A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, February 16, 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.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS ‘THIS WEEK’ CO-ANCHOR: Path to victory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's on to Nevada. It's on to South Carolina.
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RADDATZ: After a surprise finish in New Hampshire...
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SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have beaten the odds.
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RADDATZ: ... candidates jockeying for the lead.
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SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have heard from two states.
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So much depends on what happens next.
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RADDATZ: Michael Bloomberg gaining ground.
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MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm asking for your help and for your vote.
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JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It ain't over, man. We're just getting started.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
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RADDATZ: Candidates are beefing up their campaigns in Nevada and South Carolina, two states that could reshape the race.
This morning, the view from a key state.
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RADDATZ: Joe Biden. You know -- you saw what happened in Iowa. You saw what happened in New Hampshire.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's a small little area.
RADDATZ: Do you think it's time the party moves on?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: Plus, we're one-on-one with Amy Klobuchar, after taking third in New Hampshire, and Tom Steyer, pouring money into those next critical contests.
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WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases.
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RADDATZ: An extraordinary rebuke from the Attorney General in an exclusive interview with ABC News. But questions about the president and political interference in the Justice Department persist -- the latest fallout this morning. Pierre Thomas joins us our powerhouse roundtable.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's "This Week." Here now, co-anchor Martha Raddatz.
RADDATZ: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week" on this President's Day weekend.
With the first two major contests in the 2020 race behind us, all eyes are now on Nevada and South Carolina. With no clear Democratic front-runner, the next two contests could prove decisive in the sprint to Super Tuesday, the day when the largest share of states and territories weigh in. This week, we hit the ground in South Carolina, that primary just two weeks away, and the former longtime front-runner Joe Biden staking his campaign on the prospect of minority voters delivering him a victory that could change the narrative after Iowa and New Hampshire.
For Joe Biden, it could be do or die. After serving as Barack Obama's vice president, Biden's strong connection to minority voters has made this state key to his nomination strategy. He still leads in the polls and has the lion's share of endorsements here, but after lackluster finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire his supporters are doing everything they can to make sure he has a strong finish.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We ask you, God, to please put your arms around Vice President Biden and all the other candidates, Lord, all of them.
RADDATZ: What this group of 100 black females is about is activism.
The self-proclaimed ‘Reckoning Crew,’ whose oldest member is 94, is giving heart and soul to the Biden campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you want to read through it first...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. That's what I'm...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Be have -- be confident when you're talking to them.
RADDATZ: As their name suggests, they're not to be trifled with.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I'm calling to see if you're planning to support Joe Biden in the 2020 South Carolina primary? Well, thank you very much. All righty, thank you. Bye-bye.
RADDATZ (on camera): So that sounded like a successful one for you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it was.
RADDATZ: He or she just immediately said...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, she did.
RADDATZ (voice-over): Right now, they're a solid wall of support for the former Vice President. But if that's not in the cards...
RADDATZ (on camera): Now what about somebody like Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of them would be better than what we have, but Vice President Joe Biden is the man of the hour. I think he has the guts and the -- also the experience.
RADDATZ (voice-over): In the chamber of the South Carolina Statehouse, State Rep. Todd Rutherford, who has been in office since 1998, worries Biden's experience isn't enough to beat Donald Trump. So he's leaning towards Michael Bloomberg.
TODD RUTHERFORD (D), SOUTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: This is not about Democrats falling in love. This is about Democrats making sure that Donald Trump can no longer be the president.
And people are so focused on that. And we are not interested in somebody that cannot win.
RADDATZ (on camera): He keeps saying: I can win South Carolina, I am electable. You just don't buy that?
RUTHERFORD: It begins to sound like an excuse. He appears to be a step behind. He's not saying the things that we need to hear as South Carolinians to believe that he's able to take on Donald Trump.
RADDATZ: Do you really think that Democrats can beat him?
REP. JAMES CLYBURN, (D) SOUTH CAROLINA: Oh, yeah. We can. Will we? I'm not sure.
RADDATZ: If anyone can be considered a king-maker in South Carolina, it's Congressman and Majority Whip James Clyburn. He's represented the state for more than two decades. Each presidential election cycle, Clyburn has a can't-miss fish fry for national candidates to introduce themselves to South Carolinians. He has yet to endorse any of the candidates this year.
So tell me what is more important, is it issues that affect African-Americans, or is it ‘I don't care who it is as long as they beat Donald Trump?’
CLYBURN: There's a combination of both. Sure, we want to defeat Donald Trump. But defeating Donald Trump and losing legislative seats, losing redistricting, which will be taking place two years from now, what have we gotten? I think that for us to maintain our down ballot strength, that has to come into the equation. Sure Donald Trump is anathema to black people. He ought to be to every American.
RADDATZ (on-camera): Donald Trump said it's been great for African-Americans, unemployment, he certainly has some African-American backing.
CLYBURN: That is one of the 31 lies he told during that State of the Union Address. The fact of the matter is, I talk to African-Americans. I go to church with them and I know they're not doing better. If you're working three jobs -- I told someone earlier today, and I mean this, if you go with the unemployment numbers to determine people's status then you have to say that slaves were in very good shape because they were fully employed.
RADDATZ (voice-over):: Even if Clyburn's not publicly picking favorites, his grandson has decided, appearing in an ad for Pete Buttigieg.
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WALTER A. CLYBURN REED, GRANDSON REP. JAMES CLYBURN: He's the change we need.
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RADDATZ: But the biggest surprise in South Carolina has been the support that billionaire businessman Tom Steyer is attracting. After spending more than $14 million in advertising here, and lots of face time, Steyer is polling second among black voters. The chair of the South Carolina Democratic Black Caucus, Johnnie Cordero, is convinced Steyer can win.
We have watched Tom Steyer's numbers here in South Carolina really has seemed to have a surge, how have you done it?
JOHNNIE CORDERO, CHAIR, SOUTH CAROLINA DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS: I hate to say it was predictable, but it certainly was. I guess the shortest answer is that Tom Steyer listens. And that probably trumps everything.
RADDATZ (voice-over): For Cordero, there is only one issue that matters.
CORDERO: Here's the one thing that Tom Steyer has that the other candidates don't have, he doesn't have a record of being, taking offensive actions and supporting offensive policies against the African-American community, and that includes Biden and the Crime Act of 1994, that includes Bloomberg with his stop-and-frisk, that includes Amy Klobuchar as a prosecutor, it includes a whole host of them.
RADDATZ: The South Carolina primary just two weeks away. And up next, the Nevada caucus, another critical contest in the aftermath of New Hampshire and Iowa. Joining me now from Las Vegas is Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Good morning, senator.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D-MN) 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good morning, Martha. It's great to be on.
RADDATZ: It's great to have you on.
After your strong third place finish in New Hampshire, you're heading into the Nevada caucus with an endorsement from the Las Vegas Weekly, shared with former Vice President Joe Biden. But the most recent Fox News poll had you at less than 2 percent of the vote in both Nevada and South Carolina. Your New Hampshire finish may help you, but you're just now doing ad buys, getting infrastructure in place. So how do you pull this off?
RADDATZ: Well, actually the Las Vegas Review Journal that came out after New Hampshire yesterday had me at 10 points. And that's even a day before our ads even started. So, we're pretty excited about that. I think that came out of all the work we did in New Hampshire. We've had huge crowds, including over 1,000 people in Reno. And I think the newspaper endorsement of The Sun is also very helpful.
So, we see ourselves on an upward path. I never thought I was going to be able to compete with some of my opponents' bank accounts, but what I don't have in that, I have made up in hard, hard work. We have got teams now in every Super Tuesday state. And we actually, since the New Hampshire debate, in just nearly over a week, raised $12 million online, most of it just from regular people that have been giving money online, new people, who have discovered me for the first time and get what I’m focused on, which is bringing people with me instead of shutting them out, which is bringing back decency to the White House, and most importantly, having a president that can actually put herself in the shoes of other people in this country given my background compared to Donald Trump.
So, it’s a very exciting time for our campaign, that people counted us out. You know, when I announced in the blizzards, they didn’t even think we’re going to finish that speech, much less get through the summer and the debate, and we are clearly surging.
RADDATZ: But, Senator, in modern history, no major party nominee placed below second in Iowa and New Hampshire. So, what are you doing that all those failed candidates in modern history did not do?
KLOBUCHAR: I think this is such a different primary season, Martha. There were so many candidates of merit, something like 25 people, and still so many candidates that made it hard for a lot people to be able to have the numbers. And so, what I’ve been done is slowly but surely, in a steady fashion, which is what I think you want in a president, and in a frugal fashion, have gotten to where I am.
Obviously, the next month is critical for us, but I think I’m just approaching this in a different way. And we really shocked the pundits in New Hampshire, and it was all hard work, the endorsements of the papers, the endorsement of The New York Times that I share with my friend Elizabeth, and the kind of momentum that you see. It’s a different year.
RADDATZ: Senator, I want to -- I want to talk about the minority vote. You cannot win the nomination without the support of minority voters.
The latest national poll from Quinnipiac University shows you at zero percent among black voters against the rest of the primary field. Another national poll from Monmouth University shows you at 1 percent among black, Hispanic, and Asian voters.
What’s your plan to build the support you’ll need in the upcoming contests, areas that are far more diverse than New Hampshire?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, that’s going to be on me. I need people to get to know me. I’ve always gotten high support in all of my elections with the Hispanic and African-American communities in my state -- that is a start. I have a number of endorsements from mayors in Minnesota who’ve been campaigning, African-American mayors, for me across the country.
Linda Sanchez, congresswoman from California, has endorsed me. But (ph) slowly -- (CROSSTALK)
RADDATZ: But you’ve -- you’ve been campaigning for a year. Aren’t you running out of time with these minority voters?
KLOBUCHAR: No, because my name identification in states outside of the early few states was not that high, simply because I didn’t have the money like Bloomberg to run more ads during your show than I am on being interviewed on your show. I get that. That’s what happens.
And so, it is on me as we have all this money now, we’re finally able -- finally to run ads in Nevada, to run ads in South Carolina, and beyond.
That is a big difference. People don’t know me. And then I’m going to emphasize my record of equal opportunity. The work that I have done in leading so many voting rights bills, including automatically registering kids to vote when they turn 18, getting rid of gerrymandering, getting rid of voting purges. I have a strong record when it be -- comes to voting rights as well as equal opportunity --
RADDATZ: I want to talk about your record. I want to talk about something on your record.
The chairman of the South Carolina Black Caucus talked to me about your record as a prosecutor in Minnesota. There are new revelations suggesting that a black teen sentenced to life in prison could be innocent. On Tuesday, you told ABC’s “The View” that new information should be immediately reviewed. But wasn’t it your responsibility at the time as the county’s top prosecutor to make sure authorities had all the information before a teenager was jailed for this?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I wasn’t aware of that information -- the new information until this latest investigation and it must be reviewed immediately. Not just the new evidence, but old evidence as well.
RADDATZ: But the old evidence -- again, you were the county’s top prosecutor --
KLOBUCHAR: OK --
RADDATZ: -- and sent (ph) the teen to life imprisonment.
KLOBUCHAR: If I could, the defendants in this case -- there were three defendants charged with killing an 11-year-old African-American girl who was doing her homework at her kitchen table. All three were convicted. During the time that I was the lead attorney, we supervised about 10,000 to 15,000 cases a year. But this particular case, that verdict was thrown out because of police investigation Miranda issues.
The next county attorney, I was no longer in the office -- I was a U.S. senator -- then tried that case again. The person was convicted again --
RADDATZ: Surveillance tape was not presented, no DNA, no gun, alibi witnesses not talked to -- KLOBUCHAR: Exactly.
RADDATZ: -- no fingerprints.
KLOBUCHAR: I, Martha, as a prosecutor, I cannot tell you, our job is to convict the guilty and protect the innocent. So when I look at something like this, I step back and say, all of these cases, when anything new comes in that puts into doubt any conviction, no matter when it is, must be reviewed.
When I was county attorney, I undertook a major review of all of our serious cases involving DNA. This one didn’t. I also pioneered a new way of doing eyewitness identification with The Innocence Project. I went around the country and debated other DAs about having interrogations be videotaped because I believe so strongly they should be videotaped.
So when you look at my record, the 12 percent decrease in African American incarceration rates when I was there, you see a number of things where I was focused on protecting the innocent. And my response to this case is this, it must be reviewed immediately and brought to court.
Thank you very much for joining us this morning, Senator Klobuchar.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
RADDATZ: Up next, as the first 2020 primary contest split the Democratic delegate count, the odds of a contested convention have gone way up. So, will the Democrats be forced to broker for a nominee in Milwaukee? FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver weighs in, next.
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CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Would you agree with that as a principle that whoever goes in with, say, a plurality of delegates, if it’s 50 to 100, that should be the nominee?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The convention would have to explain to the American people, hey, candidate X, you know, kind of got the most votes and won the most delegates in the primary process but we're not going to give him or her the nomination, I think that would be a very divisive moment for the Democratic Party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: There's already been quite a bit of buzz about the very real scenario of a contested convention when the Democrats arrive in Milwaukee this July. Some say it's a reality due in large part due to a unique primary calendar and an usually wide field of candidates after Iowa and New Hampshire.
So we had to ask FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, do you buy that?
NATE SILVER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: So, yes, it’s been a long time since we’ve had a contested convention. But there are some factors this year that make it a real possibility.
One of those is the calendar. Super Tuesday is just three days after South Carolina. And by the time Super Tuesday states have voted, including places like Texas and California, 38 percent of all delegates will already have been chosen.
So, unless someone breaks into a commanding position before Super Tuesday, all those delegates could be split several different ways, making it hard for anyone to ever get a majority.
Factor two is Michael Bloomberg. His strategy of skipping the first four states is confusing the entire process. It’s making it hard for moderates to settle on one candidate -- whether it's Bloomberg himself or Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar or even, let's not forget about him quite yet, Joe Biden.
But, frankly, it’s working better than I would have thought. Bloomberg is up to 15 percent in national polls, and is very competitive in a number of Super Tuesday states.
The biggest thing that could prevent a contested convention is Bernie Sanders. He won New Hampshire, he won the popular vote in Iowa, and he’s set up to do well in Nevada.
But while Bernie in leading in national polls, his numbers are in the mid-20s, which leaves plenty of vote to go around among other candidates. Even in New Hampshire, which should be one of his strongest states, he got 26 percent of the vote. So, it’s not quite clear yet just how high his ceiling is.
Our FiveThirtyEight primary model attempts to account for all these complex factors. And the model says there's 36 percent chance that nobody wins a delegate majority. That’s not exactly the same thing as a contested convention, but close enough for our purposes here.
So, I buy that a contested convention is very, very possible. Is it more likely than not? Not yet, but just one more surprise result, say, an upset in Nevada means we could be getting there soon.
RADDATZ: And our thanks to Nate for that.
And a reminder, you can get the very latest primary forecast at fivethirtyeight.com.
And coming up, the surprise candidate testing Joe Biden's so-called Southern firewall. The live interview, next.
RADDATZ: Coming up: He's invested big in South Carolina, and new polls show it's paying off.
Is billionaire Tom Steyer about to pull off an upset in South Carolina?
He joins us live next.
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BIDEN: I am concerned that when you have two guys running who in fact are going spend combined over a $1 billion going into Super Tuesday, that's never happened before.
SANDERS: People understand there is something wrong when we have a corrupt political system that allows billionaires to buy elections.
WARREN: We can't just have a government that's run by and for billionaires and people who suck up to billionaires.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: It's one of the most divisive issues in the 2020 Democratic primary, and it doesn't seem to be going away any time soon, intense criticism of wealthy presidential contenders who some believe are trying to buy the nomination.
Among those receiving criticism, billionaire businessman Tom Steyer who's been gaining ground in the crucial South Carolina primary. And he joins us now. Thanks for joining us, Mr. Steyer.
TOM STEYER, 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Martha, it's great to be with you.
RADDATZ: You have poured millions of dollars into ads in Nevada, more than $14 million into TV and radio in South Carolina, and are boasting the largest state-wide operation of any other campaign there. You're saying you are ready to shock the world. Do you think you're going to win in those states?
STEYER: I'm trying my heart out and I think I'm going to do really well, Martha.
But what you haven't mentioned is that I have spent more time in Nevada than any other candidate, and I've spent more time in South Carolina than any other candidate, even though I was the last candidate, other than Michael Bloomberg, to get in.
I have actually been spending the time, and we have people on the ground in both states from those states actually going out talking to people, organizing, listening, and coming up with a message that matters. That's really why I'm doing well in Nevada and South Carolina is because I have put in the time, listened to the people, and I'm talking to their actual issues.
RADDATZ: But let's talk about the money. You spent much more on ads than any candidate in Iowa and New Hampshire, and let me read the results of that. In Iowa, $16.4 million spent, 0 percent of the vote, 0 delegates. In New Hampshire, $19.8 million spent, 4 percent of the vote, 0 delegates.
So why should primary voters expect a different outcome in Nevada and South Carolina, even though you have those organizations there?
STEYER: I was the last person into this race, as I said. I wanted to compete in all the early primary states, but in fact what we have seen is, on the ground in Nevada and South Carolina, I'm doing really well, and that's what the polls say.
What it also says is that I'm putting together a coalition of people, including specifically African-Americans and Latinos, who are responding to a message that is inclusive and I'm putting together the kind of coalition that we're going to have to have in November of 2020 to beat Donald Trump.
So what we're seeing in these new two next =states, both of which are dramatically more diverse than either Iowa or New Hampshire, is that my message actually is resonating, as I believe you said earlier in this program, I'm second with African-Americans in South Carolina and those numbers keep moving up.
So when we actually think what we need to do in the fall, we need to beat Donald Trump. And one of the things we need to do is get the entire, diverse coalition of Democrats to show up.
I'm a grassroots person for the last 10 years. I've built one of the biggest grassroots organizations in the United States, NextGen America. I have shown that I know how to get people to turn out. And I'm putting together that kind of coalition in Nevada and South Carolina, which is exactly the kind of coalition it's going to take to beat Donald Trump.
RADDATZ: And you have been endorsed by a growing number of black leaders, and I met some of them this week in South Carolina, as you said, but you still trail far behind Biden in South Carolina among black voters. And in the most recent national polls, you registered 0 percent while Michael Bloomberg's support has really skyrocketed.
You have said that the Democratic nominee has to have strong support among voters of color, so how can you win the nomination if you don't have that strong diverse support that you say the nominee needs? I know you're getting some in South Carolina, but let's talk about nationally.
STEYER: The way this has to work for me, Martha is for me to show in Nevada that I can produce a great result, take it to South Carolina, show I can produce a great result, and actually have some attention so people can learn who I am.
I'm not a famous person, but I've been on the ground in Nevada and South Carolina meeting people face to face and doing really well. And if I can show there that I can put together that coalition and take that with momentum into Super Tuesday with the kind of diverse coalition that I believe I'm building and that I believe I will show, then that will give me the momentum and people will have to look at me as a serious candidate because the real question here is, who can beat Donald Trump? And the two things we're going to need to do is take him on, on the economy and my background says -- my 30 years in business, says I can show where he's lying, which is every time he opens his mouth on the economy and that I can put together the kind of diverse coalition.
This will be a turnout election. The question is, will the Democratic coalition turn out? And my answer is going to be, I can show I can produce that.
RADDATZ: Mr. Steyer, you say that you can take on Donald Trump on the economy. But the latest Quinnipiac national poll again released just this week says 70 percent of voters describe the nation's economy as excellent or good.
So how do you convince them that a change is needed when they think they're doing so well under Donald Trump?
STEYER: I think if you take a look at what he says, everything he says superficially sounds right but is actually a lie.
So when he says the economy is growing, I can show that, in fact, all the money's going to rich people. When he says unemployment is low, which is true, I can show that the wages people are getting don’t support a family. And when he says the stock market is up, these are his three big statistics, it's largely because of the huge tax break he gave to big corporations, but it also is -- doesn't matter that much because most of the stocks -- 85 percent of the stocks are held by the top 10 percent of -- 10 -- ten percent of the richest Americans.
RADDATZ: But -- but I want to go back to that 70 percent number.
STEYER: So it's -- this has been --
RADDATZ: You talk -- you talk about the wealthy. They're not all wealthy people. Seventy percent say the economy is good and they're doing well.
STEYER: Well, I'm just saying to you, here we are on a show and you're standing up for Mr. Trump's version of the economy. And I'm telling you, what he's saying is not true. And so --
RADDATZ: I'm telling you about a national poll. I'm not standing up for anybody. I'm telling -- I'm telling you about a national poll.
STEYER: And what I'm saying is this, there is a different story of this economy and this country that has to be told. Mr. Trump has to be faced down about what he's saying on the economy because he is running on the economy. That's exactly what he's going to say. He's going to say, I'm great on the economy and Democrats stink.
RADDATZ: So how do you --
STEYER: I can take him on, on that because it has to be shown that this economy actually isn't working for the vast bulk of Americans and this president is dangerous to them in terms of money and in terms of health care and in terms of retirement. That's not being told. Democrats are going to have to take him on directly.
RADDATZ: How -- how do you convince them that you can do a better job -- how -- how do -- how do you convince them that you can do a better job than the other billionaire, Michael Bloomberg?
STEYER: Well, I have a very -- I have a very specific set of proposals here, Martha. One is, I can -- I am promising and can easily deliver a 10 percent tax cut to everybody in American who makes less than $250,000.
Two, if we're -- I'm saying I'm going to declare a state of emergency on climate on the first day and that actually rebuilding this country will produce over 4.5 million good-paying union jobs every year for as far as the eye can see.
RADDATZ: And -- and, Mr. Steyer --
STEYER: And, third of all --
RADDATZ: Go ahead.
STEYER: Yes, ma'am.
And third of all, we're talking about a wage structure here that has actually gone down over the last 40 years and that raising the minimum wage and getting living wages for working Americans is something that's absolutely critical. And we need to stand up for unions. And we need to stand up for the right of working people to bargain collectively, to come together, and to basically fight back against a war on the working people of this country that started with Ronald Reagan and has continued right through to Mr. Trump.
In fact, describing the world that's going on today.
RADDATZ: Mr. Steyer, I want to -- we -- we're just running out of time here. Mr. Steyer, we're running out of time --
RADDATZ: And I want you -- you to address the criticism about the amount of money you've spent on the campaign.
Elizabeth Warren has called it wrong and it is not the way a democracy should work.
STEYER: Well, Martha, if you know my history, you know that what I've done in every single instance, including starting the need to impeach, but including going after the climate crisis and fighting corporations successfully for a decade, when I've seen a huge problem in the United States, I've put in all my heart and soul and money to try and solve it.
I see a huge problem here. I got into the race late because I was worried that no one was going to take on Mr. Trump the way he needed to be beaten. And I -- that's exactly what I'm doing here. I am putting my heart and soul and money behind the idea that we need to take back this country from the corporations that have bought it, that we need to deal directly with our climate crisis, and we need to deliver social and racial justice across the board.
That’s what I’m fighting for, I’m giving it everything I have, and that’s what I’ve always done.
RADDATZ: OK, Tom Steyer, thank you for joining us this morning.
Up next, the fallout from Attorney General Bill Barr's exclusive interview with ABC News continues. Our Pierre Thomas got that interview and he joins our powerhouse roundtable.
We'll be back in 60 seconds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIERRE THOMAS, ABC NEWS CHIEF JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Barr, the president does not like to be told what to do. He may not like what you're saying. Are you prepared for those ramifications?
BILL BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Of course, as I said during my confirmation. I came in to serve as attorney general and I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody and I said it, whether it's Congress, newspaper editorial boards or the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: Attorney General Bill Barr in an unprecedented rebuke of President Trump from a member of his sitting cabinet. It’s anybody's guess how this plays out.
But few are better informed than the man who got that exclusive interview, ABC News’ Chief Justice correspondent Pierre Thomas, joins the powerhouse roundtable this morning, alongside Associated Press Washington bureau chief, Julie Pace, NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordonez, and ABC News deputy political director, MaryAlice Parks.
Good morning to all of you.
And, Pierre, we do want to start with you. Your interview with Attorney General getting enormous attention this week, with Barr saying the president's tweeting makes it impossible to do his job. What was your takeaway from what Barr said and why he wanted to say it?
THOMAS: The word “pressure” comes to mind. The job is to talk to people that like Barr, people that don't like Barr. People that respect Barr, and people that do respect him -- don’t respect him.
And the one key word that they all said to me is he's under pressure. He’s under pressure.
He had a week where he overruled the prosecutors who wanted to give Roger Stone seven to nine years in jail, four of them left the case. One of them quit the Justice Department completely, never seen that in all of my years of covering the Justice Department.
And then you had the president tweeting over and over about the case, and at one point criticizing the judge.
The Attorney General had to do something, because to have respect in that building, the Justice Department, you have to have some level of independence from the White House.
RADDATZ: Were those in the Justice Department surprised by this? And do they really buy what Barr said, or he's just trying to appease them?
THOMAS: There was surprise because as you said, Barr is the first sitting cabinet level official to criticize the president in an interview openly and the way that he did. And he told him something that he didn't want him to do.
On the other hand, there is some skepticism because Barr is the president's guy. He believes in his policies. He's much more conservative than people believe.
But I would say, people were surprised because the president is the wild card. No one knows what he's going to do. Is he going to take Barr's advice? And if he does not, Barr is going to have to resolve, whether he’s going to live with it and look like he played everybody, or is he in a position where he may have to quit?
RADDATZ: And, Franco, we have already seen the president respond to the interview, which we're told took the White House by surprise as well.
He's tweeting: "The president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case," A.G. Barr.
"This doesn't mean that I do not have, as president, the legal right to do so. I do. But I have so far chosen not to."
So, more about the reaction from the president?
FRANCO ORDONEZ, NPR: Well, I mean, the president is responding. He is speaking out.
I mean, there's a lot of questions about whether this will have an impact on the president. So many Republicans came out in support of Barr, kind of -- kind of rounded the fences, saying, look, listen to your Attorney General. He is a good person. He is the guy you want. We would love it for him to -- the president to stop tweeting as much.
But we have heard that before many, many times, and the president has not stopped tweeting. The fact that he tweeted again on Friday is another indication that he is not going to stop tweeting.
So I think we're going to see in the next few weeks. I mean, he's going to continue to do this. Barr wants to show independence. But we will see what happens.
RADDATZ: And on that independence note, Julie, Attorney General Barr did strike a critical tone at times during the interview, but he's still toeing the party line here and saying the change in Roger Stone's sentencing recommendation was not influenced by the president.
Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I could not support the seven to the nine year. And I didn't need anybody to tell me that seven to nine years was an excessive sentence.
You think I need the president's tweet to tell me that seven to nine years is excessive?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: So, there still doesn't seem to be much daylight between Barr and the president.
JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: And that's why I think this isn't so black and white as a Cabinet official pushing back at a president, because President Trump, in Barr, has the attorney general that he wants.
This is an attorney general who believes that presidents have broad authority, that executive power is almost limitless. And President Trump knows that because he has seen Bill Barr act on that recommendation.
And so, even though he had this public criticism, which is something that the president wouldn't put up with from most other people, this attorney general has helped the president and is carrying out much of what he wants, even if Trump isn't having to explicitly ask him for it.
RADDATZ: And, Pierre, just finally on this.
Andrew McCabe, no charges against him, but they're taking a second look at the case of Michael Flynn, hiring an outside prosecutor.
THOMAS: It's all complicated.
In the president's world, he would like to have seen Andrew McCabe prosecuted to the fullest. That didn't happen. He wanted the same thing on James Comey, the former FBI director. The Justice Department did not do that as well.
On the Flynn case, that's complicated as well, because there were some issues about how the FBI interrogated him that came up in court. So the fact that Barr's willing to lean in on that is not that surprising to me, because Barr has expressed questions about the origins of the Russia investigations.
And he has enormous authority to review whatever the hell he wants to at the Justice Department. He can do it.
But there's one problem. I was at the courthouse. And when Michael Flynn agreed to plead guilty, and he said over and over again, when asked, did you do this, did you lie to the FBI, and he was said -- asked again, is anyone pressuring you to do this? He said he was not being pressured.
So I don't know how you resolve that.
RADDATZ: That's a tough one to get around.
RADDATZ: OK, I want to turn to 2020, which has dominated our week, our weeks, our year.
MaryAlice Parks, when you look at New Hampshire and Iowa, and now leading into the Nevada caucus on -- and the debate on Wednesday, just go through your take on this.
I think -- I think we have forgotten that Bernie Sanders came out of New Hampshire, and this is a very big week for him as well.
MARYALICE PARKS, ABC NEWS DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Look, it's all about who can be in position on Super Tuesday.
And that is only 15 days away from today. Thirty percent of the delegates are up for grabs on that one day alone. And Senator Bernie Sanders' team feels incredibly confident, because they're looking at this national infrastructure that they have.
They're going into Nevada. He has five times the amount of staff on the ground in Nevada compared to someone like Amy Klobuchar. And then they hit the ground running. He's up in TV in 10 states on Super Tuesday. That is second only to someone like Mayor Bloomberg.
So his team just feels really good. I talked to a senior adviser yesterday who told me that he thinks, right now, the Senator is in position to pick up more delegates and more states on Super Tuesday than anyone else.
RADDATZ: You heard Amy Klobuchar, I'm sure. And everybody, when they talk about their candidacy, is very -- is very positive about it, of course.
One of the things that propelled her to a position she came out of New Hampshire in, in number three, is her debate performance. It was very compelling. Really, people I talked to said that really compelled them to vote for her.
So, what does she do in this upcoming debate? And -- and everybody else is going to be looking for that moment as well.
PARKS: Well, this debate is going to be unlike any we've ever seen, because it's really likely that Bloomberg is on that stage. And that just changes the stakes for everyone.
People like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, they are itching to go toe and toe with Bloomberg. I mean, Bernie Sanders has run for the last four years against billionaires and money in politics.
But I think you're exactly right, everyone saw what happened to Amy Klobuchar in New Hampshire. Elizabeth Warren's team, in particular. They really took a note.
I talked to one of her surrogates yesterday that said they are totally aware this upcoming debate is a sink or swim moment for her. They know that voters are waiting until the last moment to decide, and they need to make an impression on that stage.
RADDATZ: And Julie, I want to pick up on Sanders, again, who won on Tuesday, but by a slim margin, really, nowhere near the 22-point lead he had in 2016. You wrote this week that his narrow victory has raised concerns about his ability to broaden his coalition.
PACE: What we've seen from Bernie Sanders is that he has a loyal base of supporters, many people who were with him in 2016 who are standing with him again in 2020. What we haven't seen is an ability to broaden that out, to bring new people into his coalition. In some ways, it's not surprising, because Bernie Sanders doesn't change. He wants to bring people to him, he's not moving to where other people are. But the challenge he has is that his support could be very easily overtaken if moderates are able to coalesce around one candidate.
Of course, the thing he has going for him is that moderates are not coalescing around one candidate, that part of the party remains very crowded and only gets more crowded as Bloomberg gets on the ballot in upcoming states.
RADDATZ: But one of Sanders' main arguments, Franco, is that he'll be able to energize, bring out nonvoters. Does he have a point there?
ORDONEZ: Well, he's definitely saying that, and he is saying that he can bring out non-voters, but he didn't bring as many voters out in Iowa and New Hampshire as he did in 2016. He's also saying that he can beat President Trump. He's kind of playing this electability card that others have played.
But I think that we're going to find out whether he can do that in these other states, because Iowa and New Hampshire are much different than Nevada and South Carolina. The mix of the population is so much different. Latinos are going to play a big role, 30 percent of the population in Nevada is Latino. African-Americans in South Carolina, 60 percent of the Democratic delegation is African-American. So I mean, it's going to be -- it's a new ball game now, I would argue.
RADDATZ: To that point, Pierre, you and I have been talking about this during the week, former Vice President Biden has been banking on support from black voters in South Carolina. Do you think that firewall, as he calls it, in South Carolina, is as strong as the Biden campaign says it is?
THOMAS: I think he needs to win somewhere. And the fact that he did not do well in Iowa and New Hampshire, black voters, African-American voters, are like all voters, they are very practical with their vote. They vote where their interests lie, and they also want, in this case, to see someone who can beat Donald Trump. And if you recall when Hillary Clinton was running against Barack Obama, I think before the primaries and the caucuses started, she was polling ahead of Barack Obama in the African-American community. He wins Iowa, and then I think he is able to win in South Carolina, so that tells you everything you need to know.
RADDATZ: And MaryAlice, I want to go to this idea that Julie brought up about the moderates and the progressives I think when you looked at the polling numbers or the positions as they came out of New Hampshire, people were saying, oh wait, well, Bernie got this, but if you add together the three moderates. Do voters look at at it that way?
PARKS: The voters that I talk to don't look at it as some binary choice. I am always struck by how many crossover voters there are. I meet people who say Bernie's their first pick, and Biden is their second pick, because they think both these men speak to the working class and feel authentic.
I talk to a lot of women who say they're picking between the two women in the top tier because they just want to vote for a woman. And I actually think -- this is interesting, I think we're going to start to see a lot more Bernie Sanders and Mayor Bloomberg crossover voters. That might surprise Mayor Bloomberg a lot, but they both have an independent streak. And there are a lot of voters that are tired of both parties. And you could see someone that says I just like people that will kind of give a cold shoulder to the parties.
So, I don't think that the average voter is experiencing this race as a binary choice.
RADDATZ: And beyond the binary choice issues, I mean, they may look at a woman and say we want a woman, or whatever. But Franco, you reported this week that the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been working to revive Trump's immigration system overhaul. Is immigration a big issue for these Democratic primary voters?
ORDONEZ: It is a big issue, and it's something that's going to be -- it's going play a very big role in Nevada, for example. I mean, this is a massive issue that immigrants have been pushing for, that Latinos have been pushing for, and I think in Nevada and on the debate stage in Phoenix I think it's going to be very apparent that there are no Latinos, there's a lack of minorities on this stage, because this is an issue that could come up, and Latino voters want to know what the Democrats are going to do for them. And President Trump is at least trying to say, look, this is what we're trying to do. This is the presentation we're doing.
Obviously President Trump is taking a different tact in regards to immigration, but he is trying to reach out to the business community at least and saying, we want to bring in more workers for you.
RADDATZ: And, Julie, we haven't talked too much about Pete Buttigieg, who, speaking of Latinos, has a new Spanish-language ad running.
JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Pete Buttigieg has a challenge in front of him. He's had two really strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. These are overwhelmingly white states. And Buttigieg has struggled with his record in South Bend on issues of policing, on issues that are important to minority communities. And there's -- there's a little bit of a -- just a lack of comfort when he talks to minority voters. And you hear it all the time when you go then into the crowd and ask voters, they just don't think he's quite as comfortable.
He -- for his campaign to go on -- and he's got the money to do it -- he needs to prove to Democrats that he can draw support from voters who are the core of this party. You cannot be a successful Democrat at a national level in a presidential race without black voters. You simply cannot. And he has a big challenge in proving that he can carry that mantle forward.
RADDATZ: And, Pierre, those black voters that -- who I talked to in South Carolina, some of them are concerned about Michael Bloomberg, the stop and frisk. We talked to Amy Klobuchar about her -- her prosecution of a black teenager. So when they look at those issues, how important is -- is it to black voters, especially like stop and frisk with Michael Bloomberg?
PIERRE THOMAS, ABC NEWS CHIEF JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Extremely. Many African-American voters look at this empathy issue, can you put yourself in the position of African-Americans on this issue? At least early on, Bloomberg did not. He's now apologizing from it -- for it.
But here's what I mean. If you're an African-American, like I am, and I have a son, even if he were living in a high-crime area, I would not want my son pulled over just because he's black and frisked, because there's no evidence he did anything wrong. And that is the issue, empathy.
RADDATZ: And, quickly, Pete Buttigieg has said he has to make progress on this. Does that resonate? Is that enough to hear a candidate say, look, I'm going to do better, or an Amy Klobuchar?
THOMAS: I think the African-American voters are still getting to know these people. They're going to be absorbing a lot of information. We're going to have to do our job to provide it. They're unknown to many people outside their respective states.
RADDATZ: And they're all trying to change all that.
Thanks very much to all of you.
We'll be right back.
RADDATZ: And before we go on this Presidents Day weekend, we honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ON SCREEN TEXT: In Memoriam.
SPC Henry J. Mayfield Jr., 23, U.S. ARMY, Evergreen Park, Illinois.
SSG Ian P. McLaughlin, 29, U.S. Army, Newport News, Virginia.
PFC Miguel A. Villalon, 21, U.S. Army, Joliet, Illinois.
SPC Antonio I. Moore, 22, U.S. Army, Wilmington, North Carolina.
LT. Col. Paul K. Voss, 46, U.S. Air Force, Yigo, Guam.
Capt. Ryan S. Phaneuf, 30, U.S. Air Force, Hudson, New Hampshire.
SFC Javier Jaguar Gutierrez, 28, U.S. Army, San Antonio, Texas.
SFC Antonio Rey Rodriguez, 28, U.S. Army, Las Cruces, New Mexico.
SPC Branden Tyme Kimball, 21, U.S. Army, Central Point, Oregon.
PEF Walter Lewark, 26, U.S. Army, Mountainair, New Mexico.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: In January and the first half of February, ten service members died overseas supporting operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and east Africa.
That's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us.
Check out "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT" and have a great Presidents Day weekend.