'This Week' Transcript 2-3-19: Derrick Johnson, Lamont Bagby and Mayor Pete Buttigieg

This is a rush transcript for "This Week" airing Sunday, February 3, 2019.

ByABC News
February 3, 2019, 9:37 AM

A rush transcript of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019 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.


GOV. RALPH NORTHAM, (D) VIRGINIA: It was offensive, racist and despicable.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam under universal fire.

NORTHAM: What caused this stir-up, I'm not responsible for.

STEPHANOPOULOS: For a racist photo from his medical school yearbook.

NORTHAM: I finally had a chance to sit down and look at the photograph in detail, it is definitely not me.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Northam says he is shocked and horrified, but remains defiant, refusing to resign even after calls for him to go from virtually every top Democrat in his state and the country.

Plus, a 2020 wild card faces fierce backlash.

HOWARD SCHULTZ, FORMER STARBUCKS CEO: If I run for president, I will run as an American, under one banner, the American flag.

STEPHANOPOULOS: As the Democratic field expands...

SEN. CORY BOOKER, (D) NEW JERSEY: I'm running for president because I believe in us.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does this 37-year-old mayor have a chance in 2020?

PETE BUTTIGIEG, MAYOR OF SOUTH BEND, INDIANA: I think people are looking for something entirely new.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll ask Pete Buttigieg live.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Nancy Pelosi is hurting our country very badly by doing what she's doing, and ultimately I think I have set the table very nicely.

STEPHANOPOULOS: In an 85-minute interview with The New York Times, President Trump makes news on the border wall, Robert Mueller and his plans for 2020. Reporter Maggie Haberman was there, and she joins our Powerhouse Roundtable this week. We'll break down the politics, smoke out the spin, the facts that matter this week.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's This Week. Here now, Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, and welcome to This Week. It was an ugly reminder of America's racist past, that 1984 photo from the medical school yearbook page of Virginia's Democratic governor, Ralph Northam. When it surfaced Friday on the website Big League Politics, condemnation from fellow Democrats came hard and fast.

Northam acknowledged the photo and apologized twice saying it does not represent the person I am today. But by Friday night, his fate seemed sealed, resignation inevitable. Then came that dramatic about face on saturday. At a packed press conference in Richmond, Northam disavowed the yearbook photo.


NORTHAM: When I was confronted with the images yesterday, I was appalled that they appeared on my page, but I believe then and now that I am not either of the people in that photo. There is no way that I have ever been in a KKK uniform. I am not the person in that uniform and I am not the person to the right.


STEPHANOPOULOS: But there was that one time.


NORTHAM: That same year, I did participate in a dance contest in San Antonio in which I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume, but there is a contrast between the blackface and someone standing there in a Ku Klux Klan outfit and me dressed up in a Michael Jackson costume for a dance contest. And again they're both wrong, but I would hope people would see the contrast.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And for a moment, Northam even seemed to contemplate a demonstration.


REPORTER: You said the competition in San Antonio was a dance competition?


REPORTER: And you said you danced the moon walk?

NORTHAM: That's right.

REPORTER: Are you still able to moon walk?

PAM NORTHAM: Inappropriate circumstances.

NORTHAM: My wife says, inappropriate circumstances.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Any support Northam had evaporated after that performance. Virginia's Democrats, lead by Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, all agree he has to go. But as we come on the air this morning, Northam is still governor.

Our first guest this morning, the president of the NAACP, Derrick Johnson. Mr. Johnson, thank you for joining us this morning. Do you see any way the governor can survive this?

DERRICK JOHNSON, PRESIDENT, NAACP: I don't, George. You know, it's a scenario where maybe it wasn't him in blackface, maybe he had no input on the yearbook format, maybe he, you know, just inconsiderate, but he's had a lot of time to respond at this juncture. So whether he was in the room, at the party, that page -- that photo was on his page. And then you compound that with the fact that he did do blackface performance of Michael Jackson, that's fine. We've had ample opportunity as lieutenant governor, during the Charlottesville incident, and many other times prior to now to disclose that he has changed his ways. He recognized the error of his past and now he's doing things differently and acknowledge that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So just to be clear, if it turned out he is not in that photo, that wasn't him in the photo, and he had nothing to do with that photo going on his page, he was there as a mixup as he seemed to indicate at the press conference yesterday, that would make no difference to you?

JOHNSON: At this juncture, no. You know, he finished medical school, was-- received a yearbook with a racist picture on his page in the yearbook, and he has said nothing about it. He acknowledged that that was a part of something that was taking place during that period of time and whether he actively participated or passively was present, he not one time up until this point acknowledged that this took place, objected to that behavior or stated that, you know, I had a different upbringing and I was apart of a southern culture that embraced this racist, vile behavior, and I’m a changed man now and as a result of that I denounce that activity, I denounce my participation and we’re going to move with public policy to remedy these issues.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So -- so let's turn the clock back. Had, as he was contemplating running for governor, as he was running for other offices, had he aired this himself, had he talked about it in the way you just said, you think that would have made a difference?

JOHNSON: Absolutely. You know, you and I have both seen individuals seeking public office who -- who proactively disclose errors of the past. None of us are perfect. Many of us have had issues in the past. The most effective politician's way to address this is to disclose early, acknowledge it and -- and -- and seek ways in which you can make amends to the community that’s offended and begin to work hard to heal any -- any injuries that have been caused.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you square those pictures with the governor you know?

JOHNSON: You know, it -- it -- living in Mississippi, I understand the schizophrenia of being a progressive-leaning public official living in a southern culture that still embraces confederacy and all the remnants of the confederacy. It's -- it’s a tightrope. The best individuals who live in that culture denounce it early, swiftly and is clear about it. Both the symbols of the confederacy and racism and the policy of the confederacy and racism. And that's something that many southern politicians must do, particularly white politicians in order for this nation to grow, in order for this nation to heal.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Johnson, thanks for your time this morning.

JOHNSON: Thank you for the opportunity.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now I want to bring in former Democratic congressman from Virginia, Jim Moran. He’s joining us this morning. And I want to first put up, Jim, on the screen a statement you made yesterday. With Ralph as governor he will work harder to redeem himself for this grievous error in judgment than anyone. I think he should ride this out. Do you still think that's tenable?

JIM MORAN (D), FORMER VIRGINIA CONGRESSMAN: I don't know whether it's tenable. I do think it's the right thing to do, and I hate to be on the other side of virtually all of my friends on this, but I do disagree with their judgment because I think it is a rush to judgment before we know all of the facts and before we’ve considered all of the consequences. Facts that we do know are that Ralph has expanded Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of uninsured Virginians, a disproportionate number of whom are African-Americans, he has promoted the career of his very talented lieutenant governor in every possible way, he’s invested in better preschools and -- and public schools in minority neighborhoods.

So we know what he has done as governor. But even if the worst case scenario is true, George, I think there is an issue of redemption. Redemption is a very powerful factor in what people are able to accomplish. You know, Ralph understands the endemic racism that has -- has been part of Virginia's society for so long. It was 400 years ago to this year when the first African-Americans were brought as slaves to Point Comfort, now Fort Monroe. And he understands that legacy better than many people are able to and I think we ought to give him an opportunity to redeem himself.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But Congressman, I -- I --

MORAN: You know, look at Lyndon Johnson. No untarnished liberal from the north could ever have gotten the great society programs passed, but he was able to work with his southern colleagues because he knew where they were coming from. We still have a conservative Republican legislature and frankly, I think that Ralph will have the highest motivation possible to bring us further away from this horrible past of racism and --


MORAN: -- and -- and bring us toward more racial justice, reconciliation --

STEPHANOPOULOS: You just laid out the case --

MORAN: -- reparation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- you just laid out the case and I think in theory we all believe in redemption, but wouldn't the case be much, much stronger if the governor had aired these issues himself? OK, you say even the worst case, that he's in the photo, that that would be possible. I think Mr. Johnson would disagree with that, but even if he wasn’t in the photo, he knew about the blackface Michael Jackson performance, never talked about it in public before.

MORAN: Yes, you know, I think he’s still learning and I really don’t think that we should be judging the basis of the mistakes people have committed in the past as much as whether they have learned from that past to bring this forward.

And I think Ralph may be just the kind of person who can build those bridges to a better future. He has the highest motivation imaginable to ensure that his legacy is not defined by a picture in his yearbook, but rather by what he has accomplished as – as governor.

I – I believe in second chances, you know, I’ll never forget Robert C. Byrd, who had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan early in his political career, coming to me at an interior appropriations conference and saying, Congressman, there – after 50 years in the Senate, there is nothing more important to me than setting aside land on the National Mall for a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King.

I don’t care about getting any credit, but this is what is my highest priority at the end of my career. That’s the power of redemption, and I think –


MORAN: -- no, we should use it to – to achieve a better future for all of Virginia citizens.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that may hold for all of us as human beings, but as a practical matter, he’s governor of the state of Virginia right now. His entire Democratic caucus has come out saying he’s got to resign, the two senators from the state have said he’s got to resign, leaders in the House have said he’s got to resign, the Democratic Governors Association has said he’s got to resign.

How can you possibly govern in a situation like that?

MORAN: Well I think that’s up to him, I do think that he has the capacity to do that, to show resilience and strength and to prove himself. I don’t think these public shamings really get us all that much.

I think we’ve done this several times and we retreat into our corners where we’re most comfortable and it just exacerbates the tribalism that confronts society today. I think that he understands where people are coming from, but he knows where we need to go.

And I think, you know, that’s our opportunity to – to achieve the kind of progress that, frankly, Justin Fairfax would be able to build upon when he becomes governor, not out of – by default, but on his own merit.

So I want to give Ralph Northam a chance to prove himself.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Moran, thanks for your time this morning. Now I want to bring in Lamont Bagby, the chairman of the Black Caucus in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Mr. Delegate, thank you for joining us this morning. You just heard Jim Moran right there, he says that he thinks that the governor is capable of redemption, deserves a second chance.

LAMONT BAGBY, CHAIR, VIRGINIA LEGISLATIVE BLACK CAUCUS: Well there’s a number of things I just heard Moran and I got to tell you I disagree with him on a couple of fronts.

The first thing I want to make sure I touch on is I heard him mention Justin Fairfax, and I’ve been reluctant to mention Justin Fairfax in the last couple days, but I just want to make sure Justin is not serving as lieutenant governor and serving as serving lieutenant governor well because of Ralph Northam.

He’s serving as lieutenant governor well because of Justin Fairfax. And so while Ralph has worked well with Justin, he – Ralph has not promoted Justin, Justin ran on his own merits.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And I know you spoke with the governor on Friday night, you then watched the press conference yesterday. What did he tell you on Friday and do you think there’s any hope for him that he can survive this right now or must he go immediately?

BAGBY: Well I’ve got to tell you, initially when myself and my colleagues from Virginia Legislative Black Caucus met with the governor, we had hopes that we could, you know, take a step back, think about it, talk about it.

And so we did, we actually prayed with the governor, we talked with the governor, my colleagues had an opportunity to talk directly to the governor, tell him how – tell him how disappointed they were and how dismayed they were.

But at the same time, we thought that it was not best to make a decision at that point. So we then returned back to the capital, met as a caucus, and then decided that the best thing for the commonwealth, we’re not looking at the best thing for us because this is uncomfortable, we’re not looking at the best thing for Ralph Northam, we’re looking at the best thing for those individuals that we agree as we talked to the governor that we wanted to serve.

And that’s the most vulnerable Virginians.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And if the governor does not resign, will you move to impeach?

BAGBY: George, I hate even to have that discussion right now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well it’s out there.

BAGBY: Yeah, I encourage the governor to step aside so that we can start the healing process. I’m not at a point where I want to publicly have a conversation about impeachment.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Mr. Bagby, thanks for your time this morning. I want to bring it out to our roundtable right now. I want to start with Patrick Gaspard, the president of the Open Society Foundations, you were the political director in the Obama White House as well. Your reaction?

PATRICK GASPARD, OPEN SOCIETY FOUNDATIONS PRESIDENT: Yesterday was a pathetic spectacle by Governor Northam. I respect the congressman, I’ve worked with the congressman and appreciate his point of view. But when he cites historic figures like Robert Byrd who, towards the end of their – his life, needed to make good with his God, we all need to remember that people like Robert Byrd, who served in the Ku Klux Klan then led what was then the longest filibuster in the history of the Senate against the Civil Rights Bill.

There is a – dressing in blackface, standing with somebody in Ku – in a KKK robe isn’t a mistake. It’s a decision that one makes that projects a set of values and a set of violent values into the world. I hope the governor will do the right thing soon. My current colleague, former congressman from Virginia, Tom Perriello, who lost a primary to Northam, talks often about the duality of Virginia; a state that was the founding state in the – in the democracy but also a state that, 400 years ago, introduced slavery; a state that elected the first African-American governor, but also a state that gave us the violent incident at Charlottesville.

At a time when we have self-avowed white supremacists like Steven King in our Congress, which the Republican party rightly censured, we have to have a zero tolerance policy on these kinds of issues.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Maggie Haberman, the New York Times, it – it does seem a case of kind of political malpractice, despite the – even if you set aside the morality of all this, that this did not come out earlier or that the governor didn’t air it himself.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It’s hard to set aside the morality, but yes, if we’re going to, it is surprising, number one, that Ed Gillespie’s folks did not find it in the campaign in 2017, it is surprising that any of the affiliated Republican committees didn’t find it. They were not lacking for opposition researchers. I guess you don’t typically go look for a medical school yearbook, but somebody should’ve.

And it is surprising that Northam did not seek to get ahead of it and that was what was so stunning yesterday at his press conference when he started talking about this Michael Jackson incident where he put on a costume, a Halloween costume, where he darkened his face, as he put it. He started talking about how shoe polish doesn’t come off very easily, it was – a reporter in the crowd asked him how he happened to know that.

There’s a lot more at play here and I think that regardless of whether Northam would have fared better if he had aired this himself, I think that’s actually questionable. He clearly did not exhibit any understanding of why this is problematic. He has turned this into a referendum on him as opposed to on the issue of racism.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And – and Matthew Dowd, you look at that and even – as I was talking to Jim Moran about this, if, as a human being deserves redemption, deserves a second chance, it doesn’t seem possible for him to govern at this point.

MATTHEW DOWD, ABC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, all of – all parts of this related to him and his performance at the press conference are not defensible and obviously those pictures are despicable. And there’s still facts to be gathered, obviously, from what he said in this. I think it’s not only not possible because of his performance and that going on, it’s not possible today, unfortunately in the moment we’re in, where speed is everything.

And I think – I’ve never called – in all the time I’ve criticized people, called on them to resign or called on them to quit, because I don’t think that – we shouldn’t automatically impose the sentencing phase of politics. And in this case, we’re basically saying that the political – the political equivalent of capital punishment. It’s basically the death penalty for politics in this. And I think we have to put all of these things in context and make a decision in a more thoughtful and deeper way. That’s one.

And the other part of this is, the level of cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy that exists as people have called on him to resign is astounding in this. And if you think that it is bad what happened 35 years ago, then you have to think it’s as least as bad or more so what people are saying and doing today related to dividing the race and related to hate. So if you think he should resign then you have to ask the same question of a number of politicians who say and do things that are at least or more hateful than those pictures represent.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Pam Bondi, former attorney general of – of the state of Florida, Republican. This came up in the governor’s race in the state of Florida. The current governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, is accused of making statements that a lot of people saw as racist, yet the Republican party kind of unified behind him even as they criticized Ralph Northam here.

PAM BONDI, FORMER FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL: And he came out right away and said it’s what you do next. That’s what I always told my young prosecutors when I was a prosecutor and I would love to be a prosecutor here. We all believe in redemption but redemption must include remorse. And what Maggie just said is so accurate. When he was talking about the Michael Jackson incident and he said "Oh, we all know," no. None of us know what – what black paint can do – shoe polish to your face. Nor should we.

And he was looking at that floor considering moonwalking. I didn’t see anyone who was halfway remorseful in that. We know what his nickname was, I’d love – I’d love to cross-examine him. We also know that he submitted pictures to his yearbook yet he says he never looked at the yearbook. That’s all absurd and that nickname was disgusting.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And he seemed to be a man in shock yesterday as well. What can Republicans – Sara Fagen, you were political director in the Bush White House. What can they take away from this?

SARA FAGEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well first of all, you know, I do think you asked the right question earlier, which is could he have survived a Democratic primary had he released this information? And the answer probably is no, but for all political leaders, Republicans and Democrats. And we’re not perfect, but if you have this issue in your past, have a genuine, thoughtful conversation with a minister or a rabbi and put it out there.

And have a reflection and change of heart. And for Governor Northam, you know, here’s the thing, you know, he does deserve a chance at redemption but that doesn’t mean he should be governor.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Being governor is a privilege and not a right. Thank you all very much, you’ll be back later in the program. Up next, the billionaire behind Starbucks now looking at running for president as independent in 2020, sparking anger and anxiety among Democrats who think he’ll hand the reelection to Donald Trump.

But our colleague Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight has a different take and a new model, he joins us next.

JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST OF THE VIEW: Now, your entry into the race pretty much guarantees that a Republican is going to win. And I know …

HOWARD SCHULTZ, FORMER STARBUCKS CEO: Joy, I – I don’t agree with you. If he runs against a far-left, progressive person who is suggesting 60 percent, 70 percent tax increases on the rich and a healthcare system that we can’t pay for, President Trump is going to get reelected.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Joy Behar there with Howard Schultz, the guy who brought – made Starbucks famous, now thinking about running as – as an independent for president in 2020. You heard Joy channel a lot of Democrats there who are convinced he’s going to hand the election to Donald Trump. Our colleague from FiveThirtyEight, Editor-in-Chief Nate Silver is here. And you have something of a counterintuitive view, you think it’s not necessarily so?

NATE SILVER, EDITOR IN CHIEF OF FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: I think, first of all, it’s not clear how much of an impact he’ll have at all. So far the polling on him shows there’s not a huge market for Howard Schultz. But if you go back and look in 2016 how socially liberal but fiscally conservative voters voted, we actually find a majority of them – not a large majority, but most voted for Trump. About 52 percent for Trump, 40 percent for Clinton, and then 8 percent or so for third-party candidates.

He really is running pretty far to the right not only of Democrats but on some issues, like saying we have to look at Social Security and Medicare, that’s actually to the right of Trump who has ran as more of a centrist himself on entitlement. So look, there are a lot of different ways to size up the field and like – again, third-party candidates don’t usually take off, it might be all a little bit premature but I do think that, you know, to a first approximation if you’re running in the center, then you’re going to probably peel off voters about equally from both parties. That’s what Ross Perot did …

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that’s what I was going to ask you about. I mean, it’s an article of faith among a lot of supporters of the Former President Bush that Ross Perot cost him the election in 1992. But that’s …


STEPHANOPOULOS: … Not what the data showed.

SILVER: If we look at the exit polling, it’s pretty much down the middle, right, where – where about 40 percent of Perot voters said they would have voted for Clinton, 40 percent for Bush and 20 percent said they would not have voted at all. And so, you know, the same for Gary Johnson who is, in some ways, also in that socially liberal but fiscally conservative area, he drew probably as many votes from Clinton and Trump in 2016.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But what that doesn’t take into account is, you know, Ross Perot back in 1992 is really – was really targeting President Bush. And it appears, at least from these …


STEPHANOPOULOS: … First few days, that Howard Schultz is really targeting Democrats. That impacts the campaign.

SILVER: No, for sure, and I think that Bush people would say that he softened up the president’s approval rating, it was one of the reasons why Bush was so unpopular by the time he got to Summer and Fall of 1992, which is why I say – like, this is a – one limited perspective to have on it. But I also think the Democrats’ reaction is partly like an emotional reaction thinking "Hey, now we have Trump on the ropes. We had a good midterm." Trump, I think, did not do terribly well in the shutdown. So they think "We can beat Trump, now we just don’t want anything to screw it up." Right? Which is different than you might have had with a stronger, more popular president, where you might be "Hey, let’s introduce a wildcard, sure. Now we can find a way to beat him."

I think Democrats are presuming, maybe presumptuously, that they can beat Trump on their own. They don’t want anything else to come in and interfere with that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you’ve come up with a useful analytical tool to think about the Democratic primary race. You talk about these five lanes …


STEPHANOPOULOS: … For Democrats. Explain what you mean by that. Go through the – go through the list.

SILVER: So if you go through and look at – roughly divide the Democratic electorate into fifths, then you have these five groups. You have party loyalists which are more moderate, established voters – establishment voters. You have the left. You have millennials, who voted very differently from older voters in 2016. You have black voters and you have Hispanic voters. And so – so it’s not so much about picking one lane as, who can actually appeal to at least three of those and gain a majority? And so, to me …

STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s kind of like a Venn diagram.

SILVER: Yeah, so they’re overlapping and they’re – you can be a millennial and black, for example, right? But to me, so someone like Kamala Harris, for example, who checks a lot of those boxes, potentially, and she’ll be criticized by someone on the left for not being left enough, and some moderates for not – for being too liberal. But at the same time, she has done very well in California with the multi-ethnic coalition. She is pretty good on social media, has a fair amount of appeal to younger voters. So someone like her, someone like maybe a Cory Booker who declared this week, obviously, might have more of a broader appeal than someone like a Bernie Sanders who’s going to perform very, very well with the left and maybe very well, as he did in 2016, with millennials, but beyond that, maybe not as much room to grow …

STEPHANOPOULOS: How about Joe Biden?

SILVER: Biden is kind of a unique case because a holdover from the previous regime, if you will. You know, he’d be going for what is basically Hillary Clinton's coalition, so what we call party loyalists, being establishment voters, and they will be hoping to do very well with black voters and maybe with Hispanic voters. That's how Clinton won in a campaign-winning coalition 2016. She did pretty well in the primary. You know, trying to replicate that, I’m -- I'm not as sure. There are so many different brands and sub brands of candidates right now where voters can be a lot pickier than they were. They have the exact type of candidate that you want when you might have a field of 15 or even 20 candidates, potentially.

But Biden, you know, there are two, I think, branches on the tree where there’s a with Biden and without Biden story --


SILVER: -- and they’re very different places.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Nate Silver, thanks very much. And coming up, we’re going to talk to one of the latest Democrats to throw his hat in the 2020 presidential ring. Mayor Pete Buttigieg joins us next.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), MAYOR, SOUTH BEND, INDIANA: I belong to a generation that is stepping forward right now. We're the generation that lived through school shootings, that served in the wars after 9/11, and we're the generation that stands to be the first to make less than our parents unless we do something different.


STEPHANOPOULOS: There you see Pete Buttigieg, just 37 years old wrapping up his second term as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, now running for president and out with a new book, "Shortest Way Home." Mayor, thank you for joining us this morning. Good to have you.

BUTTIGIEG: Thanks for having me.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you said the bumper sticker for your campaign is freedom, democracy, security. I think everyone is for freedom, democracy and security, but what exactly does it mean to you and why are you the best person to deliver on that promise?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, for example, when we talk about freedom, I think Democrats need to be much more comfortable getting into that vocabulary. Conservatives care a lot about one kind of freedom and it's freedom from. Freedom from regulation, freedom from government, but certainly in my life experience, there are a lot of things besides government that can make you unfree. You're not free if you can't start a small business because leaving your job would mean losing your healthcare. You are not free if you can't marry the person you love because some county clerk is imposing their interpretation of their religion. You’re not free if you can’t sue a credit card company even after they get caught ripping you off.

So I think we need to have a much richer, much thicker discussion about what it truly means to be free in this country and I think it falls to Democrats to lead the way on that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s a big leap from mayor of South Bend, Indiana. What, a little over 100,000 people to the Oval Office. DO you know what you don’t know about being president?

BUTTIGIEG: Look, I get the audacity of somebody like me talking about running for this office, but frankly it’s a leap for anybody. Anybody who arrives behind that desk. And yet all of the people who had that job have been mortals who just bring their experience to the table. My experience is that of guiding a city through a transformation, and I think a mayor at any level has the kind of executive, front line, government experience -- and by the way, problem-solving experience -- that we need more in Washington right now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You said you are for Medicare for all. I want to talk about the issues in the campaign. You're for it, but isn't Kamala Harris, who is also running for president right when she says that means doing away with private insurance?

BUTTIGIEG: I don't see why it requires that. I mean, after all, if the framework we're using is Medicare, a lot of people who have Medicare also have Medicare supplements, Medicare Advantage, something like that. There can be a role for the private sector, but just leaving people...

STEPHANOPOULOS: but you're for a single payer system, aren't you?

BUTTIGIEG: I think so. I think that's the right place for us to head as a country, and we can debate the finer points of how to get there.

But I've been in countries -- look, I studied in the UK where there is not only single payer, there's national -- nationalized medicine, which we're not calling for. Even there, there is a role for the private sector. I just don't believe that leaving Americans to the tender mercies of corporations is the best way to organize the health sector in this country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But single-payer, you would be replacing private health insurance.

BUTTIGIEG: Yes, at least -- again, Medicare for all is the best framework, right? So if we want to make Medicare available to everybody, whether it's as a public option to buy in or simply establishing that as how the payer structure works in this country, that's going to be the center of gravity. And the bottom line is we need to make sure that every American is able to get health care.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How are you going to sell that when President Obama, he didn't get rid of all private health insurance, he said if you like what you have, you can keep it. He was scorched by those who couldn't keep their plans. You would have single payer, eventually that would mean doing away with everyone's plans. How can you possibly sell that in this country today?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, you had to make sure that it leads to better results. And if we need a road, a gradual way to get there, then we can start with Medicare for all who want it by making some version of Medicare available on the exchanges for people to opt into, as part of the pathway to Medicare for all so that you can try before you buy so to speak as a country.

Look, there are a lot of ways and in the course of this conversation we're going to get into a lot of the different frameworks that are past to this, but the bottom line is most citizens in most developed countries, enjoy access to this kind of health care and Americans don't. It's wrong.

And one very interesting thing when you talk about the experience in the Obama years is the short amount of time in which ACA went from a political loser -- I mean, what it was like to be a Democrat in 2010 as those town halls happened, and by 2018, it was perhaps the winning issue for Democrats, because when we saw what those steps actually meant, when we saw how they made our lives better, we realized that all this crazy, conspiratorial talk about death panels or the horrible things that will happen if we don't make sure there is a big corporate role in our health care system, a lot of the things we're being sold don't actually come to pass in the real world.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about foreign policy. The situation in Venezuela is heating up. President Trump doing what he can to push Maduro out. Do you agree with his approach?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I agree the fact that Maduro has lost his legitimacy, but when you see the kind of sabre rattling -- by the way, by some of the same people who led us into the war in Iraq -- I think it is extremely irresponsible to talk about committing American troops to what could wind up being a proxy or war with countries that have claims on Venezuelan oil.

Look, if we're going to use sanctions, that's a legitimate part of the U.S. foreign policy framework and tool kit, but they should be targeted toward making sure that there are new, legitimate elections so that the Venezuelan people can determine their future.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How about North Korea, given where things stand right now, would you meet with Kim Jong-un?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think it would make more sense to have that happen in a framework of concrete achievements. You don't just get to have a meeting, declare the nuclear threat to be over, then wind up of course being embarrassed and contradicted by your own intelligence chiefs.

You know, as a military officer serving overseas, I was part of the intelligence community. And there is not a more reality-based group of people in this country. You actually have to understand and legitimize and take seriously their assessments before you have any business having a one-on-one with the leader of a hostile foreign power like North Korea.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You are openly gay, married, but you have only been out for the last few years. Any concerns the country is not ready for a gay couple in the White House?

BUTTIGIEG: I think there's only one way to find out. But, you know, when I came out, it was in the middle of a reelection campaign. I just reached that point in my life where I was ready. And we didn't know what would happen. I'm from a socially conservative community. Mike Pence was the governor of Indiana at the time. And I just did it because it was time.

That same year, I wound up getting re-elected with the 80 percent of the vote. So, I think the lesson we learned is that people are prepared to get to know you and judge you based on the quality of your ideas and your experience and your work. And I trust that America could do that too. There is only one way to find out for sure.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, thanks you for joining us this morning.

BUTTIGIEG: Thanks for having me.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I’m sort of entitled to one good story in The New York Times. I started off, I ran against very smart people, and a lot of them. I came from Jamaica Queens, Jamaica Estates, and I became president of the United States. I'm sort of entitled to a great story from my -- just one from my newspaper.


STEPHANOPOULOS: That was President Trump in the Oval Office with reporters from The New York Times, including Maggie Haberman who joins our roundtable right now. I guess that's why the meeting happened, he wants some good coverage from The New York Times.


STEPHANOPOULOS: How did you find him?

HABERMAN: Actually pretty subdued. He was very engaged but he was very adamant on what he believed is the case. So for instance, he was insistent that the intel chiefs had told him that -- and he had been very angry at them, remember, because of their testimony on the Hill -- that he had -- they had -- the media had mischaracterized what they said, he accepted that, kept asking him why he finds himself at odds with his own government at times. He couldn't really articulate an answer to that, just said that doesn’t really happen even though it does. It was very much the world as Donald Trump wants to see it, regardless of whether that comports with objective facts.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Sara Fagen, he did seem to get caught out on that this week in those remarks about the intelligence chiefs, taking them on, calling them naive, then coming out, saying the next day they didn’t say what the entire world saw them saying up there on Capitol Hill.

SARA FAGEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, for the president I think -- we watch his Twitter handle and we take it so literally and I think for most of America, they don't. And for the president, you know, he has a tendency to -- sort of anger moves him at the moment and then he resorts back. You know, I look at the way he interacts with government and the way he interacts with the public sort of differently. And here's a person who has a 30 percent base in the country, strong. No matter what happens, what he says, they support him. Another 15 percent, you know, they like him on taxes, they like him on judges, maybe they don't like what he says about intelligence.

He moved within that framework as he operates his government.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But one of the things you started to see this week, Patrick Gaspard, you see it a little bit on the government shutdown, you saw it on that intelligence -- the -- the spat with the intelligence agencies, you saw it with Mitch McConnell's resolution in the Senate, saying we should not be coming out of Syria and Afghanistan that quickly. More Republicans, at least elected Republicans being willing to create some distance from the president.

PATRICK GASPARD, PRESIDENT, OPEN SOCIETY FOUNDATION: Yes, certainly creating that distance on intelligence issues. A couple of days ago Mark Warner said that Americans need to appreciate that intelligence officers risked their lives to get the information that the president just then dismisses with a -- a tweet. And Republicans in the Senate and the House appreciate that intelligence officials approach their work with an integrity that’s absolutely not nonpartisan.

So I appreciate what you’re saying, Sarah, the kind of bifurcation between governance and politics, but institutions matter and the way the Americans view institutions through the lens of the -- of the presidency is profoundly influenced by every comment, every tweet, every pronouncement made by a chief executive. And I’m pleased to see Senator Mitch McConnell and other Republicans standing up and saying, let's just be incredibly careful about this.

FAGEN: And I'm not suggesting it doesn't matter, but what I do think is unless and until there is some very significant world event where that contrast was drawn and people can point back to it, you know, it's noise right now.


MATTHEW DOWD, POLITICAL ANALYST, ABC NEWS: Well, I would say -- I would say there’s been a number of significant world events where that contrast has been shown. It's not helpful to the country. There’s been a contrast between his tweets and he’s -- on things he’s said on trade, on things that he’s said on North Korea, on things he’s said on Syria, things he’s said obviously on the intelligence agencies. So we -- we’ve seen that contrast, which is why a majority of the country disapproves of him and doesn't trust the president today. I think the president is right about something. He’s right that we shouldn't just accept whatever the intelligence agencies say point-blank. We’ve seen that they’ve made mistakes in the past. I think the problem is, is when you go in as president with preconceived notions and then ignore facts that are presented to you because you have a preconceived notion.

If you really think about the Bush administration and what happened in Iraq, part of what happened was there was preconceived notions about what people wanted it to be, and then they sought out data and then they sought out information in order to confirm that data. I think the president -- there’s -- obviously it’s been reported that he doesn't read a great deal amount of information, doesn't study these issues a great deal a lot. But my -- my problem with the president is he has a preconceived notion and he doesn't want facts to get in the way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, and well that’s -- one -- and one of the other dangers -- I was struck by an article that appeared in -- in TIME Magazine just -- just -- just yesterday where it talks about how intelligence officials are actually shaping the briefings to not bring the president facts that he’s not going to accept. That also appears dangerous, Pam.

PAM BONDI, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL, FLORIDA: Well, you know, the president is the commander in chief. And -- and he said he’s had disagreements with his intelligence officers but he respects them and he still believes them and trusts them. The president's not going to sit there and just take -- we know what happened to Colin Powell. Look what -- we all know that with the weapons of mass destruction. President Trump is going to question every single thing that comes before him and he's not scared to question the intelligence officials. But ultimately he’s going to listen to them, they’re going to negotiate, they’re going to talk. But he -- he's the commander in chief in the end.

DOWD: But he’s not --

HABERMAN: But he often doesn't act as if he's a commander in chief, he acts as if he’s a spectator and I that is part of the problem that you see and I think Matt is right that -- that everybody should not necessarily blindly accept what intelligence officials say, there should be some pushback and questioning and that is part of how the president won. But I do think where he gets himself into a very dangerous situation is he’s commenting as if he's watching this from afar, as if what he says doesn't matter.


HABERMAN: Correct.

BONDI: And -- and -- and he is commenting a lot, but ultimately, the right thing happens and that's what matters. He -- he talks to these guys, he makes up with these guys and he says, when there’s a problem, he tells the world. But then, he -- when it's rectified, he also tells them that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The president also talking about the Mueller report. We saw the acting attorney general this week, Matt Whitaker say it could be coming soon.


MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Right now, you know, the investigation is I think close to being completed and I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as we -- as possible.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Maggie, in your interview the president seemed to build on that and -- and then repeats something we have not heard with this kind of specificity before, that he's neither a subject nor a target in the investigation.

HABERMAN: It -- it was surprising. He said that -- he said Rod has told him -- Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general has told him he's not a target and when we pushed on that, you know, he’s told you this as well. He’s told the lawyers. And then it was is this about Mueller or is it about the Southern District of New York investigation into Michael Cohen and Trump Organization by extension. And he said, well that I’m not sure about. But he had not said it that way before. We’ve had people around the president tell us that. I’ve never heard this from the president's mouth. And we can't confirm that independently.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No, and -- but Patrick, there has been a lot of reporting -- more and more reporting in the last few weeks that -- coming off of Whitaker’s press conference as well that Mueller could be wrapping up soon, that perhaps there are no more indictments coming, that we may never see the Mueller report. What does that mean for Democrats?

GASPARD: Well first thing I want to say is the only thing I believe out of that New York Times interview, Maggie, is that the president desperately wants a positive story from --


HABERMAN: We heard -- we the audio.

GASPARD: That I do believe it. But on -- on -- on the report, it's been -- it’s been interesting. If you -- if we look at the series of indictments that have been handed down, if you look at the indictment against Stone, there are all kinds of bread crumbs that Mueller and his team seem to be dropping to make certain that some elements of their report see the light of day because they are clearly concerned about this not being allowed to be shared with the public. It's -- it’s hard to forecast, predict what's going to ultimately come out of this, but I trust that Democrats and Republicans are going to have a proper public hearing of these findings because they're just going to be compelled to. It's a -- it’s got a force of gravity of its own at this point, I think.

FAGEN: You know, if there was a bombshell connected to Trump, you know, really one that would, you know, make him have an indictable offense, I think we would probably know it by now, assuming of course, this is wrapping up. This, to me, seems like a -- Russia clearly tried to interfere in the election and a bunch of B-level political operatives and hangers-on around Donald Trump trying to be the man or the woman constantly engaging in, you know, these conversations. And several of them have been indicted, several of them have done -- done very stupid things. Did the president know about some of it? Perhaps. We'll find out.

But the thought to me, you know, for all his strength and weaknesses, that Donald Trump was sitting there trying to get Vladimir Putin to interfere with the election so he could win just seems illogical, just seems illogical.

GASPARD: Just -- just a couple of quick things, when you say that we would have seen bombshells already, that's not exactly true when only 48 hours ago we just learned that the president, the current president, while a candidate sought a loan from Deutsche Bank in 2016 campaign that was denied. We're only just learning about that.

FAGEN: But for what purpose? We don't know what purpose.

GASPARD: But then you have revelations every day, including the fact that this president met with Vladimir Putin and refused to allow the transcript of that meeting to be shared with his staff. That's an astounding thing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I wonder, Matt, if it worked here...

GASPARD: Astounding, unprecedented.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We don't know what Mueller has, first of all. But I wonder if what is working here is something similar to what worked for Bill Clinton back during the Monica Lewinsky thing. He came out with a hard denial and then over the course of a year and the country kind of got conditioned to what later turned out to be true.

Because I mean to take on what Sarah was saying about bombshell, had we known during the campaign that the president was pursuing a Trump Tower in Moscow while not telling the truth about it, that could have made a difference.

DOWD: Well, to me, everybody's put this stack of chips on the Mueller report, right, the stack of chips, and that's somehow going to be ultimately finally, completely determinative. We don't know the answer to that. But there has been a bunch of things that have happened along the way, and you're right they were B level people, but they were in A level positions. And we've never seen a president in our modern lifetime, as we've watched this -- we wait on the report, but look what's happened so far -- 30 plus indictments, a number of people very close to the president in high level positions convicted or plead guilty to a numerous amount of crimes, that's occurred along this way.

And so I think -- and this -- all of this -- the Mueller report, we think, oh, is going to be determinative, the president has already been irreparably damaged by everything that has happened over the last two years. He's still not supported by a majority of the country.

BONDI: And that’s why it needs to end. This has dragged out long enough. They got a continuation -- by the way, Matt Whitaker is a great guy -- I don't know if you know him. He's a great guy. And I like Rod Rosenstein. I have worked with Rod. I trust them both. And I believe the president -- I know the president did nothing wrong, and it would have leaked out with Strzok, Page, all the corrupt FBI agents that were involved. It would have leaked out.


HABERMAN: The Southern District investigation is the one that's not going anywhere.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You mean, it's going to continue?

HABERMAN: It's going to continue, and you have had Michael Cohen continuing to cooperate with them. You have Michael Cohen who is preparing to testify in some fashion on The Hill, and I don't think he's going quietly--

BONDI: Well he has no credibility--

HABERMAN: --even though Mueller might end -- well, even though Mueller folks said opposite, but even though Mueller might end, there is greater danger, according to the president's own advisers in the Southern District investigation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That is going to have to be the last word. And now we honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice.

In the month of January, five Americans died supporting operations in Afghanistan and Syria.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all for us today. Thank you for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Be sure to join us Tuesday. I'll be anchoring our live coverage of President Trump's State of the Union with our whole political team. That starts at 9:00 Eastern. And I'll see you tomorrow on GMA.