but repeatedly. That was the nature of this conversation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Global reaction has been swift and severe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, but there's no other word one can use but racist.
As he prepared to run for president Trump promoted the birther movement against President Obama.
TRUMP: Of course there's a question. There are many questions about where he was born. Was there a birth certificate? You tell you me. You know some people say that was not his birth certificate, so maybe it was, maybe it wasn't.
STEPHANOPOULOS: As a candidate, his announcement speech a blast against Mexican immigrants.
TRUMP: They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And a Mexican-American judge.
TRUMP: This is a hostility toward me by the judge. Tremendous hostility, beyond belief. I believe he happens to be Spanish, which is fine.
STEPHANOPOULOS: : And as president, those inflammatory comments after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
TRUMP: But you also had people that were very fine people. On both sides.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And with that,let's bring in Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, a leader in the civil rights movement, who marched side by side with Martin Luther King in Selma and Washington more than 50 years ago.
Congressman Lewis, thank you for joining us this morning.
Let me just start off by asking you, how do you square the president's speech about Martin Luther King on Friday with those comments he made behind closed doors on Thursday?
REP. JOHN LEWIS, (D) GEORGIA: George, I don't think there's any way that you can square what the president said with the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and what he said about Dr. King. It's just impossible. There's not any way you can do that. It's unreal. It's unbelievable. It makes me sad. It make me cry.
As a nation and as a people, we have come so far. We have made so much progress. Here in Georgia, when I visit schools whether it's elementary schools, students, middle school students. They're black. They're white. They're Latino. They're Asian-American. They're Native American. And they look like the dream and act like the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We have come so far. We made so much progress. And I think this man, this president, is taking us back to another place.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think president Trump is a racist?
LEWIS: I think he is a racist.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you explain it? And what do we do about it?
LEWIS: We have to stand up. We have to speak up and not try to sweep it under the rug.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And what does that mean? I have heard that many of you in congress this week, Democrats in congress, are going the try to bring forward a motion to censure the president?
LEWIS: Well, I tell you, as a member of the House, when that resolution comes up, I will be one of the people to speak up and speak out. I think we should do it. We must do it. We must educate our children and generations yet unborn.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you will not be in attendance when the president comes to give the state of the union at the end of this month?
LEWIS: In good conscience, I can not and will not sit there and listen at him as he gives the State of the Union Address.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The president is up and tweeting this morning. Of course, this all came up in the context of negotiations on immigration reform and how to protect those Dreamers, those young people under the DACA program now in the United States. And the president is tweeting this morning saying DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don't really want it. They just want to you can and take disparately needed money away from our military.
Are you worried that the young people in the DACA program are going to pay the price for what happened here and that Democrats will be blamed for it?
LEWIS: We must take care of these young people. We must take care of these young people who know America as their country, as their only country they know. It's not fair. It's not right. And it's not just to do otherwise.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But it seems like we're much farther away from a deal right now.
LEWIS: We must not give up or give in. We must continue to press on and get a deal.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you going to demand that this DACA protections be included before you'll approve any extension of government funding?
LEWIS: Well, I, for one, will not vote for government funding until we get a deal on DACA.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So it does increase the chances of a government shutdown this week.
Finally, congressman, this is Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. Of course, we honor his memory tomorrow. What do you believe that Martin Luther King would be preaching this Sunday if he were still alive?
LEWIS: If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were still alive, he would be speaking the idea that we're one people. We're one family. We all live in the same house, not just American house, or the world house, that we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters, if not, we will perish as fools.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Lewis, thanks for your time this morning.
Thank you, congressman.
Want to bring in now Republican Senator David Purdue of Georgia, also of Georgia like Congressman Lewis and Senator, thank you for joining us this morning.
I know that you’re one of President Trump’s closest allies in the Senate. How do you respond to what we just heard from Congressman Lewis, that he believes President Trump is a racist?
SEN. DAVID PERDUE, R-GEORGIA: Well, of course I think that’s ridiculous. I grew up in the south, I fully understand what that means, but the congressman and I just disagree on a couple things.
First, I’m from Georgia, I’ve been in those schools he’s talking about, and he’s exactly right that regardless of race, religion, anything, those schools – those kids are doing great together.
The problem is, is when you get to the Washington politicians, the career politicians, who want to pander to their base, what we have going on here right now is a gross misrepresentation.
This all started with a total misrepresentation of a meeting that happened last Thursday, and people forget that just two days earlier, this president, in an open meeting – we’ve meeting in there for almost an hour, George – debated this with both sides, democrats, republicans, House members, and the Senate.
And what we forget is that 72 percent of Americans wants us to solve this problem, we want to solve the DACA problem, we want to have border security with a wall, we want to end chain migration and end this archaic diversity lottery.
That’s the scope that we all agree to on Tuesday. Then in Thursday we had a meeting, and coming out of that meeting, we heard gross misrepresentation of what happened in that meeting.
But it’s not the first time we’ve had a grossness representation by that individual.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, let’s get into – let’s get into things.
PERDUE: (Inaudible). No, let me finish, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I want to know what the gross misrepresentation was.
PERDUE: In 2013 – the gross misrepresentation was that language was used in there that was not used, and also that the tone of that meeting was not contributory and not constructive.
In 2013, Senator Durbin also made the same accusation against a republican leader in a meeting with President Obama, and said that it was – he chewed out the president, it was so disrespectful to President Obama, we couldn’t even have the meeting.
That’s what he said in 2013. Later that day, the president’s own press secretary came out and said, and I quote, it did not happen. This is about a gross misrepresentation. It’s not the first time.
These people have been trying for 35 years to solve this immigration problem without success, for one reason, and that is I don’t believe they’re serious about trying to solve that right now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You just said that what Senator Durbin said the president – the words the president used were not used. You said that that did not happen. But it’s not just Senator Durbin who said that, I mean Senator Lindsey Graham has put out a statement saying that he counted the president’s words in the moment, and he told his republican colleagues from South Carolina, to Tim Scott, that the reports of that meeting were basically accurate.
Those comments have been confirmed by multiple sources, but you’re saying it didn’t happen?
PERDUE: Multiple sources? There were six of us in the room. I haven’t heard any of those six sources other than Senator Durbin talk about what was said.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Look, Senator Graham told Senator Scott that the reports were basically accurate.
PERDUE: Well that’s – you’ll have to deal with him. Basically is an operative word. The trouble here is that Senator Durbin came and brought a proposal, and let’s put this in perspective.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to get into (inaudible) you’re saying – you’re saying flat out, definitively, the president did not say those words?
PERDUE: I’m saying that this is a gross misrepresentation, it’s not the first time Senator Durbin has done it, and it is not productive to solving the problem that we have at hand.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So what did the president say?
PERDUE: Most people in America, George, want us to solve the DACA situation. Republicans and democrats want to solve the DACA situation, but we also want to make sure that we’re not back here in five years doing the same thing again.
What we have to do is secure our borders, George. This is a serious issue. It’s not just immigration, it’s a national security issue. The president wants a wall, and we’re not talking about 2,000 miles here.
We’re talking about 600 miles or so, we’re not talking about anything that’s unreasonable or that the democrats have already voted for in the past. The second this is we got – or third thing, we’ve got to end chain migration.
And this is where 72 percent of our population agrees, we need to limit it to the worker, the spouse, and the immediate family. 72 percent, George, almost 60 percent believe that we should move to a merit based immigration system, similar to what the commission did when you were in the White House in the 90’s.
President Clinton received a report from Barbara Jordan and a presidential commission on immigration that said they wanted to end chain migration and move more toward an immigration system based on merit and who people were, not where they were from, which is what our system is, one that’s more like Canada and Australia.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The supporters in this bipartisan deal say they do limit chain migration, and that there is some border wall funding in there as well, about $1.6 billion. I want to get more on that.
But just to be clear, I’m – I’m – I’m not clear on exactly what you’re saying happened in this meeting. You say it was a gross misrepresentation. Senator Durbin has been very clear, Senator Graham has told others that the reports were basically accurate.
Are you saying the president did not use the word that has been so widely reported?
PERDUE: I’m telling you he did not use that word, George, and I’m telling you it’s a gross misrepresentation. How many times you want me to say that? What is happening here is the same thing that happened in 2013 where you had a press secretary of your president who said it didn’t happen.
What did happen in that meeting was a very constructive conversation about how to move forward. We were listening to a proposal that the democrats are bringing forward. It’s not a serious proposal, but 1.8 billion has already been basically approved.
It’s in the current budget. What we want to do is get serious about a compromise. Look, this deal has got to find symmetry, and so far, the potential is there. We can solve the DACA – we may even be able to solve some of the Dreamer numbers that Senator Durbin wants to talk about.
But we have to talk about ending chain migration and securing our borders, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’re sounding –
PERDUE: It’s no more complicated than that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’re sounding -- you’re sounding more optimistic than the president this morning. He just put out that tweet saying DACA is probably dead.
PERDUE: Well, unless the Democrats get serious about negotiating, then (ph) -- what we have to do is find common ground, but both parties and Americans want this. Both parties want to solve the DACA issue. And again, I keep coming back to these statistics. 80 percent of Americans want the DACA situation fixed, but almost 75 percent want the -- the chain immigration system fixed once and for all so we’re not back here in five years with the same problem.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you’re saying you’re only -- you’re going to see a deal if we have DACA in the context of overall immigration reform? You’re against that more limited deal, DACA for border security in order to keep the government open?
PERDUE: It’s not a symmetric deal. I’ve done big deals before, George and big deals like this have to be symmetric. What we’ve done, though -- and this is serious, we have limited the debate from the comprehensive debate that’s failed three times in the past 11 years, George, to now we’re dealing just with the legal immigration system. 1.1 million legal immigrants come into our country every year, up from 300,000 just 40 years ago.
And what we’re doing is focusing on four things. The president has been consistent all along, I’ve been consistent, Senator Cotton has been consistent that any deal on DACA has got to include border security, including a wall, and the end of chain migration. That’s been consistent for the past year.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Perdue, thanks for your time this morning.
PERDUE: Thanks, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we are joined now by Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. Senator Flake, thank you for joining us this morning. I know you weren’t in that meeting on Thursday, but you are behind this bipartisan deal that was presented by Senators Durbin and Graham on Thursday. You just heard the objections of Senator Perdue. Your response?
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R) ARIZONA: Well, this is a bipartisan deal. It’s not the Democrats bringing this forward. There are three Democrats, three Republicans and we’re working now to add more Republicans to that list and we will have more this coming week. This is a bipartisan that -- where both sides have compromised. There was a change to what the DREAM Act was, this is different from that.
And I can say that we’ve got to get 60 votes. We’re not under rules of reconciliation where one party can just impose it’s will, it has to be both parties and therefore, this is a bipartisan solution. I believe there is a deal to be had.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you weren’t in the meeting on Thursday but I believe you’ve spoken with those who were in the meeting. You just heard Senator Perdue right there saying the president didn’t use those comments that were -- didn’t use those words that were widely attributed to him. Do you believe that?
FLAKE: Well, all I can say is I was in a meeting directly afterwards where those who had presented the president our proposal spoke about the meeting. And they -- they said those words were used before those words went public. So that’s all I can tell you is I -- I heard that account before the account even went public.
STEPHANOPOULOS: In the moment, on that same afternoon, Thursday afternoon. President is -- is, as I said, is tweeting this morning. He put out another tweet on immigration this morning that I want to read to you. I as president want people coming into our country who are going to help us become strong and great again, people coming in through a system based on merit. No more lotteries, America first. Your response?
FLAKE: Well, in this compromise, we do get rid of the visa lottery program. But we allocate those visas to a couple of different programs, like TPS or temporary protected status. And that’s -- the discussion of that program and as well as another is what gave rise to the language that was used. But I -- I think there is broad agreement to get rid of the visa lottery.
There’s also agreement between us, the Republicans and the Democrats, that we do get rid of chain migration as it relates to the covered population. Those who benefit from this DACA bill will not be able to use chain migration to become citizens. We just don’t do it for everybody, like the president wants to -- to do. If we want a comprehensive bill, I’m all in. But we can’t do a comprehensive bill, which will take months and months to negotiate, before the -- the March 5 deadline.
And one thing I do take big issue with the president on is he is saying that the Democrats aren’t moving forward in good faith. I can tell you I’ve bee negotiating and working with the Democrats on immigration for 17 years and on this issue, on DACA or on the DREAM Act for a number of years and the Democrats are negotiating in good faith. We are trying to come forward with a compromise and I think we have and you’ll see that this week.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are we farther away from a deal than we were on Thursday morning?
FLAKE: You know, I’m not sure. I think that when we get back into town, people will realize there’s only deal in town, there’s only one bipartisan bill and we need 60 votes and that bill will be presented with even more Republicans and Democrats than we have right now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve also said you’re going to be giving a series of speeches on President Trump and his relationship with the truth and his relationship with the press, including one that I believe is coming this week. We’ve gotten some excerpts of what you’re planning to say, taking on the president’s comments about calling the press the enemy of the people. And I just want to read a portion of what we’ve had.
It’s a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase enemy of the people that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade it’s use. And of course, the president has it precisely backward. Despotism is the enemy of the people, the free press is the despot’s enemy.
What are you trying to do with these speeches?
FLAKE: Well, I -- what I’m trying to say is, you know, you -- you can talk about crowd size and this is pretty innocuous if there’s a falsehood. But when you reflexively refer to the press as the enemy of the people or fake news, that has real damage. It has real damage to our standing in the world. And I noted how -- how bad it is for a president to -- to take what was popularized by Joseph Stalin, the enemy of the people, to refer to the press.
And then now, today, you have authoritarians across the world using the term fake news to justify cracking down on their opposition or -- or staunch legitimate debate. That’s nothing we should be proud of. And so I’m going to talk about how damaging that is. It’ll be I think on the same day, probably, Wednesday, that the president is giving out some fake news awards. And I -- I just want -- want the president to know that this has real consequences.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And just to be clear, you don’t believe the president is telling the truth that denied he used the words in that Oval Office meeting on Thursday?
FLAKE: All I can say is what I heard directly following the meeting by those who were in the meeting.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Flake, thanks for your time this morning.
FLAKE: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: When we come back, those terrifying moments in Hawaii yesterday when people scrambled to take cover after a false alarm about an incoming missile. Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard joins us next.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That was the scene of panic in Hawaii yesterday after the state emergency system sent out this alert to mobile phones statewide. "Ballistic missile threat inboundto Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill."
But that was a false alarm. Someone pushed the the wrong button. There was no missile threat. It took a full 38 minutes for the state to issue a civil emergency message retracting the false alert.
Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard joins us now. And congresswoman, thankyou for joining us this morning.
As I just said, 38 minutes for the state to retract that false alarm. It only took you 12. You actually issued this tweet, I want to put it up on the board right there, "Hawaii, this is a false alarm. There is no incoming missile to Hawaii. I have confirmed with officials, there is no incoming missile."
How did you get the truth. Walk us through what happened?
REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Well you can only imagine, George, the panic, the terror, the -- the chaos and confusion that ensued when over a million people in Hawaii, plus many visitors who were visiting Hawaii, got that alert on their cell phones now understanding that they literally just have minutes. Taking this threat seriously, they’ve got minutes to say goodbye to their loved ones, to find their loved ones, to try to find some kind of shelter somewhere, which there are no designated nuclear bomb shelters in Hawaii.
I went through that same thing when I got that message on my phone, wondering where my family is, what they were doing. I immediately called Hawaii officials at civil defense, asked them what’s going on here and was told right away that there’s no incoming missile threat. Someone pushed the wrong button. It was an inadvertent mistake.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But why did it take so long for them to retract it?
GABBARD: Well that’s what we’re still trying to get to the bottom of. It’s absolutely unacceptable and it’s an epic failure of leadership. Yes, it was -- it was unacceptable that this went out in the first place, but the fact that it took so long for them to put out that second message, to calm people, to allay their fears that this was a mistake, a false alarm is something that has to be fixed, corrected with people held accountable.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you confident this won’t happen again?
GABBARD: We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t. Because there is so much at stake. You know, I got messages from people all across Hawaii throughout the day yesterday, just detailing what they went through. You know, a father sent me a message saying that his two children were in two different locations and he had to sit there and think which of his children his was going to choose to spend the last minutes of his life with.
There were so many people who went through this stark reality that -- that I hope the rest of the country, that I hope people in Washington, leaders in Washington pay attention to, that this threat of nuclear war, nuclear attack is not a game. This is real and this is what the people of Hawaii just went through yesterday morning.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, and that leads to the question now, what should be done about it. Do you believe that President Trump should be speaking directly to the leader of North Korea?
GABBARD: Absolutely and immediately. This is something that I’ve been calling for for a long time. I’ve been talking about the seriousness of this threat posed to the people of Hawaii and this country, coming from North Korea. The people of Hawaii are paying the price now for decades of failed leadership in this country, of failure to directly negotiate, to prevent us from getting to this point where we’re dealing with this threat today, setting unrealistic preconditions.
And I’ve been calling for President Trump to sit across the table from Kim Jong-un without preconditions, work out the differences, figure out a way to build this pathway towards denuclearization. Because there is so much at stake. The people of Hawaii recognized this yesterday, experienced it personally. So the leaders of this country need to experience that same visceral understanding of how lives are at stake.
STEPHANOPOULOS: North Korea Kim Jong-un says he’s not going to give up his nuclear arsenal. Perhaps they could lead to (ph) talks of some kind of a freeze. But given that, do you think that we need to bolster the defenses of Hawaii?
GABBARD: We absolutely need to bolster our -- our ballistic missile defense system specifically for Hawaii and for this country. That’s something on the Armed Services Committee that I have been and continue to work on doing. But I think it’s also important, as we talk about how important it is that Trump directly negotiates with North Korea, we’ve got to understand why Kim Jong-un is saying he’s not going to give up his nuclear weapons.
Our country's history of regime change wars has led countries like North Korea to develop and hold onto these nuclear weapons, because they see it as their only deterrent against regime change. And this is what's important for President Trump to recognize. It is critical that we end our policies of regime change wars to provide that credible guarantee that the United States is not going to go in and topple the North Korean regime, so that these conversations can begin toward denuclearization.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Just to be clear, you're saying that Kim Jong-un's nuclear arsenal is our fault?
GABBARD: What I'm saying is that Democrat and Republican administrations for decades, going back over 20 years, failed to recognize the seriousness of this threat, failed to remove it. And we know that North Korea has these nuclear weapons because they see how the United States, in Libya for example, guaranteed Gaddafi, we're not going to go after you; you should get rid of your nuclear weapons. He did, then we went and led an attack that toppled Gaddafi, launching Libya into chaos that we are still seeing the results of today.
North Korea sees what we did in Iraq, with Saddam Hussein, with those false reports of weapons of mass destruction. And now seeing in Iran how President Trump is decertifying a nuclear deal that prevented Iran from developing their nuclear weapons, threatening the very existence and the agreement that was made.
So yes, we've got to understand North Korea is holding on to these nuclear weapons because they think it is their only protection from the United States coming in and doing to them what the United States has done to so many countries throughout history.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Was it a mistake for the United States to take out Gaddafi and Hussein?
GABBARD: It was, absolutely.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Tulsi Gabbard, thanks for the time this morning.
GABBARD: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The roundtable's standing by with the latest reporting and analysis on a tumultuous week for President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the biggest challenges we have to our Democracy is the degree to which we don't share a common baseline of facts. What the Russians exploited, but it was already here, is we are operating in completely different information universes. At a certain point, you just live in a bubble, and that's part of why our politics is so polarized right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: President Obama back in front of the cameras with David Letterman this week.
With that, let's go to our roundtable. We've got our ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl here, our senior congressional correspondent Mary Bruce, the editor of the National Review Rich Lowry, Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundation, is a former U.S. ambassador to South Africa, was political director for President Obama, and our senior White House correspondent Cecilia Vega.
The president, former president there, warning about a common baseline of facts, proven again this morning. We just saw Senator David Perdue say now that the president did not use those comments, despite all of the reporting to the contrary.
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And that's the first point plank denial, and it so comes so long after this...
STEPHANOPOULOS: He (ph) said he didn't remember.
KARL: George, as soon as this -- as soon as this story broke, we were speaking to people at the White House. There was no denial whatsoever. The White House put out a public statement, making absolutely no denial. We spoke to people -- to the members of Congress that were in the room. No denial.
Perdue finally put out something saying he didn't recall it, and now something -- look, the bottom line is, the fundamental thing that he was saying was we want to have more immigrants from countries like Norway, fewer from countries like those in Africa and Haiti. Nobody has disputed that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mary Bruce, you were on Capitol Hill that afternoon. It shot across the Capitol.
BRUCE: Remember that lawmakers, a bipartisan group of lawmakers went to the White House thinking they had a deal here that met the parameters outlined by the president himself earlier in the week. They get into the room. They're essentially ambushed, we were told, by these hardline anti-immigration Republican members of congress, and it all blows up
And, look, they really thought that they had something here. And it puts Republicans now in this incredibly tricky position, once again by their own president. And while you have many Republicans coming out condemning the president's statements, where is leadership on this? You have heard nothing from Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, not a peep from many Republican leaders. Paul Ryan has come out and described the comments as unfortunate and unhelpful.
I think for a lot of people, that's what they would describe a parking ticket, not exactly a strong condemnation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we're talking about the underlying substance here in a second. But, first, these -- the dispute over the president's comments. It's pretty clear he said what's been reported. By denying it, he puts his supporters in the most difficult position.
LOWRY: He used a different -- my understanding from the meeting, he used a different, but very closely related vulgarity. He said s-house, and not s-hole. That's not going to make a difference to anyone. But the general remarks -- yes -- I'd like to have a transcript, because everyone is putting so much weight on this to see exactly what was said in what ways, but the general tenor of the discussion has been reported accurately.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And you have seen, Patrick, the reaction all over the world.
GASPARD: The conservative, David Frome, wrote recently that what we have to fear most in the Trump presidency is not an open defiance of laws, but an accumulating subversion of norms. And that's what we have here. And that's why you're seeing such a reaction, not only in the U.S. but straight across the globe from the African Union, from the European Union, from the United Nations.
And Mary is right that there needs to be the voice of leadership, like Mitch McConnell. George, when I was 19 years old in 1986,I applauded Mitch McConnell, because he was 1 of 31 Republican Senators who voted against Ronald Reagan's veto of the apartheid sanctions. It was a moment when he stood up and he said, my president is wrong and we have to assert our moral leadership in the world.
I'm looking for Mitch McConnell in this moment to do the same thing.
VEGA: Well, you know, what I was struck by this week in talking to people inside the White House is how unphased the people around the president were by this remark.
There is no question among any of us who have been reporting this story that he said that in that meeting. And in some ways, the conversations that we've been having is that aides feel like this will be a boom for his base, that this will -- this will help him in some ways -- when the media are in hysterics that it will whip us into a frenzy. And they see this as a good thing.
Here is the problem, while -- this has been a dog whistle for bigots, for David Duke, for Richard Spencer, for the Daily Stormer, that Neo-Nazi site. They're all applauding this right now. And the problem is, this is starting to look like a pattern for this presidency. And it is starting to define this presidency for many people of color in this country who feel like these words make them not belong in this country.
STEPHANOPOUOS: And that's why I wonder how truthful the White House aides are being when they say this is all a great thing.
Jon Karl, I just cannot believe they really believe it's a good thing to have people like Congressman John Lewis on television this morning saying the president is a racist.
KARL: No. And allies of this president who want to see this president succeed truly do not think it is a good thing, because if you go and you go to a Trump rally and you see those people out there who are supporting him, by and large they do not want to be seen a racist, and most of them are not racists. There are racists among them. Most of them are no racist. They do not want to be portrayed as racist. They don't want to be seen that way. And something like this, you know, puts them in a very bad light.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is this strategy for President Trump?
LOWRY: No, this was not strategy.
Look, I don't think the president should speak this way. If it leaks out, it's obviously going to be gratuitously insulting to a lot of people. But if we're being honest, there are a lot of countries in the world that to use a more polite term, are basket cases. And this discussion was in the context of the visa lottery program, a terrible part of our immigration system, that randomly sprinkles visas all around the world, to people who have no connection to the country, no necessarily skills that are going to help here. And the president was objecting to that, because the proposal...
GASPARD: That's actually not what the...
LOWRY: Last point. The proposal is not to end it entirely, but to sprinkle it among other random countries.
LOWRY: And his point, and what he wants to do, and his allies on immigration want todo, is move to a more deliberate immigration system that emphasizes merit and skill.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He did say he wants more Europeans from places like Norway as well.
GASPARD: He was specific about Norway. And let's be really clear and let's be honest about what the president was debating. They were removing the quota from the visa lottery system towards those who currently have temporary protective status in the United States.
There are 60,000 Haitians who have been here post-earthquake. And the American people have been incredibly generous and have partnered in way that is in keeping with our tradition with the government of Haiti to maintain temporary protective status for the 60,000.
And the president, as we understand it from Senator Lindsey Graham and from Dick Durbin, made very it clear, that we should get those people out. Those 60,000 Haitians.
And I have to say, Rich, we really shouldn't be doubling down on this whole some countries are in worse case -- places than others and basket cases. We are this a country that is made up almost entirely of people who have come and fled from places where they were being persecuted, wehre they were being oppressed.
LOWRY: Even you have to say some countries are in worse condition than others?
GASPARD: Actually, Rich, I'm Haitian-American. And I had the great honor of representing our country in sub-Saharan Africa, so I understand that there are grades of difference in economic outcome and sustainability in lots of different places. However, I also know my history. And we can't have this conversation in an ahistorical way.
George, you have roots in Greece. We know that between 1890 and 1920, about 400,000 Greeks came to this country because at the time, they were fleeing civil war, they were feeling economic degradation, and at the time, Greece was seen as a place maybe not on the same scale or level as Norway.
That does not mean that the American people didn't embrace the Greeks who became Greek-Americans and enable them to sit at the table of democracy and make a meaningful contribution.
KARL: Or the Vietnamese that came to this country at the end of the Vietnam War. These are some of the most patriotic Americans.
And by the way, far long time, some of the most Republican Americans.
KARL: And the problem is, it's one thing to talk about merit and say we want to let in the best and the brightest, but it's another thing to define the best and brightest by where they are from, which is what the president...
LOWRY: No, no, no. We have an immigration system now that emphasizes countries and allocates quotas based on what countries you're from. We should move to a system that instead is based largely, not entirely, on merit, because we want to have refugees. We always want to have family reunification, but that's paced on skills and education. Because this is not the early 20th Century anymore we can just come in any random factory.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to bring this to Mary, though, because it does appear that both sides were working towards a compromise on all of these issues. Now that's hit a wall.
BRUCE: Exactly. This outlines why this is such a difficult debate to have and why there was such optimism earlier in the week that they thought they were finally making some headway on this. That has now all been completely upended because of the president's comments and now raised the risk of a government shutdown.
Look, Democrats have long wanted to tie any action on this to this must-pass spending bill that they have to get done on Friday. And Democrats now feel they have the upper hand to say the very least. Sources say they feel (inaudible) if they reach a shutdown, Democrats are confident they can have the president own the fallout.
VEGA: And privately, they feel like if a shut down does happen, it's going to be President Trump and the Republicans who will take all of the blame.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Which has flipped since Thursday.
VEGA; Exactly. They were fearful that this would look like this is their fault. But they -- you know, I don't think anyone would publicly say no one would publicly or even privately say these comments were a good thing. But certainly, they will end up working to the Democrats' benefit if the shutdown happens.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm struck by the contrast with the president. I mean, to be fair to him, that Tuesday meeting really was something.
KARL: Yes, I was in the room.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You were in the room for it.
Following that, you have those contradictory tweets on the NSA legislation, the FISA legislation, which almost hurt them -- which really complicated the chances of passing it in the house. You have this the tweet about closing the embassy in Great Britain, which is contradicted by his own embassy. Now he's in this fight with The Wall Street Journal. You still have this issue of getting him under control, getting those tweets under control.
KARL: And I'll tell you, I've seen this as a pattern for the first year of the Trump presidency. Every time he has had a moment where he has won praise, including praise from Democrats, the first message to the joint sessions of congress. When he had his dinner with Chuck and Nancy and he struck the agreement on the debt ceiling, and now now, he gets -- he gets this moment, and then a day or two later, he goes in completely the other direction, and all the goodwill is lost.
But I'll tell you now, George, what I am hearing from Republicans in congress is a distinct move towards pessimism. Republicans in the House now believe they are going lose control of the House in the midterm elections. It's not matter of whether...
STEPHANOPOULOS: You see more and more retirements.
KARL: You see more and more retirements. And they say, I hear from top Republican operatives working very hard for the Republican cause in these midterms saying it's now a question of how big a loss it is. Do they lose 25 seats and the Democrats narrowly win the House, or is it a huge wave, 35-plus seats? But they believe that they are going to lose the House.
BRUCE: And the fact that you now have, I think we're up to 33 Republican lawmakers who are have announced they're not seeking re-election. That certainly doesn't bode well as they're heading into this what was already expected to be a difficult election year.
But to Jon's point, when the president sends mixed messages. You know, one tweet saying this, he says another thing in the Cabinet room, it leaves Republicans, his own part, scrambling to decipher where the presidents stands. It makes it much for them to negotiate. It gives them very little cover as they head into these negotiations. I mean, so many Republicans and Republican sources that I've talked to in the last two days just don't necessarily know what direction to head in, and that's a big problem.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you picking up the same pessimism about the midterms?
LOWRY: Yes. And, look, I think most of these controversies are really overplayed. I think the reaction to this one has been hysterical. They're never as catastrophic as portrayed. They don't shake his base so much.
But it's not really -- the midterms, it's not the base that matters. The base is always important, but the constituency that he's continually just going down, every one of these things takes him another step down, is Republican women in the suburbs, and they are swinging the other way. And if Republicans lose the House, that will be an enormous factor.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You lived through a tough midterm in the Obama White House.
GASPARD: I did. Early on we knew that we weren't facing not just a waive, but likely a tsunami, or what President Obama eventually called "a shellacking." You can see the writing on the wall. It's not just the state-wide election in Virginia, the state-wide election in Alabama. But a number of state Senate districts in -- that were traditionally red, that have swung decisively toward Democrats. So it does feel as if there is significant slippage, and Democrats are likely to take the House. And even the Senate beings to be in question and in play.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And overhanging it all still, the Russian investigation, special counsel Robert Mueller. We also got a new answer this week from the president on whether or not he'll be willing to sit down with Mueller and testify.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of those events?
TRUMP: 100 percent.
KARL: So if Robert Mueller wanted to speak with you about that you'd be...
TRUMP: I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, FOX NEWS: Are you open to meeting with him?
TRUMP: When they have no collusion, and nobody has found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you'd even have an interview.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Cecilia, we'll have Jon weigh in on this as well since he asked that first question a year ago. But I was struck by president when he took those questions did not commit to an interview. Obviously I think repeated the word "collusion" something like eight times in 90 seconds.
VEGA: We talked about this on air. He also used the phrase "Hillary Clinton" quite a few times in that (inaudible) press conference.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody was talking about Hillary.
VEGA: Nobody was talking about Hillary Clinton in (inaudible).
I mean, Jon asked the question I think it was over the summer, and there was a very clear answer. And now we're back to, will he or won't he? And I don't know that they know despite the fact that it appears his legal team is very much gearing up for the president to sit down with Robert Mueller's team? Robert Mueller's team very much wants to sit down with President Trump, and they've got a long list of questions for him. But he says right now, there's no collusion.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think Trump wants a sit-down, or doesn't?
KARL: I think he wants to. I think that he -- I think he has been eager to get his story out. I think his lawyers are very nervous about what happens in an interview, which is why they want to narrowly define the parameters of that interview.
But it's also going to be hard not to do it. There's ample precedent -- Reagan, Bush.
STEPHANOPOULOS: George W. Bush, President Clinton obviously.
KARL: President Clinton obviously. It's very hard to make the case that he can't talk to the special counsel.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Would you recommend that he do it?
LOWRY: If he's innocent. And I kind of think he is, OK. I'll go with the evidence wherever it takes us. Even if he wants to tell the truth, he's so prone to exaggeration, to boastfulness, to messing up the fact that this is a disaster waiting to happen. I think they should resist it with every fiber of their being.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So resist it with every fiber, but then that raises the possibility that he's (inaudible) get subpoenaed before a grand jury.
LOWRY: It would be a big fight.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It would be a big fight.
Other possible big fight, Oprah 2020.
After last week's speech at the Golden Globes, President Trump was asked about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: Can you beat Oprah, by the way?
TRUMP: Yes, I'll beat Oprah. Oprah would be a lot of fun. No, I like Oprah. I don't think she's going to run.
KARL: But you can beat her?
TRUMP: I don't think she's going to run.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He did (ph) seem happy with the question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was reality TV.
KARL: That was in that Cabinet room meeting after all that 55 minutes or whatever, and they were throwing us out.
I was like, one more question, one more question.
He was eager.
But, look, republicans are taking her very seriously. Very seriously, the possibility of an Oprah run. Who knows if she'll actually run.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You're rolling your eyes.
GASPARD: I'm rolling my eyes for two reasons. One, we're so far away from 2020, two, I hope and expect that this time around the Democrats are not going to have an early champion that's crowned, but will have a wide-open primary, where every constituent in the party feels as if their issues were litigated.
And lastly, I think Oprah had a very important message that she was trying to deliver about state of gender discrimination in her industry and in this country right now, and young women are leaning into that issue in ways that should inspire all of us, and we should focus on that part of her message, and not on what she didn't say.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Rich, I noticed that you and (inaudible) are taking the issue seriously.
LOWRY: I think she'd be formidable if she ran. I kind of think she won't, and for a couple of reasons that make her different than Trump.
Trump conceived of his run as a win-win proposition. He'd get more famous. His brand would be bigger. Oprah's brand can't get any bigger.
And also Trump, although he cares a lot about the press he has a hide like a rhinoceros, right; he likes the criticism at a certain level. No one has ever criticized Oprah. This would be a major change for her.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It was striking how quickly Democrats flocked to the idea.
VEGA: You know, there are people on the in the Clinton campaign who are very much like, oh, I'm intrigued by this, a little bit excited, giddy if you will. And the White House certainly pushed back hard. There were the couple political hits in the briefing room when I pushed Sarah Sanders and asked her if she had any advice for a political outsider like Oprah, but I would just say as a campaign reporter I'd love to be on Oprah's private jet, see what her favorite things snuggy (ph) is under the chair (inaudible).
STEPHANOPOULOS: It's not serious until she gets a disparaging nickname from the president.
STEPHANOPOULOS: A great discussion. Thank you all very much. We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally this week, in that now infamous Oval Office meeting with President Trump, Senator Lindsey Graham countered Trump's slur with a simple truth: America is an idea, not a race, a truth exemplified by Martin Luther King, who we honor this weekend.
And quiet heroes like the young soldier home leave two weeks ago when a fire broke out in the New York apartment building where he was staying among a family with four young children. He got that family to safety. Then rushed back to the flames three more times, saving four more lives. When he went to bring a fifth person out, said his uncle, the fire caught up with him.
That soldier's name is Emmanuel Mensah. He came to the United States five years ago from the West African nation of Ghana. He was drawn by the idea of America, driven to protect it. And he died saving the lives of his fellow Americans. This week, the Army honored Mensah with a Soldier's Medal, its highest award for valor outside of combat.
Private Emmanuel Mensah, African immigrant, American hero, we honor his memory this week. May the commander-in-chief he served remember his story.