Majority Leader McConnell is 'the new master of the Senate': Christie

The Powerhouse Roundtable debates the politics of impeachment, the Iran conflict and the 2020 election.
14:54 | 01/12/20

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Transcript for Majority Leader McConnell is 'the new master of the Senate': Christie
Mr. President and members of the senate, I announce the presence of the managers on the part of the house of representatives to conduct proceedings on behalf of the house concerning the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton, the president of the united States. Flashback a little over 20 years, the impeachment articles delivered on president bill Clinton back in 1999. Likely to happen to president trump this week in the house. We'll talk about that with our roundtable. Chris Christie. Former governor of New Jersey. Patrick Gaspard. Political director and ambassador to South Africa for president Obama. Washington post congressional reporter Rachael bade. And time's national correspondent, Molly. We just heard from the speaker as well. Rachael, I want to begin with you, you heard the speaker say she actually did gain a lot by holding up these articles of impeachment for three weeks. Lot of skepticism on capitol hill. Yeah, definitely. Clearly putting a positive spin on what a lot of Democrats have privately said a failed strategy. She and chuck Schumer set out to number one, try to get a commitment from Mcconnell on witnesses. Firsthand witnesses to testify in a senate trial. She also said she wanted to see a resolution about, you know, how the whole proceedings would be governed. She got neither of those. And I know her team has sort of said, look, she was able to hold out a bunch of new revelations that happened over the holiday break. Bolton came out and said he's willing to testify. She was holding the articles the whole time. Those things would have happen regardless if she was holding them. In fact, there might have been more news focused on those things if everyone wasn't asking, what is Nancy doing with the articles. So I do think there are a lot of Democrats while not going on the record saying it a lot of them had concern about it. Molly, off the record they're saying, one of the reasons she had to do this, they couldn't trust Mitch Mcconnell given his history. That he move quickly to dismiss. That was a possibility they talked about. And the whole standoff between Nancy Pelosi and Mitch Mcconnell was very sort of unstoppable. The two of them very strong and very clever tacticians. I think that was probably never a strong possibility just because of president trump. It's been clear from the start that he always wanted to have the exoneration of a senate trial, not a mere dismissal. He's been putting pressure on Mcconnell behind the scenes the whole time. That, if there was any leverage on the Democrats that's where the leverage sat. Chris Christie, it seems the president has brought on to Mcconnell's strategy of no witnesses. Yeah, and I think that was inevitable. Because in the end, nobody does this better than Mitch Mcconnell. That's what Nancy Pelosi learned over the last three weeks. What chuck Schumer has learned time and time again. Mcconnell is the new -- he's the new master of the senate. He knows how to count votes and he knows how to keep people in line and he knows how to get this done. The president has learned over time, all the way he's done things to make the president's legacy even better probably smart to listen to Mcconnell on this. This has been a really good three weeks for the president and it's largely because the speaker made a serious error and politically judgment by holding back. You know in the end -- It's a one-week difference in start of the trial I understand. During this period of time it's allowed people not to focus on the beginning of a trial and the discussion, we didn't have special reports on the beginning of a trial. We weren't on TV in the middle of the day covering all this stuff. He was allowed to talk about other things. He was allowed to do other things. Patrick, it's true that Mcconnell has held his caucus together. The pressure on those senators up for election on the issue of witnesses is going to be met immediately by votes by Democrats. That's right, and I'm not entirely sure it's been a great three weeks for the president. I really do think we're having a process argument, we're arguing balls and strikes after the game has already been decided. The president of the united States has been impeached by congress. It's now moving to the senate. You're right that nobody's better than Mcconnell than obstructing governance. Now the pressure is on him and his caucus. Senators in states that were won by Hillary Clinton last time, whose names are on the ballot now they have to defend -- The game is over. The game is over. He's not going to be removed. Are you confident there aren't going to be witnesses? I'm pretty confident. You're up there every single day. We heard Mitt Romney say he wants to hear from witnesses. Susan Collins gave an interview to her hometown newspaper at the end of the week suggesting that she was ready to vote for witnesses. Can that reach critical mass? Keep in mind, they need four senate Republicans, Democrats will have to convince four and that's going to be an uphill battle. Mcconnell knows his conference very well. He knows how to stay in touch with his moderate members and keep them on the team. I think going back to mcconnell/trump relationship, a dynamic I'm watching. It's really interesting, two totally different politicians. Throughout this whole past few weeks, trump has been deferring to Mcconnell over and over again regarding witnesses. Mcconnell privately convinced him not to call in hunter Biden, Joe Biden. Let's do no witnesses, if they bring in someone like John Bolton it's mutual destruction. That's a really tough balance. He'll have to strike. And lots depend on how this plays out over the next few weeks. The trump/mcconnell relationship. Molly, I was struck about Pelosi's final words. Suggesting that Mcconnell is in the league. That relationship has deteriorated. There's mutual respect. They both see each other as masters of their respective domains. But it's not -- they're not friends. Should not surprise anyone. I think you see her, you know, sort of needling him the same way that she needles trump. Trying to get under his skin. I don't think that works with Mcconnell the same way it does with trump. She's been going after him on this issue of election security and making these insinuations about the relationship with Russia and so she's willing to go there. She's willing to go there. Patrick Gaspard, according to that Bloomberg report, it seems the Russians aren't going to back off at all heading into this election. Why should they when they got an administration in Washington, D.C., right now that refuses to put up any guardrail in this process? And you have the president of the United States giving the American people assurances that Vladimir Putin had nothing do with it. The Russians have been given every encouragement and it's incumbent on Republicans and Democrats in house and senate to push back against this president and this administration on election integrity. To their credit they did in 2017 and 2018. They need to double-down on this pressure. Listen, in the end law enforcement will do what law enforcement does. I'm confident in the FBI director and the attorney general. I think they'll protect the integrity of the election. I think they'll have a lot of allies on capitol hill to do that. I don't think that will be an issue. There's no doubt in mind that foreign entities like Russia will try again. I'm confident in the new leadership at the FBI and the justice department. Let's be clear, governor, it's not just a question of them trying again, they're trying right now in real time. Right, and the FBI and the justice department to stop them. They're a little slow. I have conversations with civil rights who are astounded by the way social media are being used about participation this year. We have big issues about what the justice department can and can't do. On platforms like Facebook. And social media. Facebook said they're not going to take down ads they know aren't true. There's a real free speech discussion here that needs to be had. That doesn't implicate law enforcement. I don't know who will or won't. In the end, law enforcement, when they step over the line, I'm confident in the FBI director, he'll make sure his folks are investigating. In the end bill Barr will make sure the integrity is protected. The first votes of 2020 are three weeks away in Iowa. Small movement by Bernie Sanders, now, a small lead. Ahead of Elizabeth Warren, Pete buttigieg, Joe Biden. Amy klobuchar and Andrew yang further back. Molly ball, this is anyone's ball game right now in Iowa. Complicated by this upcoming senate trial. Which is going to pin down Sanders, pin down Warren, pin down klobuchar. As buttigieg and Biden have free rein in Iowa. You know that's on all of the minds of those candidates. The nominal leader in that very tight poll Bernie Sanders won't be able to be out there on the stump. It's a potentially big problem to do these things simultaneously. Senators are required to be at the trial and not talk. They're sitting on their hands watching the clock wind down. I think the coming debate this week is going to be very important. Before the articles are sent over. At least they'll be able to make the debate. But after that, who knows, and this is really anybody's game. I think also because the delegates thresholds work, there's a possibility that we have essentially a four-way tie going into Iowa, and a four-way tie coming out of Iowa and going into New Hampshire. It will depend a lot on those results. This year for the first time ever, there are going to be two vote counts in Iowa. Count of every delegate who walks in. After, a second vote inside the caucuses, any candidate who doesn't get 15% their support can go to someone else. Could have two different winners on the caucus night. Rachael, on this issue of the impact on the trial of the caucus as well, this issue, it could bleed into New Hampshire and beyond. If they decide to call witnesses at the trial. Democrats have been wanting to hear from John Bolton for literally months. I mean, the top Republican talking point has been, oh, your witnesses are secondhand information. No one has been talking to the president. Well, Democrats want to hear from those people who have been talking to the president, Bolton, Mick Mulvaney. But if they decide at the end, it's going to take at least two weeks for their opening arguments, do some questions. If they decide they get that fourth Republican to call in, you know, Bolton or some of these firsthand witnesses that could mean another two to four weeks of impeachment trial all throughout the various caucuses in the states. Patrick, as this is all happening you have the Iran events of the last week. Opening up on the democratic side a much more fierce debate between Bernie Sanders and je Biden over national security and foreign policy. That's actually a great playing field for Joe Biden and I actually think for Bernie as well. I think it's problematic for Elizabeth Warren and mayor buttigieg that the conversation has moved from domestic priorities to foreign affairs. Bernie Sanders has done an excellent job of linking the challenge in Iran and foreign intervention with his basic case that he makes about privilege in this country and who suffers the consequences of these kind of interventions. Joe Biden of course has played to his natural strength of his experience on foreign relations committee. Vice president. Somebody who's been in the box making tough calls. I think they've been able to burnish their strengths and regrettably box out the conversation Warren and buttigieg at a critical moment in Iowa. The president was declaring victory after that retaliation by Iranians. Designed not to take out American casualties. But his instinct still seems to by don't want any part of this mess. He doesn't. Listen, this has been his foreign policy approach right from the beginning. I think the president showed a great deal of patience on the attack on the Saudi refineries, on the drone attack where he did not respond. I think finally he had to do something and he took a very, very direct and aggressive way to respond and now he's saying, okay, we've read that there were backchannel messages sent soon after, like, don't escalate. Don't put us in that position. This president doesn't want that. He doesn't want the endless wars. He also can't stand for the idea that American embassies can be at risk as well. That's why I think in the end it was a very good couple of weeks for the president. Those who want aggressive action were very happy about the attack. Those who do not want expansion saw the president wasn't doing as well. One last thing, Sanders, Warren, booker, they're real fans of the Pelosi strategy. Three weeks they've waited now and that extends them further into the season. Nancy Pelosi isn't going to be any cards or letters from those four thanking her for her strategy. Governor, I want to say, in the polling that was cited by George in the previous segment we're seeing this president doesn't have a tremendous amount of credibility even amongst Republicans and independents on this issue. There's a sense this attack in Iran have made troops in Iran less safe not more safe. You talk about a response of the president. What's the response? Thank you all for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Have a good day. Sharing part of your Sunday with us. Have a good day.

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

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