'Get yourself a lawyer and do it fast': Rahm Emanuel's advice to Mulvaney

The Powerhouse Roundtable debates the politics of the week, including the fourth Democratic primary debate and the latest developments in the impeachment inquiry.
15:38 | 10/20/19

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Transcript for 'Get yourself a lawyer and do it fast': Rahm Emanuel's advice to Mulvaney
You have not specified how you're going to pay for the most expensive plan, medicare for all. Will you raise taxes on the middle class to pay for it? Yes or no? Costs will go up for the wealthy and for big corporations, and for hard working middle class families costs will go down. We heard it tonight, a yes or no question that didn't get a yes or no answer. At least Bernie is being honest here and saying how he's going to pay for this and that taxes are going to go up. I'm sorry, Elizabeth, but you have not said that and I think we owe it to the American people to tell them where we're going to send the invoice. Remember that debate was actually this week. It was Tuesday night. So much has happened, so much to talk about in our roundtable. Joined by ABC news analyst, former governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, former mayor of Chicago and Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Heidi Heitkamp who served as a democratic senator from North Dakota, and Republican strategist Sara Fagan, served under George W. Bush. Welcome to you all. Let's talk about the one thing we haven't talked about too much on the show so far, that decision by president trump last night to reverse awarding the g7 to the Doral. He clearly wanted it to go to his own hotel, Chris, but he felt he had no choice. He had no choice. It shouldn't have been done in the first place. It's a move to get out of it and get that out of the papers and off the news. There's lots of other things that the president needs to be focused on. I know he loves his properties and he loves having people to his properties, and he loves showing off those properties. I understand all that but this was just an unforced error and I'm glad they fixed it. They got toe to move on now. You've served as white house chief of staff, Rahm. The question is how this got this far. As a mayor and governor, this would never get through procurement process. You cannot send the airport contract to Christie inc for construction. You just cannot do that, full stop. There's no process and nobody to tell him no. I don't care how much he loves his properties. You cannot do what he just did. I would put this in context, reverse on Doral, Mulvaney had to reverse, Syria policy had to reverse. There is no thinking through of a decision and the consequence and how it rolls out. This is just in less than 48 hours, three decisions had to be turned around or attempted to be turned around. One of the big things he had to factor in is he started to see some criticism on this of Republicans, particularly Republican senators who he needs more than ever. I think that's right and particularly over the Syria issue he's seen criticism from Republican senators, but he's heading into a very tumultuous period for his presidency in the run-up to his re-election which means he needs friends and he doesn't need to be doing things and Doral was an example that put Republican members of congress and senators on the defensive. So he needs to be thinking more wholistically about his party and not just about his own individual interests. You served as a senator from a red state, democratic senator from a red state. Do you think Democrats overall are getting more comfortable with their decision on impeachment? I think they're getting more comfortable because the president is making it easier for them to get comfortable. The chief of staff clearly made it a lot easier to be comfortable. You saw Republican defections from that press conference. You're going to see this more and more as more and more information comes out. You're going to see more and more come and I don't think it's just going to be Democrats. I think it's going to be Republicans who are really comfortable saying enough is enough. We're done. Chris, I wonder if you have insight into what actually happened there on Thursday. Jon Karl was pushing Mick Mulvaney on that. He finally came out with a clear admission that this was at least one of the factors for why the aid was held up. It appeared that he didn't mean to do it. On the other hand, the white house -- and this is picking on a point Heidi just made -- has to know that more information is coming out and was it perhaps an attempt to get ahead of that information? I doubt it was an attempt to get ahead of information. I think it was a mistake. Where it came from and how the chief of staff decided to do that, I think you saw pretty clearly that the secretary of state was expressing the same type of concerns that I understand white house lawyers were expressing about the press conference. So, I don't think it was some grand plan. I'd also say and I've said this to the president as recently as this week. We have to be in friend-making mode. We have to be exactly what Sara said is exactly right. There's a time to be combative and there's a time to be in friend-making mode, vis-a-vis your own party. And right now when you're facing impeachment which by the way is predetermined as I've said before. House. House. Impeachment, not removal. Impeachment is predetermined. They're going to do it and he should be humbled to the fact that that's going to happen and he's not going to be removed and then we're going to move to a presidential campaign. The best part of the president's whole week is what you started off with, which is the more people in this country see Democrats on the campaign stage, Elizabeth Warren unable to answer questions. It's a binary choice here. Two things, if I was chief of staff, get yourself a lawyer and do it fast. Number two, what's going to happen and there's a cascading effect. You're right about the house and I think you're probably right about the senate except for this, president trump said he's going to be remembered for foreign policy. You're having a cascading effect that will affect Republican voters. You have Republicans attacking him now on Syria. You got Ukraine. Doral, until reverses it, foreign policy. That foreign policy will start to erode Republican numbers. His benchmark now is 40. The moment that number -- his number goes to 40 or below you're going to see more and more Republican senators walk away because the only thing that held Democrats for Bill Clinton was he was at 68%. There's a number in that senate cloak room. There is a number floating around. It could be 41, 39, but when he dips and hits that number in the poll, watch them run for the hills. The reason I disagree with that is because what's their alternative. That's the issue. He's not going to get removed. But it's going to have a -- when Republicans attacked him, it has a cascading effect on weak Republican voters who don't like him. You have to look at where -- Elizabeth Warren, it's not going to matter anyway. There's two senators in north Dakota who aren't going to change their mind and senators down that corridor who are not going to change their mind so it's not about a public opinion poll. It's about individual states and how popular he remains in a state like Nebraska or Kansas which has a senate race. That's right. Remember, all of these folks, many of these folks are on the ballot next November so Republicans' fortunes will rise and fall with the president and they know that and they're not going to be in a position to go impeach him in the senate. That would be the worst thing they could do for themselves and ultimately, unfortunately, too many politicians are mostly self-interested. It does seem clear that senator Mcconnell -- No offense. Present company excluded. There's breaking news. The calculation that he can't shut this down quickly, that in order to protect his senators who are up next year like Corey Gardner in Colorado, Susan Collins in Maine, that he has to have what's perceived to be a full process. It's very clear to me that Mitch Mcconnell says it's going to be a full process. Now, he wants to get it done by the end of the year. This is the great calculation. If Democrats really thought this was a slam dunk, they would vote on an inquiry in the house. She clearly -- congresswoman Pelosi, speaker Pelosi, is not certain yet how this is going to play out and she is keeping her cards close, and so she is timing this in a way where I think she thinks it's going to be most advantageous but she's not certain. I don't know, I think she's lost control of the timing and part of the timing is driven by how many witnesses they have to speak to. We have to remember one thing. The hearings haven't even been on TV yet. The last three weeks have not been good. Wait until the hearings and you get somebody to testify and they have to take oath. Look, I agree he's not going to get impeached, removed in the senate but the problem for the Republicans is in '98 they overshot the runway on impeachment. Their problem now is if they undershoot the runway because they're trying to be loyal to trump. And the problem for Democrats is this becomes the only issue for Democrats rather than the agenda. They're not going to undershoot the runway on impeachment. Mcconnell is going to handle it the right way. I don't care how many hearings they have. If it ends with him not being removed, it is a failure for the Democrats and Pelosi's understood this all along. And the longer it goes, the better this is going to be for the president in the end if it doesn't end in remove. I think that this has real risk in Michigan. It has real risk in Wisconsin, and so you've got to look at this on a state by state basis. Risk for whom? Risk for the president. I mean, we've done polling, right? Taking a look at rural voters, it's a third, a third, a third. A third thinks this is nonsense, all out to get the president. A third say hang him from the highest tree and a third say we're waiting. So if that third who's waiting, who actually sees things in Michigan and Wisconsin where we looked at social responses to this, if they cut for impeachment, the president's in trouble. We haven't even talked about the other investigations here which are all going to play out in the backdrop of an investigation -- impeachment investigation. The doj ig has a report that's about to come out and that may not be good news for the former administration. The John Durham investigation that ag Barr has authorized, again, I think there's this notion in some corners of the media that these are a bunch of crackpot -- this is a crackpot conspiracy theory. We don't know what that's going to turn up and we don't have the facts around that. Clearly that is widening and so this is all going to be debated. To governor Christie's point, this is likely not a slam dunk for Democrats the way they think it is. Fair point, we don't know what those investigations are going to find and we don't know when they're going to be released but at the same time there's a third investigation going on right now, the southern district of New York appears to be putting Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer at risk as well. I take all the conventional wisdom. I think it's not likely that the president is going to be removed from office by the senate but he's not in control of events right now. You've got the courts. You've got the congress. You've got the news. We don't know what's -- Listen, what I would say to him is, tumble to that. You're not in control of events, but they are. They're not necessarily going to go their way. So don't act like you're in control. Let them go. The Democrats want to do this. You're right, George, Nancy Pelosi's lost control of this. The AOC tape you saw there, believe me, every time AOC is on TV saying the stuff she was saying on there, it's a great Y for the president of the United States. So, you know, if I were the president I'd say listen, go do other things, talk about what you're doing on opioid addiction and the success that you're seeing there. Talk about other things that are going on in the economy in the administration that are good and let this thing play out on the sidelines. You can't control it anyway. The problem is he has no way of walling it off and saying hey, your chief of staff said there's a quid pro quo. That's supposed to be walled off. The other thing is -- You are not -- you are not going to win this investigation. That's the point. People have investigation fatigue and they're picking their corners. The question is, is there going to be enough that comes out of the grand jury that the house is conducting that's going to shock people's conscience. The best thing the Democrats can do also is a walloff, meaning there's an impeachment process and here's what we're going to do on the agenda and that would be good for the presidential candidates to be speaking with -- Do you think he's going to pass a trade agreement before the end of the year? You got to do the whole thing. You got to do prescription drugs and price control, the whole agenda on infrastructure and you would force the president's hand because he has to pick between the Republicans that don't want to do it and he that does. I agree with you on the face. The challenge is that's not the agenda. Infrastructure and trade isn't the agenda that the democratic base wants to talk about. They want to talk about medicare for all, a green new deal. I think the best line of that debate was senator klobuchar who said the American people deserve to know where we're going to send the invoice. You had the clip. We're going to see that over and over gen. Is Chris Christie right that that debate helped president trump? I don't think so because I don't think a lot of people are watching who haven't already made up their mind. Let's put that to the side. That is not our defense. There is a bill that Nancy is promoting, hr-3, which is prescription drugs and that will be the foundation of what she's doing. She's very strategic about the issues she's advancing and I think very smart about how she's trying to basically continue the work of the house at the same time they're engaging in this. Democrats on health care, the issue for Democrats is about price control and cost control. It is not about only coverage. It's about cost. Right. And we have got to rewire ourselves. That's not what anybody heard on Thursday night. No. The problem is -- and here's the other thing historically, let alone policy-wise. The fact is when president Obama did the ACA, it was to be built upon, not to be pulled out and start all over again. This was a 100-year effort. That's what's insane about this process. Your next step to be early buy-in for medicare for early retirees and take on the fact that president trump's budget has the largest cut in medicare ever by any president. I'm so glad he's not on that stage, okay, talking about this because -- He? You. I'm so glad because that's the kind of thing that would appeal to some people in the United States. Instead what we hear is who can spend more, who can get medicare for all, and having people attack other people for not being for medicare for all. Every debate, once a month the president can be guaranteed at least once a month of a win and that's when those people get on that stage. Even on the issue that we have domination on which is health care, we're on the wrong part of this discussion and not getting the full value of that actual nomination of that issue. One of the things that you saw on Tuesday was, as vice president Biden has had some troubles, been falling in the polls, you really saw mayor Pete and Amy klobuchar trying to get that space. Trying to fill in that space. One thing Amy and Pete did is say, look, let's stop talking about who's going to pay but about how we're buying and who's going to reduce the cost. They did breach that point although they get down in the weeds on who's paying. The one thing I would say is one of the parts of the primaries is picking issues that also help you in the general. This issue is not even out of the primary and it's got problems. The 2% tax that earn above $50 million is a winner in the primary and the general. Winner in the general? Definitely. Seen all the polling on it. Independent voters, because the Republicans are going to fight it and people are going to say this is about equity and fairness. Shows I live in Manhattan.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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