'This Week' Transcript 5-5-19: Secretary Mike Pompeo and Sen. Bernie Sanders
This is a rush transcript for "This Week" airing Sunday, May 5.
A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, May 5, 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.
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Show of force: North Korea fires a barrage of projectiles into the Sea of Japan. It's North Korea's most significant military test in more than a year. What's behind Kim Jong Un’s provocative move?
And as the power struggle in Venezuela intensifies, did America's support of opposition leader Juan Guaido and his attempted military uprising backfire? We ask the president's top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
And on the trail in Iowa.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I) VERMONT: How are you doing? I'm Senator Bernie Sanders.
KARL: Bernie Sanders is picking a fight with a new front-runner.
Joe Biden say that he is the most progressive candidate in this race.
As he mounts his second presidential campaign.
What do you say to those who say it's time for a new generation of leadership?
And one issue where Bernie Sanders actually agrees with President Trump.
SANDERS: This is one area actually where I do not fault Trump.
KARL: Joe Biden has entered the race as the early front-runner, Sanders a close second. But with more than 20 candidates can a self-described democratic socialist find a path to the nomination? Those questions and more in our exclusive interview with Bernie Sanders
Plus. The latest insight and analysis from our Powerhouse Roundtable.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's This Week. Here now, Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl.
KARL: Good morning. And welcome to This Week.
It's been a big week on the campaign trail as Joe Biden is in and already ahead of the pack, reshaping the 2020 campaign. But Bernie Sanders is not far behind and portraying himself as the true progressive in the race. And Sanders isn't shy about taking aim at Joe Biden's record.
We caught up with Sanders in Iowa where he received a rock-star welcome at the Des Moines farmers market.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FARMERS MARKET ATTENDEE: Make us proud.
SANDERS: Thank you, I will. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: We'll have that exclusive interview shortly.
But we begin with what's been a challenging week in American foreign policy. Over the weekend, new provocations from North Korea as Kim Jong Un personally oversaw the country's most significant military test in over a year, launching a barrage of projectiles into the Sea of Japan.
And while the U.S. has yet to confirm the type of projectile tested, the move raises questions about Kim Jong Un’s willingness to negotiate a nuclear deal with President Trump. And here in this hemisphere, a failed uprising in Venezuela, the Trump administration recognized Venezuela's interim president, opposition Juan Guaido, over three months ago and is actively encouraged Guaido's challenge to President Nicolas Maduro, this week urging members of Maduro's inner circle to defect.
But after Guaido's call for a military uprising, Maduro is still in power.
Let's get right to it all with Secretary of State Pompeo. Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us.
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Jonathan, it's great to be with you this morning.
KARL: So, let's start with North Korea. What have we learned about what exactly, what kind of projectiles the North Koreans were testing.
POMPEO: So, we know a couple of things. One, at no point was there ever any international boundary crossed. That is they landed in the water east of North Korea and didn't present a threat to the United States or to South Korea or Japan. We know that they were relatively short range. And beyond that, we know that they weren't intercontinental ballistic missiles either. And beyond that, I'll leave the Department of Defense to characterize this when the further information arrives.
KARL: So, you're one of the precious few Americans who has actually spent time with Kim Jong Un. You arguably know him better than any other American. What's your read on this. What kind of message was he sending with these tests?
POMPEO: Well, Jonathan, we still believe that there's an opportunity to get a negotiated outcome where we get fully verified denuclearization. Chairman Kim has repeated that. He's repeated that quite recently, in fact.
So, we hope that this act that he took over the weekend won't get in the way. We want to get back to the table. We want to continue to have these conversations.
The sanctions, the global sanctions put in place by the UN Security Council, they're still in place, and so the pressure on Chairman Kim to continue down this path, to achieve the outcome that everyone -- you have to remember, this took place -- this attack took place -- or excuse me, these launches took place just after he met with Vladimir Putin.
And so clearly Chairman Kim has not been able to get precisely what he wanted, but we hope that we can get back to the table and find the path forward. We're further along than we were a year ago and we hope we can continue to make progress.
KARL: Kim’s clearly frustrated by the fact that he hasn’t gotten anything back yet from -- from the United States. As you mentioned, the sanctions are still in place and he’s now set this deadline of the end of the year to -- to -- basically for the U.S. to show flexibility. Do you take that deadline seriously?
POMPEO: Look, it’s a serious situation for sure and we’ve known that the path fully verified denuclearization would be a bumpy and long one. As for the deadline, we want to get back and begin to have these conversations. I don’t know that there’s anything particularly significant about his statement at the end of the year. We're watching closely the North Korean behavior, as our allies, Japan and South Korea in the region. We still believe there's a path forward.
KARL: It was reported after the -- the Hanoi summit that the president had reached out to Kim, there had been communications to the North Koreans. Have we heard anything back? Has the president heard back anything from -- from Chairman Kim?
POMPEO: I don't want to get into the exact nature of the communications that took place but yes, we’ve communicated with North Koreans post-Hanoi and we hope that they can become -- in the coming weeks become even more robust communications where we can really have conversations about how the path will move forward.
KARL: So you have heard back, though?
POMPEO: Oh yes.
KARL: So the president had this response on Twitter to the tests. It was a little different in tone than yours. He said, “I believe Kim Jong Un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea and will do nothing to interfere or end it. He also knows that I am with him and does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen.” Why is the president so optimistic about getting a deal with -- with Kim Jong Un.
POMPEO: Jonathan, that doesn’t sound any different from what I’ve said here this morning. I too believe that there's a path forward that we can achieve this outcome. Look, there was a U.N. report that came out on Friday, 50 percent of the North Korean population at risk of significant malnutrition. That is -- it’s a very difficult set of conditions there. We want a brighter future. That’s why the president continued talks about this. It's important. They need to understand that if these nuclear weapons go away it will be of an enormous benefit to their country and keeping them just continues to pose risk.
KARL: You mentioned the -- the famine. Is the U.S. considering any steps to maybe lift sanctions to get humanitarian support in, anything to -- to -- to deal with that famine, which is to be the worst in a long, long time?
POMPEO: So you’ll recall, Jonathan, that it's permissible for humanitarian assistance, that is, the sanctions permit the North Koreans to purchase food products. That’s why when I see things like happened on Friday night, where that money could have gone to taking care of his own people, it’s -- it's so unfortunate.
KARL: There were reports out of -- out of the region that after the Hanoi summit several of the people that you were negotiating with, that were part of that negotiating team at Hanoi were executed. Do -- do we believe those reports are accurate?
POMPEO: Jonathan, I don't anything to add to that for you this morning.
KARL: But there -- there seems to have been some kind of a -- of a shakeup of -- of -- of his team over there?
POMPEO: It does appear that the next time we have serious conversations that my counterpart will be someone else, but we don’t know that for sure, just as -- just as President Trump gets to decide who his negotiators will be, Chairman Kim will get to make his own decisions who he asks to have these discussion.
KARL: I want to play you something that Cindy Warmbier had to say. She’s obviously the mother of Otto Warmbier, who died after being imprisoned in North Korea. She made an emotional appeal to keep up the pressure. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CINDY WARMBIER, OTTO WARMBIER’S MOTHER: North Korea to me is a cancer on the earth. There's a charade going on right now. It's called diplomacy. How can you have diplomacy with someone that never tells the truth?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: So from everything that you have observed here, I mean, do you really think that Kim Jong Un is negotiating in good faith?
POMPEO: Well first of all, I’ve come to know the Warmbier family and Cindy in particular is an American warrior. She’s a noble, wonderful, gracious woman and so the tone in her voice, the sound in her voice I have enormous sympathy for. Make no mistake, the United States continues to apply pressure. The U.N. sanctions are continued to be enforce, we're expending a lot of energy to do that. We think it's simply important that we play out every diplomatic opportunity, every opportunity we have to have these nuclear weapons depart and verify that without the use of force, we think every effort ought to be made in that and we continue to work towards that.
KARL: But -- but -- but go back to president's tweet responding to these tests. The line that stuck out to me was he said, “I'm with him.” “I'm with him.” That's what he's saying about Kim Jong-un. You just heard what Cindy Warmbier had to say about Kim Jong Un who’s one of the brutal dictators in the world.
POMPEO: This is a president --
KARL: Why does the president say I’m with him?
POMPEO: This is a president who’s put on the toughest sanctions in the history of the world against North Korea and the president understands the challenges. The president deeply understands this. And we are working towards finding a path forward with Chairman Kim to denuclearize his country diplomatically.
You’ll recall the beginning of the administration where the president spoke about fire and fury. We understand all the challenges, we know who the North Koreans are, and we’re working to see if there’s a possibility. Before we go another direction, we want to see if there’s any possibility we can achieve this outcome. It’s very straightforward.
KARL: Okay, let’s turn to Venezuela. National Security Advisor John Bolton suggested earlier this week that Maduro was about to fall, openly called for members of Maduro’s inner circle to defect. But opposition leader Juan Guaido acknowledged yesterday that he miscalculated the level of support that he thought he had within the Venezuelan military. Was this an intelligence failure for the United States?
POMPEO: Oh, no. Not at all. This is the Venezuelan people attempting to reestablish their democracy. The United States has joined with them, we’ve supported the National Assembly’s choice. Juan Guaido is the interim president of the country. And as you know, these things sometimes have bumpy roads, to be sure, but Maduro can’t feel good. He’s ruling for the moment, but he can’t govern. There is enormous poverty, enormous starvation, sick children that can’t get medicine, Jonathan. This is not someone who can be part of Venezuela’s future.
And whether that change takes place today or tomorrow or a week from now, one can’t predict. Our mission is to work with a large coalition, now 50 countries-plus who are determined to restore democracy and then, ultimately, a productive economy to Venezuela.
KARL: You said today, tomorrow, or a week from now. So, you’re saying this is imminent?
POMPEO: Could be two weeks, could be four weeks.
KARL: It’s not going to be two months, not going to be a year?
POMPEO: What we can do is provide support, get support from the Organization of American States, the LIMA Group, the entire region that understands that restoring democracy for the Venezuelan people is an imperative and get them all to work together so that we get the outcome we’re looking for.
KARL: Would Maduro still be in power if he didn’t have support from the Cubans and from the Russians?
POMPEO: Without the Cubans, there’d be no possibility he was still in power. They are – they are at the center of this. Indeed, it is the Cubans who are performing the security cordon for Maduro today. They are everywhere around him, he doesn’t trust his military. You said the military hadn’t come across, well, the leader of their intelligence service …
POMPEO: … left. So, there’s a lot – Maduro cannot feel good about the security of his position today. And he shouldn’t. Because the Venezuelan people will demand ultimately that he leave.
KARL: You said the Cubans, how about the Russians?
POMPEO: The – the Russians need to get out too. The president tweeted it very clearly. He said the Russians must go. We want every country – Iran is in there today. They need to leave as well. Every country that is interfering with the Venezuelan people’s right to restore their own democracy needs to leave.
KARL: I want to play you what the president said about Vladimir Putin and what Putin told him about Venezuela.
(VIDEO CLIP BEGINS)
TRUMP: He is not looking to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela. And I feel the same way …
(VIDEO CLIP ENDS)
KARL: But wait a minute, what does he mean the Russians – that Putin does not want to get involved in Venezuela? Aren’t they already deeply involved in supporting Maduro?
POMPEO: The president has said that the Russians must get out. I’m going to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov in a couple of days. We’ll have more conversations about this. The objective is very clear; we want the Iranians out, we want the Russians out, we want the Cubans out. That’s ultimately what has to take place in order for Venezuelan democracy to be restored. It’s very clear. I don’t think anything the president said is inconsistent with that.
KARL: But wait a minute, you said that Maduro was on the plane ready to leave and to flee for Cuba and it was the Russians that told him to stay. And the president is saying that Putin told him that he’s not looking to get involved in Venezuela. Does the president not realize what you have said publicly and what is obvious, that Putin is deeply involved in Venezuela? I mean, what does he mean when he’s saying he’s not looking to get involved?
POMPEO: Yeah, I didn’t see the full context of the quote there. I don’t know what context that was in. I do know this; the president has made clear, we want everyone out and that includes the Russians.
KARL: So, you were at the Pentagon going over military options on Friday with the president’s national security team. I know the line that you’ve said, the president has said, everybody has said, all options are on the table. But is a U.S. military invasion of Venezuela really an option?
POMPEO: Oh, make no mistake, we have a full range of options that we’re preparing for. That’s part of what we were doing on Friday, was making sure that when this progresses, and different situation arises, that the president has a full-scale set of options; diplomatic options, political options, options with our allies, and then ultimately, a set of options that would involve use of U.S. military. We’re preparing those for him so that when the situation arises, we’re not flat footed.
KARL: Does the president believe that he can intervene militarily without getting congressional authorization?
POMPEO: Yeah, I don’t – I don’t want to speak to that. The president has his full range of Article 2 authorities and I’m very confident that any action we took in Venezuela would be lawful.
KARL: I want to get to another thing that the president mentioned about his call – hourlong call with Vladimir Putin. He said that he believes that Russia will not interfere in the 2020 elections.
We heard, you know, a different message from Bill Barr in his Senate testimony. We’ve heard concerns obviously from the intelligence community on this. Why does the president remain confident that Russia will not try to do it again?
POMPEO: I’ve been part of this administration for two years now. We have worked diligently to protect America’s election system, something I wish the previous administration had done more effectively.
We had pretty good success in 2018. The Department of Homeland Security has talked about that and we continue to be very focused on that, not only Russian interference, we don’t want the North Koreans interfering in our elections, we don’t want the Iranians, we want to protect and preserve our election system so that we can continue to have high confidence that the election outcomes that we get.
We’re determined – the president’s done more on election interference than any previous president, we’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished there, Jonathan.
KARL: The president seems to be suggesting that he’s ready for a new kind of phase of his relationship with Putin now that the Mueller report is done. Are we going to see – there’s been talk of a summit, is there going to be a Trump-Putin summit on the horizon?
And are we entering a – basically a new phase?
POMPEO: I hope we are. I’m going to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov, I’ll then be travelling the week after that to continue the conversations. We truly do hope, we hope we can find places where we can have overlap in our interests.
When I was a CIA director we were able to do that. We worked with the Russians on counterterrorism to keep Americans who were travelling in the world a little bit safer and frankly help Russian citizens who were travelling the world to be a little bit safer too.
I think it makes perfect sense that any place we can find where we have overlapping interests, we work along with the Russians.
KARL: Is there a summit?
POMPEO: I don’t know, we’ll see.
KARL: One more question before you go, I wanted to ask you about climate change. You said recently that climate change is not in the top five national security challenges facing the United States.
We’ve heard the national – director of national intelligence talk about climate change, fuelling competition for resources, economic distress and social discontent. We’ve heard the Pentagon warn about climate change.
Where do you put it, if it’s not in the top five national security threats, where do you put it?
POMPEO: Jon, I can’t – I can’t rank it.
KARL: But what –
POMPEO: I mean I can’t – I can’t tell you exactly which number. We – we want to make sure that all the outcomes that are possible and that includes climactic change, that we are – that we are sure that our national security – as a secretary of state, my job is to make sure our national security is never – or excuse me, never waivers.
And that’s what we’ll do.
KARL: Because the Washington Post reported the State Department tried to strip any reference to climate change from the statement for the Arctic Policy ahead of the summit you’re going to be attending this week.
What are you doing specifically to address this threat or do you not take it particularly serious?
POMPEO: Jonathan, this – this administration takes keeping America safe, keeping our drinking water pure, keeping our air clean very, very seriously. What the debate is about in this document you’re referring to is about the Paris Climate Agreement.
We don’t think that that has any help of being successful. We’ve seen it, we’ve seen America reduce its carbon footprint while the signatories, including China, haven’t done theirs.
To sign a piece of paper, Jonathan, is interesting and fun and you get to cut a piece of ribbon and have a big photo op. But at the end of the day the world’s no safer. This administration is focused on doing the things that will allow our economy to grow and you know this, countries with high per capita GDP always have cleaner air, safer drinking water.
It’s a virtual certainty that health has improved for citizens around the world as economies grow. We’re determined to do that, we hope other countries will follow our lead and they too can have historic 50 year lows in their unemployment as well.
These are the things that will keep Americans safe, it’s what President Trump is focused on.
KARL: Secretary Pompeo, thank you for joining us here on "This Week".
POMPEO: Thank you, Jonathan, great to be with you, sir.
KARL: Appreciate it. Up next our exclusive interview with Senator Bernie Sanders, he’s back on the campaign trail in Iowa picking up right where he left off four years ago, leading a progressive movement he hopes will propel him to the Democratic nomination.
We’re one on one on the trail in Des Moines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FARMERS MARKET ATTENDEE: Wonderful. My kids and grandkids love you.
SANDERS: What about their mother, their grandmother? Alright. Everybody tells me about their kids. Kids can't vote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: Thank you.
FARMERS MARKET ATTENDEE: I love you.
SANDERS: Thank you.
FARMERS MARKET ATTENDEE: You are my favorite person.
KARL: I guess it's safe to say name recognition is not a problem anymore.
SANDERS: I don't think so.
SANDERS: Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: Big crowds for Bernie Sanders in Iowa this weekend when Sanders jumped into the last presidential campaign four years ago, he was the longest of long shots. By the end of that campaign, he was the leader of a national progressive movement that nearly toppled Hillary Clinton. Now Bernie Sanders is picking up right where he left off. He's on a first-name basis with Iowa Democrats. And this weekend, the one-time longshot looked like a front-runner.
We caught up with him just outside the big farmers market in Des Moines. I started off by asking him about the issues he believes will animate this race.
SANDERS: I think there is a profound anger at corporate greed. Pharmaceutical companies make billions in profits and one out of five Americans can not afford the medicine they need. Insurance companies pay their CEOs outrageous levels of compensation, you have 34 million people who have no health insurance, many people cannot afford their deductibles and their copayments when they go to the doctor, fossil fuel industry makes billions of profits while they destroy the planet, Wall Street makes profits and they're charging people 17 percent interest rates on their credit cards. I think people see the rich getting much, much richer, and the level of income and wealth inequality increasingly dangerous, from a moral perspective and from an economic perspective.
KARL: I'm sure you saw Joe Biden say that he is the most progressive candidate in this race.
SANDERS: Yes. Look, Joe is a good friend of mine, and I’m not here to attack Joe. Joe voted for the war in Iraq. I led the effort against it. Joe voted for NAFTA and permanent normal trade relations -- trade agreements with China. I led the effort against that. Joe voted for the deregulation of Wall Street. I voted against that. You know, I think if you look at Joe's record, and you look at my record, I don't think there's much question about who's more progressive.
KARL: You famously said of Hillary Clinton during the last campaign, "I disagree with Hillary Clinton on virtually everything". Would you say the same thing about Joe Biden?
SANDERS: Well, we’ve got to see -- this is early in the campaign.
KARL: But -- but you've known Biden a long time.
SANDERS: Well, I disagree with many of the votes that he cast, he and I voted in very different ways. I have stood up for the right of people to have healthcare because they're an American citizen. I don't think that's Joe's position. What I do want to say, Jonathan, is that I hope on the Democratic side, that what the campaign is about is a discussion of issues, not personal attacks. I think I can feel safe to say that no matter who the candidate is, we are all going to come together to defeat the most dangerous president in modern American history, and that is Donald Trump.
KARL: Well. ne of those issues, obviously, is your proposal for Medicare for All. Biden says that he would like to see a more incremental approach, fix Obamacare, provide a Medicare option for anybody, but allow people to still have some private health insurance if they want. Why not do an approach like that?
SANDERS: I'll tell you why. Because the system today is truly dysfunctional. We are spending twice as much per capita on health care as do the people of any other country. Medicare right now is the most popular health insurance program in the country. But it only applies to people 65 years of age or older. All that I want to do is expand Medicare over a four year period to cover every man, woman and child in this country.
KARL: But to do that you would eliminate private health insurance.
SANDERS: For basic needs, yes.
KARL: So what do you say to the firefighter in Iowa who has a health plan that they like?
SANDERS: What I would say is that if you want a better program, a more comprehensive program, with no deductibles, with no copayments, with no premiums, which will cost your family less, support Medicare for All.
KARL: But there are some trade-offs, I mean, are people going to be able to see the doctor -- can you guarantee — can you make that guarantee—
KARL: Like Obama that you'll be able to keep your doctor?
SANDERS: Absolutely. Look, the truth is right now you may have an insurance plan that the doctor you really like is not on that network.
KARL: Well what if everybody wants to see Dr. Sanders here in Des Moines. And as more people —
SANDERS: Well that’s the same problem you have today –
KARL: There have got to be trade-offs though, right?
SANDERS: Look, that’s, look. If you have a popular doctor right now under your current policy, it may take you a while to get in there. But under Medicare for All, freedom of choice in regard to doctors, with regard to hospitals, substantially lower prescription drug costs -- we cannot defend Jonathan, in fact, we cannot sustain, a system in which the cost of health care continues to soar.
KARL: So we have more economic numbers came out this week, you know jobless rate hits a 50 year low. So unemployment is down and for the first time in a while we're actually seeing wage growth.
KARL: Donald Trump, the one area that he has a solid approval rating is on his handling of the economy. 56 percent. Does President Trump deserve some credit for the fact that the economy, by multiple measures seems to be doing quite well?
SANDERS: The economy is doing well. And I'm sure -- I don't have to give Trump any credit. I'm sure he will take all the credit that he wants. But what we should also note is that what we're looking at is a 10 year rebound from the Wall Street Crash of 2008. I do not believe the Trump's massive tax breaks for billionaires is the cause of the good economy. But when you talk about good economy -- and follow me around here in Des Moines, talk to the workers who are making $9 an hour or $10 an hour. The truth is that half of the people in this country today, despite the good economy, are living paycheck to paycheck, and millions of people are working two or three jobs, just to put food on the table.
KARL: So under your economic plan, who pays more taxes? I mean, obviously the billionaires and the millionaires, but who else will pay more taxes?
SANDERS: Well there’s a set of different policies. But basically, when you have the top one percent in America, owning more wealth than the bottom 92 percent, when the very, very rich are becoming phenomenally richer, and doing incredibly well. When you have companies like Amazon -- you know how much Amazon paid in taxes last year, owned by the wealthiest guy in the world?
Paid zero in federal income taxes. That's insane. So yes, we're going to —
KARL: So they’re going pay more, Bezos is going to pay more. But who else? Where do you draw a line? Does somebody making $100,000 -- a family making $100,000 a year pay more? $50,000?
SANDERS: So, for example, we're going to expand benefits on Social Security. And we're going to do that by raising taxes, lifting the cap --
KARL: Right --
SANDERS: – On people making $250,000 or more. We're certainly going to raise corporate taxes, and do away with these tax havens, where the wealthy and large corporations are stashing their money in the Cayman Islands.
So look at a time of massive income and wealth inequality, where the average American worker today, this is incredible, is making a few cents an hour more than he or she did 43 years ago, while the people on top are doing incredibly well. Yeah, we're going to ask the people at top to start paying their fair share.
KARL: But just to – where?
SANDERS: Well look, we have multiple, it depends on what you're looking at, we have a corporate tax we’re working at. We have a personal income tax. But at the end of the day, we cannot continue this grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that currently exists.
KARL: Last time around you said that you were the only candidate in the race willing to take on the billionaire class. Is that true now?
SANDERS: Well, I think Elizabeth Warren is a very good Senator. My views are different than Elizabeth’s on this or that issue, but she’s certainly a progressive candidate.
KARL: Why are you a better choice for progressive than Elizabeth Warren?
SANDERS: Well I’ll let the voters decide that.
KARL: Well, you're going to have to–you're going to have to outline that.
SANDERS: Yeah, we will deal with it but not right now. I mean, she is a friend of mine. She's a serious candidate. She's a good candidate. We have our differences, we agree on a lot of things. We’ll let the voters sort it out.
KARL: Biden has called himself an Obama-Biden Democrat. Would you embrace that phrase?
SANDERS: Well look, Barack Obama was a very, very good president.
KARL: What grade would you give him?
SANDERS: I’m not going to give him a grade. Barack Obama, look, compared to the guy you have in the White House right now I’d give him an A+.
KARL: Trump seems to want to run against you. And certainly he wants to run and Republicans want to run against socialism.
SANDERS: OK --
KARL: Is it time to disavow that label?
SANDERS: The problem is -- and in a television interview to it’s hard for me to describe in-depth what we mean by that. When Social Security was first created, what did Republicans call it?
Karl: Called it socialism.
SANDERS: Any time you do things for the people and you stand up to the wealthy and powerful, you’ll be labeled this that and the other thing.
KARL: But this is a label you embrace.
SANDERS: But all the issues we are talking about -- these are ideas that are in one form or another are in fact supported by the American people.
KARL: So I’ve heard from several of your opponents talk about the need for a new generation of leadership. So what do you say to those who say you’ve been in Washington for 29 years, that you’ve fought for these issues, but your time has passed but it’s time for a new generation of leadership?
SANDERS: What I say is let the voters decide that. OK? I mean I will not criticize my opponents for not having a whole lot of experience. That would be wrong. Let the voters decide. I’m proud of the fact that in the last campaign that you covered so well, we helped transform the debate in America.
You know when I talked about a $15 minimum wage -- you covered it -- four years ago that was too radical that was extreme. Today six states have already passed that and I suspect the U.S. House will pass $15 an hour the next month or two.
So ideas that we’ve brought forth have helped transform the discussion in America -- we started that debate and I want to end that discussion and take those ideas to the White House.
KARL: I want to ask you about the news overnight -- North Korea has launched what now appears to be a series of missile tests. How would President Sanders handle that situation?
SANDERS: You know this is one area actually where I do not fault Trump. I think the idea of sitting down with Kim Jong-un is the right thing to do. It is very, very difficult but clearly they are a threat to the planet they are isolated, they’re demagogic.
And we have just got to do everything we can to have China, and the people in the Pacific Rim to put as much pressure on North Korea and make it clear that they cannot continue to act this way. It is not an easy situation.
KARL: OK, lightning round. So in your lifetime, the presidents that you’ve observed, who was the best president?
SANDERS: I think Lyndon Johnson does not get the credit that he deserves for his domestic agenda. Vietnam was just terrible, terrible, terrible. But I think on domestic issues, LBJ deserves a lot more credit than he got.
KARL: Cory Booker says he will name a woman as his running mate, will you make the same pledge?
SANDERS: I would give very serious consideration to that.
KARL: Person of color?
SANDERS: I think it's premature. It would be silly to make that statement right now.
KARL: You can't give us your shortlist right now?
KARL: Do you favor adding seats to the Supreme Court?
KARL: Do you favor doing away with the Electoral College?
SANDERS: I think when you have a guy in the White House right now who received three million votes less than his opponent, something is fundamentally wrong.
KARL: OK, last question, who's going to win the Iowa caucuses?
SANDERS: Well, I'm not going to speculate. We did pretty well last time. We basically tied with Hillary Clinton.
KARL: You got within three-tenths of a point.
SANDERS: Yes. All I can tell you, I'm out here in Des Moines. We're going to work hard and I hope we do.
KARL: Alright, Senator Sanders thank you for talking to us. I appreciate your time.
SANDERS: OK, thank you.
KARL: Our thanks to Senator Sanders. Up next, the powerhouse roundtable.
KARL: The roundtable is here, 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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: The president has been tweeting about Joe Biden a lot. Is that because he's the latest in the race, or because the president hopes he's the nominee and think he can beat him?
MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think he's just the latest flavor of the day. And I think, you know, next week it'll be somebody else for the Democrats -- the major of some town was on Time Magazine yesterday, so he'll be the flavor of the day -- yeah, I can't even pronounce his last name.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: All right, let's bring in our Powerhouse Roundtable. Former New Jersey Governor and ABC News contributor Chris Christie; Democratic strategist Stefanie Brown-James, co-founder of Collective PAC; Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for Axios; and our own Mary Bruce, senior congressional correspondent for ABC News.
So, the mayor of some town. I like that.
But let me ask you, you heard Senator Sanders on this question of the new generation of leadership, this line that so many of his opponents are saying, he sounds like he is not going to exploit the youth and inexperience of his opponents.
CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY AND ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, using the Ronald Reagan line very well.
I don't think that that's going to matter. I don't think the youth versus, you know, the kind of Biden/Sanders/Warren even wing of the party -- I don't think that's where the divide is going to be. I think this divide is going to be all the energy is on the far left on the party, can someone like Biden who is off to seemingly a good start, can he survive when all the energy is on the left side?
I think this is very much a left/center argument inside their party, very much the way we've had right/center arguments on the Republican side. Who's going to come out of it and how are they going to manage that?
KARL: But Stefanie, this does seem like we are seeing a real war for the ideological soul of the Democratic Party in this primary. Biden and Sanders represent two very different visions for the party and for America.
STEFANIE BROWN JAMES, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST AND CO-FOUNDER OF COLLECTIVE PAC: Absolutely. But right now we are seeing that Biden is being very successful in his race right now. I mean, people like Joe Biden. He is polling 20 points higher than any of his other competitors. People think that he's the man to beat the Donald Trump. And right now, they want a candidate that is going to not only be strong on policy, but beat Trump.
And I think it's actually been a little bit overblown how much people are talking about the ideological differences. People want someone who is charismatic, someone who can beat Trump, but also someone who they can trust. And I think that’s why Joe Biden will continue to do well.
KARL: And what is the answer to the question that Judge Jeanine was asking Mick there, Jonathan? Why is the president so enthralled with tweeting about Joe Biden? Is that who he worries about?
JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Trump – there’s been a couple people who’ve told him – or there’s at least one person I know of who’s told him to stop elevating Biden because it’s only helping him. But Trump likes to try and define people early on. I mean, that’s his whole game. It’s like, I need to brand him. It’s all through the lens of branding. So, that’s what he’s doing right now. And Trump just looks at the polls. It’s not that complicated. He sees the polls, Biden’s at the top, I’m going to spend a lot of time beating this guy up.
I mean, from any conversation I’ve had with people around Trump, I don’t think he’s expressing – wringing his hands, "oh, what do I do about Biden?" That’s just not how he is. But there are people around him who see Biden as the biggest threat. And there are very simple reasons. The rust belt is where they need to win this election and Biden can take a lot of these voters.
MARY BRUCE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: And it is interesting how much Biden himself is talking about Trump. I mean, when you compare what Biden has said in the last several events that he’s had versus what – your conversation with Bernie Sanders just now, Sanders is talking about Biden. Biden is talking about Trump. And I do have to say, I think I disagree with the governor a little bit about the generational challenges here. I was out on the road this week with Joe Biden. The generational issues are real. He’s got a problem with the under-30 crowd.
I mean, I’ve talked with a lot of young voters, they said "Oh, I like Joe Biden, he reminds me of my grandpa."
BRUCE: And if I ask them, well, do they feel that Grandpa Joe can represent them? Can he – can he speak for them? I get a lot of shoulder shrugs, some awkward pauses. When I asked a lot of voters, you know, if it comes down to Bernie and Biden, how do you make that decision? Every single voter I talked to, young and old, said, when it comes down to it, they just want someone, anyone, who can beat Donald Trump.
SWAN: But Biden says he’s going to be very tough on Margaret Thatcher …
That was a good moment.
CHRISTIE: That’s why Biden – That’s why Biden is doing this, I think, smartly. Biden doesn’t want to argue with any of those people. He doesn’t want to argue with Bernie or Buttigieg or anybody.
BROWN JAMES: Yeah.
CHRISTIE: Biden’s like, listen, you want to beat Trump, I’m the guy. And that’s got to be his argument and that recent poll helps him. But you say "listen, I’m the guy who can do this, and do this better than anybody else." And so, that’s what I think will override all this in the end.
KARL: Democrats want to win.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, they do want to win …
BROWN JAMES: But you know what’s interesting about that same – that same poll also showed that Democrats overwhelmingly – yes, Democrats are focused on beating Trump but they also really want to pivot on issues that they are concerned about. They want someone to talk about healthcare, they want someone to talk about public education. And so, the candidate that’s both able to focus on how I’m going to beat Trump but also how I’m going to create some policy solutions is going to be a winning candidate.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, but the – the problem with that is, it depends on how they talk about it.
CHRISTIE: Because if they start talking about it and feel drawn, as many of them have, further and further left, that plays right into the president’s hands. Because then he’ll brand even Biden ultimately as a socialist if he starts talking in that way and that’s a label much worse than Sleepy Joe. The socialism label is going to be one that will cut if it can be made credibly by the president.
KARL: And isn’t there a fundamental problem or challenge that Democrats face? You talked about anger at corporate America, talk about the economy. When we were looking at the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years and, as I talked about with Senator Sanders, it’s not just the big macro numbers. We’re seeing real wage growth for the first time in a long time. How do you, as Democrats, make the argument on the economy when the economy is doing so well?
BROWN JAMES: It’s hard to make that argument right now for the Democrats. That’s why they need to pivot to other issues that voters care about. Health care can be a real issue that Democrats can control the narrative because it is hard for them to beat back the reality that the economy is doing well. And Trump is, of course, taking all the credit for it but I think they need to really pivot to issues that they can be strong on and the economy is not one right now.
CHRISTIE: Listen, if we are a year from right now in exactly the same spot economically where we are today, I don’t think the Democrats have hope. I think that, in the end, that’s what people vote in these elections, especially the wage growth, Jon, is a really important part of this. Because if middle class voters start seeing their wages going up, they’re going to give the credit to the president because whoever’s in the seat gets the credit, the president deserves the credit for what he’s done and I think it’ll be very hard for any Democrats to break through.
KARL: So Trump goes from the guy that couldn’t win to the guy who can’t lose?
SWAN: I don’t know about can’t lose …
… But I don’t disagree with the governor on that. I mean …
CHRISTIE: I mean, it’s …
SWAN: And that’s why – look, that’s why Trump doesn’t see his greatest threat as Joe Biden. He sees his greatest threat as Jerome Powell.
KARL: Right, is the Federal Reserve …
SWAN: He thinks the Federal Reserve is the greatest threat to his reelection. And he has said that.
BRUCE: I will say, though – and I agree, Stefanie, I think Democrats know that they need to be focused more on health care, on energy and climate issues, on education, rather than just the economy. But despite the strong economic numbers -- I mean, the president’s approval rating is still below 40 percent. So it’s not clear how much credit he’s really getting and he’s going to continue to get from this economic --
KARL: His approval rating on -- on handling the economy is at 56 percent. Which, I mean, I don’t think we've ever seen that kind of a divide. And this gets to all the other issues that we saw, you know --
CHRISTIE: But I think all those other issues will be a distraction compared to the economic numbers. And I think, you know, people will wonder this week, why did the president have that meeting with Chuck and Nancy as he calls them, and agree to $2 trillion -- in concept a $2 trillion --
KARL: Yes, why did he do that?
CHRISTIE: Because he's concerned that the economy won't last until November. Because he’s concerned exactly about Jerome Powell and what he’ll do. And if he puts $2 trillion worth of stimulus into this economy, putting union trade workers to work, and --
KARL: OK, so --
CHRISTIE: -- and building up the economies in the states by funneling all this money in, the economy will stay at this level or even better. This is an economic move by the president to hedge against what he’s concerned the Fed will do.
KARL: But let me ask you the politics on that, because I know this is not really the Republican party anymore, it's the Trump party. He’s -- he is the -- you know, he is the leader of this party, but the idea of conservatives supporting a $2 trillion spending bill, especially in face of the kind of deficits we're seeing. Is that -- is that -- I mean, does it make people nervous --
KARL: -- in your party?
CHRISTIE: You know what makes them more nervous?
KARL: What does Chris Christie think of that?
CHRISTIE: Let me tell you something. You know what makes people more nervous and what would make me more nervous?
CHRISTIE: Bernie Sanders' presidency. That’s what’d make me -- listen --
KARL: That’s the -- I mean, even Bernie Sanders have a hard time competing with $2 trillion on -- on infrastructure spending.
CHRISTIE: Well, he -- he -- and that’s exactly the president's theory here.
CHRISTIE: I'm going to get out in front of this issue, it's going to pump up my economy and what’s Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden or anybody else going to say about me putting building trades people to work on the streets, the roadways, the railways of America to improve our infrastructure, the airports, the tunnels. This is going to be -- if president pulls this off, this is not only going to be great for him great economically but it’s also going to be a great political move for him in the debate that’s going to go on with the eventual Democratic nominee.
KARL: So -- so -- so can Democrats simultaneously talk about impeaching him and then work with him on what would be maybe the biggest domestic policy initiative we’ve ever seen? Or -- or since the great society.
BROWN JAMES: And that’s -- and that's if this actually happens. I mean, I think that Democrats talking about impeachment right now isn't helpful for the Democrats' agenda. People want to talk about issues that are impacting them on the day-to-day level, which is why Democrats should definitely pivot to talking about other issues other than the economy and other than -- than the impeachment and quite frankly, other than the Mueller report. Yes there’s still a lot that has to be uncovered there, we need to focus on how are we going to protect our elections moving forward.
I mean, we -- we still haven't had any concrete solutions as to how we're going to make sure that no foreign governments are impeding the next election. And so that's real issue for Americans.
KARL: And that -- that sounds like Nancy Pelosi, that’s basically her message to the party. But then why are we seeing so many of 2020 candidates getting way out there, saying that Trump needs to impeached, Barr needs to be held in contempt. I mean, they’re -- they're going there on this issue.
SWAN: Because they’re spending time with Democratic primary voters.
KARL: Who want Trump to be impeached.
SWAN: Again, what did Governor Christie say? Where’s the energy in the party?
SWAN: This is the primary electorate. It’s not necessarily the national electorate but it’s the primary electorate. When you’re spending all your time with activists, effectively, a lot of your time with activists, you’re going to hear impeachment come up a little bit.
KARL: So where’s Pelosi? Because Pelosi was really direct saying that Barr lied, suggesting he committed a crime in his testimony before Congress.
BRUCE: Yes, what strikes me about her comments this week is that you're definitely seeing Nancy Pelosi empathizing a lot more with those members of her caucus who are frustrated and furious and with a lot of the Democratic candidates. That does not mean, though, that she’s inching any closer to actually supporting impeachment but she is going further in her criticism. I mean, she really ripped into the president and into the attorney general this week. But she also has made clear that, you know, the bar for impeachment hasn't changed, you need bipartisan support, you still need buy-in from the public and that’s not going to change.
She desperately, I think, wants to focus on the agenda, wants to talk about health care, wants to talk about issues she knows voters really care about, which isn’t necessarily what folks inside the beltway want to talk about. But it’s a real tough challenge for her and I think she knows that.
BROWN JAMES: And also, they also can't seem tone deaf to not talk about the fact that, yes, we do think that Barr lied in his testimony. So they have to -- it's a balancing act of how much do you talk about what is happening right in front of with you with Barr but also stay focused on the issues that make Democrats look strong.
SWAN: Let’s be honest, it’s farcical. I mean, how many deadlines has Jerry Nadler given? High noon deadlines?
SWAN: April 2, you must release the Mueller report and then -- and then the Justice Department says, oh, that’s really cute, we’re not going to do that. --
KARL: And deadlines on his taxes, on -- yes.
SWAN: Matt Whitaker, you must comply -- oh, actually, no, we’ll back off. Bill Barr, you must testify, and guess what? Monday morning, 9:00 am, the latest deadline --
KARL: Another deadline.
SWAN: ‘Pound sand’ will be Bill Barr’s response to that. And just keep doing it, because he is – what the dirty secret is, they can hold him in contempt, it’s been before, it matters nothing.
It goes through the courts, it’s going to get dragged out. Bill Barr knows he’s got the power and he is telling them to go shove it.
CHRISTIE: Jon, listen, when Mary turned the phrase of people being frustrated and furious, that reminded me of the last time that we held an attorney general in contempt. The Republican Congress –
KARL: Yes (inaudible).
CHRISTIE: -- held Eric Holder in contempt over fast and furious and what happened? Nothing, because you know what happens, that gets referred to the Justice Department for prosecution.
And Eric Holder went yeah, I think I won’t prosecute myself. Well if you think Bill Barr is going to have any different answer you can forget it. That’s what’s going to happen. And listen, I think the problem this left center problem in the Democratic Party right now –
SWAN: You wouldn’t prosecute yourself, Chris?
CHRISTIE: I would not.
SWAN: I’m shocked.
CHRISTIE: I’m going to say, especially when I know I didn’t do anything wrong as Bill Barr didn’t. Here’s the thing, this left center fight in the Democratic Party is taking them off of focus, because those far left people, as Jonathan pointed out, who want impeachment, who want contempt of Bill Barr, who want more subpoenas and more hearings, the presidential candidates are reacting to that and a lot of congressional people are saying come on man, we’ve got to keep this majority in the House.
We’ve got to get focused on health care and other issues that may actually move those center voters their way rather than the president’s way.
KARL: But they don’t seem to be ready to take the foot off the gas on this at all.
CHRISTIE: No and it’s a mistake.
KARL: All right, that is all the time we have, thank you for joining us, we will be right back.
And now we honor our fellow Americans who serve in sacrifice. In the month of April, seven service members died overseas supporting operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
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