'This Week' Transcript 6-23-19: Sen.Cory Booker, Adm.Mike Mullen, Rep.Mac Thornberry

ByABC News
June 23, 2019, 9:37 AM

A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, June 9, 2019 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.

ANNOUNCER: THIS WEEK with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.


MARTHA RADDATZ, CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Back from the brink, President Trump defends his abrupt about-face with Iran.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody was saying I'm a war monger, now they say I'm a dove. I'm a man with common sense.

RADDATZ: Who is advising the commander-in-chief in these tense times?

TRUMP: Ultimately I make the decision.

RADDATZ: The world waiting to see what that decision will be. Is a retaliatory strike even still on the table and how would Iran respond? Former chair of the joint chiefs, veteran of the Situation Room, Admiral Mike Mullen is here live along with the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. Plus Cory Booker calls out Joe Biden over comments on segregationist, then faces backlash from the frontrunner.

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN (D), 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Cory should apologize. He knows better.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY, 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Vice President Biden shouldn't need this lesson.

RADDATZ: Senator Booker is here live just three days before the Democrats face off in their first primary debates.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From ABC News, it's THIS WEEK. Here now, Co-Anchor Martha Raddatz.

RADDATZ: Good morning, and welcome to THIS WEEK. So President Trump says military action is still on the table when it comes to the standoff with Iran, but this morning there is no sign that a retaliatory strike is imminent after the President abruptly changed his mind Thursday night. That decision may be one of the most consequential of his presidency. When Iran shot down one of America's most sophisticated drones over the strait of Hormuz, members of his cabinet and leaders in his party seemed to convince him to punch back. But Friday Trump explained his last minute reversal, tweeting, we were cocked and loaded to retaliate on three different sides, but because of potential casualties, the president decided the response would not be proportionate.

Of course, politics looms large over all of this. ThePpresident campaigned on ending wars in the Middle East and a new conflict could cost him crucial votes. Candidate Trump in 2016 called America's foreign policy a complete and total disaster with no vision. Fast forward to this week. We're left asking what is President Trump's foreign policy doctrine. It's clear it's one of tough talk. Recall his fire and fury threats against North Korea. And this week, he made this bold declaration.


TRUMP: I'm not looking for war and if there is, it'll be obliteration like you've never seen before.


RADDATZ: So far he's approved a cyber strike on Iran and doubled down on inflicting punishing sanctions. That strategy he's employed before. The escalating tensions come a little over a year since President Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. The ripple effects of that move are crippling Iran's economy, so was this escalation predictable? I was in Tehran just a few weeks ago and asked Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif what it would take to get our two countries back to the negotiating table.


JAVAD ZARIF, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, IRAN: Threats against Iran never work. Never threaten an Iranian. Try respect. That may work.


RADDATZ: Let's bring in ABC'S James Longman who's in the Persian Gulf near the waters where those commercial oil tankers were targeted last week and ABC News Senior Washington Correspondent Terry Moran who's been covering the twists and turns this week from the White House. James, let's start with you. Tell us what you're seeing there in the region.

JAMES LONGMAN, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Yes. Good morning, Martha. Well this region is basically still worried about some kind of military response from the United States after that drone was shot down from the skies here above me. The pressure has been growing for some time since the oil tankers were attacked in these waters here. And this morning we're learning President Trump approved an offensive cyber strike on Iran in response to those hits. The source confirms to ABC News computer systems that control rocket and missile launchers were disabled Thursday.

Now, Tehran has yet to comment on the cyber strike but is adamant the downed U.S. drone strayed into its airspace, a claim the U.S. flatly denies, firm in its assessment that this was an unprovoked attack over international waters. All this of course in the context of those crippling sanctions imposed by the U.S. Inflation in Iran is at 30 percent and the IMF says the economy will shrink by six percent this year. President Trump hopes that will force Iran back to the negotiating table.

But this is a dangerous game of brinkmanship. There are so many flash points across the Middle East and beyond where Iranian and U.S. interests could collide. Martha.

RADDATZ: A dangerous game indeed. Thank you, James and Terry. I want to start with the president's tweet last night. He said, I never called the strike against Iran back as people are incorrectly reporting, I just stopped it from going forward at this time. Is he concerned about not looking tough enough?

TERRY MORAN, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: He sure is. It's a matter of semantics really in some ways, but what we're looking at is a president who governs by instinct, he's an instinctual president and we're seeing his instincts conflict.

He made one basic promise to the people who sent him to Washington, no more wars. And he made a promise to conservative activists and to Israel we're going to get on top of Iran without the Nuclear Deal. It's hard to put those together.

RADDATZ: There are reports that a Fox News host talked him out of this. Who's really advising him?

MORAN: Well, you know, he listens to all kinds of people in an unorthodox way. He's a person as I say who governs by instinct, there are people around him who say whoever's in the room last, whoever's got his ear last.

But it's clear that he's trying to find a way out of a box that he put himself in and he's looking for somebody who can help him out of it. How does he keep Iran essentially subjugated, how does he limit their ambitions in that region, limit their nuclear program without a deal that was meant to do that and no military conflict?

That's a hard problem.

RADDATZ: OK thanks for joining us, Terry.

MORAN: Thanks Martha.

RADDATZ: And we're joined now by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen who served as principal military advisor to two presidents, Obama and Bush. He spent his life commanding warships from the Persian Gulf to the Pacific and knows every weapon system.

Admiral Mullen, thanks for joining us this morning, and I want to start the president said he called off the strike when he heard about the possible casualty count of 150. He called it off minutes before launch, despite reports.

He knew broadly about the casualties from previous briefings. Is this the way it should happen?

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, FORMER CHAIR, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Well you're very concerned that it would happen so near to execution, obviously the process that actually routinely assesses and looks at collateral damage specifically or how many people could possibly be killed is fairly normal.

It's very, very unusual, not unprecedented that a strike would be called off so closely to its execution.

RADDATZ: Could or should the military then given options to the president where there were fewer possible casualties or maybe none at all? We know the military, as you said, always has these different scenarios planned.

MULLEN: Well I think in this crisis you - as in many, you look a proportional response and you've heard that term used and so you want to do something that is - typically that is related to what has happened and these - these missile batteries were tied very specifically to the shoot down.

You want to focus on that in terms of targeting and then you do the assessment for how many people are there. And as I understand it, this was going to be a very early morning strike so you work to minimize that certainly for a proportional response.

So I think that's the relationship. We had had a drone shot down by a missile system, and that at least as I understand it the intention was to take out three of the sites that were involved in that kind of capability.

RADDATZ: You know, there are numerous reports and including here at ABC that John Bolton and Mike Pompeo were advocating to go ahead with that strike and Bolton is saying in Israel this morning Iran should not mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness.

Do you think the president is being pushed towards a confrontation by John Bolton?

MULLEN: It - it appears that we're certainly headed in that direction, certainly John Bolton has that reputation, he's been hawkish for ever and very focused on regime change in Iran.

My biggest concern is the president is running out of room, running out of options and while rhetoric goes back and forth on how close we came to hitting Iran just the other day, that this thing could spin out of control.

And the last thing in the world we need right now is a war with Iran. I - I really would like to know that the American people who feel we should not go to war with Iran are pressing their congressman, their senators and everybody in the public domain to make sure that no matter what happens with respect to where we are with Iran right now that we do not go to war.

That's our system here and I think the politicians need to figure out a way to achieve the objective which is Iran without a nuclear weapon, without - and from my perspective, without regime change, without going to war.

RADDATZ: But how do you do that? What if they get a nuclear weapon? No war?

MULLEN: Well I think again it's been pretty clear for some time the objective is to have Iran without a nuclear weapon. The - if you can't make sure that that happens diplomatically, we're back to the future in many ways because we should recall that when the nuclear deal was signed, Iran was within about three months of having enough nuclear material to put a weapon together.

I suspect they wouldn't be more than a year or a year-and-a-half away of getting back to that position. They've already started to enrich uranium. And Iran with a nuclear weapon would start to proliferate nuclear weapons in the Middle East, which is incredibly dangerous. Other countries would then probably generate that kind of capability. And the Middle East has got a lot of problems and we don't need more nukes.

The other way you go at it is, if they have one, is you attack them militarily. I can tell you those -- attacking them militarily, is a very, very difficult task to actually make it happen. I know John Bolton is in Israel this month, the -- I'm sorry, this week, and the situation in Israel has moved to a more aggressive stance politically. And I worry a great deal that if Iran gets to a point where they start to enrich again, and it looks like they're going to develop a weapon, that certainly Israel would strike them.

RADDATZ: And what about these cyber attacks that have been reported? Is that enough?

MULLEN: It's hard to know exactly what is enough. Certainly you could argue there's some proportion there, particularly as reported, if they effect the systems that actually executed this shot against our drone. That said, one of the things that has happened in the last six, seven years is Iran has developed a very, very capable cyber system, cyber capability, cyber expertise.

So, given what happened in the last couple of days with us attacking their systems, I would fully expect that they would respond in some manner in the cyber way. And again, that's -- in many ways that's a new domain. Sometimes it's easily contained. Sometimes it gets out of proportion or out of control very easily. So I think we all have to be very, very careful.

What I would hope would happen, Martha, is that the leaders of these two countries send the signals to stand this down so that we can figure out a way to get where we need to go.

RADDATZ: Thanks very much, Admiral Mullen, for adding your perspective.

Up next, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee shares his insider perspective on President Trump's last-minute reversal on striking Iran.

Plus, Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker joins us live.



TRUMP: In New York City we have a lot of Iranians and they're great people. I have friends that are Iranian, many friends. Living in New York City, you meet many Iranians. They're very smart, they're very ambition, they have tremendous -- they're high quality people. But I have many friends that are Iranian. I don't want to kill 150 Iranians. I understand it.


RADDATZ: As President Trump made those life and death decisions about possible retaliation against Iran, our next guest, Texas Congressman Mac Thornberry, was there in the situation room. He's the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman Thornberry, good morning. You were with President Trump at the White House Thursday afternoon with Hill leadership being briefed about the drone shoot down and possible response. Right after that meeting, you issued a statement with other Republicans saying President Trump and his national security team remain clear-eyed on the situation and what must be done in response to increased Iranian aggression.

So when you left the White House, were you expecting a retaliatory strike?

REP. MAC THORNBERRY, R-TEXAS: Well, one of the things about that meeting, Martha, there were equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats. The president, after laying out the intelligence situation, was really listening to everyone's views. And one of the -- my takeaways was that there was no one around the table who said we should do nothing. Everyone agreed that shooting down an unarmed American aircraft deserved a response.

Now, there was some variation of views about whether it should be kinetic or whether sanctions, cyber, you know, the level of response, but most everybody thought it should be on the lower end of the range of possibilities that the president was provided.

Now, he didn't tell us what he was going to do, but I think it is to his credit that before thepresident took action he wanted to just listen to Republicans and Democrat leaders in congress and see what they thought, and he listened.

RADDATZ: So what was your reaction when you heard he wasn't going ahead with a kinetic or military strike?

THORNBERRY: Well, I think it's a hard judgment call. The president is clearly trying to navigate a fine line to show that you cannot attack Americans and American military equipment without having a response. At the same time, he's very conscious of not getting on an escalatory ladder that leads to a military conflict that neither side wants.

So, you want to be strong enough to show you can't push us around, but you also don't want to get on a path that takes you in a dangerous direction. That's what he's trying to navigate. And so President Trump --

RADDATZ: You've got the additional sanctions. You've got these cyber attacks. Do you think that's enough? In your eyes, would it be proportional if he does anything less than a military retaliatory strike after they shot down an $130 million drone in an unprovoked attack?

THORNBERRY: Well, that's going to really depend on the Iranians. You know, this story is not over. And the question is how do they respond to this relatively restrained response by President Trump.

Now, if they come and say, OK, we need to talk. We don't want to let this get out of hand, that's one thing. If they go back to mining tankers, shooting at American aircraft, the sort of pattern of activity we've since -- seen since April, then obviously the president has a whole range of additional responses that he could employ. But he's given himself a lot of headroom, if you will. There's a lot -- there are a number of other military and -- and probably other actions that could be taken if the Iranians decide that they want to continue this aggressive, provocative sort of behavior.

RADDATZ: OK, but they -- they have already shot down a drone. And -- and I want to remind you of some of the language that President Trump has made in the past. Let me read from a year ago to Iranian President Rouhani. “Never ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence and death. Be cautious.”

And now he is basically saying he appreciated them not shooting down a manned aircraft. He said perhaps the strike on the drone was just by some loose and stupid person. Is he softening his stance?

THORNBERRY: Well, I think he's giving the Iranians every opportunity to back out of this cycle of increasing violence that they have embarked upon for the past few months, giving them every opportunity to get out of that and go towards a more productive negotiating sort of path. And you know, I think it's hard to criticize the president for giving them every opportunity. But there's obviously a limit to -- to that. And that's why I say if Iran goes back to mining tankers, the -- the sorts of things they've been doing here lately, then we have a whole range of military and other responses which we can employ.

And -- and I think --

RADDATZ: And Congressman, I want to just --

THORNBERRY: -- the president will -- will look to do that.

RADDATZ: And -- and Congressman, I just want to quickly turn to immigration. President Trump reversed his decision on Iran and then yesterday suddenly reversed his decision about mass deportation that he said would start tomorrow. What's going on here?

THORNBERRY: Well, I think as the president said, he heard a lot of concerns from some folks on the Hill, he decided to delay the decision. You know, the -- the -- the challenge is if there is a lawful deportation order, that is the law of the land and it is the job of the executive branch in our system of government to enforce the law. Now, in the bigger sense of things, I hope that we can have folks in Congress and the administration sit down and at least work through some of these immigration issues. Right now we're trying to get some additional funding to take care of the migrants who are at the border. That's been far harder than it should be and it's humanitarian sort of things.

This -- this political standoff when it comes to immigration and border security is -- has got to end. Even if we don't agree on everything, there ought to be some steps we can take together where we do agree.

RADDATZ: OK. Thanks very much for joining us this morning, Congressman Thornberry. Up next, Cory Booker live from South Carolina. Has he mended fences with Joe Biden? And what are his plans for the first primary debate this week?


RADDATZ: Coming up, Senator Cory Booker wants to be the next commander-in-chief. I'll ask how he would respond to Iran, after this.



REV. AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: It hurts when you talk about boy. It means something different to us. It hurts when you call a racist -- like you normalize it. You’re not -- that's not the Biden I got to know. Don't you understand that?

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND 2020 DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I do fully understand. That's not what I said, though. They didn't print the whole deal, you know what I mean? The context of this was totally different.

And by the way, the fact of the matter is I ran against all those folks. You got to deal with what's in front of you. And what's in front of you was a bunch of racists and we had to defeat them.


RADDATZ: Former Vice President Joe Biden there asked again last night to explain his comments this week about working with segregationist. I'm joined now by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker live from Columbia, South Carolina.

Senator Booker, good morning. But before we turn to politics, you are running to be the next commander-in-chief. So, put aside for a moment your thoughts about how this Iran crisis began. Did the president make the right call by stopping the retaliatory strike Thursday night?

SEN. CORY BOOKER, D-NJ AND 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think you can pull this out of the context from him from the very beginning of his presidency taking a belligerent course of escalation and provocation with Iran. I mean, we pulled out of an anti-nuclear deal that gave us complete transparency into their nuclear program. We literally isolated ourselves from our allies and set us out on a very fragile limb towards conflict where we could break at any time and find ourselves perilously closely and closer to war.

RADDATZ: But where we are today, senator, so answer the question about whether he made the right call.

BOOKER: Well, I think there's a bipartisan group of senators that spoke pretty clearly last week that this president cannot take military action without coming to congress. The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force does not cover a military strike against Iran. The constitution speaks very clearly on this, that he needs to come to congress before he engages in military action that, again, could have us tumbling towards chaos and war in that region.

RADDATZ: So what would you have done? You're on the foreign relations committee. You know how complicated this is with Iran. You are running for president. Iran shoots down one of our drones. What do you do?

BOOKER: Well, first and foremost, again, the critical crisis we have is not just a drone being shot down but now Iran has moved back to where it was before, which could be months from getting a nuclear weapon, which puts us again in that region on the brink of chaos.

Again, this is a president that does not have a strategy. And unfortunately, has made us weaker. We are the strongest nation on the planet earth, but our strength is magnified and multiplied when we stand in coalition with our allies, with other western democracies. And we are not there right now.

Even when there are strikes on tankers, we see again our allies very skeptical to even believe us right now. We are in a weaker position. We are in a box, and in a corner, with an Iranian regime now racing back towards a nuclear weapon. And this situation is getting more and more tense, not less.

This has been folly. There is no strategy here. We have a president that seems to be doing this like a reality TV show and trying to build more drama and trying to make foreign policy by tweet. We have to, as a nation, work in coordination with our allies to denuclearize Iran and to bring stability and peace back to that region --

RADDATZ: So, Senator Booker...

BOOKER: ...because Iran is a serious threat.

RADDATZ: If you were elected president, you would inherit what's going on right now, so what would you do that's different if Iran is on a path to get the nuclear weapon?

BOOKER: I would rejoin with our allies. I would work to renegotiate and get us back into a place where we are standing together with our allies and have like we had before which was a 10 to 20-year runway and transparency and vision into their enrichment processes to make sure that they're abiding by an anti-nuclear deal.

This entire episode is something that Donald Trump solely has pushed us to and now we are, as I said, in a terrible corner with a regime that has already shown its belligerence. This regime has shown that it is a bad actor in that region, but now they're closer to a nuclear weapon which could trigger proliferation around the region. It could trigger a military conflict, and have us tumbling back into a Middle East war that will cost American lives and trillions of American dollars.

RADDATZ: And -- and Senator Booker, I want to turn back to politics and to Vice President Biden's comments. He -- he said he worked along segregationists in Congress in order to get things done. You called the comments deeply disappointing, but the two of you spoke privately on Wednesday evening. What was your takeaway from that conversation?

BOOKER: Well I've said my piece. I have a lot of respect for Joe Biden and a gratitude towards him, and that’s even more of a responsibility than I have to have - be candid with him, to speak truth to power.

He is a presidential nominee and to say something - and again it's not about working across the aisle, if anything I've made that a hallmark of my time in the Senate to get big things done and legislation passed.

This is about him evoking a terrible power dynamic that he showed a lack of understanding or insensitivity to by invoking this idea that he was called son by white segregationists who - yes, they see him - in him, their son.

But would refer to African American men -

RADDATZ: He said it was taken out of context last night.

BOOKER: I didn't - I didn't understand that. I think - I listened to the full totality of what he was talking about and frankly I heard from many, many African Americans who found the comments hurtful.

Look, we make mistakes, we sometimes tread upon issues that maybe we aren't knowledgeable of. I don't think the vice president should need this lesson, but this was a time for him to be healing and to be helpful especially the time that he is looking to bring this party together and lead us in what is the most important election of our lifetime.

And I was disappointed, I've said my piece, we had a very constructive conversation, again I have a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for the vice president. That's why again I felt it really important especially with our friends not to just sweep things under the rug but to be candid and straightforward with each other.

RADDATZ: I want to move to the 2020 debates. You're in South Carolina, you took part in the very famous fish fry last night, Congress Jim Clyburn's fish fry. Clyburn said he was surprised you and Kamala Harris were not getting more support in his state statement said he thinks you are, quote, "suffering from the shadows - coming out from under the shadows of Barack Obama".

Is that a fair comment?

BOOKER: Look we have 230 days before there’s voting in Iowa, this is a very, very long time. And so I'm very confident in the campaign that we're running here and we've seen, if you evoke President Obama, he was polling well behind Secretary Clinton - excuse me, at that time, Senator Clinton at this point in the polls.

I'm looking forward to this campaign, to this debate on Wednesday night to put myself, my ideas, my heart and my passion before the American people. I'm excited about the road ahead, I'm just trying to earn South Carolinian's votes.

RADDATZ: And how do you break out, Senator, how do you break out from that crowd? You're up against Elizabeth Warren that night who's doing better in the polls.

BOOKER: Well again polling this far out, as you know, has very little indication about who ultimately will be the nominee. There's 10 people on that stage and we have an incredible field of candidates and I think this would be a good opportunity for the American people to see us all and to see our spirit, to see our ideas and frankly to understand our vision for the country.

And I'm looking forward to this opportunity, I'm grateful that the DNC is doing this.

RADDATZ: OK thanks very much, Senator Booker. Good luck this week. The Round Table is next plus the first installment in our new healthcare series "Critical Care" we meet nurses going door to door to push for Medicare for All. We're back in just 60 seconds.


On night one of the Democratic debates this week, the highest polling candidate on stage will be Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. And this week, political betting markets started to favor Warren, suggesting she's Joe Biden's biggest competition for the Democratic nomination, edging out Bernie Sanders.

So we asked FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver do you buy that?


NATE SILVER, FOUNDER AND EDITOR IN CHIEF, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: So if you go to political prediction markets where people bet on the outcomes of political events like they would the NBA final, these markets have Warren with about a 21 percent chance of winning the nomination and Bernie at 16 percent.

So do I buy it? If I were looking only at national polls I might not, however if you look at polls of early states, for example the recent Des Moines Register poll in Iowa showed Warren improving from nine percent to 15 percent and you've seen him drop. You've seen him at 25 percent, now 16 percent. Also if you look at polls of people who are paying a lot of attention to the campaign, Warren tends to do better than Sanders there, who is still relying a lot on name recognition from -- from four years ago.

Factor number two in her favor is that she actually has spent a lot of time building bridges with the party establishment. The establishment does have a lot of influence.

Number three is that I think she forms a better contrast with Biden. She, for one thing, is a woman. Almost three in five Democratic voters are women. Also the level of detail she has, the policy substance is a good contrast to a candidate in Joe Biden, who frankly has tried to leave a lot of things up to the imagination.

And just one more thing. Warren right now is hurt by perceptions that she is not electable, that she might have a tough time beating Donald Trump. The thing is, though, that electability concerns can melt away once a candidate begins to show success and gain momentum. So I think she actually has room to grow there.

So if I were putting my own money down -- we're pretty early, but I would sooner have money on Warren then on Sanders.


RADDATZ: OK. The roundtable's all here. ABC News Political Analyst Matthew Dowd, NPR White House Reporter Ayesha Rascoe, Republican Strategist and ABC News Contributor Sarah Fagen, and Democratic Strategist Arshad Hasan. Welcome to all of you. Matthew, going to start with you, as I often do. Vice President Joe Biden's comments, you -- you just heard Senator Booker talk about that, although he didn't reveal a whole lot about that conversation. Is Joe Biden out of touch with the Democratic party? Will this hurt him?

MATTHEW DOWD, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST, ABC NEWS: Well I think this specific thing is just a moment that I don't think will do any lasting damage to him. I think this underlines a bigger problem for Joe Biden, which is Joe Biden started serving office before 8 track came and went. And he is in a place -- he's trapped in time. And -- and I think he has to figure out that the words, the actions, the policies of the 1970s or early 1980s don't apply to the 21st century Democratic party and I think that's one of his main pressure points for the debates that (inaudible we'll talk about, is how does he demonstrate that he fits where the Democratic party is and where America is today as opposed to where it was when he first got elected in the '70s.

RADDATZ: That seems a natural question to you, Arshad. How does he do this and do you think those comments linger?

ARSHAD HASAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well here's the thing, he's evoking a segregationist from 40 years ago. Think about the largest growing block in the Democratic party, that's young voters, people under 35.

RADDATZ: Who are still trying to figure out what an 8 track tape is, what he was talking about, right?


DOWD: Exactly.

HASAN: I vaguely remember one. And this is a problem. This is a problem. So if he can't relate to the largest growing block, he needs to do better. I -- I think it's -- it's important to note that Democrats these days expect our candidates to be able to speak competently on issues of race.

RADDATZ: And -- and Ayesha, they've only been campaigning for a few months, everybody in this -- in this race, in the Democratic race. But the 2020 candidates, pretty much offering harsher criticism of one another. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders all knocked Biden's comments. Is it something that you think is going to happen more and more or is this just a moment they had to respond to that and they'll lay back?

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: Well, I mean, what you've seen is that Biden has been able to keep this lead and as long as he's in the front like this, he's going to have this target on his back and the problem for him is that this time he kind of shot his own self in the foot. So you can't do that, you can't kind of, like, have the weakness show -- showing and then you're going to have people kind of jump on that. And -- and we should say we don't know what impact this is going to have, particularly on black voters, until we see more polling. We just won't know.

And even though you have people like John Lewis saying -- Congressman John Lewis saying that they didn't think that this was a problem, you know, the black vote is not monolithic and we will have to see how this is going to play out with younger black voters who may want something a bit different.

RADDATZ: And -- and we have seen on the -- on the campaign trail over the last couple of years, before it really kicked in, that -- that some African-American voters, Democrats are saying they felt they were taken for granted by the Democratic party.

RASCOE: Absolutely. And some -- and some voters will want something more bold. And even though -- and obviously Biden is going to be talking a lot about Former President Obama and trying to tie himself as closely to him as possible, there is going to be a question, OK, yes, he was with Obama but, OK, what happens going forward and is this the person that we really want to bring forward the policies that are going to help the black community when it comes to education, when it comes to the economy and really making a difference. Because you still see, even with low black unemployment now, that this administration talks about a lot, it is double white unemployment and that is real in people's lives and in their -- and -- and in their circumstances.

RADDATZ: And -- and -- and Sarah, how are you seeing all this? How do these candidates balance going after their opponents and still supporting the party?

FAGEN: Well, I think some important context is to remember that at this point in the 2016 cycle Donald Trump was at 1 percent, so it is very, very early. And what we see playing out in this party right now appears to be sort of a struggle between their heart and their head. Their heart is with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and their head is with, you know, Joe Biden and perhaps Pete Buttigieg.

And so this debate coming up will be really interesting to see if Elizabeth Warren, given her preferred status on that first night, is one of the sole front-runners on the stage, can break out and start to narrow the gap with Bernie Sanders, because I think ultimately what we're going to see at the end isone very progressive candidate and one more centrist Democrat like Joe Biden.

RADDATZ: And Matthew, on Elizabeth Warren, she's the highest profile candidate on that Wednesday night debate. Is it good for her that she doesn't have to share the stage with Biden or Bernie Sanders?

DOWD: I think she got a really good draw. And plus coupled with the draw that she has where she can stand on her own and not fight with Bernie Sanders, which I don't actually understand why Bernie Sanders hasn't figured out that Biden isn't his complication for winning the nomination, Biden is not his complication for winning this nomination, Elizabeth Warren is his complication for winning the nomination. But because she's also been on a rise in the last month.

Elizabeth Warren has been the fastest rising candidate over the last four or five weeks primarily all due to a substantive policy roll-out that she's had from the beginning of this thing. So, I think she's got a huge benefit from being this big, stand-alone character on Wednesday night.

RADDATZ: And then there are the others. How do they break out? We've been talking about that a lot this morning. I mean, is it just knowing their message, is it being a Cory Booker there, neverstraying from your message at all? How do you break out? Do you want to break out in this debate?

HASAN: There's two dozen candidates so you have to break out.

RADDATZ: I've moderated one of those debates, it's very difficult even keeping track who is on the stage.

HASAN: Well, here is the thing, so I think in the beginning you really need to establish who you are, what kind of candidate you are, what kind of character you are, what kind of person you are. Some of these candidates have had a great shot at doing that. Those who haven't by now, I think now we're moving on to what do you stand for. So, if you haven't established who you are, you're not going to be able to stand out at all.

So, I think we're going to start seeing the winnowing of the field -- I hope -- well, I hope earlier rather than later candidates.

RADDATZ: Who has the most concerns, Ayesha, in not establishing who they are, what they want, getting that message through?

RASCOE: Well, I think someone like a Cory Booker who has really in a sense a national profile, maybe not the name recognition of other people, but he just hasn't gotten there yet. And then you have the people who just haven't broken through at all, like Senator Amy Klobuchar and Gillibrand, these people. They are going to have to try to do something to stand out or at least not to hurt themselves in these debates.

And I mean, I think that might be the biggest thing, is to not do something that would put yourself out of the running in these debates.

DOWD: You have to go -- you have to be in the top four or five candidates by the time all these debates are done before you get into Iowa, because otherwise you're not going to have a chance. To me, this is like the World Cup group stage, which is you have to perform well enough in a series of these to get to the knockout round. And I think the people -- Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, all the ones that are underperforming where Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders are and Joe Biden are, have to figure out a way to get into that top four or five, so that they're surviving until the voting starts.

RADDATZ: And Sarah, Donald Trump kicked off his campaign this week. You were there at that rally, an incredibly enthusiastic crowd, which I'm sure you felt while you were there. And yet, that speech might as well have been in 2016, 2015. Will that work?

FAGEN: It's worked for him so far. And, you know, he gave -- he spoke for a long time. It was incredibly passionate. And the crowd never stopped cheering. And having been at a lot of Republican events, most of them more traditional in my life, it was like a convention in that room. And I was really struck by that. But I think...

RADDATZ: You say it worked for him before. But there's no wall. I mean, there are promises that have not been kept. So does he get off the hook, ‘oh, maybe next time I'll do that’?

FAGEN: Well, I mean, look, -- he says the wall is being built and his supporters agree with that. They believe that he is taking administrative action to build the wall now. Certainly, Congress has taken no action. That may not be technically true, but his supporters stand behind him and believe he's the only one trying to take action on an issue that they care about. What struck me was the numbers around that rally, and again, you know, these candidates in Iowa and South Carolina are getting 200 and 400 people at their events, which is typical at this time.

But even as a Bush operative, you know, we would get 4,000 or 5,000 or 6,000 people and that was a really good event most of the time. He had 120,000 people express interest, 20 percent of them are Democrats.

People assume that this election is going to be about some fringe part of the Republican base, the base is completely different and it includes a lot of different types of -

RADDATZ: Arshad - let me hear from Arshad just on this one.

HASAN: I - you know, I want to push back on the ‘oh this has worked for him so far.’ He isn't really breached anywhere above 42, 43 percent approval rating.

The reason why there's 24 candidates in the race is because the Democrats believe they have a real shot. Donald Trump hasn't been able to break past his base, and you can't get elected just on the crowd size alone.

FAGEN: He has about 45 percent approval rating, which is far lower than he will need on election day, but if a third party candidate emerges, which is quite possible, 45 percent will get Donald Trump reelected.

RADDATZ: Ayesha, I want to go to you on this though, we've got Donald Trump who's changing his mind a lot on immigration, enforcing the deportation starting tomorrow, pushback by Nancy Pelosi as one of our people here said. He has said I will enforce tariffs, then no, Iran will suffer greatly, then the raid called off, I will close the border, I will not, I will conduct raids, I will not.

Is that a negotiating tactic? How do people view this?

RASCOE: I think this is definitely some - a part of his strategy is this kind of high risk, high reward but also maybe not follow through sometimes.

It's - he does these big threats, I'm going to shut down the border, you will be obliterated, Iran will be no more. The issue is - and sometimes he does follow through like with China, he threatened big tariffs and he went through on those tariffs.

But when you do these kind of big threats, I am going to impose these huge tariffs on Mexico which will then affect the U.S. as well, sometimes like Mexico, they will kind of roll over, come and play ball but then sometimes you're dealing with Iran and they may not want to play ball.

RADDATZ: And Matthew, I want to give you a last word on Iran and the seriousness of that. I know he decided not to go forward as he said, he doesn't - clearly doesn't like the term -

DOWD, ABC NEWS: Which I give him credit for actually.

RADDATZ: You give him credit for that but then what?

DOWD: Well I think that's the problem and I think we're in such a level of distress on both sides of these, valid distrust of Iran for all the things they've done and all the terror operations they've conducted in the world, but they have valid distrust of ours.

People should not forget that we helped overthrow their government in the 1950s, we actually helped provide them nuclear capability and we shot down one of their air liners in the 1980s. So there's valid distrust which is - what the concern I have is how do you rebuild any of that before you launch anything militarily?

RADDATZ: Something everybody is thinking about. Thanks to all of you. Up next, is Medicare for All the solution for healthcare reform? That debate when we come back.


In a new Kaiser poll out this week, 87 percent of Democratic leaning voters say it's very important to them to hear the candidates talk about healthcare. And so it's no wonder so many presidential candidates are making it a central part of their campaigns.

In the first installment of our new "Critical Care" series, ABC News David Wright looks at Medicare for All, who's for it, who's against it, and what it would mean for you.


DAVID WRIGHT, CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: It's an issue on which many of the 2020 Democrats broadly agree.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The American people want and we are going to deliver a Medicare for All -



SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's why I am for Medicare for All.

WRIGHT: Medicare for All, promising to solve America's healthcare crisis in one fell swoop. The idea really came of age during Bernie Sanders's 2016 run for president.

SANDERS: We are being ripped off by the drug companies.

WRIGHT: He started with the premise that access to affordable healthcare is a right, not a privilege.

SANDERS: We have got to do better.

WRIGHT: He proposes replacing most private health insurance with a popular national healthcare plan that already exists. Medicare is currently limited to seniors and the disabled, but under his plan, all Americans would have access to affordable, government-issued health insurance.

DR EZEKIEL EMANUEL, VICE PROVOST, U OF PENNSYLVANIA: Despite all their whining, Americans actually don't want to get rid of their employer-sponsored insurance. They're uncertain about getting rid of it. Second of all, clearly the insurers would not like to be put out of business.

WRIGHT: Health insurance is now a trillion dollar a year business, a powerful vested interest with big money to spend and bigger money to lose.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: It ought to be called Medicare for none.

WRIGHT: Republicans focus on expanding private insurance options. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell says no large Medicare legislation will move on his watch.

MCCONNELL: If you want to turn America into a socialist country, this is the first step.

WRIGHT: He says plans like Senator Sanders's could cost the federal government $32 trillion over 10 years, which would inevitably mean higher taxes for Americans. Still, there's a growing people power on the Democratic side.

MARTESE CHISM, NATIONAL NURSES UNITED: We're out here canvassing for Medicare for All. Do you have insurance?

WRIGHT: Including the largest nurses union in the country. Martese Chism, a registered nurse from Chicago, has been fighting for this at the grassroots. We first caught up with her in South Carolina, talking to voters there.

CHISM: I'm the great granddaughter of a civil rights activist who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King.

WRIGHT: Back in Chicago, she canvasses with other nurses after work. She notes that disparities in the health care system are especially bleak for racial and ethnic minorities.

WRIGHT: You come at this from a civil rights background.


WRIGHT: Do you see the fight for universal health care --

CHISM: Yes --

WRIGHT: -- to be a civil rights issue?

CHISM: Yeah. It is. The United States is one of the largest -- the greatest country in the world. And for us not to insure everyone, that is inhumane.

WRIGHT: For some Democrats it's still a bridge too far. Joe Biden offers a sort of expanded Obamacare.

BIDEN: Whether you're covered through your employer or on your own or not, you all should have a choice to be able to buy into a public option plan for Medicare.

WRIGHT: In theory, if consumers had that so-called "public option" of Medicare, it would force private insurance companies to up their game or lose out. That idea that appeals to Senator Michael Bennet too.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D), COLORADO: If we want universal healthcare, I think we're a lot better off saying to the American people, you have an option. If we tell the American people we have to take it away from you before you can have universal healthcare, it's never going to work.

WRIGHT: But is it enough to win over progressives?

WRIGHT: Would that be a good thing? Good compromise?

CHISM: Our movement is Medicare for All. No water down. We are not accepting anything less than Medicare for All.

EMANUEL: Making Medicare for All the litmus test on the Democratic side is a very bad idea. We should be open to lots of ways of getting to universal coverage in the United States, but I also think it's a big political hill.

WRIGHT: Maybe so, but to activists like Martese Chism, it's a mountain worth climbing.

WRIGHT: How important is this election in terms of moving this issue forward?

CHISM: This is our moment. This is our time. And we are rising. We rising.


RADDATZ: Our thanks to David Wright. Truly a big topic on the debate stages this week. That's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us, and have a great day.