Matthew Dowd: Comments on Sen. McCain 'a reflection of culture' in White House

On the "This Week" Powerhouse Roundtable, ABC News Political Analyst Matthew Dowd discusses harsh comments made by a White House aide about Sen. John McCain, who has brain cancer.
13:12 | 05/13/18

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Transcript for Matthew Dowd: Comments on Sen. McCain 'a reflection of culture' in White House
ABC political analyst Matthew dowd. ABC senior white house correspondent Cecilia Vega. Joshua Johnson. Host of NPR and wamu's "1-a." And Susan Glasser, staff writer at "The new Yorker." Good morning. Happy mother's day. Happy mother's day. Happy mother's day. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Cecilia, back to the discussion on North Korea and Kim Jong-un. Do you think the white house, despite what John Bolton said, is pretty certain of the outcome? Is there really a chance that Donald Trump will walk away? No. I think they're very certain of the outcome. Also, I should say that and say I have promised never to predict anything about this white house ever again because I'm always wrong. I think they're very confident about the jot come. They need this victory. Do you remember what the president looked like on that runway at joint base Andrews at 2:00 in the morning? Happy. I have never seen him happier. How much the language has changed on Kim Jong-un. We went from fire and fury and little rocket man to good and he made the mistake saying how well the prisoners, the detainees has been treated at one point. He was riding high. They're going in extremely confident. You said it in your questions to ambassador Bolton. Is North Korea going into this with the upper hand? I have been told by sources in the white house there are no preconditions. I don't think there are. North Korea has freed the detainees. They've stopped their testing. What is it they're hoping to get out of this? They gotta want something, the north Koreans. And Matt, we have gone from little rocket man to this. So, Nobel prize? In his mind. In his mind, he gets the Nobel prize. He does get, I have to say, gets credit up until this point. We'll see what happens in June. In the middle of the meeting. He doesn't get as much credit as he wants. Like the Cleveland cavaliers. Donald Trump thinks he's Lebron James. When everybody gets credit on the team, he's probably more like J.R. Smith and the credit he deserves. I think this shows you the response to his chaos and his belligerent behavior what the two Koreans did in this. Which is they basically put this deal together. They were like, we don't know what's going on in the united States. We better figure out a way to come to this. And obviously, with China. But the president does get credit if this goes well. No telling what happens in June. I agree. You have to give them credit. Was this the strategy all along? Look, they called it maximum pressure. And Donald Trump, if you look at awe of his history, even before he was president, he's a believer that deals come from leverage. And it can be positive leverage. Negative leverage. So maximum pressure about in Donald Trump's mind, getting leverage. He used that. Ironically, I do agree with Matt. The story here is our allies. In many ways, the south Koreans panicked. They said, wait a minute. We can no longer count on the United States. We have changed the political calculus. You could feel it over there. I could in South Korea. There was really a sense of -- Absolutely. It's not exactly the leverage as trump talks about it. What I'm looking for going forward is the question of, not only what do they agree to? But both parties have a huge incentive to come out and proclaim victory. Does that mean North Korea will denuclearize? Any expert I talk to says no. Flatly. They don't have any real doubts that Kim is actually going to give up his nuclear weapons. So how are we going to square that circle? Both trump and Kim need to proclaim a victory. I guess it can go on for years, the process of implementing this agreement that they might come to. I spoke to a former intelligence official lately. And, he said, which I thought was fascinating. Your point about Kim Jong-un. He doesn't want to denuclearize. That's the way we have always looked at it. He said, there is a possibility. I tried to talk to John Bolton about that. Maybe we have misread him. We don't have or haven't had great Intel on him. We probably learned more from him walking with president moon of South Korea than anything. Do you think that is a possibility? It's a huge possibility. You're right. We don't know much about his regime. That's why the last year or so have been so revelatory. I do believe in some ways that he may be ready to join the rest of the international community. But now he can do it on his terms. I mean, let's -- And if he's already said he wants to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. I can't see him walking away. Yeah, he may want to denuclearize. It's easy to say now that you know how to build a nuke. It's easy to say now that you know how to build a ballistic missile that can reach Washington. It would be one thing if we were talking about this before he has succeeded. He said in December he had the success. We're closing off a test site whose mission is accomplished. Shutting down facilities that can fire weapons that they know how to build. It can be sitting on a thumb drive in Pyongyang. The irony is now we have base you cannily empowered China. They are the biggest player in it. By far. They're instrumental in what's going on in Korea. They're now instrumental in Korea. In the trade negotiations since we pulled out in this. Can you imagine if this was Barack Obama doing the same thing, that Republicans would be saying, wow, you're naive. I can't believe you're doing this. I think when you look at it, yes. The president gets some credit for this. Not as much as he thinks he gets. But I think the time will tell in June, what happens in the aftermath. I want to move to Iran, if we pping up the deal. It was overshadowed a bit by North Korea. The good news so far. But pulling out of that deal. Do you think they really have a plan "B"? I know they have said we're in plan "B" now. We just say, it's not working. I don't know that they do. I was struck by -- the chorus of reaction from our own allies. Germany and Britain and France, all joining together in the joint statement. Macron calling the white house just yesterday, fearful of what's going to happen in the region. That scathing statement from president Obama saying that this was so misguided. And -- the reaction from the white house to all of that was, that's -- really no comment. They didn't address it. You know, I -- I think that there are still discussions happening behind closed doors about what plan "B" will look like. But we also know there are huge divisions in the white house on this very topic with ambassador Bolton on one side and secretary Mattis on the other. So where they go from here, no one knows. It does show -- it does show -- it does show -- I mean, who would have guessed that the first one to violate the treaty would be us, not Iran. As I listened to John Bolton earlier, I couldn't help but think we were back to the future. When the tag team was pushing almost the exact same thing, you substitute Iran and Iraq. It's almost the exact Sam language. We have been to this rodeo before. It cost us thousands of lives, trillions of dollars. Feels like we're going to the same place again. Susan, I want to take this to you, though. When we have gone through the North Korea discussions in the last year, we have all said, he shouldn't do this, say that. It brought them to the table. Is there a chance that this is a good thing? And they could renegotiate a better deal? I think it is very unlikely the Iranians are going to be coming to the table anytime soon. I do agree with one thing, though. Which is the idea that Europe is now going to to us and have some kind of unified response. Very unlikely. It was a very interesting moment in your interview with ambassador Bolton, you read him this very tough editorial from a leading German publication. And he said, it's silly. It's silly. It's not silly. This is what our allies now believe. And, they know that very well in the white house. I reported that ambassador Bolton told a national security adviser to one of the three European nations weeks ago, before any of this, he said the president is going to get rid of this Iran nuclear deal. It's likely. I would have done it myself months ago. So all of this human cry as if it was a surprising decision, I think ambassador Bolton is correct. People that looked at the situation understood that trump would do this. Arguably, the focus of his foreign policy is to move into a period of confrontation with Iran in the broader Middle East. That makes people so nervous. Rather than a new deal, it's much likelier there will be a new war in the Middle East. And the message to north Korea in all of this with the Iran deal? It's kind of a confusing message. Because if you look at the way these two different nuclear matters are being handled. You know, Kim Jong-un is offering some kind of verification of their program. The Iran deal included some kind of verification, too. But it's dead. This deal is moving forward. There were ways of bringing Iran into the world economy. We're offering that to north Korea. You have two parties, north and South Korea, who have already begun talking, trying to make peace. You don't have anybody talking to Israel right now. Trying to make peace. I'm not sure if there is a consistent policy. That's maybe why that editorial was striking. You will have Europe speaking with one voice. You'll have Europe saying we need to do this together. Particularly if America's foreign policy seems to be so transactional. If you have this way to meet person aims or views. The lack of consistency, potentially, could be a problem down the road. And I think Europe sees that. Cecilia, back to the white house. John McCain issued a statement you remembering the senate to vote against Gina Haspel as CIA director because of the role she played many the agency's torture program. A white house staffer in a meeting Thursday said McCain's criticism, quote, doesn't matter. He's dying any way. Joe Biden put out a statement in response saying people have wondered when decency would hit rock bottom with the administration. It happened yesterday. A new rock bottom or more or the same? A combination of both, perhaps. Look. I think this is a story that we're three days in now, and I guarantee you, it's still going to be the subject of the briefing tomorrow. If there is one. No apologies from the white house. No apologies. I don't think we're going to get one. And until you do, this story is not going to go away. And right now, I think the perception from many people looking at the way the white house has responded to it is that they're not as concerned about the content of the statement as they are about the fact that it leaked out. And then Sarah Sanders met with her staff and, I don't think anyone condones the statement. But chastised her staff for this leaking out. And then that leaked out again. That meeting. So, look. Do they have a problem with leaks? Absolutely. Let's not forget this is a president who said some pretty horrible things about John McCain. Okay. And not only sit leaks. It's -- public. John Kelly, this week, the chief of staff, John Kelly, was in the spotlight for his comments on immigration to national public radio. Let's listen. The vast majority of the people that move illegally into the United States are not bad people. They're not criminals. Not ms-13. But they're also not people that would easily assimilate to the United States. They're overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth, fifth, six grade educations are kind of the norm. I'm going T go to you on that one, Matt. I think it's outrageous from a general standpoint. But for someone whose last name is Kelly, whose last name is dowd, whose ancestors came here without any education. With a very lacking ability to assimilate, as he calls it, in language. Along with almost every other culture in our country. Chinese, Koreans, African-Americans after slavery. The same thing was said after slavery. They're not going to be able to assimilate. What is happening? Why are we doing this? I think this, along with what happened with John McCain is a much bigger thing. It reflects the culture in the white house. John Kelly represents the culture in the white house that views the world in this way. Along with the comments, it says, we're going to say and do anything. Not going to apologize. But for the son or grandson of Irish immigrants to say something like that is really outrageous. That's going to be the last word. Another week in the white house. Another one to come.

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

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