'This Week' Transcript 9-2-18: Sen. Ron Johnson and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta

PHOTO: Leon Panetta speaks during a discussion on countering violent extremism, at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Oct. 23, 2017 in Washington, D.C.PlayDrew Angerer/Getty Images
WATCH Leon Panetta: Mueller's report 'will ultimately determine whether' to impeach

A rush transcript of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated. For previous show transcripts, visit the “This Week” transcript archive.

ANNOUNCER: This Week with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.

MARTHA RADDATZ, HOST: A final salute and a challenge to a divided nation and its leaders.

MEGHAN MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN'S WIFE: The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again, because America was always great.

RADDATZ: Political allies and adversaries honoring an american hero.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I got to enjoy one of life's great gifts, the friendship of John McCain.

BARACK OBAMA, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When all was said and done, we were all on the same team.

RADDATZ: McCain's final words of the country called for unity and respect, but is a polarized America ready to heed his message? And can anyone fill the void he leaves behind? We're one-on-one with McCain's Republican colleague, Senator Ron Johnson and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

And President Trrump ramping up his attacks on the russia investigation and the Justice Department.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will get involved and I'll get in there if i have to.

RADDATZ: But our new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows the majority of Americans back Mueller's investigation and half the country supports congress starting impeachment proceedings. Will the president's fate come down to which party wins control of congress? The powerhouse roundtable tackles it all.

And on this Labor Day weekend, we look at the wave of female veterans looking to take the fight to Washington.

How would you approach dealing with Donald Trump?

From the White House to your house, the facts that matter this week.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's this week. Here now, co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

RADDATZ: Good morning and thanks for joining us this Labor Day weekend. It was a remarkable scene here in Washington yesterday as mourners filled the national cathedral to pay their respects to the late senator John McCain, the kind of service normally reserved for presidents.

All week McCain services, final message and the speakers he hand-picked to eulogize him stood as an emotional admonishment of the partisan politics increasingly consuming this country. At times as much a censure of Donald Trump as an embrace of an American hero.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCCAIN: I am here before you today saying the words I have never wanted to say, giving this speech I have never wanted to give, feeling the loss I have never wanted to feel. My father is gone.

RADDTAZ: But on saturday, John McCain's voice was as clear and defiant as ever. In the sentiments of his daughter, Meghan McCain.

MCCAIN: We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness, the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who lived lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served.

RADDATZ: From her father's service and sacrifice to his vision of our nation.

MCCAIN: America does not boast because she has no need to. The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.

RADDATZ: That speech only part of a week long tribute that John McCain planned himself to showcase bipartisanship at its best.

BUSH: Back in the day, he could frustrate me, and I know he would say the same thing about me, but he also made me better.

RADDATZ: Two former presidents, former rivals, who defeated McCain in the political arena, lauding his legacy and his vision for the country.

OBAMA: So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage. John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that.

RADDATZ: Another thinly veiled rebuke to the current occupant to the White House who had challenged McCain's heroism, Trump was not invited to any of this week's ceremonies. He spent Saturday at the golf course instead.

Throughout the week as leaders praised McCain for reaching across the aisle, Trump called out the Democrats.

TRUMP: Today's Democrat Party is held hostage by left-wing haters, angry mobs, deep state radicals, establishment cronies, and their fake news allies.

RADDATZ: And while McCain's friends and family gathered this weekend to honor a war hero, Trump was tweeting about NAFTA, the Department of Justice, the FBI. Now as this Labor Day weekend marks the critical final stretch before Election Day, the president's words and actions will be hovering over the ballot.

According to our new ABC News-Washington Post poll, 60 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump's performance in office, a new high, and nearly half of Americans support Congress initiating impeachment proceedings against Trump.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RADDATZ: Here to discuss McCain's legacy and how it stands in contrast to President Trump, ABC News senior White House correspondent Cecilia Vega, ABC News's Cokie Roberts, and Chris Christie, an ABC News contributor and former governor of New Jersey.

Good morning to you all.

COKIE ROBERTS, ABC ANALYST: Good morning, Martha.

RADDATZ: And, Cokie, I want to start with you. That was such a powerful rebuke by Meghan McCain, our colleague here at ABC News on "The View." It really was as if John McCain was speaking through Meghan. Will that message echo through the chamber, especially on the Republican side?

ROBERTS: It's hard because that -- it is so divided, and it was a moment -- John McCain, as you said, orchestrated whole thing. And he did have Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, the leaders of the Senate, sitting together, Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan, the leaders of the House, sitting together, but then they go back and they have got their own constituents to worry about, and it's very difficult to see them coming together.

But the rebuke was so strong. I mean, it wasn't just Meghan. It was George Bush saying that our common humanity knows no borders and Barack Obama talking about the politics that pretends to be brave and tough is, in fact, born of fear.

I mean, there was just all through that ceremony, we were aware of the person who wasn't there.

RADDATZ: Exactly, Cecilia, the message was squarely aimed at President Trump. Do you think he received that message, and how do you think it was received?

CECILIA VEGA, ABC SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he was at the golf course, as you said, tweeting throughout most of the service. Look, there is no other way to say this other than President Trump was upstaged yesterday. Everyone who is anyone in Washington, except the commander -in-chief, the current sitting president of this country, was inside that church.

I don't need to know him or talk to my sources in the White House to know that that did not go over well with him. I think the reception is twofold. We saw John Kelly, the chief of staff, right there, towards the front of that church. We saw the secretary of defense...

RADDATZ: Jim Mattis.

VEGA: … Jim Mattis, both former Marine Corps generals. They subscribe to the same belief system that John McCain did. Service, country before party, a lifetime of service, dedication to that role. We know that Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, was essentially cringing, sitting on pins and needles this week, when the president was giving his interview with Bloomberg and started to talk about John McCain. And I think she was fearful he was going to go there again, and embarrass this White House, as many people had said that this White House was embarrassed in the middle of the flag controversy, and the president refusing, reportedly, to release a laudatory statement about John McCain.

So, but look, President Trump is playing to his base on this one. If you saw Twitter yesterday, there were people who are large Trump supporters who came out against what Meghan McCain said and saw this as political. So I don't think this is going to change. And I think the...

ROBERTS: Well, it was political. It was political. It was emotional, but it was political.

RADDATZ: And, Governor Christie, let's go to you here. The president was golfing, or heading for the golf course just as Meghan McCain was speaking. Do you think he understands the significance of the passing of John McCain?

CHRIS CHRISTIE, ABC CONTRIBUTOR: Sure. I think he understands the significance of the passing of John McCain, and quite frankly, I think that's what we should all be focused on. And this is part of the problem with Washington, D.C. It's the commentary we have been hearing for the last 24 hours or so since then is all about the rebukes supposedly of President Trump rather than the life of John McCain.

And the fact is that there were extraordinary tributes yesterday that we didn't hear any clips of before we all started speaking here, extraordinary things that were said by President Bush 43, by President Obama, by Joe Lieberman, who didn't rebuke President Trump at all yesterday in his remarks and focused on his friend, John McCain and the extraordinary man that he was, the extraordinary sense of humor he had, and his toughness, and his temper.

And I can tell you as a friend of John McCain's, this is a guy who when he was your friend, he was your friend. And I talked about this last week that when Bridgegate first came onto the scene in January of '14, and the media was absolutely savaging me without any evidence of me having done anything wrong, it was John McCain who picked up the phone and called me two days afterwards and said to me, listen, I just have one question for you, I've known you for a long time, did you have anything to do with this? And I said, absolutely not, John. And he said to me, well, good, tell your people to get me on every TV show they can get me on, because I'm going to defend your character.

That’s the guy I remember. That’s the guy who they were talking about yesterday in that cathedral. And quite frankly, I think the tribute to John McCain should be us talking about that. Next week we can talk about all the political ramifications, but quite frankly --

(CROSSTALK)

RADDATZ: Governor Christie, we’ve been talking about it all week and we’ve been certainly talking about the heroism of John McCain and carried that live on Saturday. But it was Megan McCain who got the most attention yesterday and you have to know that Donald Trump was the elephant in the room at that memorial service. So do you think he has handled this well?

CHRISTIE: The president of the United States, no matter who that person is, is always in the elephant in the room when they’re not there. The fact is that the president of the United States, no matter who they are, is always the biggest figure in American public political life.

RADDATZ: And he wasn’t there.

CHRISTIE: So the fact of the matter is -- I understand that. That was John McCain’s -- and that was John McCain’s desire and his desire should be respected. People who are not invited to a funeral shouldn’t show up. That’s not showing respect to the -- to the deceased. That’s showing disrespect for the deceased. It was good that the president didn’t try to elbow his way in there. And by the way, members of his family were there to show the respect of the Trump family.

Jared and Ivanka were both there and at the funeral and did so in a very respectful way. His chief of staff was there, John Kelly, who understands John McCain’s sacrifice because he’s had an even greater sacrifice himself by giving up his son for this country’s -- to defend this country. He’s a gold star father. So there were lots of representatives of the Trump administration there yesterday to show that this administration has great respect for John McCain despite whatever political disagreements they may have had over time.

RADDATZ: OK, thanks very much Governor Christie. Cokie, is there anyone who picks up the mantle of John McCain?

COKIE ROBERTS, JOURNALIST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: There’s no obvious person. There’s not a hero in the Senate or the House but there are people who try to do the kind of work that he does and do it much more quietly because he was unique in his -- his way of approaching things. They tend to be the women. The women in the Senate, particularly, are the people who work across party lines and try to actually just get something done. I was struck -- in all of this coverage that we’ve had of John McCain, who many of us have known lovingly and -- and sometimes not-so-lovingly for decades.

One of the most significant things was said by one of the women who was -- the woman who’s waiting in line to go into the capitol. And she said he never tweeted about something instead of solving something. And solving something is what we need to see more of.

RADDATZ: And Cecilia (ph), given what Governor Christie said, is that pretty much what -- what President Trump will do in the coming weeks. It’s behind us (ph), will it empower President Trump even more?

CECILIA VEGA, ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: Well look, I think if -- if people are hoping to see a change in tone and tenor from this president in the wake of this funeral, I can pretty much bet that you’re not going to see that. You didn’t see that in the days after his passing or leading up to his passing. I certainly don’t think his funeral is going to change anything. I think the New Yorker really spelled it out. They said that John McCain’s funeral was the biggest resistance meeting yet.

If anything, I think that we’ll start to see this turn into a political event. And we’ve already seen Katrina Pierson, the president’s long time surrogate saying essentially sorry not sorry, make America great again, he won, get over it. You know, I -- I -- I think it’s -- I think it could get ugly.

ROBERTS: But it was really something to see people from the last 50 years of Washington hierarchy sitting together, both parties, presidents, vice presidents, secretaries of state and not the president.

RADDATZ: It was an extraordinary memorial. Thanks, both of you, for coming in this morning.

So how do Republicans plan to answer the challenge McCain posed for the nation?

Joining me now, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, elected to the Senate in 2010. He replaced one of McCain’s allies on the Democratic side, Russ Feingold. He’s also chair of the Homeland Security Committee and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, I know you were at the memorial service yesterday. What does it say about President Trump that he wasn’t welcome at memorial services for one of the most widely respected individuals in our country.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Well, good morning, Martha. You know, I -- I was also at the rotunda. I was at the two and a half hour service yesterday. It was an honor and a privilege to be there. And I’ll just tell you, having sat in -- in -- in that chair, listening to the tributes, that’s what I took away from it. I -- I -- I watched a daughter grieving for the loss of her father and all -- and how important John McCain was and what a great father he was.

I listened to Joe Lieberman and Henry Kissinger and President Bush and President Obama primarily talk about who John was and what he brought to America and the cause that John McCain fought tirelessly for throughout his life, what he sacrificed for.

And (inaudible) that’s – that’s what I heard, yes, there were some political comments made, but by and large it was a tribute to John McCain and that was fitting and proper that that’s basically what the message was.

John McCain was an extraordinary individual. He is irreplaceable to the United States Senate because of what his history was, what his background was, what he focused. And so now I think we – you know, we all knew John was going to, you know, was going to pass.

We knew it was inevitable, and last week, you know, that came to fruition. It was a very sad, very – very sober, but it cam also be very uplifting if we listen to John’s words. Let me just – let me just read, because I think this is probably the best way to summarize this from John’s own farewell address.

The last paragraph, do not despair of our present difficulties, but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit, we never surrender, we never hide from history, we make history.

That’s who John McCain was, that is the cause he fought for, and that – I’m just telling him (ph), sitting in the pew listening to the – the service, that’s what I really was thinking about and that’s what we should all really take away from, you know, this week of tribute to John McCain.

RADDATZ: Senator, how do you as a member of Congress balance the challenge of working with this president who thrives on tribal politics and McCain’s challenge for the Senate to rise above that and work across the aisle?

JOHNSON: Listen, I come from the business world where you tenaciously pursue areas of agreement. You know, I see the word compromise, the better way of approaching all of these issues is find the areas of agreement.

You know, generally we all agree on the same goal, we – we – we view (ph) this country, we love this country, the freedoms, individual liberty, we want a safe, prosperous, secure America.

That’s what John focused on, the areas of agreement, don’t insist on getting everything your way. In the very end, its, you know, the areas of disagreement, that’s where we have to start compromising.

But if you concentrate on the areas of agreement, the goals, the purpose, the greatness of this country, that’s how you accomplish things. And, you know, for my part as chairman of homeland security, under President Obama we signed into law 50 pieces of legislation that focused on a problem and found a solution on a bipartisan or non-partisan basis.

There is a way of doing this, but again, don’t exploit the divisions in our politics, concentrate on the areas of agreement. That’s what John did and he – he showed us the way to do it.

RADDATZ: And Senator, the president does loom large over the midterms and our new ABC News Washington Post poll finds that the president’s disapproval rating has hit an all time high at 60 percent and nearly half of Americans, 49 percent, say Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump, including 51 percent of moderates.

How do Republican candidates overcome the cloud of investigations that hang over the president, especially in a key swing state like yours?

JOHNSON: I think we should point out the reality of all the good things this administration has done. We stopped adding to the regulatory burden, we have a more competitive tax system.

In just the first six quarters of this administration, business investment has increased 7.3 percent on average, the last years under Obama it only increased .6 percent. It’s that business investment that will I think lay the foundation for strong, economic progress, more – more prosperity, better opportunities for every American.

So we’ve done a lot of good things, we’ve – we’ve appointed and confirmed judges –

(CROSS TALK)

RADDATZ: But let’s go back to that poll, Senator. Go back to that poll –

(CROSS TALK)

-- really tough numbers.

JOHNSON: Well listen, you know, if I – if I believed in polls I wouldn’t have even run in 2016. So I’m not a big believer in the polls, there’s only one poll that counts, it’s on election day, and we’ll see the – really the verdict of the American public.

But over the next two months, Republicans just have to point out the success and it’s been an astonishing success, 4.1 percent growth in just the last quarter. And again, we’ve laid the foundation that the main number there is really the 7.3 percent increase in the first six quarters of business investment.

It’s an – it’s an extraordinary accomplishment because we (inaudible) government out of the way of the private sector, that’s how you create opportunity and prosperity for Americans.

So we’ve got a great –

(CROSS TALK)

RADDATZ: OK, we can see how those campaigns are going to go.

(CROSS TALK)

JOHNSON: -- focus on.

RADDATZ: OK, thanks Senator Johnson. I want to move to confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, Supreme Court seat up for confirmation this week. Democrats are expected to press Kavanaugh to recuse himself from any investigation – any cases that involve investigations against President Trump.

Should he do that if he is confirmed?

JOHNSON: I mean, probably depends on the case. But again, Brett Kavanaugh, an extraordinary judge, you know, a long record, 12 years on the D.C. circuit court bench, over 300 decisions.

I mean, Democrats have more than enough information to understand that this is a highly qualified jurist that should be the next Supreme Court justice. In -- in an earlier time, 30 years ago, he would have passed unanimously. It’s unfortunate that -- that Ted Kennedy began this process of very divisive confirmation battles for the Supreme Court.

RADDATZ: And -- and should he recuse himself?

JOHNSON: Listen, totally depends on the case. You know, Elena Kagan recused herself from cases that she was completely involved in. I can’t make that judgment unless you take a look at the --

RADDATZ: Cases involving President Trump.

JOHNSON: And -- and I’m sure Judge -- Judge -- Judge Kavanaugh will follow the -- the -- you know, the guidelines and recuse himself in cases where he should. But by and large, I think a judges -- justices should be involved in -- in cases.

RADDATZ: OK. Thanks very much, Senator Johnson. We appreciate you joining us.

Coming up, as President Trump openly debates the merits of his own impeachment, should Democrats put the issue at the top of their agenda. Former White House chief of staff and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta joins me here to discuss that and more. Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Singing "Oh Danny Boy")

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: A powerful moment yesterday. Cindy McCain leaning on her son Jack during the service for her husband at Washington’s National Cathedral. Joining me now is former Defense Secretary and former CIA Director, Leon Panetta. He served in Congress with McCain and worked with him closely over the years on intelligence and foreign policy issues. It is great to see you, Secretary Panetta. I know you were there for the memorial service in the National Cathedral. Tell us what that was like for you.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY AND CIA DIRECTOR: It's a - it's one of the most moving memorials that I've ever attended because it was truly a tribute to a statesman, a patriot and a warrior. But more importantly, when you look at music and those that spoke, it was really a celebration of country and I think that is what John would have wanted.

And the message was not so much to the president, the message was really to the American people about what love of country really has to be all about.

RADDATZ: You say it wasn't a message to President to Trump but there were some clear messages to President Trump there. You know, he apparently wasn't watching that service. What do you say about those messages directly to the president? You had Joe Lieberman saying John McCain's death has reminded the nation that strong values, human rights, democracy, equal justice under law are far more important than the tribal partisanship and personal attack politics that have recently characterized our life.

PANETTA: Well there's no question that this has really been a week of contrasts with John McCain, someone who fought bravely in battle, someone completely devoted to this country and its values, who is a fighter for helping people in this country. Contrasting that with the president and the way this president has acted particularly over these last few weeks with the tweets and with the comments and with the attacks on our justice system and on the press. There's no question that there was that larger contradiction that I think represented for John McCain that country is much more important than the politics of this president and that's what we have to focus on.

RADDATZ: And as we approach the midterms, you were Chief of Staff to President Clinton before impeachment proceedings, do you think it's wise for Democrats if they retake the House to start impeachment proceedings? Is it wise politically for them to do that?

PANETTA: No not at all. I think the most important things that the Democrats could do is to allow Bob Mueller to complete his work. I think Bob Mueller's report will ultimately determine whether or not there are going to be additional steps taken against the president and they ought not to get ahead of that report because that will be the key to determining what happens in the future.

RADDATZ: You mentioned the Mueller investigation and Rudy Giuliani told "The Daily Beast" this week that Trump's legal team is preparing a counter report to question Mueller's legitimacy. Do you have concerns that the Trump team can undermine this investigation even before it's an issue?

PANETTA: You know Bob Mueller is focusing on several things right now. Obviously he's gone after individuals and he's gone after Russians that were involved in coming after our election system. They are getting very close to making a case for obstruction of justice not only by the steps that were taken in terms of the president demeaning and attacking a witch hunt, but also the fact that Rudy Giuliani himself said that the whole purpose of their effort is to undermine the credibility of the Special Counsel.

And then when you add to that the dismissal of those that were involved in the investigation, I think you begin to piece together the kind of case that could form around an obstruction of justice trial. So I think they have to be very careful to use this tactic of trying to undermine the Special Counsel and the special prosecutor because I think that could backfire.

RADDATZ: And -- and I want to move on to foreign policy if we could. I know one of the last conversations you had with John McCain was about North Korea. The President has now cancelled Mike Pompeo's trip to North Korea saying they haven't made enough progress. Where do you think this stands now and what do you do about it?

PANETTA: Well I'm very worried about the situation because frankly I think we have a failed summit on our hands right now and there's a long list of failed efforts throughout history, this may be another one of those. And the problem is that in many ways it was doomed to failure from the beginning because there was never the preparatory work that has to be done prior to a summit meeting. This was all about show. It was about shaking hands and exchanging words but the underlying work on process, on looking at nuclear weapon sites, on inspection regimes, on what should be done with sanctions, all of the things that need to be done to produce some kind of peaceful solution were not done.

RADDATZ: Of course Donald Trump was handed a very bad hand on that.

PANETTA: There's no question -- there's no question.

RADDATZ: If not already, he could probably at any point get a nuclear weapon that could reach the United States, an ICBM. So, indeed he ratcheted up the rhetoric but what else could he have done to delay that? You talk about that work. That's the work they're trying to do now.

PANETTA: Well, look, what needs to be done now because it wasn't done before is the basic diplomatic work that looks at all the issues that are involved here, puts them all on the table and begins a diplomatic process between the United States, North Korea, hopefully South Korea as part of that as well as Japan. But putting those parties together with everything on the table so that you can begin to make the tradeoffs that are part of what ultimately would be a resolution to the situation. That's the only way it's going to happen.

RADDATZ: Donald Trump says he still has a fantastic relationship with Kim Jong-un. Why is he saying things like that?

PANETTA: Well, this isn't about the dominance of personalities, this is about the hard work of negotiating the solution to the differences between North Korea and the United States and South Korea. And there are a lot of issues at stake here, but none of that work has been done. We don't know where those nuclear sites are. We don't know where the missile sites are. We don't know where a lot of their chemical sites are located. We have not developed any kind of inspection regime. All of that needs to be on the table. That's what needs to be discussed and we have yet to have a serious meeting on those issues. That's the problem.

RADDATZ: OK, I wanted to talk about one last thing here and that's another enduring problem in foreign policy and that is Afghanistan. We are approaching 17 years in Afghanistan. You were, of course, helped lead the raid that eventually killed Osama bin Laden. That was seven-and-a-half years ago. We're still there. None of us want another 9/11 but should we still be there?

PANETTA: I think it's very important not to allow Afghanistan to collapse and then allow the Taliban to restore their influence.

RADDATZ: Is there a different way to do that than we're doing now?

PANETTA: I think that what is needed here is a strategy to secure the country of Afghanistan. We have troops there. But what I think is lacking is a specific strategy for how we are going to secure that country...

RADDATZ: After 17 years? I feel like I've heard that before.

PANETTA: No, you're absolutely right you've heard it before. And the problem is that the specific strategy for how we are going to deal with Afghanistan was never really laid out by any administration frankly. And ultimately what needs to be done if we're going to have forces there, if we're going to work with the Afghans is we have got to be able to secure that country and allow it govern itself. That still remains to be done. There's a lot of corruption. There's a lot of tribalism in that country. We have not dealt with the problems of Afghanistan that have to be resolved if we're ever going to save Afghanistan itself.

RADDATZ: Thank you very much for that. We hope we can solve it as well and thanks for joining us this morning Secretary Panetta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RADDATZ: Coming up, a surge of female veterans are running for congress looking for a new way to serve their country. How could they change the face of Washington?

And the powerhouse roundtable takes on a very busy week in politics. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RADDATZ: The roundtable’s up next, ready to take on the week. And all week long you can get the latest on politics with breaking news alerts on the ABC News app. We’ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RADDATZ: There’s been much talk of a pink wave coming to Congress in 2018, as a record number of women run for office. But that pink wave may also have a camouflage tint, with nearly a dozen female veterans winning their party’s nomination for seats in the House and Senate.

The halls of Capital Hill used to be filled with veterans, 50 years ago, more than 70 percent of Congress had served in the military. Today it’s only one in five. So will a new crop of female veterans reinforce the ranks of vets on Capital Hill.

I asked some of them this week how their service will shape their approach to Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: From Kentucky –

AMY MCGRATH, POLITICIAN: When I was 12 years old, I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up.

I wanted to fly fighter jets.

RADDATZ: To Texas –

M.J. HEGAR, VETERAN, AIR FORCE: And that’s me, M.J. Hagar, an Air Force combat veteran and a mom. This door behind me is from my (inaudible) helicopter.

RADDATZ: To New Hampshire.

UNKNOWN: I knew right away I wanted to be a Marine. That was one of the easiest decisions I ever made.

RADDATZ: To the winner of the Republican Senate primary in Arizona this week.

REP. MARTHA MCSALLY (R), AZ: We need no double standards. I mean don’t make it harder on us, but don’t make it easier on us either.

RADDATZ: The first woman to fly in combat, Martha McSally is just one of the more than 30 female veterans who have campaigned for Congress this year.

Your service has been central to your campaign for Senate. Why do you think we have so many female vets at this time?

MCSALLY: Well I served 26 years, so it’s a story of my life, serving in uniform. People are tired of career politicians and that’s why us veterans are stepping up, because we care about our country and service and honor and sacrifice and getting the mission done, too.

RADDATZ: We still have that (ph) very touching photo of you saluting.

MCSALLY: To honor him and his capital where we served together, which I feel so humble to have done, but to – to render him that final solute was – was difficult, but also important for me.

RADDATZ: These female warriors are running on traits learned from their military service, courage, authenticity, integrity, that they think can be effective in Congress as well.

In Norfolk, Virginia, Elaine Luria is emphasizing lessons learned from her 20 year Naval career.

ELAINE LURIA, VETERAN, UNITED STATES NAVY: I’m sitting in the central control station, we’re operating eight nuclear reactors and I don’t turn to one of the sailors next to me and say are you a Democrat or are you a Republican?

It’s really about getting a mission done and I think that, you know, having that experience of, you know, working together with people of all perspectives, all backgrounds and accomplishing a mission is something that I think we as female veterans collectively feel we can take to Washington.

When this is your office, you’re only option is to work together. Congress could learn a thing or two at sea.

RADDATZ: You’ve gotten some heat for an ad you ran that makes it look like you’re on a ship. Do you regret doing that ad?

LURIA: Not at all, I’ve spent my entire career serving on ships, I was fortunate to be among the first group of women who from the very first day of my career had the opportunity to serve on combatant ships.

It doesn’t really hold water in my opinion that anyone would criticize my military record.

RADDATZ: Lynne Blankenbeker running in New Hampshire had her military credentials questioned as a Navy nurse was she combat proven, as her campaign slogan claimed?

LYNNE BLANKENBEKER, NAVY OFFICER, UNITED STATES: I was a military nurse for 32 years and during peace time and in war time, I was a combat nurse. My job was not to charge the beach head (ph) or take the bill (ph), but my task was to try and save the lives of those who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for all of us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: And toughness, another quality these women learned from serving, one that will serve them well on the campaign trail.

And of course, Labor Day weekend kicks off the final sprint until Election Day, so much at stake and the Round Table is here to discuss it all. ABC News Political Analyst Matthew Dowd, Vice News Shawna Thompson (sic), ABC News Political Director Rick Klein and Bloomberg News White House reporter Jennifer Jacobs, she interviewed the president just this week, and we’re going to get that – get to that in a minute.

But Rick, I got to start with you with those new poll numbers from the ABC News Washington Post poll. President Trump has the lowest approval rating heading into his first midterm election of any president since 1954.

How much will he loom over those elections?

RICK KLEIN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, ABC NEWS: This election is all about Donald Trump, but neither party disputes that. In fact, the president boasts of that a couple of times a week on the campaign trail.

But what it means to have a 36 percent approval rating, that is 10 points below where presidents Obama or Clinton were at this stage in their presidency, 12 points below Reagan.

All three of those men suffered devastating midterm losses. So the question of the president’s popularity is going to loom over all of this. You know, I have been talking to Republican strategists the last couple of days, and they’re making the case that a lot of their candidates can isolate themselves from the president. But they look at that 36 percent number -- and a couple of them made them point to me.

I can see why that could get worse between now and election day. It’s really hard to -- to think of a scenario where it gets measurably better, where the president isn’t an anchor.

RADDATZ: And -- and Matt, the president was tweeting about our poll Friday, clearly kind of irritated by those numbers. Does he recognize the trouble that Republicans are in November?

MATTHEW DOWD, POLITICAL ANALYST, ABC NEWS: Well, if he recognizes it, he’s not talking about it. I think he’s fed a lot of information that this is distinct from reality in this. I mean, one of the things that -- that -- let’s keep in mind is the president is the first president since polling began to never hit 50 percent approval in his first two years in office. Never hit 50 percent approval. Every other president has done that.

The underlying numbers in here are also really troublesome for the president, that when you look at strongly approve versus strongly disapprove, only 24 percent of the country strongly approve of this president. 53 percent of the country strongly disapproves of the president. That strongly approve has not moved. It’s basically been at 25 percent of the country through his whole presidency.

What’s troubling for him is the number of people that strongly disapprove increasingly is rising and that is measures (ph) enthusiasm. So people that say I’m going to run with Trump has a much smaller -- half the size of people that are going to run against Trump.

RADDATZ: And Sean and Thomas (ph), nearly half of those polled support Congress starting impeachment proceedings against the president but you may have heard Leon Panetta saying that that’s not really a good idea before the Mueller report comes out. Do you believe Democrats will proceed with caution.

SHAWNA THOMAS, BUREAU CHIEF, VICE NEWS: I think going into the midterm election they will continue to proceed with caution. I think if basically -- Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want to talk about this because she does not want to create a litmus test for these midterm candidates. And if a midterm candidate needs to run to the left and talk about impeachment, I think that’s one thing. But she doesn’t want to make everybody have to talk about impeachment.

Now, if the House of Representatives slips and becomes Democrats, impeachment will be something they will have to consider because a lot of their base is clamoring for that, as your poll kind of shows. But there’s also another power that you have once you take over the House that the Democrats will have and that is they can do investigations on a lot of things in the House Oversight Committee, in the House Financial Services Committee, and they’re going to.

They have already telegraphed that they’re going to if they take over the House.

RADDATZ: And -- and Jennifer (ph), back to your interview. As we said, you sat down with -- with some of your colleagues with the president this week. He declared if -- if they win back the House, Democrats can’t impeach him because he’s doing a great job. Is the White House prepared for this possible political battle?

JENNIFER JACOBS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, one of the most striking things about our interview was just how fully the president lives in his own desired narrative where his power and popularity and influence are total. He told us that he understands the economy better than most economists, he has said he’s a more popular president than anyone understands. He had an answer for everything.

What if the -- the Republicans lose the House in November and impeachment proceedings begin? Impossible, he said. I’m doing a great job, you can’t impeach someone who’s doing a great job. The Mueller probe? Illegal. The trade war, the U.S. stronger than any other country, we’ll get them under control and in fact, we’re going to launch -- you know, more tariffs.

I mean, every -- your -- his staff is leaving, key staffers are leaving. Everybody wants to fill these jobs. Every single problem that we posed to him, he said -- he had an answer to it. He just fully believes in his ability to change, you know the way the country’s going to move forward and every crisis or scandal that he’s facing, he has -- he thinks he has his thumb on -- on being able to crush it and he believes that his approach is justified.

When we interviewed him a year ago, he was saying he would like to sit down with Kim Jon-un and everyone reacted with such, you know, amazement and astonishment that he would even say that. Now he’s done it and he thinks that that has lowered the threat level. He thinks he has North Korea under control. People said don’t put --

RADDATZ: Which is not true.

JACOBS: Right. But he said he has the greatest patience in the world, he can wait for Kim Jong-un to take action --

(CROSSTALK)

RADDATZ: -- other presidents have said before.

JACOBS: Everyone said that you shouldn’t put these huge tariffs, you know, on and he -- and they -- they will crush the economy, that hasn’t happened, so he thinks his approach is justified. He can handle anything.

DOWD: But what -- what’s funny about this is for a reality TV star, he seems awful divorced from reality most of the time on all of these issues. One thing on impeachment. I think the Democrats have become way too reticent on this issue. If you think about this vis-à-vis Donald Trump, support for impeachment is much higher than support for Donald Trump in the country today. I think the Democrats should basically run on a platform of accountability and say impeachment’s on the table, it’s one of the tools, but we’re going to hold this president accountable.

A -- a message of accountability --

RADDATZ: And you think those voters want that to be a central focus?

DOWD: When you look at support among Democrats for impeachment, it’s north of 80 percent support of impeachment. But I think you should --

RADDATZ: But do they want it to be a central issue? I mean -- a lot of Democrats...

DOWD: They shouldn't shy away, they should say we're going to hold this president accountable and one of the tools to do that, depending on the Mueller report, is impeachment. Thats how I would answer the question.

THOMAS: The fear is, of course, that you end up creating a backlash. It drives Republican voter turnout in 2020 and makes him look like he is an embattled person who needs to be like risen up by his base and I think that's the fear that establishment Democrats have about the word impeachment.

RADDATZ: And, Rick, I want to go to you. We have Brett Kavanaugh on The Hill this week for confirmation hearings. If he is confirmed, what effect will that have? Will it harden the Democrats? Will it motivate Republicans? Who gets motivated by that?

KLEIN: If he is confirmed, he's likely to get confirmed by the end of the month. And the idea that whatever happens in September motivates people in November, I think we've seen these news cycles work quite a bit differently.

I think this next couple of weeks is going to be really interesting, not so much because there is a realistic shot of stopping Kavanaugh's nomination, they haven't really gotten any traction around that, but the strategy in defining Kavanaugh, it actually is a -- it's a scatter shot strategy. They are trying to define him in different ways to different pockets of voters.

Maybe for some it's about Roe v. Wade, maybe for others it's about executive overreach. There will be a big fight in trying to force him to recuse himself from anything affecting presidential power of President Trump.

And all of those things together, the idea among Kavanaugh opponents is you can put a portrait together that is going to motivate voters, maybe even influence the vote on the Senate floor. But man there is a lot of time in these next two months that won't be about Brett Kavanaugh.

RADDATZ: And Jennifer, I want to move to the immigration. A lot of the president's supporters voted for him because of his stance on immigration. The White House has been talking about the story, the sad, sad story of Mollie Tibbetts out in Iowa who was killed allegedly by an undocumented immigrant and they talked about this to justify immigration policies, but Tibbetts' father wrote an op-ed this weekend, a very moving op-ed, criticizing those who have chosen to callously distort and corrupt Mollie's death to advance a cause she vehemently opposed. I encourage the debate on immigration. There is great merit in its reasonable outcome, but do not appropriate Mollie's soul in advancing views she believed were profoundly racist.

A lot of the faultlines in the immigration debate. How big of an issue will this be?

JACOBS: Well, I did talk to some Iowa Republicans about this and they agree with Mollie Tibbetts' dad and his appeal to voter. They do think that she should not be used as a pawn in this particular debate by either side. And her dad said that this distorts and corrupts her opinions on the issue and that this particular man who was accused of killing her is not representative of the Hispanic community any more than a white supremacist is representative of all white people. And the Republicans I talked to said that they do believe that.

But nationally people are still using her as a weapon in their political fight. You just had people like Ann Coulter who, you know, say titillating things about Nancy Pelosi is to play for Mollie Tibbetts' death, and it's things like that that irritate Republicans in Iowa. They do respect this family and think that this should be cooled down quite a bit and she shouldn't be used as a pawn.

RADDATZ: But it's appealing to the base.

THOMAS: I mean, I think that is the thought that a President Trump or a Steven Miller has, is that it's appealing to the base. But based on what you are saying is that it's not appealing to the base of Republicans in Iowa, and that is -- that is something you have to take into account. This is very personal to them. They don't want it used that way.

Overall, if it gins people up, that's one thing. But the president has to be careful individually, what does that say to people?

RADDATZ: And Jennifer, just back to your interview for a second, President Trump said Jeff Sessions is safe until the midterms, but wouldn't say how much longer he would stay after that. Here's what he told you in your interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Just do his job, and if he did, I would be very happy. But the job entails two sides, not one side.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: So clearly no chance Sessions is sticking around for the long haul, right?

JACOBS: Right. He has had some Republicans and his advisers say, listen, this would not be popular if you were to fire Jeff Sessions, and indeed your poll shows that only 19 percent of American adults support the idea of firing Jeff Sessons. So what he was saying is I want him to do a great job. And when we pressed him on that what does that mean, well it means going after he -- the people he feels have either attacked him or hurt him in some way. He mentioned the ex-CIA director John Brennon. He mentioned the ex-FBI director James Comey. He mentioned that Pakistani congressional staffer that was tied to the whole conspiracy about the DNC server. So he started rattling off these people that he feel has harmed him in some ways. And he said I do question what Jeff Sessions is doing and why he isn’t going after these people.

So that captured it in a nutshell. He wants Jeff Sessions to do a great job, and that means going after people who (inaudible).

RADDATZ: And – and Matt, we have about 30 seconds left here, and I just want to close as the way we opened on this show with – with John McCain and your thoughts.

DOWD: (Inaudible) related to this is we had a long goodbye for John McCain, an American hero, a good man and the course (ph) of this and I think when you look at it, and you had this in your interviews, this was an indictment – that funeral was an indictment on not the politics of Donald Trump, but the politics of many leaders in Washington.

And I would hope Senator Johnson, who was on before, would listen to a lot of what he said, which was it was not just about Donald Trump, it was about how politics is practiced in Washington today by many different people.

RADDATZ: OK, thanks to all of you, we have a big week coming up. We’ll all be watching that carefully, especially those Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. And we’ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RADDATZ: And then this week, where service and sacrifice were in the spotlight, we honor two Americans who died in the month of August serving our country in Afghanistan and Iraq.

That’s all for us today, thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. We leave you this Labor Day weekend with a final solute to Senator McCain, the Battle Hymn of the Republic performed Saturday by the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club and the U.S. Navy band brass ensemble.

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