Trump's political advisers 'aggravated' he's 'elevating Joe Biden': NYT's Haberman

The Powerhouse Roundtable debates the latest in the 2020 race and all the week's politics on "This Week."
17:55 | 05/12/19

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Transcript for Trump's political advisers 'aggravated' he's 'elevating Joe Biden': NYT's Haberman
I look at what he's doing and I have a theory that he's trying to goad us to impeach him. Sure. You're absolutely right. Not just because he doesn't want you to have the information. That's about power, all about power. That's why I have said when people keep after me on the impeachment, he's not worth it. He's not worth it because he wants us to go to that place so that we're not focusing on whatever else. House speaker Nancy Pelosi on the podcast of Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, joins our roundtable. Also former New Jersey governor and ABC news contributor Chris Christie. Maggie Haberman, correspondent for "The New York Times" and sun min Kim, white house reporter for "The Washington post." We heard Rahm and the house speaker saying the president is trying to goad them into impeachment. That's exactly what you reported in "The New York Times" this week. Right, or at least trying to goad them into saying what's that they're doing. I think there's an effort by the people around the president to make Democrats have to provide a stark choice, yes, this is what we are doing, this is how we are going about it and they think, the president's folks, this will be politically damaging for Democrats. The house speaker feels the same way. I don't think it's going to end up going to that point but I do think you're going to see the white house essentially just draw a line in the sand. We're not cooperating because this is what you're trying to do. Sun min, that's exactly what you reported on this morning in "The Washington post," detailing now 20 different investigations the white house is stonewalling, basically what Adam Schiff said were across the board and that is propelling more Democrats to say we might have to move to impeachment proceedings. Exactly. We've focused a lot on matters relating to the Mueller investigation and other related issues for the last several days but the lack of cooperation by this administration on matters directly related to the white house, the president, his personal finances, is pretty vast. They're investigating his immigration policies. Have not heard a lot at all. Investigating the federal response to Puerto Rico. Even Jared Kushner's trip to sawsy Arabia, conversations between the president and Vladimir Putin in the Helsinki summit last summer. This is why you've heard kind of a shift or more of an uptick in rhetoric from Democrats on why they might have to pursue -- why impeachment might be at the end of the road because you've heard Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Nadler keep saying things like the lack of cooperation is kind of the bigger issue for us right now, not necessarily his conduct. Rahm, it did seem this week that that pressure was building at the base of the house Democrats saying, you know, Nancy, we might not have a choice. Here's the thing. A couple things. One, if I were in the house, I would pull back, recalibrate totally on Mueller and his presentation. Two, on all the obstructions or all the pieces in which the administration is fighting sequence them. They're not all equal, all 20 that were written today in "The post." Which one is the best one to win the legal case? The first one. That sets the precedent for all the other 19 that follow. Third, Democrats have this gene, it's in our DNA, of responsibility. Then all we hear is the presidential election which is the single most overriding thing for the base. Between those two goal posts we have to kick perfectly and you have to keep moving without the investigation overwhelming the legislating and that's what it's doing right now. The problem is that they've not shown the discipline to be able to pull that off. He's right -- They haven't moved the goal post yet. Not yet but the problem is they're jumping towards the they haven't bitten it yet but they're jumping out of the water like a fish towards the bait and this encourages the president to do what he's doing. I think there are things that are divisible. Some of those investigations that are written about this morning, the white house shouldn't stall some of those. Health care. Health care, immigration, on the substance because the president has substantive things to say on those issues. Go out and defend your position. On the tax returns and the other things, I understand the position he's taking. But you would agree he's decided an absolutist approach and that's where the mistake will be, where his fault will be. It may be depending upon the Democrats' reaction. If they take the reaction that you suggest then it will turn out to be a mistake for the president. If they take the reaction he's anticipating and you can see because of all these different thiefdoms in the house, they all want to have their moment, Adam Schiff on her earlier -- I wonder if the courts are going to provide the protection this the president is looking for hoping to delay through the election. We are seeing more evidence from the courts that they're prepared to move more quickly. We are. But I don't know how quickly that's going to be and we don't know what it's going to look like on appeal and we don't know how long it's going to last. Donald Trump, as long as I have covered him which is a fairly long time at the time, has always used the courts to mitigate all manner of disputes and he's essentially treating it the same way. One of the interesting things about how he's going about this is he's trying to act both as president and private cizen so when it comes to his taxes he's acting as a private citizen. When the comes to the investigations he's acting as a president but suggesting things like health care on issues of policy but suggesting there's an overreach by the house. One of the ways Donald Trump navigates politics is he turns everything into a referendum on himself. That's what he's trying to do right now. She's trying to make it a stark choice. He's not recognizing the institutional authority of the house on any level and he is going to look towards the courts. What if they strike him down? Strike the president down? He will keep going. Here's what I woulsay as a guiding north star for the Democrats. A little less on trump and a lot more on the American people. Focus on where they are in their health care. That's how we won in 2018. Where are they on affording college for their children, making sure they have the skills they need or the infrastructure transportation system to get from home to work, et cetera. A lot of this for a narcissist like the president, he's just loving this. Less on him and more on the American people. By the way, booker was trying to say that in the interview. I think one of the things that Cory did well in that interview was he was trying to talk more about issues and less about the president. But let's go back to where this all really started and when the president looks back if he does get struck down, he's talking about don mcgahn in a tweet yesterday. The people he should be talking to are John dowd and Ty Cobb who gave the screwiest advice I've ever seen to a sitting executive by saying -- Cooperate in part. Let the white house counsel go in and give all the testimony he wants without restriction. He needs his money back for that. I said to you, you remember, on this show, that they were a c-level legal team at best, on their best way and let me tell you something, what's going on right now shows that I had great insight. Before we move on, let me play devil's advocate on that point. Say they decided to hold the line and in the face of holding the line Mueller does in fact subpoena the president, does in fact subpoena these white house aides and that makes the president, we all know, the president blow up and fire Robert Mueller. He would be much more safe right now. Donald Trump's self-preservation gene would never have permitted him to fire Bob Mueller. Never permitted him to do it, George. There's not much that I'm confident about -- He tried. No, no, he didn't try. He did what Donald Trump does. He blew up. Which is to blow off steam and if someone else wants to go and do it, then go ahead and do it. That's not what I meant. Two things -- The argument from a lot of people around him. He did touch the hot stove with Comey and I think he saw there was a lesson from that. That's a big lesson he learned from that. Number one, get Mueller in front of congress. Number two, the legal team should have known what mcgahn was saying from day one and not find out until after the report. No one interviewed don mcgahn before he got interviewed by Bob Mueller. Imagine the malpractice there. Donald Trump is a malpractice suit against John dowd. I'm going to move on to the trade war. We saw the president post tariffs on China on Friday and sun min, you wrote about this this week. Again, calculated, it appears, political strategy by the president perhaps hoping in the end this will force a deal but if not he seems pretty happy to take this to the voters. Exactly. I think his approach to trade has been interesting and the reaction from Republicans has been interesting as well because talking to a lot of Republican senators they are not happy, clearly, with the president's trade policy, his protectionist stances. But they have made a little bit of a distinction between how he's approaching these trade talks with China versus for example the proposed auto tariffs or the steel and aluminum tariffs which they all hate and are warning the president off of. I think the president and some Republican senators even from those farm states do see a little political advantage to showing that he's tough on China and he's getting -- cracking down on the policies of the past but I'm talking to a lot of ag state Republican senators and they say the farmers are still with you now but there is a point where they may lose their patience. The president's got chuck Schumer with him on China. Okay. There's a rave. Here's what I would say and I would go after the president for. There are four wars, China trade war, Iran, Venezuela, north Korea. Now you decided you want a secretary of defense? You should have been planning a secretary of defense before you decided to have military confrontations in every one of them -- not China yet. But all you need right now is one mistake over one of the islands near China, one naval ship that goes a little too far. I think it's really -- talk about -- forget all the obstruction of justice. What a malpractice of politics to literally have a confrontation going now between North Korea. You just took the cold ship. Iran you sent another aircraft carrier and a squadron there. You have Venezuela in a standoff and now is when you want the secretary of defense? You should have had this a year ago. The president does seem reluctant to getting pushed into a confrontation in Venezuela. Does seem reluctant clearly with North Korea, less so with Iran. This is his personality. I mean, listen -- But we need a foreign policy, not a personality. I understand that. I'm trying to explain that to you. Hang in there. I'm impatient. He's not a confrontational person despite what you see on Twitter and those other things. He's not a confrontational person in that type of way so these situations are difficult for him and I think the other thing that you see going on here on China is no one should be surprised at this. If there's one thing he has been philosophically consistent on for 30 years, it's been trade and using tariffs and that we're getting ripped off. First it was the Japanese. Now it's the Chinese. He's been completely consistent on that. So no Republican sitting in congress should be saying I can't believe this is happening. It's who they voted for. Chris, here's the differences. He may not want a confrontation but Bolton and the secretary of state, they clearly want a very heads on -- That's Iran and North Korea. I want to stick with China and put this to Maggie because I think this is going to put the president's principles to the do they call it on Wall Street the trump put? He's not going to allow the stock market to fall too far. So far it appears that the finance committee believes he's going to get a deal, that he's not going to keep on pushing these tariffs. Hard to know. Could end up like the farmers. At what point do they end up moving away from him? We don't know how far he's going to push this. I think one. One of the difficulties on assessing his view on trade, foreign policy, he has a series of competing impulses, one that wanted to go for the tax bill and that helped a lot of people in parts of the country that are now getting hit by these tariffs. So I don't think he has a long-term strategy for this. I don't think he has a long-term strategy for most of these ends. I think he's doing what he has to do to get through small increments of time. I'm not sure where this ends. Using the market analogy, here's the hedge on the trump put, the infrastructure bill. There's no doubt in my mind the reason he's pushing that now is he's concerned that because of the tariff policy there might be slowdown so he wants to pump $2 trillion into the economy through infrastructure which will hedge against any damage the tariffs put out. Is he going to get Republicans in congress to go along with it? Not for $2 trillion, no way. I don't think Republicans would put a $2 bill on infrastructure. It wag a a trill, now it's $2 trillion. He still hasn't found the money for the first trillion. This is a joke. Everybody knows it's a joke. In the meeting by himself he went from a trillion to two trillion and nance and chuck to their credit said simply show us the money. I think what you're going to see is the president try to push Republicans in the direction of -- he knows he's not going to get $2 trillion so it's kind of typical president trump material. We'll start with $2 trillion and he'll declare victory at $1 trillion and he has the Democrats saying they're for it. If he gets a bipartisan win on infrastructure, gets a trillion dollars pumped into the economy preelection -- He'll be a child of Cain's. That would be a big victory for him. One thing, Maggie, the president seems to have decided, that Joe Biden is the candidate who's most like him running for president this time around which makes him his prime enemy. Yes, and I was a little perplexed by that statement because there's no way in which Joe Biden is like the president other than -- Except being the front-runner. He's leading in the early polls and that is literally it. It has aggravated a number of the president's political advisers that he is elevating Joe Biden and turning him in to the general election candidate now. Joe Biden has a primary that could be very difficult for him to get through and a lot of the president's advisers are saying hang back, stop zeroing in only on him. In the short term, Rahm, it does appear to have been a boon to Joe Biden to have the president going after him. I think people expected him to come into the race perhaps as a front-runner. He's gone far beyond what a lot of people thought he would go beyond in these early stages. The lesson so far is Joe Biden, everybody that analyzes, talks about politics, Democrats are more pragmatic than those who are actually on the base screaming. As I always say in politics, sound is not always fury. It is not always fury. My point, Joe Biden is moved -- here's the overarching ideological goal for Democrats, winning. Everything else is just shades of gray. That's what they care about. What Biden shows right now, there's a pragmatic senator that says we want to win. If Biden's the ticket we're going right there. Everybody says this is what the base wants, show me the votes. You have the Democrats struggling to get heard. That's true but I'm one of those advisers who think it's a mistake for the president to do this. I could pick of the 22 probably 21 others I'd rather run against if I were Donald Trump than Joe Biden. And I just think -- 19. I think it's a mistake for him to be doing what he's doing. Now, listen, there's a lot of things that I thought he did mistakenly in 2016 and he wound up winning and he'll remind me of that when we get off the air. But the point is that I think Joe Biden's the one guy -- and I've said this all along -- who could go into Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania and appeal to white working class voters. The president doesn't need that type of opponent. He needs an opponent who will repel those white working class voters and keep his coalition together, absolutely. It is creating a dilemma for the other Democrats, particular those Democrats, almost ten of them in the house and the senate, struggling to get some kind of attention, hoping that their policy proposals could get some traction. Exactly. When you're in a field that vast you need to find a way to create your own lane. The interview with senator booker was fascinating where he's trying to be the candidate of hope and love and all this fuzziness and it doesn't seem to be gaining traction right now. It does make you wonder whether he does tack towards a more confrontational approach if he realizes it isn't working but they're all trying to find their own lane. The debates start in a month. I think we'll have a much clearer sense of what's happening. They are going to start to winnow down the field. Two things, six weeks ago, eight weeks ago, Bernie Sanders set the pace. Biden's now setting the pace. Here's the deal, if you're on the panel in the debate a month from now and you're not with Joe Biden, nobody will see and hear you. That's what I wanted to pick up on. We know these first debates you're going to have ten candidates over two nights. Ten candidates each night. It's possible that even though we think they're going to be the big events that they may not turn out to be the events people expect because it just gets all muddied up over two nights. If you look back on '16 and that race an the ten candidates there on the first stage in August in Cleveland, nine candidates didn't matter. Donald Trump that night was the only candidate who mattered. I was standing on the stage and feeling it the way lots of other people were. Is Joe Biden going to be able to dominate in that same way? I don't think so. I think the reason these are going to be important is because someone else will emerge. I don't know who but someone else will. Biden does not have the type of personality that will dominate the way that trump did. Does he have to dominate the debate if it's over two nights if no one else breaks out? Here's the thing, he's going to focus on trump, trump is going to focus on him and he's going to be the center of energy. Yes, somebody will emerge. That's the process. First of all, everybody -- I have to take this advice myself -- these are like every 25 feet in literally a 26-mile -- Four years ago it was president Jeb Bush. I think the governor's right. Why the energy was all on Donald Trump was he was willing to do things that no other candidate was willing to do during those debates and everybody else got on stage knowing he could train the insult gun on them at any moment and Joe Biden is not going to do that. Here's the thing that Biden will do. Biden will talk about trump and everybody else will try to make Biden bait them and he is going to debate. Look, there's a long way to go and the history for the vice president -- There's a long way to go for the campaign but we're out of time.

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

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