Take the most recent Meet the Press. (Please?)
It opens with moderator Chuck Todd unloading on Our President. The first guest, from a remote studio, is Utah Senator Mike Lee. The transcript does not indicate where Mr Todd becomes truculent and argumentative, although the interruption and the length of his questions provide a clue. (Just play the video if you require further convincing.)
CHUCK TODD: Let me start with the president's back and forth with the chief justice. It was really the heads of two branches I think having a debate about the Constitution perhaps and I feel as if that's in your wheelhouse. So let me ask you, what was your reaction to the president's dismissiveness of the rebuke that Chief Justice Roberts gave to him about how the judiciary works and how it should be represented by public officials?It continues in a similar vein for a few more rounds of questions.
SEN. MIKE LEE: Look, it's not entirely unprecedented for a president of the United States or another public official to criticize court rulings, in some cases, Supreme Court rulings, as President Obama aggressively criticized the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case. Now look, this isn't my style. I get very uncomfortable.
CHUCK TODD: He didn't call them "Bush justices" though, did he?
SEN. MIKE LEE: No, he didn't. But, you know, I served with a number of colleagues in the Senate, including some on the Judiciary Committee who routinely accuse the current Supreme Court of being in the pocket of big business in the United States of America. This makes me feel uncomfortable too. I'm a lawyer by training and as a lawyer, I try to express disagreement about the courts without impugning the court's motives whenever I can.
CHUCK TODD: This seems –
SEN. MIKE LEE: But as a president of the United States, he certainly has the right to express his opinion on these things.
CHUCK TODD: The problem is, when he speaks, he carries with him a big following that goes down these rabbit holes with him. He's gone after the judiciary, he's gone after the integrity of our election systems, he's now again contradicting his own CIA, the Justice Department, the free press, we, I could go on and on. You rebuke him rhetorically quite a bit when he does these things. But his behavior never changes. Do you ask yourself what's the point in rebuking him?
SEN. MIKE LEE: Well, he has been elected president of the United States. We all know that he has an unconventional style, he has a different approach than other people have taken to this job. But he is in fact the president of the United States and it's some of these same styles that helped get him elected in the first place. And so what I can do for my part as a United States senator is to help steer him in a direction that I think is consistent with his policies and in the best interest of the American people. I do think for what it’s worth --
CHUCK TODD: Do you have a breaking point? Do you have a breaking point?
SENATOR MIKE LEE: Oh sure. Look, any time somebody violates the Constitution, I'm going to call them out on it and do what I can from my position as a member of the U.S. Senate to stop it. But I do think, to the president's credit, and to what you were saying a few minutes ago about the need for a president to pivot after an election perhaps didn't go his way during a midterm, I think President Trump is doing that. Sometimes with this president, you've got to look not just at what he says, but also at what he does. Look at the fact that in the days following the midterm election, President Trump has come out aggressively for criminal justice reform. This is a big bipartisan opportunity. And I look forward to getting it done.
CHUCK TODD: I want to ask you something about what you said though recently. You said that you were so worried about political rhetoric and the rancor and that it's reached such a fever pitch that you said, quote, "It's going to drive our politics toward violence. Ultimately, this will come down to a binary choice, federalism or violence." That's a pretty extreme diagnosis of the current problem.
SENATOR MIKE LEE: It's not extreme. In fact, it's probably the least controversial speech I've given in a long time. Look, according to a recent poll conducted by NPR, 80% of Americans believe that our political divisiveness in this country, especially at a national level is driving us to a point that could result in violence. This is a real, legitimate concern. It's one of the reasons why the Founding Fathers were right in setting up a government that at the national level would be in charge of only a few things that are distinctively unavoidably, and by designation of the Constitution, mandated to be at the national level while reserving all other powers for states and localities. Recognizing there's a whole lot more agreement on a regional basis, on a state by state, or community-by-community basis, than there will ever be at the national level. And I think that is the best way, it may well be the only way, to avoid some of this divisiveness.
The next guest is longtime Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings, in studio.
CHUCK TODD: Let me start with the Saudi issue first and foremost. Because I know you've been on this issue as well. You have the president disagreeing with his C.I.A. What responsibility at Oversight? Do you look to see if he has financial motivation for making the decision? And is this something Congress needs to look into?That was a good win, Coach. What is your game plan for next week, Coach?
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: I think it's definitely something that we need to look into. And we probably will. Keep in mind, Chuck, one of the things that we’re concerned about in Oversight is the emoluments clause and wondering whether the president is acting in his best interest or those of the American people. And I think this will be appropriate and there are other committees that will be looking at this too.
CHUCK TODD: You have so many subpoena requests.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: That's right.
CHUCK TODD: And you have members on the Democratic side of the aisle who have all of these investigations they want to start. Your job is to prioritize this. Explain your priorities. Explain what the prism of how you're going to make these decisions about what's worthy of the committee's time and what will look like sort of crass, partisan politics.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Well, there are a number of subpoenas that we have requested, some 64. And these, Chuck, are things that we would have normally done under Republican or Democratic administration. But let's be abundantly clear. The American people said to us through this election, "We want accountability. We want to check on this president of the United States." But they also said something else. They said, "We want you to solve our problems." And so a lot of our emphasis is going to be on, and laser focus, on things like the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs, protecting our healthcare, dealing with things like issues like opioids. And one that is near and dear to me, voting rights. We're going to look at all of that. Now as far as President Trump and his administration, again, the American people have said to us, "They want robust, transparent investigations with integrity." So I haven't figured out exactly what order they're in, because they're all important. But I guarantee you, we will look at it quite a bit.
CHUCK TODD: I want to put up a quote here actually from Jason Chaffetz, who you were the ranking member when he was chair of the Oversight Committee on the Republican side of the aisle. And he says, first of all, he makes the following claim: "I sent letters and subpoenas to the Trump administration and got no response. I was stymied every step of the way. What makes you think Elijah Cummings will get a response?"
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Well, they--
CHUCK TODD: Is he right, by the way? Was he stymied? Even a Republican?
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: I think, oh, no doubt about it. But I also think that the Republicans were aiders and abettors with regard to helping President Trump do some of the unfortunate things that he's done. Because President Trump knew that there was not going to be any pushback. Now he knows there's going to be some pushback. And it's going to be serious pushback because that's what the American people want. Now, I don't know what will happen. We're going to be very careful with issuing subpoenas. I don't want people to think that the first day I walk in there, we're going to have 38 subpoenas going out the door. Not going to do that. We're going to do it very carefully and make sure that it's done with integrity.
CHUCK TODD: You did not have your own subpoena power when you were ranking member.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: That's right. For a long time.
CHUCK TODD: And it was the first time that had ever happened, compared to previous congresses, correct?
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Right.
CHUCK TODD: Do you plan on granting your ranking member, whoever it is on the Republican side, subpoena authority?
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: No, no.
CHUCK TODD: So why not? Explain why you wouldn't. If you believe this is something that should've been granted to you when you were in the minority.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: I didn't say that. They who have power in Washington, have all power. And I think the American people have said they want checks and balances. The subpoenas that I wanted to issue would be much different than what I've seen. I want to issue subpoenas that go to the very heart of our democracy and protecting that democracy.
And subpoenas, by the way, that may involve, say, private industry like the pharmaceutical companies with these skyrocketing drug prices. So it's our opportunity, I will consult with them, I will work with them, unlike they did with me. But, but no.
CHUCK TODD: This is one of those "what's good for the goose is good for the" -- I mean, I guess the point is that, when do you stop?
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Chuck, let me be clear. I'm hoping that we will return to a level of civility now. And that's what I'm hoping for. I hope that we can have leadership that just doesn't move to common ground, but move to higher ground. And I plan to lead that way. And one other thing. Our Democratic party, although we may not have been elected by all the people, we've got to govern as if we were.
CHUCK TODD: So what does that mean? You've got to work with this president in some ways, don't you?
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Oh yeah. Oh, I would love to work with President Trump. I want to hold him accountable not only to the American people, but I want to hold him accountable to himself. Keep in mind, he is the one who said recently that he's for prescription drugs going down. He's the same one who said that he wants-- he complained during the election about the infrastructure and how our airports are so poor and our roads. And now’s the time. Chuck, we only have two years. That's nothing. And so we've got to get it done. We don't have to hit the ground as Democrats running, we have to hit the ground flying.
Why does "fake news" have such traction among Normals?
And so it goes. News Busters picked up what they describe as a "freakout" by Helene Cooper during one of the panel sessions. Danielle Pletka is again the token opposing voice, such as it is. But note again who Mr Todd lets talk and who he interrupts.
CHUCK TODD: Dany?The unstated premise is that Wise Experts are going to somehow Fix Things.
DANIELLE PLETKA: The problem again is that I think there's a perception among those for whom Donald Trump speaks, and let's admit that Donald Trump does actually speak for some people, that--
CHUCK TODD:I think 46% is a number that seems to be the number -
DANIELLE PLETKA: Well, and --
CHUCK TODD: for people wondering. It seems to be at least that.
DANIELLE PLETKA: And, and, and that's a pretty substantial bunch of people.
CHUCK TODD: Yes, it is.
DANIELLE PLETKA: The problem for many is that they perceive this as an agenda that is much more about corporate and much more about law and much more about the kind of governance that America has and much less about climate. So from the standpoint of those who have doubts about this, and I don't think we can have any doubts that there is climate change, whether it's anthropogenic, I don't know, I'm not a scientist. I look at this as a citizen and I see it so I understand it. On the other hand, we need to also recognize that we just had two of the coldest years, the biggest drop in global temperatures that we've had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years. We don't talk about that because it's not part of the agenda. The United States has been dropping in C02 emissions since we pulled out of Paris. There are actually good things that are happening. We are not using dirty coal anymore. It's the Europeans who are using dirty coal. There actually is some corporate leadership on this. Yes, we need to deal with these problems, yes we need to mitigate the things we see. But we shouldn't be hysterical.
CHUCK TODD: Helene, it does seem as if there's actually more corporate interest in doing something than there is government interest.
HELENE COOPER: Yeah, it's just the problem is it's not the corporations that are polluting the most. And I actually think we should be hysterical. I'm going to disagree with you on this. I think anybody who has children or anybody who can imagine having children and grandchildren, how can you look at them and think this is the kind of world that through our own inaction and our inability to do something, that we're going to leave them? I think I'm really glad that you're actually having us talk about this on this show because I think it was the height of cynicism to release this report on Black Friday by the Trump administration. And I just think that at some point, we are going to need not just the political leadership, but also the corporate leadership to actually sit down and do something about this.
CHUCK TODD: It does seem as we're afraid of buying this insurance policy. Why are we afraid? Elise, why is the Republican party in particular afraid of buying this insurance policy?
ELISE JORDAN: I think it goes back to deeply-entrenched corporate interests within the Republican party and this is a very defined policy platform that you can see how Republicans have been historically very influenced by their donors on this plank. And you're not going to see it shift.
CHUCK TODD: You think it's distrust that somehow the environmental left will use it to go after other interests rather than--
ELISE JORDAN: I think that philosophically, the anti-regulation bend is there. But I do think that if you look at donors, there's a direct correlation there.
CHUCK TODD: Right-
DANIELLE PLETKA: This is why education of the citizenry is essential. In the end, the citizenry has the power. And it's like it was a movement. There was an environmental movement, but it has to be upped up now. And every young person has to realize that they're fighting. But old people are fighting for the young people too now. I care about them. We all care about those kids. You're so right.
CHUCK TODD:We need better civics.
DANIELLE PLETKA: We have a responsibility, better civics.
I'll close with an aesthetic note: those Rachel Maddow glasses aren't going to make Chuck treat Dani any better. Lose them, particularly with that flyaway hair. Just saying.