THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT FOR 'THIS WEEK' on February 5, 2017 and it will be updated.
ANNOUNCER: Starting right now on THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, collision course...
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The world is in trouble, but we're going to straighten it out.
ANNOUNCER: Overnight, another legal blow to Trump's travel ban.
We're we headed for a Supreme Court showdown?
We're one-on-one with Vice President Mike Pence...
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people elected a man of action.
ANNOUNCER: -- facing tough questions about those Trump Tweets slamming a federal judge.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: This is the judge who was nominated by President Bush 99-0 and confirmed.
How is he a so-called judge?
ANNOUNCER: Those ominous threats on Iran.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Iran is on notice -- what does that mean, exactly?
PENCE: It means we're watching them.
ANNOUNCER: And with the Supreme Court in the spotlight...
TRUMP: I don't know how anybody can oppose them, right?
ANNOUNCER: -- leading senators weigh in on Trump's pick to fill that critical tie-breaking seat. Republican Ben Sasse, Democrat Amy Klobuchar. A fast-paced week heading for a furious finale.
From ABC News, it's THIS WEEK.
Here now, chief anchor, George Stephanopoulos.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we come on the air this week with breaking news.
Early this morning, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Trump administration's latest move to keep his travel ban in place. That means travelers from those seven majority Muslim countries still free to come to America, just as they were before the president issued the executive order struck down by a federal judge in Seattle late Friday night.
All through Saturday, there were joyful reunions at airports. But from the winter White House in Mar-a-Lago, the president let loose on Twitter, calling the federal judge who blocked his ban a so-called judge. Later Saturday, he promised to fight.
So far, the court's rulings have gone against the White House. And as this tussle between the president and the courts played out, I mean what Vice President Mike Pence at the historic Congress Hall in Philadelphia, just steps away from where "Constitution" was drafted.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The president is vowing to overturn that order. This morning he called it, "A ridiculous order from a so-called judge." A so-called judge.
Is it appropriate for the president to be questioning the legitimacy of a federal judge in that way?
PENCE: Through the course of the campaign and in the early days of this administration, President Trump's made it clear that our administration is going to put the safety and security of the American people first. And the executive order that he put into effect, which suspends immigration from seven countries that have been compromised by terrorism and don't have the kind of internal systems that we can be certain that people that are applying to come to this country are who they say they are, was legal. It was appropriate. And our administration is going to be using all legal means at our disposal to challenge the judge's order.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I understand that. But is it right for the president to say, "so-called judge?"
Doesn't that undermine the separation of powers in "The Constitution," written right next door?
PENCE: Well. I don't think it does. I think the American people are very accustomed to this president speaking his mind and speaking very straight with them. And it's very frustrating when scholars on the left and the right, people as distinguished as Jonathan Turley of George Washington University have said, "While he doesn't agree with the executive order, he recognizes the president has the full authority to put the security of the homeland first in determining who comes into this country--"
STEPHANOPOULOS: Right but this judge was appointed--
PENCE: And to see a judge actually suspend that order across the country, George, is frustrating all of us--
STEPHANOPOULOS: But so-called judge?
This is a judge who was nominated by President Bush, 99-0 confirmed.
How is he a "so-called" judge?
PENCE: Well, again, there's simply no question under "The Constitution," and, frankly, under federal law, that the president of the United States has the authority, in the interest of national security, to determine who has the right to come into this country. And we're going to challenge the judge's order on that basis, because the reality is, we face a dangerous enemy and the president is determined to use the authority that he has under "The Constitution" and under the law. But we'll work through the courts to challenge the order--
STEPHANOPOULOS: But doesn't this judge have the authority to do what he did, as well?
PENCE: He certainly does, and that's why the administration is complying with that order as we speak. And we'll go through the process in the courts to get a stay of that order, so that again, we can implement this action that is entirely focused on the safety and security of the American people.
Look, we've got to do things differently. And the Obama administration and the last Congress identified these seven countries repeatedly as seven countries that have been compromised by terrorism. And so by putting a pause in, as Secretary Kelly described it accurately, "putting a pause in," for all these countries except Syria. And beginning to identify ways that we can assure that anyone that's coming here-- is-- is, doesn't represent a threat to our families and our communities. This is what the American people expect--
STEPHANOPOULOS: There's been a chorus of criticism, though, of this ban, as you know, from other courts, from our allies like Theresa May, the French president, from Republicans in Congress.
When you look at how this was done, do you take away any lessons, concede it could have been done better, drafted better?
PENCE: I think the early days of this administration are going to be described in the history books as days of action.
And the American people welcome the decisiveness that President Trump has shown on this issue, putting the safety and secretary of the American people above the niceties of communicating with people in Washington or in some cases around the world. He acted.
He put the safety of the American people first. And I think this, that's the kind of leadership the American people want to see.
STEPHANOPOULOS: There's definitely some support. A lot of resistance you've seen crop up as well. But I want to move on, because the Democratic leader in the Senate has weighed in on this morning as well.
He's responding to the president's tweet this morning, saying, "With each action testing the Constitution and each personal attack on judges, President Trump raises the bar even higher for Judge Gorsuch's nomination to serve on the Supreme Court."
You think it's going to have an impact?
PENCE: Probably, you know, the -- I look at the first few days of this administration and I love to tell people, watch this president at work sitting behind that Resolute desk in the Oval Office.
You see a president who's in the promise-keeping business. And, in my view, chief among those promises was his commitment to nominate someone to the Supreme Court who will be faithful to the Constitution, interpret the law as written. But he also said he wanted someone who is exceptionally qualified.
And Judge Neil Gorsuch, with his academic background, with ten years on the court, as someone who was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate ten years ago to the Court of Appeals in the 10th Circuit, I think represents that promise kept to the American people. And we remain very confident that, despite some of the posturing that we see in the Senate today, that Judge Gorsuch is going to be well received by members in the Senate.
And I -- and I'll promise you. One way or the other, he's going to get an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Whether it takes the nuclear option or not. President Trump also promised a pro-life justice. Judge Gorsuch has never ruled directly on Roe v. Wade.
Are you confident that he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade on the court?
PENCE: You know, as someone who, like the president, cherishes the sanctity of life, that's an important issue to me, as it for millions of Americans. But in this deliberation and I was honored to be a part of the process.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You spoke with the judge, right?
PENCE: I did. And the president -- the president asked me to be a part of a small group that interviewed all the finalists for this decision.
But what the president directed us to look for was someone who would be faithful to the Constitution, who would simply apply the law as written, who would have the character, the temperament and the courage that the American people want to see on the Supreme Court.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you ask him directly about Roe v. Wade?
PENCE: I did not. And I -- you know, what the president charged us to do was to find someone who had the background, the experience, the unimpeachable credentials, the character, but also just to be faithful to the Constitution as written.
We're in this hallowed hall, where the Congress met in 1790. We're right next door to Independence Hall, where the Constitution was written. That and the framework of this government have created the greatest quality of life in the history of mankind.
And I'm confident that in Judge Neil Gorsuch, we'll have someone on the court who will keep faith with the Constitution.
STEPHANOPOULOS: President Trump decided this week to let stand President Obama's executive order on LGBT rights. And it prompted this question from a prominent social conservative, Bob Vander Plaats.
He said, "Our base is wondering why Obama's executive order is allowed to stand."
What's the answer?
PENCE: I think throughout the campaign, President Trump made it clear that discrimination would have no place in our administration. I mean, he was the very first Republican nominee to mention the LGBTQ community at our Republican National Convention and was applauded for it. And I was there applauding with him.
I think the generosity of his spirit, recognizing that in the patriot's heart, there's no room for prejudice is part of who this president is. But I also think that the speech that he gave this week at the National Prayer Breakfast, reiterating his commitment to repeal the Johnson Amendment, that's put a chilling effect on free speech in religious institutions around the country.
And his reiterated commitment to religious liberty are all a part of the kind of leadership that --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do think a new executive order is necessary on religious liberty?
Or is current law sufficient?
PENCE: Well, the president's made it clear that he wants to take action on the Johnson amendment. Back in the 1950s, the Congress passed a law that essentially threatened the tax-exempt status of churches and synagogues and religious institutions if they were seen to be involved in political expression.
And I have to tell you, I don't -- I don't think we'd have ever made it to these hallowed halls back in 1790 if the -- if the pulpits of this country had been silenced from speaking about what they thought was right and wrong.
The president provided real leadership in the campaign where he identified the Johnson amendment and he told people of faith of every background across this country that he would work to repeal it. And he's directed the administration to begin to look at ways, both legislatively and through executive action to do that...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But no executive orders beyond that, beyond the jon-- fixing the Johnson amendment, in your view?
PENCE: Well, I think that'll be the purview of the president to determine whether any of that's necessary. But-- but-- I will tell you for our part. The focus of this administration will continue to be to have a safer America, to have a more prosperous America, and to continue to advance the president's agenda, both on Capitol Hill and through executive action and carry that message all across the country.
STEPHANOPOULOS: President took executive action on Iran yesterday. Imposed those new sanctions. And we saw General Flynn say, "Iran is on notice." What does that mean, exactly?
PENCE: It means, we're watching.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What are we watching for?
PENCE: It means there's -- Iran would do well to look at the calendar and realize there's a new president in the Oval Office. And Iran would do well not to test the resolve of this new president.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What would testing the resolve be?
PENCE: Well, we – the -- the ballistic missile tests that were done in the last week were in direct violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions dealing with limiting them in that regard. That's the reason why the president took the decisive action that he took to impose economic sanctions on their supply chain for their missile program.
But also, let's recognize that the Houthi rebels in Yemen are fully subsidized by Iran. And the attack that the Houthis leveled using Iranian arms against a Saudi Arabian-- ship this last week, all represent the kind of hostile and belligerent actions that are simply not going to be tolerated-- by this administration...
STEPHANOPOULOS: That might require military action? President said, "Everything's on the table."
PENCE: President said, "Everything's on the table." But look, the-- the Iranians got a deal from the international community that again, the president and I and our administration think was a terrible deal. It essentially allows Iran to develop a nuclear weapon -- in the years ahead at a date certain. And-- and -- and they received hundreds of millions of dollars in cash...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But Secretary Mattis and Secretary Tillerson say, "We have to stand by that deal." Now, is that administration policy?
PENCE: Well, we're evaluating that as we speak.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But Secretary Mattis didn't say, "he's evaluating the deal." He said, "The U.S. has to stand by it." Is that administration policy?
PENCE: Well, I think the president will make that decision in the days ahead. And he'll listen to all of his advisors, but make no mistake about it. The resolve-- of this president-- is such that-- Iran would do well to think twice about their continued hostile and belligerent actions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Russia has been violating the ceasefire in Ukraine. Are they on notice as well?
PENCE: We're watching. And very troubled by the-- the-- increased hostilities over the past week in Eastern Ukraine. I know the president-- had a conversation with-- Vladimir Putin.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Did he say he was troubled?
PENCE: They -- they spoke at that time about Ukraine, and I expect those conversations are going-- to be ongoing. But -- but look, there's -- I think there's a growing recognition in the world community that there is-- there's a new style of leadership, not just a new leader in the White House. President Trump is bringing a very candid -- and direct type of leadership to the White House. And in conversations with leaders around the world, frankly, I think they all find it very refreshing.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Some of them find it unsettling.
PENCE: Well, and -- to the extent that we have a president who's got broad shoulders and is willing to put the interests of the American people first and speak directly to leaders about the world about America's interests -- that may be unsettling to some. But I think it's very encouraging to millions of Americans.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So but will the sanctions on Russia remain in place as long as Russia is violating the ceasefire in Ukraine?
PENCE: I think that's-- I think that's a question that will be answered-- in the months ahead. And it-- it just simply all depends.
PENCE: On whether or not -- we see the kind of changes in posture by -- by Russia. And -- the opportunity perhaps to work on common interests. And the president's made it clear the top priority of this administration is to hunt down and destroy ISIS at its source.
He's directed our military commanders and our Secretary of State to collaborate and to develop a strategy in the region to bring together the resources and the allies necessary to do that. Russia has a common interest in confronting radical Islamic terrorism and especially ISIS. And if we have opportunities to work together I think the president is looking for an opportunity to begin that relationship anew.
But make no mistake about it, those decisions will await action and they'll be very dependent on -- on how the Russians respond in the days ahead.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We're just about out of time.
I want to ask you about Obamacare.
Senator Lamar Alexander came out this week. He's the chair of the Health Committee. And he says you have to start talking about repairing Obamacare and not replacing.
Here's what he said exactly. He's compared it to an old bridge. He said, "Don't close it until the new one is complete. In the meantime, we repair it. No one is talking about repealing anything until there is a concrete alternative in place."
Does the president accept that?
PENCE: Well, I think what the Senator was talking about was simply the process. What the president has said is that we are going to repeal Obamacare, which has put a tremendous burden on families across this country. We have some states across America, George, where health insurance premiums have gone up more than 100%.
And the president made it clear to the Congress right after the election that he wanted to see us move on repealing the most corrosive elements -- the mandate, the taxes, the penalties of Obamacare.
But he's also made it very clear that at the same time that we repeal Obamacare, we're going through both executive action and through legislation, set into motion a replacement of Obamacare that will be orderly and will lead the American people...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But it doesn't have to be ready...
PENCE: -- to a system based on free market principles...
STEPHANOPOULOS: It doesn't have to be complete, the replacement, before repeal?
PENCE: Well, when he gave that speech here in Philadelphia during the course of the campaign, on Obamacare, he talked about a commitment to repeal and replace this deeply flawed legislation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Not repair?
PENCE: But he said, but he also said it would be an orderly transition. The way I interpret what the senator said, George, is that we're going to insure that we have that orderly transition.
But the American people know we can do better.
We can lower the cost of health insurance without growing the size of government with mandates and with taxes.
The president's committed to that.
And I have to tell you, we're very encouraged -- by the support and the partnership of leadership in the House and Senate in achieving just that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you going to pick a winner in the Super Bowl?
PENCE: I'm gonna go and cheer them on. I'm an Indianapolis Colts fan so I'll be on neutral ground in the Houston owners' suite. And what a privilege it will be to be there with President George Herbert Walker Bush. We're so pleased. I know the president is pleased to see him doing well, there for the coin toss. And -- to be able to be there to celebrate that great tradition, in the company of some of America's heroes, will be a great privilege for Karen and I.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Have a good time.
Nice to see you, sir.
PENCE: Thanks, George.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: Do you respect Putin?
TRUMP: I do respect him.
O'REILLY: Do you?
TRUMP: Well, I respect a lot of people. But that doesn't mean I’m going get along with him. He's a leader of his country. I say it's better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world --
TRUMP: -- major fight, that's a good thing.
Will I get along with him?
I have no idea.
O'REILLY: He's a killer, though. Putin is a killer.
TRUMP: You got a lot of killers. We got a lot of killers.
What, you think our country is so innocent?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: President Trump there with Bill O'Reilly. I’m joined now by Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar.
Thank you for joining us.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Thank you, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, well you just heard the president right there, he ended with a question.
“Our country is so innocent?”
KLOBUCHAR: What I would say here is you cannot compare any leaders in our country to what Vladimir Putin has done. This is a man and a regime that has taken down a passenger plane in Ukraine, killing hundreds of people.
This is a regime that has been known to poison human rights activists, including a recent incident, where someone is laying in a coma in a hospital. This is a regime that, we believe -- 17 intelligence agencies in our own country have said -- has tried to influence our own election.
I don’t think there's any comparison. And I really do resent that he would say something like that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Quite a contrast also from what we saw from Vice President Pence right there, who said that basically we're watching what Russia is doing, especially in Ukraine.
KLOBUCHAR: Yes. And I appreciate that as well as the U.N. ambassador’s recent speech.
But what we would like to see from the administration, as someone that went recently to Ukraine and the Baltics with Senator McCain and Graham. And I saw firsthand what they're facing every day there.
We would like to see support from the administration for the expanded sanctions bill as well as the independent commission to be able to look what these cyber attacks were, not just on our election, by the way. This isn't just about one candidate, one party, one country. They've engaged in these attacks all over the world.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You also opposed the president’s executive order suspending that travel from the seven Muslim nations.
Do you think that that will stand when it gets through the courts?
And what do you make of the president's tweet yesterday, talking about “that so-called judge”?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, it's not a surprise to me that you're seeing a number of courts across the country look at this and, in various ways, either temporarily staying it or, in the case of the Seattle judge, actually saying that it should be thrown out.
That is because it was done in a way -- I think my friend, Republican Senator Rob Portman said it best -- the vetting order wasn't vetted. There is a difference between being bold and being rash.
And when you put out an order that basically suspends the refugee program, not just in those countries but in every country in the world, when you put out an order that you have not worked with businesses or with your professionals in the security area, when you have done it, I don’t think it's a surprise there’s going to be court challenges or that you're going to have chaos, which is what we have seen all over the United States.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Schumer says the president's questioning as to the legitimacy of that judge is going to impact the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.
Do you agree?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, this has been a pattern with the president. He attacked Judge Curiel during the course of his campaign on the Trump University case. He attacked the acting attorney general.
And he's got to see that there are three equal branches of government here. And so when he attacks the independence of the judiciary, I think it does focus on the fight before us now.
And that is that we want to see a nominee that is independent, not just of a president but is not making decisions based on ideology but instead making decisions based on precedent.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned independence, Neal Katyal, who was President Obama's acting solicitor general, has come out in support of Judge Gorsuch. On that main point, he's already wrote in the New York Times, he said, Judge Gorsuch would help to restore confidence in the rule of law. His years on the bench reveal a commitment to judicial independence, a record that should give the American people confidence that he will not compromise principle to favor the president who
appointed him. Your response?
KLOBUCHAR: We have a solemn obligation here, George, to look at this judge's record. How his decisions have differed from precedent in the past. I have concerns, of course, I care a lot about campaign finance. And he made a decision, or he concurred in a decision, put out his own opinion, that went even farther than the other judges in terms of what it could do to campaign finance laws.
That being said, I'm a member of the judiciary committee, I think it is very important that we hear him out, that we listen to his views, and it's equally important that we keep in place the senate rules that say that the Supreme Court is different than the other judges, which have a 51-vote margin in
the Senate. This has a 60-vote threshold. And we have put in this place over the years so that you can get mainstream discussion, mainstream candidate that can get both Democrat and Republican votes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you heard Vice President Pence right there. He said that one way or the other, one way or the other, Judge Gorsuch is going to get confirmed. They're ready to do it if they have to, to change the rules, move it to 51 votes.
KLOBUCHAR: Let me make this clear, that is what the vice president said and the president has put out there, but Senator McConnell has made it clear that is the Senate's decision, and this is a longstanding Senate rule.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He has made it clear that it's the Senate's decision. He basically put it back on Senate Democrats, though. He says that that's up to you. If you decide to stonewall on Judge
Gorsuch, not provide the 60 votes, he's likely to change the rules.
KLOBUCHAR: Let's see what happens, because I believe that when you look at the past, when Democrats were in charge, we were concerned, well, what if Republicans are in charge, let's keep that 60-vote threshold in place. And it has been a long-standing precedent both the President's nominee, Obama's nominees, got over 60 votes. And that is the threshold.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think Judge Gorsuch can get over 60 votes?
KLOBUCHAR: I think everything depends on how he answers the questions. When we look at his record, we literally just got this nomination.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Klobuchar, thanks for joining us.
KLOBUCHAR: It was great to be on, George, thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's bring in Republican Senator Ben Sasse right now. He's come to us from Nebraska this morning. Senator Sasse, thank you for joining us this morning.
You just heard Senator Klobuchar talk about Judge Gorsuch there. Do you believe he's a mainstream candidate?
SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: Judge Gorsuch is a rock star. And I applaud the president for this pick. This is the kind of guy that the Founder's envisioned serving as a judge. He affirms the three branches of government and wants to defend individual rights and uphold the constitution. Everybody across the political spectrum should celebrate him.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it going to come to the nuclear option? And would you support changing the Senate rules?
SASSE: I really think those conversations are premature. I don't know why people would be
questioning Gorsuch. If you start reading his opinions, as I have been doing the last three weeks, he's the kind of guy who, I'm sure -- late at night when he gets home from his chambers and takes off
his robe, he probably has personal political views, but reading his opinions, I can't figure out what they are. He knows what a judge's job is. And he wants to defend the constitution. And he's not trying to be a super legislator.
So, I think it's premature to talk process fights when I think people across the political spectrum should be excited about this judge when they read his opinions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Confident he'll be on confirmed?
SASSE: I think he will.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about – you talked about the three branches of government. And during the campaign, you were actually quite critical of Mr. Trump. You said he displays essentially no understanding of our constitutional system of checks and balances with three separate, but co-equal branches of government.
Are we seeing that again with this attack on a so-called federal judge?
SASSE: I'll be honest, I don't understand language like that. We don't have so-called judges, we don't have so-called senators, we don't have so-called presidents, we have people from three different branches of government who take an oath to uphold and defend the constitution. And it's important that we do better civics education for our kids. So, we don't have any so-called judges, we have real judges.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And on the travel ban as well, you have been critical of the travel ban, you said it will make our country less safe. I guess the question for you is what can the senate do about that?
SASSE: Well, actually, back up. I would like to give the full context of what I said. I applaud what the president is trying to do in focusing attention on the fact that we haven't taken borders seriously enough, and we haven't done enough vetting of a lot of folks trying to come to the U.S., especially from nations that have failed states.
If you look at places like Syria and Libya, there hasn't been enough vetting going on over the
course of the last couple of years. And so I applaud the president's goal.
Now, once we affirm the goal of trying to make sure that you don't have jihadis infiltrating terrorist flows, we need to make sure we're doing it in a thoughtful way that's thinking about the 10 and 15 and 20 years long battle we're going to have against jihadists.
There are two ways that you can go wrong in our long-term fight against jihadis.
One would be to not acknowledge that terrorism and especially jihadi-motivated terrorism, comes from specific places in the world and is connected to specific ideologies.
But another way to fall off a cliff and harm our long-term interests would be to imply that the U.S. is at war with Islam. And obviously, this wasn't a Muslim ban, it was a travel ban. But it's been done j it was done in a clunk enough way that initial weekend that jihadi recruiters could present it to the people they are trying to recruit as if the U.S. is against all Muslims. And we know that we're not at war with all Muslims, we're at war with a subset of Islam that believes in killing in the name of religion, as jihadis do.
So we've got to have a long-term focus in the way we implement this and frankly, I think the administration has taken some important steps to improve upon the clunkiness of the initial weekend.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And on R, we saw the president's comments today. You heard Senator Klobuchar, another one of your Republican colleagues, Marco Rubio, has weighed in this morning on Twitter.
He said, "When has a Democratic political activist been poisoned by the GOP or vice versa?
We are not the same as Putin."
That was signed "M.R." Marco Rubio.
Your response to the president?
SASSE: You know, I'll be honest, I don't know what the president is trying to do with statements like he allegedly has on O'Reilly, on the Super Bowl tonight. So I've only seen little clips of it. There may be a broader context.
But let's be clear.
Has the U.S. ever made any mistakes?
Is the U.S. at all like Putin's regime?
Not at all.
Truth affirms freedom of speech. Putin is no friend of reli -- freedom of speech.
Putin is an enemy of freedom of religion. The U.S. celebrates freedom of religion.
Putin is an enemy of the free press. The U.S. celebrates free press.
Putin is an enemy of political dissent. The U.S. celebrates political dissent and the right for people to argue free from violence about places or ideas that are in conflict.
There is no moral equivalency between the United States of America, the greatest freedom living nation in the history of the world and the murderous thugs that are in Putin's defense of his cronyism.
STEPHANOPOULOS: More broadly...
SASSE: There's no moral equivalency there.
STEPHANOPOULOS: More broadly, are Senate Republicans in the same place as President Trump on the issue of Russia?
SASSE: I don't understand what the president's position is on Russia, but I can tell you what my position is on Russia.
Russia is a great danger to a lot of its neighbors and Putin has, as one of his core objectives, fracturing NATO, which is one of the greatest military alliances in the history of the world.
And so Putin is a mess. He's committed all sorts of murderous thuggery. And I am opposed to the way Putin conducts himself in world affairs and I hope that the president also wants to show moral leadership about this issue.
STEPHANOPOULOS: On spending, on the issue of spending, you've often warned that the U.S. is on a path toward a Greek-style debt crisis and that health entitlements are the single greatest culprit.
President Obama has vowed not to teach Medicare.
Can you support a budget that increases the debt or the debt and deficits that does not touch Medicare?
SASSE: Let's have a long-term conversation about what's actual wrong.
Because when you go to town halls, when I do town halls across Nebraska, lots of our folks know the $90 trillion or $20 trillion number that's the publicly held bond debt number.
But the real number of the US' obligations, unfunded obligations that we're passing on to our future generates is more like $70 trillion to $75 trillion. The vast majority of that is health entitlements -- Medicare, Obamacare, Medicaid. There's also Social Security, interest on the debt. But fundamentally, health entitlements are the thing that will bankrupt our kids. We need to fix that for the long-term.
We obviously have to honor the commitments that have been made to the people who are already retired or near the retirement age. But we need to tell the truth about the fact that when we set the retirement age at age 65 in this country, life expectancy was only 62.
Now, it's about 80. My 5-year-old kid running around here in the background getting ready for church this morning has a 50-50 statistical probability of living to age 100. He's not going to retire at age 65 and play 35 years of middle class entitlement golf.
We should tell the long-term truth about health entitlements and start fixing it for people that are 50 and 55 and below. But nobody is trying to change Medicare for people who are already on it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And a final question.
You've been so critical of President Trump during the campaign and you voted -- you actually voted -- you wrote in Mike Pence for president.
What is -- from what you've seen over the first two weeks, has that increased your confidence in the president's leadership?
SASSE: You know, frankly, I don't think we do a great job in this country any more of distinguishing between campaigns and governance. We live in an environment that's all campaign all of the time and it's helpful, now that we've moved beyond a campaign and an election to get into a governance posture.
And my position is this. The president is the president. And every American, regardless of who you voted for, if you voted for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Donald Duck, I don’t really care. We should all hope that the president does a good job, that he’s surrounded by wise counselors, that he advances U.S. interests.
And we should vigorously debate policy differences. We have too much all-or-nothing in American politics. People think if they voted for somebody, they should reflexively defend everything they do or say.
And if you voted against somebody, you should just as reflexively oppose everything they do or say. It’s not very helpful. What’s more constructive for our kids is to go on a case-by-case basis, evaluating particular policies.
When the president does something great, like he did in nominating Neil Gorsuch, absolute rock star, I’m going to applaud him and salute it and celebrate it and try to campaign hard for Gorsuch to get confirmed.
On the other hand, when there are places where we differ, not just with this president but with future presidents, we should have more vigorous debate. In the American constitutional system of three different branches, conflict -- and I mean that peaceful, vigorous debate -- it’s a feature of our system, not a bug. We need less all-or -- winner-take-all politics.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Sasse, thanks for joining us this morning.
SASSE: Thanks for being in Nebraska.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And when we come back, the roundtable weighs in on another tumultuous week for President Trump and his team.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): That is Republican Congressman Tom McClintock of California, met by anti-Trump protesters. He needed a police escort out of the town meeting. So we're seeing the seeds of a liberal Tea Party. Our roundtable is going to weigh in -- next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: Send in Steve Bannon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, Donald, that's enough fun for tonight. Can I have any desk back?
BALDWIN: Yes, of course, Mr. President, I'll go sit at my desk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Big four years ahead for Alec Baldwin and Saturday Night Live.
Let's talk about all of this on our roundtable. Joined by our political analyst Matthew Dowd; GOP strategist, CNBC contributor Sara Fagen; Democratic congressman Andre Carson; Republican Congressman Tom Cole; and Jennifer Palmieri who served as communications director for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Welcome to you all.
And Matt, let's begin, constant news over the weekend on this executive order. You saw that refusal of a stay early this morning. But this is shaping up to be a real showdown between the administration and the courts. A very good chance it'll go all the way to the Supreme Court.
MATTHEW DOWD, ABC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, and just stepping back a little bit, we're drowning in tweets. And we're thirsty for a sense of wisdom.
And I think this is part of the problem when you have a president who is all about action or not about reflection or contemplation in any of this. So, he gets himself involved in a situation where it's basically unvetted policy that gets put out there, that has many constitutional problems in the course of this when he needs victory. I mean, he needs to convince the public he's going to rule or lead in a
unified way. And every part of this continues to divide the country.
SARA FAGEN, GOP STRATEGIST: Yes, there's a -- I think, an appreciation by his supporters that he is aggressive and moving quickly the spirit of what he's trying to do is prudent. But the way it was executed was so poor that it makes it harder for him to bring people together to try to implement policy.
I mean the thing that, you know, when you're in an administration, particularly early in the stages, and you're trying to work with Congress, you've got to think, every action has an impact down the road. And he needs to be doing things now that bring people together, not divide them.
And he's not doing that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, and Congressman Carson, I wonder if now, based on that Tweet we saw yesterday about the so-called judge, now if he gets a court to agree with him, it raises the question, are they bowing to pressure from the executive branch?
REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA: Well, in this case, thank God for the founding fathers, who set up three separate branches of government. And the media acting as the Fourth Estate. I mean his impulsivity concerns me. He's fanning the flames of xenophobia and Islamophobia and the American people are speaking out against it.
REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: Look, I think we've had two presidents in a row that tried to unite the American people and both of them failed, quite frankly. And I think this president has decided he's going to get things done. That's how -- that's going to be his measuring rod.
And it's been a -- it was a bumpy rollout of the executive order, no doubt about it. They had to make changes afterwards, which goes to Matthew's point. They hadn't thought all of it through.
But the basic point about being worried about these specific countries, being concerned about the security of the American people, and frankly, it polls pretty well, if you wanted to use that as a measure.
I think, look, he's had an interesting opening two weeks, but I think he's going to be a lot more effective than most people give him credit for.
JENNIFER PALMIERI, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR HILLARY CLINTON AND BARACK OBAMA: There's a lot of process and style problems, but I think we should step back and note that he campaigned as a demagogue and he's persuading as a demagogue. And if -- if you were setting out to have that be what your presidency was about, he has taken all the steps to do that.
So at a substantive level, we should all be very concerned.
In terms of how they're operating the White House, I understand they had this chaos theory. This is just chaos. A good chaos theory means you have a disciplined strategy behind the scenes of how you're going to roll out policy. And then you do it in a way that inflicts chaos on the press and your opponents.
but what they have done here is just -- is just chaos. And I understand that they're doing what their base wanted and they're keeping their base content...
STEPHANOPOULOS: We're in the promise keeping business, you heard Vice President Pence say...
PALMIERI: Right. But what the -- what their problem is doing that, first of all, they're doing it badly. It's bad policy, too. But they are igniting on our side, they are igniting an opposition and passion in the opposition that I -- we have never -- literally, we have never seen in this country --
DOWD: Well, and I think they're...
FAGEN: More so than the Tea Party.
DOWD: Here's the bigger. I think a huge problem that existed. And first, they've misread the election, in my view, that Donald Trump and (INAUDIBLE), they think that the majority of the country is with them on these things...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Maybe they don't care. Maybe they care about having...
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- their base solid and that's enough to get through their policies.
DOWD: Well, here's the problem --
DOWD: -- that -- that exists as long as Republicans don't start eventually peeling away, which will ultimately happen. It's happened to other Republican presidents when they've lost a big part of the support.
But my concern is this, is much of these policies are based on the fears of his base instead of the facts eliminates of this. And Ben Franklin said once -- and I'm thinking of this executive power -- Ben Franklin said if you give up freedom to get security, you deserve neither.
And in this case, there is no connect the dots to the seven countries he chose. There's no real connect the dots in this -- in the realm of this.
And I have to say, you -- everybody can say this isn't a Muslim ban, it is a Muslim ban.
If I campaigned to say I want to keep the Irish out of the country and then when I became president, I said, no, I'm not going to do that, I'm just going to keep people of Ireland out of the country, everybody would know what it is.
COLE: Oh, that's just...
COLE: -- that's not the case.
COLE: We have over 40 countries Muslim majority countries that aren't affected by this at all.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
COLE: If you look at these seven countries, ISIL isn't a big part of those seven countries. If you look at the governments, they mostly can't cooperate with us, even if they want to. And certainly in the course of Iran, they don't.
You've got state sponsors of terrorism. To suggest this is a Muslim ban, that's just wrong.
DOWD: It's absolutely...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But here's the thing that...
DOWD: Congressman, Trump has a lot of best interests in many of the countries who are not on the list.
How do you explain that one?
Would you build businesses in Syria today?
Would you build them in Somalia...
COLE: -- egregious Sunday.
DOWD: -- Thomas, a single terrorists from one of those seven countries committed an act in the United States?
COLE: Well, by that definition, I guess we should -- any country that has, you want them under a ban?
DOWD: Well, why isn't Saudi Arabia...
DOWD: -- under the ban?
COLE: Because you look at places where governments aren't functioning and can't help you vet people.
COLE: Do you think we can adequately vet people in Syria? Do you?
DOWD: He campaigned on a temporary Muslim ban.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
DOWD: That's what he campaigned on.
COLE: He's also pulled back from that...
FAGEN: Look, there are risks in those countries...
COLE: -- during the course of the campaign.
FAGEN: But the -- the bigger challenge for him, I think, is if you sort of step back and you think about the last 10 days. It's, in many ways, been the best of Trump and the most challenging of Trump's actions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And the best, you're saying is the Supreme Court pick?
FAGEN: The Supreme Court, you know, from the great tactical move in the campaign of releasing the list and bringing conservatives to his side, to the execution of a terrific judge, it's been a great, you know, period of time for him.
And at the same time, you have this travel ban going upon. And the confluence of these two things, you know, could make it such that you know, he puts Gorsuch in a much worse position because if we end up in the Supreme Court on this travel ban, the politics of the court confirmation process, which is the most important thing to Donald Trump's base, the most important thing, and that's, to me, where the administration needs to step back and think more strategically and more broadly.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And that’s exactly what Senator Schumer --
FAGEN: They could have waited three weeks or a month on this travel ban if it was that important to them.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I’m going to bring here what you said about Judge Gorsuch to Jennifer.
This is putting Democrats in a bit of a tough spot, Here's a judge who got a 99-0 voice -- basically a voice vote confirmation. He's got the support of liberals like Neal Katyal. And then what the Republicans are saying is that it's up to the Democrats to decide whether you're going to pull that nuclear trigger or not and change the rules on the Supreme Court.
PALMIERI: Yes. I think they have to -- Democrats have to pull all the way back and not -- and have a theory of the case about how they're going to be in opposition to this president. And I think they have an enormous burden on them. And they can't get -- I think they should follow the rules of our democracy.
Their -- the founders put good guard rules in place. They need to follow the rules. But they should not follow convention.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What does that mean?
PALMIERI: So that means -- that means you -- they have to do -- they resist but that's different than obstructing. So I think they have to do everything that is allowed under the Constitution, everything that’s allowed under Senate rules, to hold Trump accountable, to try to ferret out what this judge might really think about presidential powers.
Whatever the -- whatever is in front of them, they have to -- they have to push to the furthest spot that's allowed under the law and that means not following convention. You know, convention would say that a president gets to pick their cabinet and you largely defer to them.
But in this case, when you have someone like Ben Carson who says I don’t think I’m qualified for the job, when you have somebody like Governor Perry, who said -- who wanted to get rid of the department he's
supposed to head, they shouldn’t be confirmed. They have to -- they can't get caught up in like what -- how Republicans acted or how Democrats did it under President Bush.
They have got to be as aggressive as possible in defending our policies.
DOWD: I think -- I mean, Washington always has a high level of hypocrisy, right, but I think the level of hypocrisy that has come out of the United States Senate on both sides of the aisle is amazing.
So here's what we have, a Senate that basically Republicans didn't allow a vote on Merrick Garland, who was approved on his Court of Appeals by a majority --
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- say that’s reason enough not to fill the court.
DOWD: -- right and I don’t agree with that. So I think Republicans should have voted; it's their job to vote. It’s their job to hold hearings and their job to vote and let the votes fall where they may.
I think the Democrats, they ought to say, we're going to do an extreme vetting on this. But we’re going to put this up to a vote. It’s going to be a vote and that's what the Constitution says. That's what the rule is. You can't keep changing the rules based upon who holds political power.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You don’t have a vote.
Where do you stand on this question?
CARSON: I agree to some degree. I think that this is a great lesson in civics for the American people. People are weighing in. But I actually share his opinion.
FAGEN: Yes, I think Democrats are in a real pickle on this one because of the qualifications and the impeccable standards by this judge is being viewed by nearly everybody who has ever worked with him, Democrat or Republican like him.
So Chuck Schumer trying to play the obstructionist has nine Democrats up for election in 2018 in states that Donald Trump won, five of whom won by somewhere between 19 -- Donald Trump won somewhere between 19-21 points in these states.
Is he going drive these folks off a cliff?
DOWD: But is a little bit hypocritical for the Republicans to talk about the Democrats’ obstruction after they did what they --
FAGEN: But it is a completely different situation, Matt, in that, one, you're in the final year of an administration. And, two, the Republicans controlled the Senate.
PALMIERI: It was a year out. It was a year out. It was a full year.
PALMIERI: That should matter that --
COLE: But with all due respect, you know, President Obama, when he was in the Senate, tried to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee. You know, Vice President Biden laid out the idea, you shouldn't bring in anybody in the last year, particularly if it would tilt the balance of the court.
PALMIERI: Yes, they didn't --
COLE: So --
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- pose a slightly different question to you. And it’s playing off what Matt was saying, what you were saying about the polls earlier.
Do you think this White House is looking at the polling in a conventional way?
And how is it going to affect Republican members of Congress, like you, if he sticks it in the 40s or below, on his overall popularity rating, how much does that matter to you and your colleagues?
Or is what is more important where he stands in your district?
COLE: Well, if you're just going to look at it politically, I think your district’s always more important or your state. And the reality is, if he’s in the mid-40s, that means probably among the people that voted for me, he’s in the 80s.
So you don’t look at it in terms of the overall electorate. You look at it in terms of your own position, if that's a driving factor. It shouldn't be. It's always something that politicians by their very nature take into consideration.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think that’s going to be the ultimate decider?
DOWD: Well, as I said the other day to you, George, to me, polls are like approval ratings for presidents are like an offensive line, right. And if an offensive line is weak, that means the defense is empowered and emboldened. And they're going to come and blitz and they're going to come and try to disrupt the quarterback. And they're going to do that.
I think Tom is right as until Donald Trump's numbers start deteriorating in a serious way among Republicans, it won't matter, those polls won't matter, until that happens.
COLE: Three-quarters of our conference has never served with a Republican president. And they've never served with a president that can literally reach into their base and generate hundreds of telephone calls and pressure. His position is – amongst Republicans is very powerful. He'll have a pretty good year.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I guess the question is going to be what will the difference that Jennifer was talking about earlier that you're seeing these protests crop up pretty spontaneously around the country, how powerful is that going to be?
FAGAN: Well, I think – I agree with Mat, you know, if it's just on the left, if it's just the Democratic Tea Party, it is probably not going to dissuade the administration from taking any action it wants to put forth. If it starts to come from Republicans, if you start to see senators like Ben Sasse, who was very respectful, but also you know just earlier on the program, was quick to condemn some of Donald Trump's comments.
If you start to see that among a majority of the Senate, among many members of the House, among the Republican base and conservative writers, it's going to get a lot harder for them to accomplish what they want to.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you to see that coming?
CARSON: I think we're seeing buyer's remorse as we speak. Vice President Pence mentioned the first few weeks of action. I think we're seeing the first few weeks of disaster and distraction. More and more independents, more and more libertarians, more and more Republicans are saying I actually voted for this guy. He does not represent my values.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is going to have to be the last word today. Thank you all very much. We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And now we honor our fell Americans who serve and sacrifice. In the month of January, three service members died supporting operations in the Middle East.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT". And I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA".