For ten minutes, members of the powerhouse roundtable on Sunday’s edition of ABC's This Week did their best to paint the feud between President Trump and the four progressive minority Congresswomen known as “the squad” as an example of his inherent racism.
Host George Stephanopoulos brought up Maggie Haberman’s piece in The New York Times pointing out how his treatment of ‘the Squad’ is “following a pattern for President Trump.” Haberman elaborated on her article, citing his refusal to clarify what he meant by a “Muslim registry,” his desire to have a “competing team of blacks versus whites” on The Apprentice (that actually happened on Survivor), among other examples, as evidence that President Trump is a racist. According to Haberman, “at a certain point, it’s hard to pretend...these are all isolated incidents.”
Another member of the panel, Roland Martin, argued “there has been no Republican President who has been as overt on race since Herbert Hoover, who led the lily-white movement.” Martin proceeded to trash evangelicals, saying they “need to challenge this President and say what you are doing is wrong, shameful, and despicable and you should stop but he won’t because he is leading policies and also appealing to white fear.” Haberman seemed to agree, arguing that President Trump “has a tactile sense of the fact that there is sadly a commercial appeal and a voter appeal for racism in this country.”
Republican strategist Sara Fagen reminded her fellow panelists that “too often, people on the left too quickly accuse people on the right of being racists and too often, people on the right don’t quickly disavow it.” Fagen also argued that Democrats “need to give the President credit when he does things, works on issues that are beneficial.” At this point, Martin interrupted Fagen and asked “such as?”
Martin effectively made Fagen’s point that Democrats will not give President Trump credit for anything ever. While Martin agreed with Fagen that the First Step Act qualified as “beneficial,” he pushed back on the idea that “black and Hispanic unemployment is better,” accusing President Trump of “trying to… kill the only federal agency… that is designed to help black businesses.”
A transcript of the relevant portion of Sunday’s edition of This Week is below. Click “expand” to read more.
This Week With George Stephanopoulos
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: We’re joined now on our roundtable with our senior congressional correspondent Mary Bruce, NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe, White House Correspondent for The New York Times Maggie Haberman, Republican strategist Sara Fagen, she’s also an ABC News Contributor; and Roland Martin, host and managing editor of the daily digital program “Roland Martin Unfiltered.” And Ayesha, let me begin with you. You were in North Carolina Thursday night, set the scene.
AYESHA RASCOE: Well, you know the…the crowd was very worked up that night. They weren’t really angry at the press like sometimes they are but they were ready to talk about the subject. When I went out and talked to people in the crowd and was…were asking them about President Trump’s tweets about the squad, they were saying, they were basically repeating what the President had been saying that it’s not racist, he didn’t mention color. He said they could come back if they wanted to and so they were ready and so then when he started talking about Omar, that’s when it really kicked into high gear.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, is it organic? Where did send her back…where did you hear it first?
RASCOE: I think, I think…well, first, they were saying send her…they said send her back to Somalia. Someone screamed “go back to Somalia!” Someone was screaming, “they’re evil,” “traitor,” and then it became “send her back but someone was definitely screaming before “go back…send her back to Somalia!”
STEPHANOPOULOS: Send her back to Somalia…
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mary, you had come…this had come out the day before, I guess two days before in the Congress; that resolution condemning the remarks. That was an ugly scene on the floor as well.
MARY BRUCE: Yeah. Look, it was just remarkable, I think, to see the way that, that both sides of the parties responded to this this week. To Ayesha’s point about the chants, I think I’m struck by…look, Republicans this week really bent themselves into pretzels essentially trying to avoid responding to this. I mean, I spent a lot of time running around the hallways not getting any response at all but…
STEPHANOPOULOS: When the vote was called, only four Republicans…
BRUCE: Only four Republicans, exactly, were willing to actually side with the Democrats and condemn the President but what changed after those chants, the way that Republicans then were willing to actually intervene, to…to go to Mike Pence and say now you need to talk to the President. It was the chants, not the President’s actual language and that’s because Republicans are deeply concerned that those chants are going to stick.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And…and Maggie, the President tweeted this morning, that’s all fake news…that that didn’t happen. You also have a piece in The New York Times basically laying out how this is following a pattern, a longtime pattern of President Trump.
MAGGIE HABERMAN: Yeah, I think it’s hard…I was actually thinking about this watching you in the green room, where you had the President on four years ago when he was a candidate talking about why, you know, he wasn’t…he didn’t mean it when he left open the possibility of a Muslim registry in this country. He did not clear up what he said then, he refused to clear up what he said this week; even though people asked him to. When he was on The Apprentice, he wanted a competing team of blacks versus whites. That was something he pitched to NBC. When he was in New York in the 1980s, which he is very much a product of; which is a very…was a racial cauldron basically. He took out an ad calling for the death penalty or saying bring back the death penalty for five people of color who were accused of a horrific crime. At a certain point, it’s sort of…it’s hard to pretend this is…these are all isolated incidents. They are all taking place in the course of his history.
STEPHANOPOLOUS: And Sara Fagen, as…as Mary was just pointing out, a lot of Republicans went to Mike Pence saying please get the President say that was wrong. He said it on, on…
FAGEN: He did.
STEPHANOPOULOS: …one minute and then now, retweeted out support for it again. He’s not going to apologize on this.
FAGEN: He has a history of not apologizing on…on any issue. I mean, he…it’s a political tactic for him to go out strong and it’s something that has been effective for him but when you think about sort of…take a step back on matters of race, setting aside the events of this week. Too often, people on the left too quickly accuse people on the right of being racists and too often, people on the right don’t quickly disavow it. And so, this has been going on for decades. I…I remember in the 2000 campaign, there were millions of dollars spent against George Bush; accusing him of being a racist effectively. So what happens politically is that people put on their jersey and they say my team’s being attacked and they don’t…
STEPHANOPOULOS: There’s no question about that but I was struck this morning when we had Congressman Cummings on, I asked him that question about whether he thinks President Trump is a racist for a very deliberate reason a couple of years ago after I think it was Charlottesville, he refused to say he thought President Trump is a racist. This week, he’s saying it’s the President’s taking on those Congresswomen actually does cross the line.
FAGEN: Well, he said that. He also hesitated for…for several seconds in your interview. I thought that was interesting. But setting that aside, I think what’s problematic for the President here in just the course of the politics of this week is that we’re talking about the President in a racial context when he didn’t actually start this debate. This debate started when Congresswoman Cortez accused Nancy Pelosi of being racist and he interjected himself and…and made it about him.
ROLAND MARTIN: No, he did. There’s been no Republican president who has been as overt on race since Herbert Hoover, who led the lily-white movement when he was President. That’s what you’re dealing with here. This is a President who knows this game and who is playing it and it is a dangerous game. And when you have a Massachusetts…Governor of Massachusetts, call it shameful and despicable. When you have Republican Will Hurd of Texas, the only black Republican in the House, vote with Democrats. When you have a former top judge in Texas, a Latina, who says his ideology is racism, you cannot ignore this reality. What’s even more shameful, not only to see Republicans being afraid, to see white conservative evangelicals say nothing. Franklin Graham, silent. Pastor Paula White, silent. Robert Jeffress defends him. I mean, you see Ralph Reed, silent. Tony Perkins, silent. These are the…you read Frederick Douglass’s speech, what does a slave mean…what does the Fourth of July mean to the slave, his most condemnation was for white Christians; Dr. King’s letter from Birmingham jail, for white Christians. Evangelicals, who are white and conservative, need to challenge this President and say, what you’re doing is wrong, shameful and despicable and you should stop but he won’t because he is leading policies and also appealing to white fear.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The Republicans fell in line this week, you see any point where there start to be cracks?
FAGEN: In the short term, no. I think long term for Republicans, we need to be much better on matters of race; not only in rhetoric but in…in policy. I think Democrats, though, need to give the President credit when he does things, works on issues that are beneficial.
MARTIN: Such as?
FAGEN: Criminal justice reform.
MARTIN: The First…The First Step Act. Keep going, what else?
FAGEN: Unemployment. Black and Hispanic unemployment is better.
MARTIN: This is a man who is literally trying to…
MARTIN: …kill the only federal agency…
FAGEN: This is the problem…
MARTIN: Hold on a second.
FAGEN: This is the problem, Roland.
MARTIN: …that is designed to help black businesses.
FAGEN: This is the problem, Roland.
MARTIN: I’m citing facts.
FAGEN: You’re not willing to say one good thing; that there’s…
MARTIN: No, no, no, no.
FAGEN: …nothing ever good that this President does. Only criticism.
MARTIN: No, I got you cite facts. I’m citing facts.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to bring Ayesha back in on this. The Trump campaign in the 24, 36 hours after this all started to break did seem sort of off-footed. They didn’t know exactly which direction to go in.
RASCOE: Well, at first, they were saying…they were basically focusing on the four lawmakers and basically justifying it, saying these lawmakers are un-American, that’s what we want to talk about. And then the President came out and kind of disavowed what was said, then they kind of changed their tune a little bit and now we’re back to that. But that’s usually what happens. The President says something and then you have the campaign and the administration basically rising up to kind of reverse engineer what he said and make it…
HABERMAN: Exactly. Exactly.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It also comes…Maggie because the…the campaign does seem to be across purposes in terms of strategy. On the one hand, they need to pick up voters who think the economy is going quite well but don’t approve of the President personally. On the other hand, they really do want to rile up that base.
HABERMAN: I think Ayesha said it very well, which is this reverse engineering strategy that you see go on every single time. This is…there is not some strategy to play to the base in the sense that they have all talked about this and this is the best course, this is the only course available to him because he can’t change who he is. He doesn’t talk about the economy. He does have a tactile sense. I do think there is some middle ground between people wanting to say he’s dumb and impulsive and doesn’t know what he’s doing.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But he might be right.
HABERMAN: Right, or people saying and this is all a strategy. I think that he has a tactile sense of the fact that there is, sadly, a commercial appeal and a voter appeal for racism in this country. There just is.
MARTIN: You said he can’t change. No, he can change; he won’t change. And the broader issue here, when you talk about policies, when you have Republicans who are advancing federal judges who won’t even say that Brown v. Board of Education was properly decided; when you have clear intent, where you have Republicans in North Carolina, who have made…who have tried to limit the rights of voting for African-Americans extremely explicit. You have a party that is driving policies at supporting these sort of racist appeals.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Mary Bruce, it’s clear Mitch McConnell has made the calculation the President is giving us the policies that are working for Republicans overall.
MARTIN: There you go. It’s power.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, absolutely. And you saw that this week in the way that Republican leaders really fell in line behind the President. I mean, that was one of the most striking things, I think, about the way that this all played out is that while Republicans before, they have may drawn the line in a different area here they really all fell in line behind him. It’s shown how far they’ve moved in uniting behind the President. But it does present a huge challenge for them going forward. In the same way you saw the campaign kind of hesitate in how to respond to the President’s own words here, it is clear the President is not going to drop this. Republican leaders, they can’t just kind of lay low and kind of hope that this blows over, like it has in previous incidents. That’s not going to happen here. They’re going to have to find a way to respond.
FAGEN: Well, they have to get back to issues. I mean, the reality is, this economy is humming. This President has done very good on economic policy for this country; including for minorities. You can, you can smile.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But they need the President to talk about that.
FAGEN: They need the President to talk about it. And if you think about, sort of the…where the Democrats are, we need to be talking about where the Democrats are. It’s very ironic to me, in this debate we’re having whether the President is or is not a racist. is the same week that the Democratic Congress put forward a resolution condemning him, you know, Congresswoman Omar puts forward a resolution supporting, you know, sanctions and divestiture of Israel; which is considered by many anti-Semitic.
FAGEN: She did. She did.
MARTIN: No, no, I understand but she’s also the same one who, of course, is a co-sponsor of the bill to provide compensation to those affected by 9/11 and so you can’t ignore also what she has done. Now, is that patriotic?
FAGEN: So, I’ll…I’ll give her credit when she…
FAGEN: …does well unlike, you are not one to give the President…
MARTIN: No, actually, actually, actually, I’ll give Donald Trump…Trump, Donald Trump credit but what I’m also acknowledging is this reality of appealing to white fear, appealing to what’s happening. America is changing. By 2043, we’ll be a nation majority people of color and that’s…that is the game here; that’s what folks don’t want to understand what’s happening.
BRUCE: The President dominating the conversation like this, away from policy, isn’t just a problem for Republicans, it’s also a problem for Democrats and it is clear that the President’s strategy here right, all week, has been to tie the Democrats and Democratic leaders in Congress to these four members, to their…the members on the far left. But that also means, in some ways, that the President’s strategy here is working in the sense that they had that vote condemning the President, it dominated the conversation. You saw Pelosi and everyone rallying behind these members. And I asked the speaker that exact question, “is the President goading her?” Is there any concern about that? She didn’t like that question very much; she shot back saying, “look, they set their own agenda” but the President is having some success.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Looking ahead…
HABERMAN: He was having more success, I think, when they were fighting each other.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Fighting each other.
HABERMAN: The day before he tweeted, I just think, though, you can’t portray. There…there are…there are advantages he sees in continuing to press it but that doesn’t mean what he did was a strategy. I just think it’s an important point.