Trump's disinfectant comments 'set the White House back on its heels': Jon Karl

The Powerhouse Roundtable breaks down the latest on the White House's coronavirus response on "This Week."
15:47 | 04/26/20

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Transcript for Trump's disinfectant comments 'set the White House back on its heels': Jon Karl
Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous -- whether it's ultraviolet or a very powerful light, supposing you brought the light inside the body which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number in the lungs so it would be interesting to check that. Dr. Birx doing everything she could there to control her facial expressions, didn't say much after those comments from president trump. We are going to talk about it now on our roundtable with our chief political analyst Matthew dowd, Patrick Gaspard, the president of the open society foundations who served as political director and ambassador to South Africa for president Obama, our chief congressional correspondent Mary Bruce, and our chief white house correspondent Jon Karl, out with a new best seller three weeks in a row called "Front row at the trump show." Jon, let me begin with you because you were front row at the trump show at the press conferences all through this coronavirus crisis and it did appear that those comments from the president on Thursday talking about injecting, investigating injecting disinfectant, ingesting disinfectant, seemed to be a tipping point in this crisis. Well, it did set the white house back on its heels. You saw it in the shifting explanations, what happened at first. Actually, later in that press conference the president denied he said those words. The next day the press secretary said he was taken out of context. Then the president said that he was talking sarcastically and simply asking a sarcastic question of the reporters in the room. As you can see, all of those explanations were wrong. He did say it. He was not talking sarcastically and he was very clearly looking at his own experts off to the side when he said that. That said, George, the president wasn't telling the public to go out and try injecting bleach or anything like that. He was throwing out possible ideas to investigations, but the remarks caught his team by surprise and convinced many of them that this really is time to scale back these briefings. But Matthew dowd, to even suggest that this is something that needs investigation is, I think, what took most people by surprise. Well, this president, I think, has two fundamental flaws in regards to leadership in the time of crisis and this is just an example of this. Every time the president seems to do something thoughtful and reasonable, he scores an own goal on himself either in a tweet or something like last week that he said, but fundamentally the president has mistaken that he thinks style is more than substance and leadership at this time you need more substance, and the second thing which I think the president should have done from the very beginning. The problem isn't the press conference. The problem is the president's conduct at the press conferences, and he should know that if you highlight people and let them take the lead who know more than you, let them run the show, Dr. Birx or Dr. Fauci, introduce them and allow them to conduct these, he would be much better off politically and our country would be much better off through this health crisis. It's just a fundamental leadership problem. He is unwilling to give up that limelight except now he seems willing to give up the limelight because he scored on himself. There are so many things that are -- Mary Bruce, we didn't hear a lot -- go ahead, Patrick. I was just saying, there are so many things that are happening there. This is not just a failing of president trump. Those of us who have worked in the white house understand that what is said at that podium really matters and the governor of Maryland reported that hundreds of calls flooded their lines about whether or not these disinfectants could work on covid. But there's another other defection of leadership there. While all of us are sheltering at home, Dr. Birx is sheltering in silence there in that moment. I know Dr. Birx. I served with Dr. Birx when I saw her speaking truth to power and saving lives in Africa and elsewhere with HIV and AIDS, but she has to appreciate that her silence there is a damnable silence. Matthew said the president should deflect to his experts. Those experts have failed in this response. Not only do we have the silence of Dr. Birx in that moment, but for the last many weeks now, Dr. Birx has given us charts, not backed up with clear data that's shared. There's no national strategy on testing. It's every state for themselves. So there's utter failure across the board, and GOP leadership is also failing in its silence here. They don't speak up when American lives are in peril. They seem to speak up when the polling shows that their seats are in peril. This is not just about Donald Trump. We're overly focused on Donald Trump here. Mary Bruce, that's what I was going to bring to you. You saw again silence from Republican senators on this question, not all the governors. This is coming as we have this other struggle we've just been talking about with the governors and senator klobuchar and Kevin Hassett earlier in the show. It appears that the bipartisanship we've seen on these first few recovery packages is starting to fray at the edges and you're starting to see a harder line from senate Republicans against new spending right now. Yeah, a lot of that bipartisanship that we have seen so far seems to be going out the window and we are seeing a real split right now, especially within the Republican party itself, about what should come next here. You know, so far you are seeing some Republicans on the hill and the trump administration is seeming to suggest they want more spending, that they know they're going to have to have another massive spending bill some time soon and yet you're hearing from Republican leaders like Mitch Mcconnell that it's time to hit the brakes. Look, so far a lot of concerns about the debt and the deficit have been put aside as they've passed nearly $3 trillion worth of spending because the need has simply been so great. Now I think you are seeing a lot of Republicans concerned that if they continue to spend at this pace that it could hurt them with their base, that it could hurt them among fiscal conservatives come November and it's why you're going to see this question about aid to the states becoming such a huge flash point. I think it's likely part of the reason that you may have seen Mitch Mcconnell come out and suggest that states shouldn't get a federal bailout, that they should be getting -- instead looking into possibly declaring bankruptcy, as we heard this morning he got a lot of pushback from governors on both sides of the aisle. And it is getting some pushback on capitol hill as well. You have some Republican members who are saying they want to see near $500 billion provided to states. Democrats want up to $700 billion. George, Republican leadership is resisting. We are going to now start to see another big fight on capitol hill. But Jon Karl, this seems to be one of those places where president trump is going to be at odds with at least his base in the senate. He sure seems to be on the path of spend whatever it takes now. He's never been particularly concerned about deficits either in his career as a real estate developer or his career as a politician. My sense is his attitude is let's get as much money out there. He wants to inject this economy with as much stimulus as it he can possibly do because he knows that this is a big factor in his election. This has been the case all along, George. I think that what has driven largely the bipartisan agreement is the president has made it very clear that he's willing to spend whatever needs to be spent and for now Republicans have gone along with it. Patrick, you've been especially concerned at the open society foundation with workers who are still falling through the cracks despite this massive several trillion dollars in spending. We have been, George. It was interesting to see the president's economic adviser on earlier and he said to you that the damage has been even, the economic damage has been even across the states. That's absolutely not true. We know that women have been particularly vulnerable. We know that communities of color have been vulnerable and if you're a worker in states like Florida where the unemployment system has been gamed against you for many years, it's next to near impossible for you to get online, get benefits now. At the open society foundation we've partnered with many in philanthropy, many cities, more than a dozen cities where we have mayors and governors who are paying acute attention to those who are falling between the cracks, whether they're domestic workers, migrant workers where the agricultural economy has been devastated, those who are working in factories and many average Americans who have played by the rules and now when they need their government, they just can't get food. They can't get protective equipment for their work, and they certainly can't get unemployment benefits. So we've managed to see a bit some efforts of direct relief but it's nowhere near what's needed from government. I just want to say that while it may be true that president trump is not concerned about deficits, we all need to be concerned about where these resources are going. We're seeing now in this moment that over $170 billion in additional tax relief is going to the richest Americans now while young people are struggling to make ends meet and families are living not from paycheck to paycheck but from paycheck to no paycheck. So tougher questions have to be asked about the administration of those benefits. Matthew dowd, this has all happened so quickly, all over the course of about five or six weeks. It does seem that the country is only beginning to come to grips with what this is going to mean for our government, for our society, for our politics, not only in the coming year, this election year, but for years to come. George, I think this is -- this is a long-term fundamental change in American life and in world life. Think about where we were in two months ago, in February, long before we even were starting the spring. We're in a much different place. I don't think as states begin to open up we're going to go back to any sort of old normal. We're going to be in a whole different place. I think how people associate will change. I think what's important in people's lives will change. I think what's important in what people want in leaders will fundamentally change and the importance of truth and the importance of facts which we've had a debate about for three or four years I think gets even more highlighted on this. So I don't think it just changes what happens in the summer or what happens in this fall. We're going to have a fundamental election at this time that we've never had before in the midst of a continued pandemic. No one expects it to go away by election day, but I think for years to come this is a huge change. Think about the generation of folks that have grown up here, George. They've grown up with two wars. They've grown up with the great recession. They've grown up with a president that's been impeached and now they've grown up with this immense pandemic that's killing thousands of people and making thousands of people sick in this country. This is a generational, fundamental change in our society. And Jon Karl, it does seem that the president and his team are only beginning to come to grips with what this does mean for his re-election prospects. They're dealing now with should the press briefings continue. That's one question, but basically the entire rationale he had two months ago has just been decimated by this coronavirus. Absolutely. He was running on the economy and now what he's trying out is we've built the greatest economy in history, now we can build it again. But George, they are looking at the polling and obviously it's early to be talking about general election polling, but it's pretty devastating. Fox News had a new polling out that showed the president down significantly in Pennsylvania and even down in Florida. Other polling has shown him down in all those other key battleground states that he won last time around. He watches that more closely than anybody and they're looking -- you saw some of the frustration come out earlier this week when he talked about how the other guy, meaning Joe Biden, the president said is in his basement not facing any questions. I think there's real frustration and real worry on the part of the trump team about this campaign. And Jon, to stick to your point -- Mary Bruce, for the first time over the last few weeks you've seen -- hold on one second, Patrick. Let me take this to Mary and then come to you. You started to see both Republicans and Democrats now on capitol hill talk about the possibility that the senate, that the Republican senate majority, may actually be something that can be challenged. Yeah. There's certainly anxiety amongst Republicans that the president and the way that he is handling this is doing himself more harm than good and that that could trickle down and potentially put Republican candidates at a huge risk. Look, I've talked to Republicans who fear that the two are intrinsically linked. If you are a candidate who ties himself closely to the president, that you could be in some danger here. And the party seems to be acutely aware of that. We have seen reports of this memo going out to Republican candidates essentially encouraging them not to discuss the president's response to the virus. They are being told instead not to defend the president's response but essentially to pivot, to talk instead about China, to blame China, to say that China tried to cover this up, that that has hindered the president's ability to respond. You are hearing a lot of optimism from Democrats I've talked with. You're seeing a shift in some key states and a surge of cash going to a lot of Democrats in key states like Arizona, north Carolina, Maine, Colorado. So Democrats are feeling optimistic but, George, so much of course depends on the state of the economy and the state of the recovery come November. Patrick Gaspard? So Jon was making a really important point about the states that are shifting and the anxiety we're seeing amongst Republicans. Think about this for a second. Right now Joe Biden is polling better among seniors than any Democrat has since Al gore in 2000. That has real consequences not just in Florida but also in Arizona and Wisconsin as well. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won 20 states. Right now Donald Trump is not positioned to take back any of the Hillary states whatsoever and he's down double digits in recent polling in Michigan and in Pennsylvania. So all that Biden has to do beyond Michigan and Pennsylvania is take one of those other states, and right now not only is he positioned to do that but Republicans are on their heels in the senate and they can forget about making any gains in the house where all their candidates are trailing in fundraising and running around trying to defend the disinfectant injection comments. Matthew dowd, of course you served in president George W. Bush's campaign. I don't know if you can do this but I'm going to ask you to. Given what Patrick just said, what we just heard from Mary and Jon, if president trump called you up for advice and said what do I need to do to stay in this race and win re-election, what's the number one piece of advice you would give him? The first thing I'd say is handle this crisis well. Replace some of the people that are making decisions. Change how you're adapting this because the way you handle this crisis, both economically and health-wise, is going to determine your re-election more than anything else. It's a long way to November. Much can change, but he has to handle this crisis in order to preserve his re-election chances. Thank you all very much with our new fangled roundtable here during this pandemic. We'll be right back.ble here during this pandemic, we'll

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

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