Our guest this morning is Democratic presidential candidate, Seth Moulton. Congressman Moulton is in his third term representing the citizens of Massachusetts' 6th Congressional District, but his service to the nation began much earlier.
At age 22, he became an officer in the United States Marine Corps. The Congressman served four tours of duty in Iraq, where he was awarded a Bronze Star.
On Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail, Congressman Moulton is focused on our national security, supporting the men and women of America's Armed Forces, and this morning, he'll discuss these priorities with Washington Post's Robert Costa. They'll also address rising tensions with Iran, the upcoming G-20 summit; and President Trump's meeting next week with China's President Xi, along with other topics of the day.
We're looking forward to a lively conversation. Please join me in welcoming Congressman Seth Moulton and Bob Costa.
One-on-One with Rep. Seth Moulton
MR. COSTA: Good morning. Thanks again--
REP. MOULTON: Good morning.
MR. COSTA: --for coming to The Washington Post 2020 conversation series. Really appreciate having Congressman Moulton, here. This is a series where we have in-depth conversations, no commercial breaks, to go talk about your presidential campaign, where you want to take this country, if elected President of the United States.
And as Fred was saying, you're a combat veteran, a Marine, four tours in Iraq, Harvard graduate, earned a Bronze Star, as Fred said. You also beat an incumbent Democrat in 2014 in Massachusetts, now in your third term.
So, let's please welcome Congressman Moulton here to The Washington Post.
MR. COSTA: So, you're not here in Miami--you're flying to Miami tonight, but you're not going to be on the debate stage.
REP. MOULTON: That's right.
MR. COSTA: Did the Democratic National Committee make a mistake in how they structured these debates?
REP. MOULTON: Well, I don't know. I'm not sure they have the best system set up to actually pick the best nominee to take on Donald Trump. But I knew that getting into this race as late as I did there was a good chance I'd miss the first debate.
You know, the irony is that we had one of our best days on the entire campaign in terms of the support we've gotten online when they announced I wasn't in the debate. And my job here right now is just to introduce myself to more voters, because the response we're getting on the ground has been fantastic. It reminds me a lot of that first campaign where it took a long time to just build up and, you know, get to the point where more Americans knew me, but that's what I'm doing now.
I spent this past weekend knocking doors in Greenville, South Carolina, in Spartanburg, places where a lot of Democrats don't go, but where you actually get to meet voters. That's what will decide this race when people go to the polls in the February of next, year, not the first DNC debate.
MR. COSTA: But you got to get on stage. Are you going to make the second debate? Are you pace to make--
REP. MOULTON: No, my point is, I'm not sure you have to get on stage. You know, we're looking to make the second debate, but what really matters is meeting voters on the ground. They're the ones who decide this election, not the DNC folks in Washington who decide who is on a debate stage in Miami.
MR. COSTA: So, you stay in this race through the summer, through the fall, even if you don't make every single debate stage from here on?
REP. MOULTON: Well, look, I'm going to stay in this race because I'm in it to win. I have an eight-month-old daughter at home. It simply wasn't an option for me to get in earlier, and I knew that it would be a risk missing the first debate. But we're getting more press--I mean, look, I'm here with you today because I'm not in Miami, and that's a good thing. So, thank you.
MR. COSTA: We're glad you're here. Let's start with a little bit of the news. Robert Mueller is going to testify, the former Special Counsel on Capitol Hill, mid-July. What do Democrats--House Democrats, you're one of them--what do they expect to hear from him, and will they really focus on intent of President Trump in terms of obstruction of justice or something else?
REP. MOULTON: Well, the big debate going on right now in the Democratic Party is whether or not we should move forward with impeachment proceedings. And this is a tough debate because the politics around this are tricky. And Speaker Pelosi and others have made the point that the politics are difficult.
But what about the principle? You know, what about just doing the right thing by the Constitution? That's why I support not just having Robert Mueller come to Congress, but moving forward with an open debate before Congress and the American people about whether this president should be impeached.
Congress does two things: We debate things and we vote on them. I'm not saying we're ready for a vote, yet, on impeachment, but we absolutely should be having this debate.
You can't just read the Executive Summary of the Mueller Report and not believe that we should be having this--
MR. COSTA: So, what's the value of brining Robert Mueller up to the Hill?
REP. MOULTON: A lot of people have not read even the Executive Summary of the Mueller Report. So, having him come before Congress I think will make this case more broadly.
But it's a reason why I was actually the first candidate in this entire massive field to not only say we should be having the debate on impeachment but vote for it in the House of Representatives. And at the time I wrote, I said, "Look, the politics are bad, the timing is terrible, but this is simply the right thing to do."
MR. COSTA: Why is it the right thing? What specifically is the issue that makes it the right thing to do?
REP. MOULTON: Because we live in a country where nobody is above the law, and Mueller made it clear in his report that he did not clear the President of obstruction of justice charges but he is not allowed by the Justice Department to prosecute him.
So, he just handed it to us on a platter, because what the Constitution does say is it is Congress's job to hold a president accountable if he or she breaks the law. And it's very clear--and obstruction of justice is one thing. There's the whole emoluments clause. There's a lot of other issues where the President has, I think, clearly broken the law. It's our job to have that debate and hold him accountable because we live in a nation of law.
MR. COSTA: So, you believe the President obstructed justice, broke the law. It wouldn't be some kind of narrow impeachment about his abuse of power that Democrats keep talking about with his refusal to give over documents?
REP. MOULTON: Bob, actually, the point of this whole discussion is that it could be any or all of these things, but that's why we need to have the debate.
When Nixon--the debate over Nixon's impeachment started, only 30 percent of the country thought that he should actually be impeached. But by having this debate, by bringing out more information, not just to Congress but to the American people, that situation changed quite a bit. And that's our responsibility now.
MR. COSTA: Does the President want to be impeached? Does it help him politically?
REP. MOULTON: I don't know. It doesn't matter. That's my point. Let's put the politics aside and just do the right thing.
I didn't swear an oath to protect and defend my party politics. I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, actually word for word the same oath that I swore as a United States Marine officer. I take that oath seriously.
MR. COSTA: What's next at the border? We keep seeing these pictures coming of the migrant children and the crisis.
REP. MOULTON: First of all, it is a crisis. I'm a Democrat who says it is a crisis at the border, and it's a crisis because you have migrants dying in detention facilities or crossing the river in that frightful picture that we saw on the Internet, yesterday, but also because we do have historic numbers of migrants coming from South and Central America, especially, and we don't have a plan to deal with them.
We don't have enough judges to hear their cases. We don't have the facilities to hold them. And fundamentally, we don't have any plan to stop the flow at its source. This is a great example of why national security matters in this race and why it matters to Americans here at home.
What we should be doing is having a targeted aid program to Central America to help them stop the violence that is making all these people flee for their lives. That's what we should do. We actually have a good model in Plan Colombia which turned a narco state into an American tourist destination in the space of about 15 years. This kind of aid is hard but it is exactly what we should be doing to address this issue.
MR. COSTA: What about more fencing?
REP. MOULTON: I don't think that's going to help. I mean, you know, I'm sure you've climbed over a fence before. I have.
MR. COSTA: No, but if you were president--if you were president, no more--
REP. MOULTON: You build me a 30-foot wall, I'll show you a 35-foot ladder.
MR. COSTA: You would not increase fencing at the border if you were president.
REP. MOULTON: I am all for strengthening border security where it matters. We do have a problem with a lot of drugs coming through our ports of entry. That's another place where Democrats don't like to admit that's a problem. Like, it is a problem. There are a lot of drugs coming through ports of entry. That's why Democrats are in favor of the technology we need to better screen people passing through ports of entry, but not building some silly concrete wall.
And by the way, it's not just about whether or not we build this wall, it's about where we spend the money that would go to that wall.
Think about this: China is stealing American jobs through the Internet, and American military secrets, every single day, because they're taking our ideas. Like, that's central to the idea of how they run their economy. They just copy our stuff, right?
This administration has literally allocated more money for a southern border wall than for cyber protection for the entire country. I think most Americans are waking up to the fact that these migrants aren't coming to take our jobs; they're fleeing for their lives. But China is very much taking our jobs.
So, that's why I'm saying we should build a cyber wall to protect American businesses and American jobs, rather than a concrete border wall. I mean, like, China did that 3,000 years ago or something. That was the Great Wall of China. And they've moved past that. Let's get with the times here, you know?
MR. COSTA: President Trump, in a general election, if you were the Democratic nominee, he'd be running on immigration constantly. He did it in 2016. He would talk about asylum laws. Do you think asylum laws should be changed at all to limit the amount of people who could come into the country?
REP. MOULTON: No, asylum law is a moral responsibility that we have as the United States. And we've got to return moral leadership to the White House. So, I'm not going to compromise on that.
But what I would do is make sure that we have many, many more asylum judges so that people don't come here and wait two or three years before they get their case decided. If you come and seek asylum in the United States, you should do what Germany does--and Germany has done this successfully, despite having a massive influx of refugees, especially from Syria--they decide asylum cases in about 30 days so that we get an answer. And either you have to turn around and go back or you're legally allowed to stay, but you're not staying here in limbo for two or three years until that case is decided.
MR. COSTA: Senator Warren and a few other Democrats running have talked about decriminalizing migrants coming across the border. Do you agree with that?
REP. MOULTON: If you cross the border illegally, then that's illegal.
MR. COSTA: That should be a crime?
REP. MOULTON: I want people to come to America legally. I want an immigration system that encourages immigrants to come here, because it's good for our economy, it's good for our culture. It's who we are as a nation. We are a nation of immigrants, but I don't want a system that encourages them to come illegally; I want a system that encourages them to come legally. I think that that plan would do the opposite.
MR. COSTA: If you were on stage this week, you would be perhaps standing somewhere near Vice President Biden. And you were one of the first people to go into Baghdad in 2003. You were just talking about that earlier, before we went on.
Former Vice President Biden voted to authorize that war. Should that vote be a deal breaker?
REP. MOULTON: That's up to the American people, whether or not it's a deal break--
MR. COSTA: What do you think?
REP. MOULTON: I don't think it should be a deal breaker. I think people make mistakes. But I do think it was a mistake, and I think the Vice President should admit that.
I've made mistakes in life. Let's admit them and move on because that's how you learn from mistakes.
MR. COSTA: Admit it or apologize for it?
REP. MOULTON: Well, whatever it is, but the point is that these things matter, because look at where we are today: We are at the brink of going to war with Iran and there are a lot of frightening parallels with how we got into Iraq. You've got advisers like John Bolton, literally the same person who pushed us into Iraq trying to push us into Iran, along with people like Mike Pompeo. You've got a Commander-in-Chief who dodged serving in Vietnam and therefore doesn't really have the credibility to say no to these hawks who want to go to war. That's incredibly dangerous for our country. And you have a very volatile situation. And America doesn't have a plan.
This administration has no strategy to deal with Iran. They don't even--they're not even on the same page in their administration. Trump authorized air strikes and then, an hour later, decides he's not going to do it. What kind of message does that send to either our allies or our enemies? Right now, the message is, "Iran, go ahead and shoot down a $120 million American aircraft, because we're not going to do anything in response."
MR. COSTA: So, judgment matters.
REP. MOULTON: Judgment matters. Leadership matters. Having a plan matters, and that's not the case.
MR. COSTA: If judgment matters and leadership matters, does Vice President Biden's vote on Iraq give you pause about his leadership and judgment?
REP. MOULTON: There are a lot of places where I disagree with many of the different candidates. Joe Biden is a mentor and a friend of mine. I respect his service, he's a great American, but I do think he was wrong on this case. I think there were places in Iraq where he was right. I think he was wrong to say that we should divide up the country. I think that would have made the divisions in Iraq worse than they even are today.
So, there are many places where I disagree with his foreign policy decisions. And when he was in the White House with President Obama, I was one of the few Democrats who was actually willing to speak out and criticize that administration when I disagreed.
I also praised them. When they put forward the Iran nuclear deal, I didn't think it was the best deal on earth, but I went to Israel. I met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was the chief critic of this deal, and I asked him, "Just explain to me, Mr. Prime Minister, how you get a stronger deal."
He couldn't answer that question and so I came out in support of the deal, and my statement was on the front page of the Obama administration's website, whitehouse.gov, or whatever, for several weeks that year.
So, I've never been afraid to support the administration, but also not afraid to criticize it. And I think that's what Americans want, is a leader who is not afraid to criticize his own party.
MR. COSTA: And most Americans, though, are still getting to know you and you're running, in part, a foreign policy campaign.
REP. MOULTON: In part, in part.
MR. COSTA: Are you a member of the foreign policy establishment in the Democratic Party?
REP. MOULTON: No, I don't think anyone would--
MR. COSTA: Why not?
REP. MOULTON: --label me a part of the establishment.
MR. COSTA: What makes you different, then?
REP. MOULTON: because from the very--
MR. COSTA: Someone like Vice President Biden or a seasoned hand.
REP. MOULTON: Well, first of all, I'm just clearly not part of the establishment because I've been willing to take the establishment on from when I first ran for Congress.
MR. COSTA: Where on foreign policy?
REP. MOULTON: On foreign policy, I disagreed with their decision to pull out of Iraq so quickly that we might have to go back in, which is exactly what happened. So, I was very outspoken on that.
When ISIS swept into Iraq because we had pulled out so quickly, I said the problem here is political, not just with troops, and I disagreed with the Obama administration in putting a lot of troops in to solve this political crisis. So, those are a couple of examples of where I've been openly critical, but it's only just when I think it's the right thing for the country. I'm always going to do what I believe is the right thing for the country, and I'm not afraid to take on the Democratic establishment to do so.
MR. COSTA: Do you consider a non-interventionist?
REP. MOULTON: Yes, because I have seen the cost of intervention in very real and human terms. That doesn't mean that intervention is off the table. It always should be a threat, but we better exercise--we better exhaust every other alternative before we put young American lives in danger.
And I think one of the problems with Washington right now is there aren't enough people in Congress or in the administration who actually understand the costs of war.
MR. COSTA: Let's stick with that, because during your second combat tour, you fought Iranian proxies. What would a war with Iran look like?
REP. MOULTON: It would be very bloody. It would be very bloody.
I remember, one of the ways we--one of the effects that we saw of having Iranians in the Najaf when we were fighting there was all their mortar fire was way more accurate, and a lot of Americans got hurt, to put it lightly.
And so, yeah, look, I've fought Iranians on the ground. And I'll tell you, as a Commander-in-Chief, I will fight them again if it's necessary, but this is not necessary. It is not necessary for us to go to a war with Iran. It is not necessary for us to spend trillions of dollars, as we've already spent in Iraq and Afghanistan for a war that we do not need to fight, and it would be a bloody mess.
MR. COSTA: Others in the administration are saying there is a case for war. Do you not trust the intelligence that has been shared publicly by this administration on Iran?
REP. MOULTON: I trust our intelligence agencies and I trust our intelligence professionals. I do not trust this administration's interpretation of our intelligence because I've seen them skew it for their own advantage, and I've seen that in classified briefings and in unclassified briefings. It's very dangerous.
This is--I get the fact that national security isn't a top issue in the election right now, but national security--
MR. COSTA: It is.
REP. MOULTON: Well, it is, actually. I mean, if you look at the polling, I guess technically it is. People say it's not. But this is why it's so important to have a Commander-in-Chief we can trust.
MR. COSTA: Skewing intelligence? Are you saying the hawks in the administration are trying to pull the country into war--
REP. MOULTON: Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.
MR. COSTA: Under false terms?
REP. MOULTON: Well, faults or misinterpreted terms, exaggerating threats, talking about what Iran is doing to American troops as if this never happened before.
Let's not forget: Ten years ago, they were literally killing American troops in Iraq. Now, the administration has a threat of a mortar attack on the Baghdad Embassy and we pull everybody out. I mean, it just does not comport with history.
What they're trying to do is set off some sort of confrontation like the Gulf of Tonkin incident that got us into Vietnam and use that as an excuse to go to war.
And even when they do that, I don't think they have a plan. Bolton and Pompeo talk about a regime change in Iran, but if we go to war with them, who's that going to empower? That's going to empower the Iranian hardliners. And so, I think even if we did get regime change, we'd probably get a worse regime. They have not thought this through. The President does not have a strategy and it is incredibly dangerous for the United States of America and for the young Americans who will have to bear the cost if we go to war with Iran.
MR. COSTA: If you were President, what would be your red line be for military action in Iran?
REP. MOULTON: What I would do, first of all, is I would do everything I could to deter that escalation. But you have to respond--
MR. COSTA: But what's the threshold for action, then? If you don't want to have action now, what's the threshold, if any?
REP. MOULTON: There is no specific threshold because you don't want to tell your enemy exactly what that threshold is.
MR. COSTA: Attack on Americans?
REP. MOULTON: --but what we do want to do is show them very clearly that we will respond if you attack. Being completely indecisive about how to handle the fact that they shot down this American aircraft is the wrong approach.
The second thing we have to do is we have to engage our allies. We have to bring our allies back into this. You know, it's not just America that wants ships to go through the Persian Gulf. A lot of our allies do, too. That's an opportunity we should get to expand the coalition, which of course this administration is doing the exact opposite.
Third, we need to articulate what the endgame is here. What do we want Iran to do? The administration says regime change. They're not going to do that.
Imagine if Iran said to us, "Okay, we'll agree with you as long as this administration takes a hike and you give power to the Democrats." I mean, it's just completely unrealistic.
MR. COSTA: Would you revive the Iran deal, if elected?
REP. MOULTON: We need to strengthen the Iran deal, the nuclear deal, but we need--we need to get back into it, but we should use this as an opportunity to strengthen it.
But make no mistake, the reason we are where we are today is because Trump pulled us out of that nuclear deal with no plan whatsoever to put in its place.
And we're not only losing--we're not only in danger of going to war with Iran, we're losing our allies, our European allies, in the process, who are now constructing some alternate banking system to go around our sanctions.
The stakes are really high, here, and that's why I do talk about national security. Because you know, Bob, the most frightening day that I have ever had as a member of Congress was the afternoon that, as a member of the Armed Services Committee, a small group of us flew around in the doomsday plane over Washington.
And it's kind of like you see in the 1950s movies with a lot of old technology and seems like out of Doctor Strangelove or something. And at one point, they sit you down and they run you through an exercise, and I expected some exercise to start, like, well, the Soviet Union is shooting 100 intercontinental ballistic missiles at us.
I can't tell you what it is because--or what it was because it was classified, but the exercise that they ran us through was so frighteningly realistic, I said, "That could happen this afternoon and could get us into a nuclear war."
And then, they explained how the decision is made about whether to launch missiles in response and how the decision is made by the President of the United States. And the Airforce is very proud of how this system can't be hacked so no one can impersonate the President. And at one point, a Colonel said to me, "You know, sir, this system is basically foolproof."
And I said to myself, "Yeah, unless the guy at the top is a fool."
MR. COSTA: "A fool?" That's your phrase for President Trump.
You mentioned his experience in Vietnam. His deferment--
REP. MOULTON: His lack of experience in Vietnam?
MR. COSTA: During the Vietnam era. So, he had multiple deferments, including a medical deferment for bone spurs?
REP. MOULTON: No, of course not. I mean, everybody knows that they're fake. And what Trump doesn't seem to understand is that there was not some empty seat in Vietnam with his name on it. Some American had to go in his place.
You know, I'd like to meet that American hero some day who went in Donald Trump's place. And I hope he's still alive.
MR. COSTA: So, you're saying he--essentially, let someone else go in his place, and perhaps lost their life.
REP. MOULTON: Correct.
MR. COSTA: What does that make President Trump?
REP. MOULTON: It makes him--it makes him unpatriotic, and I don't know why Democrats have sort of ceded patriotism to conservatives and Republicans, because I know what patriotism is about.
You know, patriotism is not hugging the American flag, it's fighting every day to make sure the American flag stands for something. It's being willing to stand up and serve the country when the country needs you most, when our values are under assault. Trump has a totally warped view of patriotism.
And that's one of the things that I'm pointing out in this campaign, and I think it's important that we take on Trump as Commander-in-Chief, take on his vision of patriotism, if we want to win this race.
MR. COSTA: If you were the nominee, would you put Vietnam and President Trump's deferment at the top of your message against him? Would you make it an issue in a general election?
REP. MOULTON: No, it wouldn't be at the top of--I mean, I think a challenge for any nominee is to pick where do you start with this guy because he's got so many issues, right? So, I don't know that that would be the top. But I do think we need to talk about values and about service, and about what it means to be the chief public servant in the United States of America, what that responsibility means as Commander-in-Chief and whether you're there for your own vain interests, or you're there to truly serve the people of the United States.
MR. COSTA: But decades on, there should still be a price to pay for what his choices and those deferments during the Vietnam--
REP. MOULTON: Well, the problem is, I think they inform who is. I know a lot of people who didn't serve in Vietnam because they disagreed with the war and whatnot and actively protested it.
MR. COSTA: Senator Bernie Sanders was a conscientious objector.
REP. MOULTON: Sure, well, that's actually legal, right? Lying about your medical forms is not. Maybe that should be part of the impeachment proceedings, I don't--but the point is that--let's examine where this informs who is as a leader and as a Commander-in-Chief, and I think it's not good for this country.
MR. COSTA: House Democrats should investigate the deferments?
REP. MOULTON: I don't think it's our top priority, Bob.
MR. COSTA: What about--
REP. MOULTON: I think we've got a few things to go through, first.
MR. COSTA: What about Vice President Biden, multiple deferments, also had one medical deferment for asthma.
REP. MOULTON: Look, as far as I know, they were legitimate deferments, and that's very different than lying about bone spurs. But I also know that--
MR. COSTA: Wait, how do you know that President Trump is lying about bone spurs, in your view, and the medical deferment for asthma for Vice President Biden is legitimate. What gives you that confidence in both of those conclusions?
REP. MOULTON: Bob, as I said, as I've heard about Vice President Biden, so that's as far as I go, but I don't know the details, but--
MR. COSTA: Do you have any questions about his deferments?
REP. MOULTON: Look, if we want to go into it, sure, we can. But I've never heard anyone question Vice President Biden's deferments, and God knows there have been an awful lot of questions about how Trump got his.
But more importantly than that, it's how this informs the kind of leadership that they bring to the country. You know, whether you look at this as a selfless leader who is trying to do the right thing for the American people or someone who is a selfish leader who is trying to do the right thing for himself.
And for all my disagreements with Vice President Biden, I've never thought of him as a selfish leader.
But I think most Americans, even many Americans who support Trump, that know that that's all--that's about who he is.
MR. COSTA: As a veteran, what do you make of the President's relationship with the military? He puts a lot of generals in his Cabinet. Should there be a starker line between civilians and military leaders?
REP. MOULTON: Well, I think there are a lot of generals in his Cabinet because they don't want this to go off the rails. And I think it would be a massive mistake to assume that the generals in Trump's Cabinet are supportive of Donald Trump.
MR. COSTA: Have you heard that through the grapevine?
REP. MOULTON: Or more directly.
MR. COSTA: How so?
REP. MOULTON: You're a good reporter. I'm not going to go into it, but look, if you look at the--
MR. COSTA: You're close with General McCrystal.
REP. MOULTON: Well, he's not in the Cabinet, but if you look at the values that these people have always represented in their service to the country, there's a fundamental disconnect between those values and the values of Trump and his administration.
But there are people, and it's not just people in the Cabinet, it's not just general officers, there are good Americans who are serving the country in this administration because they believe it's the best way to keep the country on track. And someday, some of those stories will come out. For all the bad stories of people who are terrible who are in this administration, there are some good stories, as well. And someday, I think that will be told.
MR. COSTA: It was announced today that--in South Korea, there are likely a third--there's likely going to be a third summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un. You've talked about a Pacific version of NATO. Any hopes for a third summit between the President and Kim Jong-Un? Should it go forward?
REP. MOULTON: This is another place where I don't think Americans appreciate just how dangerous it is having an erratic, insecure leader in the world with his finger on, you know, the nuclear button, conducting policy by Twitter.
I mean, Kim Jong-Un is--he's very, very dangerous--that's a joke. The point is--
MR. COSTA: I didn't know where you were going there, which leader you were referencing.
REP. MOULTON: The point is we have two very erratic leaders with nuclear arsenals trying to figure out a fundamental national security conflict that is very dangerous--not just United States or the North Korea, but to the world.
MR. COSTA: But is there any upside to engaging with autocrats?
REP. MOULTON: There might be. I'm not sure there's much upside to having this man, Trump, engage with autocrats. I think it's very dangerous.
What we need in North Korea is a plan. And it's a place where you bring our allies together, not scatter them to the winds.
Trump has done the opposite. He has pushed our allies in the Pacific, and frankly around the world, apart. What we need to do is strengthen the alliance we have in the Pacific, not only to contain North Korea's nuclear missile program, but also to contain the rise of China. That's something we can do to tangibly improve our security in the Pacific. Trump is doing the opposite.
MR. COSTA: I asked a few of your colleagues in the House, Democrats, why isn't Congressman Moulton's campaign really gaining traction at this time, and they said the answer is simple, in their view--privately--you went against Speaker Pelosi in her leadership race and you're paying the price, they said, in the party.
Do you have any regrets about your opposition--
REP. MOULTON: I mean, nothing could be further from the truth, because I mean, first of all, I went against her for principled reasons. And it wasn't just her, it was the leadership of our House that's been there for a combined total of 100 years, because I'm not someone who talks about a new generation of leadership, I fight for it.
And I spent the last two years fighting to flip the House of Representatives, and of the 40 seats that we flipped to take back the House, about half of those candidates were candidates--including many fellow veterans--that I heavily supported on the ground across this country.
And one of the things I learned from traveling all across this country, including the states that we have to flip if we're going to win the presidency, is nobody likes the Washington establishment. So, it makes me a much stronger nominee that I was willing to take on our leadership here in Washington, not a weaker nominee.
So, look, I think the reason why I'm just getting started here is because I'm just getting started. I've only been in the race for two months.
MR. COSTA: But have donors been cold? Have they said, "You went against the Speaker"--
REP. MOULTON: Oh, no.
MR. COSTA: --"hard for us to give money to"--
REP. MOULTON: I mean, a handful, very, very few. What I hear much more often is, "Here's someone who actually stands up for his convictions, who's not just getting cowed by the Washington political establishment. And that's what people want in a leader. You know, that's what people want in middle America. They don't want someone who is just going to do what all the party bosses of Washington tell them to do.
MR. COSTA: What doomed the rebellion? I covered it for The Post. There was an appetite on the campaign trail, as you just laid out. Why did it fail?
REP. MOULTON: Well, I don't think it failed at all, because what we got--
MR. COSTA: Well, she's Speaker.
REP. MOULTON: But that's not what we were after. What we were after was generational change. And as a result of us giving her the votes that she needed to become Speaker, because let's remember, she only won the Speaker's race by five, and we gave her seven votes with the deal on term limits.
As a result of that, we have a deal on term limits, which means that this next generation will actually get a chance to lead.
And candidly, Bob, maybe we made a mistake in just pushing for new leaders without that deal being part of the equation, initially, because what if we had gotten three new leaders who themselves were there for a combined total of 100 years?
And 20 years from now, people look at me and say, "Well, that was a lot of good, Seth. You just got a new, you know, dynasty," all right?
We also got the Climate Change Subcommittee, we got the Voting Rights Subcommittee. We got things that would never have happened to move this caucus forward if we hadn't had that democratic debate about who our next leader should be.
But most importantly, this historically diverse class of freshmen, the most diverse class we've ever seen in Congress, will actually have a chance to lead in the near future, and that's a stronger thing for--
MR. COSTA: Have you spoken to her about your 2020 bid?
REP. MOULTON: Oh, she saw me last night and said, you know, good luck and everything. And she knows I'm going down to Miami. She came up to me, actually, to say that. I was flattered. We then talked a little bit about Iran and how dangerous the situation is right now. And she talked a little bit about her private meeting with the President and what's being said and the discussion back-and-forth.
So, look, I have a lot of respect for her. And you know, you'd have to ask her, but I think that she has respect for me. We can have our disagreements, but you know, there's a time to vote for captain and there's a time to just fight on the same team, and that's what we're doing.
MR. COSTA: So, I checked in with your colleagues about their views, also some strategists out in the early states, and they say you're going to a lot of VFW halls and you're talking about mental health, and you're talking candidly about your own experience with post-traumatic stress from Iraq.
What's that been like to engage with veterans on that issue, an issue that's often left to people's private life, put on a shelf, not discussed publicly?
REP. MOULTON: Well, Bob, first of all, I think it's important to say that this wasn't an easy decision for me to decide to talk about post-traumatic stress. And I guess I became the first presidential candidate in American history to talk about dealing with mental health, myself, even though there are great examples: Lincoln, Grant, you know, arguably Eisenhower, maybe Bush who have had post-traumatic stress or depression in their lives and been great leaders, nonetheless.
But I decided that if I'm applying for the top leadership position in the country, then I ought to lead by example. And I've been talking about taking care of veterans and mental health. I make it a priority--I go to the VA myself to get my health care. I've been talking about it ever since I came to Congress, but I almost felt disingenuous talking about these issues, advocating for them, and not sharing my own story.
So, I decided that I would try to lead by example and explain how I've struggled and dealt with post-traumatic stress since coming back from Iraq.
And the story--one of many--that I chose to share, was a story about heading north towards Baghdad in the early days of the war, and the Iraqi Army was attacking us from the north and sending troops towards our position as we were advancing.
But unfortunately, there was a car of a young family that had gotten caught up in that, and the Marines just ahead of us shot the car up. When my platoon, just behind them, came to it, the car was off the side of the road, the mother and father were obviously dead.
But there was young, like, a five-year-old boy, lying in the middle of the road, still alive, and writhing in pain. And at that moment, I made one of the toughest leadership decisions I've ever made in my life, which is to drive around him and keep going, because I knew that if I stopped our battalion's advance, it would endanger the lives of dozens, if not hundreds, of Marines. I knew there were medics that were following close behind us who could take care of that boy, but there was nothing I wanted to do more in my life at that moment than to just stop everything and get out and take that boy in my arms and try to save his life.
And that image is not something that leaves you easily. That image was the first time I felt truly confronted with the horrors of war. It's one of the reasons I'm so careful as a United States Congressman about getting us into war again.
But it's also an image that haunted me when I came home, and there were--there was a time when I couldn't get through a day without thinking about that boy.
And my decision to go get help, to talk to a therapist, wasn't easy, partly because, as haunting as that was, I actually wasn't having terrible symptoms. I never felt suicidal. I wasn't worried about driving down the road and having a bomb blow me up. A lot of fellow vets were having symptoms like that. So, in some ways I felt maybe this isn't even post-traumatic stress.
But I decided to get help, I spoke to a therapist, and it made a world of difference. And I think having gone through that and having dealt with that, and having really an understanding of what it means to live with the consequences of making a life-or-death decision, in a way that no one else in this campaign has, I think that's made me a stronger leader and it's made me even a better candidate.
But more importantly, sharing the story has helped other Americans share theirs. And the reason we were at that VFW in Las Vegas, for example, in a part of the city that no other Democrat had been to, you know, a packed room but full of people--mostly people of color.
And in that room, we went there just to have a veterans townhall where other people could share their stories. And there were a couple of Vietnam veterans who got up and shared a story after I shared mine they said they've never shared with anyone since the Vietnam War.
So, we want to just normalize mental health care, just make Americans realize that mental health care is just health care. And just like you should go to get an annual physical, whether you're sick or not, you should take care of mental health issues, as well.
My plan to make annual mental health care checkups routine for everyone in the military, then set that as an example for the rest of the country by making annual mental health care checkups routine for everybody in high school, where mental health issues are skyrocketing, by the way; and then, establish a three-digit--511--national hotline for--no matter what problem you're having, feeling suicidal or just need to talk to someone, you can get help right away. That's the most ambitious mental health plan on the presidential trail, and I've been struck by how many lives are touched by this issue.
MR. COSTA: You're not the only the veteran who's running. Congresswoman Gabbard from Hawaii, she was here a few weeks ago, a veteran who served in the Middle East. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, has also been on the stage.
It's a sensitive question, you're all veterans and we appreciate your service, but as a candidate, is there any contrast your experience offers compared to theirs? You were a combat veteran, four tours in Iraq, does that give you a different type of experience if you're seeking to be Commander-in-Chief?
REP. MOULTON: Well, I had a leadership experience. I mean, I was there leading troops on the ground in combat, which is different than the others.
I have great respect for their service and I'm friends with both. Tulsi Gabbard and I are in the same bipartisan workout group on Capitol Hill, so, we see each other all the time and I like her a lot. But I think it is important to understand that the experience is different. I mean, I was leading troops on the ground. My fundamental job as a platoon commander was to take this unbelievably diverse group of Americans, people from all over the country with different religious beliefs, different political beliefs, and get them united behind a common mission, in the midst of a very divisive environment, in the midst of a war that many of us disagreed with.
And I think that that leadership experience, bringing people together from across this country and getting them united behind a common mission, is the kind of leadership we need from the next Commander-in-Chief, in a very divided time in American history.
MR. COSTA: Mayor Buttigieg has faced questions about race this week. A white police officer shot and killed a black man in South Bend. You just mentioned diversity from your military experience.
What assurance can you give black voters and minority voters that you understand their challenges.
REP. MOULTON: That I will fight for them, that--
MR. COSTA: What specifically, though?
REP. MOULTON: So, let me go through the specifics, but let me just talk about in general, first, which is the leadership experience that I had meant that I had to earn the trust of people who were very different from me, and earn their trust not just to vote for me but literally risk their lives for what we engaged with in Iraq.
I had a very diverse platoon, and that kind of leadership matters, I think, when we're trying to build the coalition we need to win this race.
Because think about it: If we're going to win this race, which I think will be much harder to do than many Democrats think, we're going to have to build a coalition that includes everybody in our party, everybody in the Democratic Party, all different sides of it, together with those independent Obama/Trump voters, and even some disaffected Republicans.
And to do that, we have to earn the vote of everyone in our party. And I think for too--to get to the heart of your question, Bob, for too long Democrats have just taken the black vote for granted. I mean, we wouldn’t be where we are as a party or as a country without the black vote. We certainly wouldn't have a Senator from Alabama.
MR. COSTA: Well, how will you not take it for granted?
REP. MOULTON: I'm getting there, I'm getting there.
We certainly wouldn't have the Senator from Alabama without black women. But rather than talk about the issues that we deserve to talk about, we're not doing that.
So, what does that mean? I've called for a new voting rights act in America, because in America today voter suppression still exists. If it didn't, I think Stacey Abrams would be the Governor of Georgia, and we need to address that, not only to restore the protections that were in the previous Voting Rights Act, but to truly end partisan gerrymandering, to truly give every vote in this country equal weight, to get of the electoral college.
MR. COSTA: Do you support reparations?
REP. MOULTON: I also think we need to have a very serious conversation about reparations, because the heart of reparations is "repair." And yes, I support the idea that there is a legacy from slavery and reconstruction that we have not dealt with as a country.
And when someone like Mitch McConnell gets up there and says, "It's not our fault," that is not leadership and that is not responsibility.
MR. COSTA: But do you support reparations or not?
REP. MOULTON: Yes, because--
MR. COSTA: You said you would support a conversation about it.
REP. MOULTON: Well, I'm going to explain what that means, because regardless of whether it is our fault, it is our opportunity to fix this legacy.
And what does that mean? It means that historic discrimination in housing needs to be put to an end, because a lot of black people can't get housing.
It means the historical--the historic discrimination in our education system that still persists today, you can see it in the statistics, has got to end.
It means that people who have been systematically disenfranchised from participating in our political process needs to end.
It means criminal justice reform. I have been a leading advocate for not only legalizing marijuana but expunging the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana crimes.
Because there was a story recently of a black man in Louisiana who was put in prison for life for selling $20 worth of weed.
Paul Manafort is doing seven years for going against the interests of the United States of America.
This is a historically unjust system. I smoked weed in college, in high school. Now, I didn't get caught, but you know what? If I had gotten caught, I'd probably be fine, because I'm a white guy. But we have a system of justice in America right now that is not equal, black and white, rich and poor.
I think every cop should be required to have a body cam, and have it on.
I think that we need to end the death penalty, which is disproportionate--grossly disproportionately applied to black America.
These are the kinds of conversations that we need to have. I support Ta-Nehisi Coates' position on this bill in Congress that sets up a commission to have this discussion and debate and decide what these reparations should be.
But I also believe in what Congressman Jim Clyburn says, and I've talked to him about this in South Carolina. I saw him there this weekend. He has a 10-20-30 plan, which means that 10 percent of the resources for any federal agency go to communities with 20 percent or higher poverty for the last 30 years, because these are the communities that have been historically left behind. And we have an opportunity, as our generation, regardless of how responsible we feel for this, to fix it, and that's an opportunity we should take.
MR. COSTA: Senator Warren, your home state Senator, you're not supporting her, you're running against her. Could she beat President Trump in a general election?
REP. MOULTON: You know, that's up to the American voters, but I do think that--I do think that this race is going to be harder to beat--harder than many Democrats think. I think Trump's going to be harder to beat.
And I say that, Bob, because I've spent a lot of time in parts of the country that we need to win back. And I think his support runs deeper than many Democrats think. So, we've got to make sure that we choose a nominee who can build that coalition, who can bring everybody together in our party, who can prove that he or she is going to work hard to earn those votes, not take them for granted, but also earn the votes of independents, of Obama/Trump Republicans--sorry, of Obama/Trump voters, and even some disaffected Republicans. That's the coalition that we need to build. I've built coalitions like that before, in very tough environments like in the middle of a war, but also here in Congress where I'm very proud of my record of actually getting things--
MR. COSTA: So, that's the coalition you'd like to see. But on Senator Warren, she has many plans, as you know. One major one is 2 percent annual tax on assets above 50 million. Is that a realistic plan?
REP. MOULTON: It's not going to work. Other countries have tried it, and it doesn't work. So, I like the spirit of the idea that everybody's got to pay their fair share.
But what would be smarter, I think, is just to make sure we have a tax system where everybody does in fact pay. The problem with the system that she's laid out is that it's going to be very easy for the wealthy to hide their assets and get around this tax. So, you can put that tax in place, but people aren't going to pay it.
I believe in a tax system where everybody pays and there's fairness in the race.
Let me just ask this: How many of you, in the audience today--how many of you paid more than a dollar in taxes last year? A few hands?
MR. COSTA: Most of the hands in the air.
REP. MOULTON: Like, pretty much everyone's hands in the air. Okay. That means that every single one of you paid more than Amazon and Netflix combined, and more than Donald Trump has apparently paid, in the last 30 years.
That's not a fair system, Bob.
MR. COSTA: Yeah.
REP. MOULTON: That's not a fair system.
What we need to do is not pit one group against the other but just say that everybody in America is going to pay their fair share.
What does that mean? It means that the corporate rate should go up from about 21 to 25. It means the rate--Warren Buffet always talks about how he pays a lower rate than his secretary.
If you're trading money, because you've got so much of it you can trade it, you should pay the same rate as people who are working a hardworking job. That's what tax fairness means, and I don't think our system achieves that.
MR. COSTA: We have just a few minutes left. Let's do a lightning round.
REP. MOULTON: All right.
MR. COSTA: Just finish with some politics. Could Senator Sanders expect your support in a general election if you--
REP. MOULTON: I have made a commitment to support whoever the Democratic nominee is because there's no one in this massive field that I think would be a worse president than Donald Trump.
MR. COSTA: Big tech, make them utilities or not?
REP. MOULTON: The services that big tech provides, like Internet broadband access, should be treated as utilities, but I don't think you just nationalize these companies.
MR. COSTA: If you were on the debate stage either tonight or tomorrow, who is the one candidate you would target for criticism on policy grounds?
REP. MOULTON: Well, it depends on what the question is. I mean, there are places where I disagree with a lot of the Democratic candidates.
MR. COSTA: You must think about this a lot. Who--
REP. MOULTON: No, I don't--I honestly--I don't think about that. What I think about is connecting with American voters, because my job is not to disparage other candidates, it's to earn the support of Americans.
MR. COSTA: If you were on stage, would you be willing to talk about Vice President Biden's vote for Iraq or not?
REP. MOULTON: I have. I have in the past.
MR. COSTA: But would you do that on a debate stage?
REP. MOULTON: Sure, I'd be happy to do that.
MR. COSTA: Would you put a woman on the ticket with you if you were the nominee?
REP. MOULTON: I think it's too early to make that decision, but let me tell you, it is a--it's a real problem that we've never had a woman be President or Vice President or even--you know, there's never even been a woman who's been Chief of Staff in the White House.
MR. COSTA: Have you reached out to President Obama?
REP. MOULTON: He reached out to me early in this whole process.
MR. COSTA: Have you talked to any former president during this process, President Carter, President Clinton?
REP. MOULTON: You know, I haven't talked to Carter or Clinton, but I have had a long conversation with Obama.
MR. COSTA: How should Democrats respond to the accusation of E. Jean Carroll, who has accused President Trump of sexual assault, rape?
REP. MOULTON: We should take it seriously. We should take it seriously and we should listen to what she has to say?
MR. COSTA: But what action should be taken, if anything?
REP. MOULTON: Well, this a place where I don't actually know legally what the appropriate action is, in terms of supporting the investigation, but we should do whatever it takes to bring the truth to light. She deserves to be heard.
MR. COSTA: What are your personal metrics for staying in the race right now, financially, politically?
REP. MOULTON: My personal metrics are whether my message is resonating with the voters who are going to decide this election. That's ultimately what matters. I knew that getting in this race late, because I have this very young daughter at home, whom I love to death, would give me a disadvantage early on, but I've also run in tough races before.
You know, in that first campaign for Congress, where I ran against this 18-year incumbent, we did our first poll after 7 months on the campaign trail, and I was only 53 points down. I mean, I'm not even 53 points behind Biden at this point, so I feel like--but it took a while. It took a while to just meet enough people for the message to resonate, but the people that I get in front of have been very positive. That's what I need to keep doing, is just meeting more voters.
We're actually--we have an ad up on TV tonight before the debates to just introduce myself to more Americans in the early primary states. That's the kind of thing that I'm going to keep doing. I won that race by 11--53 points down, won by 11, won a tough general election in a district that voted by 13 points for our Republican Governor--by 14. So, I've done this before and that's what I'm setting out to do.
MR. COSTA: What are you looking for from the moderators tonight as you watch the debate?
REP. MOULTON: I want them to ask tough questions. I want them to hold people accountable because I think that's what the American people want.
MR. COSTA: What about President Trump, if he's tweeting about the debate? How are Democrats--how should Democrats handle that kind of presence always looming over their race?
REP. MOULTON: You know, when Trump came out and criticized the Mueller investigation by calling it a witch hunt, the greatest witch hunt in American history.
MR. COSTA: He tweeted "presidential harassment" last night.
REP. MOULTON: Yeah, when he tweeted about the witch hunt, I just said, "You know, as a representative of Salem, Massachusetts, I can assure you this is false."
I think that's the way we handle Trump. You know, put him in his place, but don't get down and wrestle with him in the mud. You know, you wrestle with a pig, you get muddy. So, put him in his place, then move on and talk about your vision for the country.
That's what I'm doing in this campaign.
MR. COSTA: Are you just going to live in New Hampshire, your neighboring state? Is that the key to your strategy?
REP. MOULTON: I've actually spent a lot of time in South Carolina and Nevada, as well as New Hampshire.
MR. COSTA: Why is that?
REP. MOULTON: Because those have been--because I think there are a lot of--there are places where the messages really resonate--
MR. COSTA: Many veterans in those states.
REP. MOULTON: And there are a lot of veterans there. Yeah, and that's a good place for me to start.
MR. COSTA: And the question on everyone's mind as we just close this out is, how do you break out? It's such a crowded field?
REP. MOULTON: It is.
MR. COSTA: Do you need a viral moment? What do you need? Because you're very low in the polls. You're an accomplished veteran, you're an accomplished lawmaker. How do you break out in this moment in 2019?
REP. MOULTON: You know, everyone asks, like, what's the viral moment?
MR. COSTA: Or just what's the breakout--
REP. MOULTON: Look, in that first campaign where I came back from a 53-point deficit to win by 11, there was never a single viral moment. It was just doing the hard work of meeting people where they're at and earning the trust of American voters.
MR. COSTA: Is that enough, though, in this kind of environment?
REP. MOULTON: Well, I hope it is because I'm not going around doing crazy things just looking for a viral moment.
The case I'm making to the American people is that I'm not a crazy leader, I'm someone that you can trust. And you're not going to agree with me on everything. That's not the case I'm trying to make, either. I'm not just trying to promise a whole bunch of stuff and say, "Oh, you know, you'll agree with me on every issue."
What I'm trying to say is that I can be a President of the United States and a Commander-in-Chief who has spent a lifetime keeping Americans safe, and I will be a president that you can trust.
MR. COSTA: Congressman Moulton, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.
REP. MOULTON: Thanks, Bob.
Democrat Debate Preview
MR. COSTA: Thank you for sticking around. Appreciate it.
We're only hours away from the first Democratic debate of the 2020 campaign, and I'm pleased to be joined this morning by two prominent and impressive former chairs of the Democratic National Committee--really appreciate your time--Donna Brazile, who also was campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000, and former Vermont governor, Howard Dean, whose 2004 campaign remains a model for many Democratic candidates about how to build an insurgency through grassroots support in internet fundraising. So we really appreciate you both taking the time here to talk about this debate.
What are you both looking for? We'll start with Donna. As you sit down tonight with whatever you're--something from New Orleans, perhaps, as you enjoy, to watch the TV.
MS. BRAZILE: Oh my God. Yeah. I started cooking etouffee about two weeks ago. I got all my ingredients. I'm going to stir it up tonight. If you live in Ward 4, come on by. It's going to be nice and delicious.
Actually, this is more of a popcorn and red wine night because I think this is an opportunity for the Democratic candidates to introduce themselves, to talk about their plans, their vision, to spend practically no time on Trump, which I know is a shocker, but to talk about the party's values and where we hope to lead the country in the future. So I think this is going to be a remarkable night for the American people to see the depth and breadth of the leadership within the Democratic Party.
MR. COSTA: Governor Dean?
MR. DEAN: Yeah. I think you're going to see two things go on, the so-called frontrunners, the five or six that are above 5 percent, which qualifies as a frontrunner in a 25-person field. You're going to see them having to avoid mistakes. Don't say something that you're going to have to defend the next day.
And the rest of the crew is going to have to show the American people why they should be among the top 10. I think probably something in the order of 10 people will actually get to the starting line in Iowa. It's going to take $20 million just to get to the starting line, and there are going to be three or four that do it that this audience has heard of but most people have never heard of, and they're out there. Actually, this is a very good field. The vast majority of the people in this field are well qualified to be President of the United States, but they've got to get their message out.
So for the bottom of the list of people that aren't well known, they have to stick to a message that's very simple because they're only going to get five to six minutes for the whole night, and it has to be--and they have to connect.
Buttigieg has already done that, and so there's room for more people like that. And they have to connect to the audience by being authentic and by sticking to a single message without giving an entire policy program in seven minutes.
MR. COSTA: If you do #PostLive, if you're on Twitter or watching us in the livestream, I'll try to get to some of your questions for the two former chairs. That's #PostLive.
You mentioned Mayor Buttigieg. Breaking out in a night like this or tomorrow night, what does it take, and who's best positioned in this field to break out?
MS. BRAZILE: Well, tonight, I'm going to be looking at Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar. They're underrated right now if you look at their poll numbers.
I'm also going to look at de Blasio. I mean, he stands out because he's so tall, and--but I'm looking at some of what I call the "tier two candidates" because I believe this is their moment to shine, to get beyond the stump speech, the slogans, but to really tell the American people why you are best positioned to be President of the United States.
Remember, this is a job interview. We're interviewing a person to be the President of the United States of America. So I think the voters are going to be looking for somebody who's sharp, precise, but also someone who could take us beyond this moment. And I think some of the second-tier candidates who have not received enough press coverage because of lack of, quote/unquote, name recognition and other factors, this is their moment to shine.
You know, I'm going to remind Governor Dean when he decided to run for President, he was a long shot. You had John Kerry. You had John Edwards. You had my old boss, Dick Gephardt, my old boss, Joe Lieberman. You know, I can sit here and tell you about all my old bosses.
But what Howard Dean was able to do was to really strike a fire within the grassroots. People wanted more of that. They saw him as an outsider who was willing to take on the establishment, but more importantly, they felt a connection with his message. And I agree with Governor Dean. That message is so important tonight. The American people hunger for that.
MR. COSTA: Is that right? I mean, we just heard from Congressman Moulton, Governor, who was more moderate in his message. You ran in 2004. It was an anti-war moment in the Democratic Party. Is the path to power right now about being passionate against President Trump, or is it about--
MR. DEAN: Absolutely not. Look, Trump will remind us every day why we don't like him. No, he will. I mean, all he has to do is get out and say something, and 55 percent of the people go, "Oh, my God." So we don't have to do that.
If we're arguing about Donald Trump with three weeks to go--three months to go before the election, we're going to lose. Trump always has to make it about himself. Let him do that. He will make the argument for us. We have to talk about what are we going to do about the economy, what are we going to do about income inequality, how are we going to stop the Republicans from taking away the preexisting condition stuff, what are we going to do about our school systems. That's what people want to hear about.
Now, you can make a few remarks about Trump and hope you have a "Senator, I knew John Kennedy" time with Trump because he's an easy target. That cannot be the focus of the election where we lose.
MS. BRAZILE: I agree.
MR. COSTA: But about the DNC? Did the way they handle this, this time around, does it make sense to you as former chairs?
MS. BRAZILE: Absolutely. Look, I came in with a system that we only had six debates, and we had to expand the number town halls and forums and other opportunities for the candidates to, you know, get their message out.
I think Tom made the right decision to schedule six this year and six next year, and again, Governor Dean said you need $20 million. You need 20 million volunteers, because to get on a ballot in some of these states, it requires you to get signatures. Here in D.C., you got to signatures in all eight wards. There are some states where you just pay a simple fee.
But we are now focusing on the delegate selection rules, which will give us more primaries and caucuses, and even in those caucus states, we're going to try to open them up so that you don't have to show up at a particular time on a cold wintery night. So we're trying to make it more open.
We listened to some of the concerns that people had in 2016, and I think what Tom Perez has been able to do is to open the process up.
I only have one disagreement with Tom Perez, and Howard Dean and I disagree on this one as well. I am a, quote/unquote, automatic delegate to the convention, not just as a result of my previous service, but because I remain a member of the DNC. I do not like the fact that I will not vote on the first ballot.
Now, I hope that we don't have a contested convention because I don't want to get there and be in a position where people are going to blame us for, you know, overturning the rule of the so-called pledge delegates. I don't want to get too much in the weeds.
You know, I'm still on the Rules Committee. I'm going to retire one day, but it ain't going to be today.
MR. COSTA: What about the setup for the debate?
MR. DEAN: So I'll take Donna on, on the rules, of course, even though she's made Obama President of the United States--
MS. BRAZILE: That's all right, sugar.
MR. DEAN: --by one vote on the Rules Committee.
MS. BRAZILE: That's all right.
MR. DEAN: No, it was a good thing.
MS. BRAZILE: That was March 31st, 2008. I'll never forget that day.
MR. DEAN: I'll never forget it either.
MS. BRAZILE: Mm-hmm.
MR. DEAN: So I disagree with the superdelegate stuff. The truth is about superdelegates is it's a made-up issue. Superdelegates have never in the history of superdelegates ever selected the presidential nominee. The only reason that we exist--and I have supported the change of letting us vote in the second ballot if we are needed. The only reason we exist is because elected officials wouldn't come after the McGovern rules. They wouldn't come.
So for three conventions, we had no Congress people, no governors, and no senators come. You can't have the biggest meeting every four years of the Democratic National Committee without them coming, and they wouldn't come because they didn't want to run against their own activist base, because only two things can happen if you do that, and they're both bad. You win and your activist base is mad at you, or you lose and you look like an idiot because you lost to somebody nobody ever heard of. So that's why the rules changed, and I think Perez has done the right thing.
I also think these debates are--they're not perfect, but they're run the right way. What we are trying to do--and what Tom was trying to do--is avoid the spectacle of the Republicans where they had people on there who weren't qualified.
Look, I like George Pataki. I have a few other opinions about Gilmore and Santorum, but those three weren't ruining a campaign. They just said they were running, and they showed up in the debates and made it more difficult for everybody else.
So what the DNC has done, first of all, they have avoided the junior varsity, varsity business.
MS. BRAZILE: Kids table.
MR. COSTA: The kids table. And I think that's important because some of these so-called kids, one of them could very well be President of the United States, and they're qualified for--almost every candidate, I think, is well qualified.
And the second thing it does is avoid having 20 people on stage at the same time, which is ridiculous. It's going to be hard enough with 10. With 20, it's unmanageable. So I think Tom did the right thing.
My idea is that if you can't build a grassroots organization, then probably you're not going to be able to run for president. You don't get to parachute in and say, "Oh, we'll use the DNC grassroots organization." You have to build your own. So I think Perez has done a good job here.
MR. COSTA: Under these new rules, the new structure, which candidate is best positioned to be the nominee with their campaign, their message?
MS. BRAZILE: It's going to take us a couple more months to get to that point in the process. This is phase one. We have several other phases, and of course, after Labor Day when the debate rules--you know, you have to have double the number of donors. Your percentage in the polls must also go up.
But, look, after this national exposure over the next two months, if you're not able to strike a chord and get support, well, ladies and gentlemen, come on, sit on the sidelines.
MR. COSTA: You mean some campaigns may drop off this summer?
MS. BRAZILE: Some of them will.
MR. DEAN: Sure, they will.
MS. BRAZILE: Yeah, yeah. Once they recognize--I mean, lord have mercy. I mean, has anybody tried to get on the ballot in Pennsylvania? Have you tried--this is a race for delegates.
MR. DEAN: Or New York is worse.
MS. BRAZILE: Oh, New York is horrible. Virginia is not too well, 10,000 signatures. I remember helping some of your colleagues out in 2004 because I felt sorry. I would get up in the morning, get my coffee, and go over to Fairfax County and Loudoun County to help some of the people out.
But, no, I think by fall, we're going to see less candidates, and by February 3rd, that wintery night in Iowa, we're going to see about 10 to 12 candidates. And by the end of February, going into March Super Tuesday, where you're going to see in the month of March over 60 percent of the delegates will be selected. We'll be down to a rational number by Easter.
MR. COSTA: Vice President Biden is leading the polls. Is he actually in your view the frontrunner, or is his campaign more fragile than that?
MR. DEAN: Well, first of all, I'm not going to comment on his campaign.
So here's what's happening. This is really interesting, and I recommend Nate Silver's stuff on FiveThirtyEight for this because it's really, I think, the best substantiated commentary that's out there.
What Nate has found in his aggregation of polls--this is an unusual thing for the Democrats--two-thirds of Democratic voters are focusing on getting rid of Trump. That's what they want out of their candidate. One-third is focusing on getting a candidate to be the nominee that agrees with most of their positions on the issues. It's a fascinating time because it means that we're not as divided as we often are.
And then everything else is such a small issue that it doesn't really have a huge effect on what happens. So you've basically got two-thirds of the party that just wants somebody who can--now, I don't--I think the jury is out on who can best beat Trump.
You have to think about this. Our core base in our party is people under 35 who voted 70 percent for the Democrats, both in Virginia and in the election last year. It's women and it's people of color.
MS. BRAZILE: Yep.
MR. DEAN: Those are our core constituency groups, and I think Stacey Abrams' philosophy about how to win in Georgia--and I agreed with Seth that had it not been for Kemp being the Secretary of the State at the same time and disqualifying 750,000 voters, she'd be the governor of Georgia today. But she had a really interesting philosophy, which we haven't used in the South before, and I think it's a really good idea.
Instead of trying to move to the center and be almost as conservative as the Republican and hope our base comes along with us, which they won't, just get the base really ginned up and get them to come out.
If we get young people, people of color, and women to come out in big numbers, we're going to win. It doesn't matter what Trump does. If we don't get those groups to come out, we're going to lose, and it doesn't matter what else we do.
MR. COSTA: Could Pete Buttigieg do that, the mayor of South Bend, get all those groups, including African American voters, to come out?
MS. BRAZILE: Well, that's a big unknown. I don't know who our nominee is. If I did, I would go out and buy another dress. I don't know.
But here's what I do know. We're going to have an exciting time over the next 496 days. This is probably one of the most exciting elections I've had in the 10 cycles that I've been involved. I've been involved in politics now since the age of nine. I'm just a day past 21.
MS. BRAZILE: But what I find exciting about what Governor Dean just said is that we have to enlarge the electorate. When you look at the number of people who stayed home in 2016--Hillary Clinton lost by less than 78,000 votes--I mean 79,000. So it wasn't this big victory that Donald Trump had. He was able to pick the lock because we left the door open. I mean, we left the door open. We had a 7 percent drop in minority turnout in those key pivotal states, and when you lose a place like Michigan, with less than 10,000 voters, come on. So we have to enlarge the electorate.
We love the people who are voting today, but remember, there are over 99 million Americans who did not vote in 2016. Enlarge the electorate. Make sure that we talk to people. We cannot ignore people.
I love all of these gadgets. You know, my ex-boss invented the internet, so this is a great thing.
MS. BRAZILE: And, Howard Dean, your campaign is the first to start using data--
MR. DEAN: Right.
MS. BRAZILE: --like, you know, it was the science. The rocket science of politics is talking to people, looking them in the eye, being relatable, being able to know their concerns and to share their misery and their worry and their joy and talk to them. And that's why Biden right now is leading because people know him. He's relatable.
But you know what? He has a lot of--he got some good competition.
MR. COSTA: We got a question about that competition here on our Twitter questions. Senator Bernie Sanders. Do you think he has what it takes to rally the base in the way you're talking about, Governor Dean, and be the Democratic nominee, even though he's also a Democratic socialist, someone who is to the left?
MR. DEAN: You know, this socialist business is made up by all the old people in the Republican Party who were around when--
MR. COSTA: He calls himself a "Democratic socialist," proudly.
MR. DEAN: Yeah. But the idea of being a socialist, being an attack point, is made up by old people who were alive when Czechoslovakia was suppressed in 1968.
MR. DEAN: Most of our voters weren't. Our voters--do you realize that the average age of the Democratic caucus dropped 10 years in 2018? Our party is being taken over by young people on their terms, and inside the Beltway--
MR. DEAN: It's true. And inside the Beltway, people are going to be the last to figure that out.
So, you know, we'll--look, Bernie has already shown that he can rally people and do well. He certainly has a shot.
I think almost everybody has a shot. Now, what's going to happen in the next couple of days is going to be a big deal because you are going to see people up there in the "also ran" category who don't seem to be lighting the fire, and I can't tell you who they are. And I can't tell you who the ones that are going to light the fire. But I think there are going to be three or four people tomorrow night and tonight when people go, "Hey, I want to take a look at her. I don't know much about her. I never heard of her, but we ought to take another look."
I hate to use this as an example because you'll hear why when you--it will be obvious when I say it. If you remember the Republican race in--I think it was 2008, or maybe it was '12. I can't remember which. 9-9-9.
MS. BRAZILE: Herman Cain.
MR. DEAN: Everybody remembers that, right? That shot Herman Cain from the middle of the pack to leading the pack the next week. They were having weekly debates.
Now, I don't advise any Democratic candidate to go out and talk about 9-9-9, but that's the kind of stuff that--you don't know. None of us have any idea what's going to light up the crowd, but something might. And those will be the candidates that get a second and a third and a fourth look.
MS. BRAZILE: And we spent two weeks talking about 9-9-9.
MR. DEAN: Yeah.
MS. BRAZILE: I'll never forget that.
MR. DEAN: But it wasn't just because he got attention. He also was leading the Republican pack.
MS. BRAZILE: Absolutely. That's right.
MR. COSTA: He had a plan.
MR. DEAN: Yeah.
MS. BRAZILE: Yeah.
MR. COSTA: Elizabeth Warren has a lot of plans.
MR. DEAN: Yeah.
MR. COSTA: Could she catch fire with her plans?
MR. DEAN: She's already caught fire.
MS. BRAZILE: She has caught fire.
MR. DEAN: Here's the thing about Warren that's impressive. Every candidate is going to have to go through this. When you do this, you get knocked down. This is the toughest job in the world, and it's the toughest way to get the toughest job in the world. It is a brutal, brutal thing to go through this race, and I know that the hard way. So everybody who does it is going to get knocked down.
She's been knocked down. She got up again. That is a big deal. This will happen to other candidates, but there will be a bunch of them that get knocked down and don't get up again. So Warren is already in a place which I think is a good place for her.
Now, whether she wins or whether she can beat Trump, I have no idea, and I'm not going to get into all that. But I do think she--
MR. COSTA: You're not sure she can beat Trump in a general election?
MR. DEAN: I have no idea who can beat Trump in a general election. We can't possibly know that now.
MR. COSTA: What about the competition for that progressive vote between Senator Sanders and Senator Warren? What do you make of that?
MS. BRAZILE: Oh, there are many people in that lane. Those are the two prominent ones, but what I love about Julián Castro, you know, his immigration policy, and now Senator Warren has embraced it, decriminalizing those who are seeking freedom by coming to our country seeking asylum.
So I do believe that there are multiple candidates in that progressive lane. The question is, can they move, rise to the top without denting somebody else's car.
MR. COSTA: You mentioned 9-9-9, and that was where he got attention, Herman Cain, back in 2011, 2012, mostly 2011.
If you're a Democratic candidate on stage tonight or tomorrow night, should you tangle with the media, the moderators, in the same way Republicans did?
MR. DEAN: It depends what the media does to provoke you. This is a good question because--
MS. BRAZILE: That's a great question.
MR. DEAN: --I don't think that if somebody starts whacking one of the frontrunners, that's going to be successful. I really don't. It's going to be tempting, but the problem is in a multi-field campaign, if you whack somebody, the whacking has effect, and it also drives your negatives up, which means they're going to go to one of the other eight people on the stage. So it's not a good strategy to make, to take advantage of somebody, one of the frontrunners, and go after them.
I mean, you can do it subtly, but you really can't go right at them because you're going to make all their supporters mad, and you need them eventually if you're going to be the nominee.
MS. BRAZILE: And remember the biggest challenge we face in 2020 is to make sure the party is unified.
MR. DEAN: Right.
MS. BRAZILE: After all the voters--after all of you great people have cast your ballots, we want to come together as a party and as a country so that we can take on the Republican Party and President Trump, and we all know from history that it's very difficult to defeat an incumbent. It's going to require unity. It's going to require people getting more engaged and involved, getting people registered, and of course, getting people to turn out.
MR. COSTA: What do you think the party is looking for? What is the one issue that galvanizes them? You mentioned the economy. Is there anything else? Does foreign policy matter? You have the President considering military action in Iran, and you're talking to rank-and-file Democrats.
MR. DEAN: You know, I basically don't believe people actually vote on issues, most of them. I think we vote on emotion, and the Democrats, who have a higher level of education, think we vote on issues. We don't. Our issues are proxies for our emotions, and so I don't really think--you asked before about Democratic socialism. I actually don't think it's about left versus right. It's about what you think of the world and what your view of the world is and who--the most important question in any poll that anybody has ever done about a candidate is, Does this person care about people like me? If the answer to that is no, you're in deep trouble with that voter. And if the answer is yes, you've got a decent shot.
And so that's--it's really an emotional connection. It's an emotional bond. It's not about where they are in the political spectrum. People will tell you that in a poll, but it's not. It's about the personal connection you make, even over television, with the people you're talking to.
MS. BRAZILE: Well, the emotion matters. It is clear to me. The vision is also important.
You know, after 2008, Governor Dean, I felt so hopeful, so optimistic, that for the first time in my life, a child who grew up in the segregated South, the child who is a descendent of slaves, a child who had two working poor parents, I just felt so much hope, so much--you know, so much that I convinced all my nieces and nephews to vote. That was the first time I didn't have to threaten them by saying I'm not going to give you something, like help you with your tuition. They voted.
But by 2016, my younger ones, I'm like, "Please, please." The emotion is important, but the issues connect them to the passion that they feel.
MR. DEAN: Right, right.
MS. BRAZILE: I am very passionate now about criminal justice reform. With the situation in South Bend that Mayor Peter is dealing with, I'm very concerned about that.
I'm concerned about these children at the border. I am so concerned.
One day I said to myself, I no longer want to adopt a dog. I got to get some of these kids.
You know, the passion, the emotion will drive Democrats, Independents, and I think Republicans to the polls. These issues matter.
Foreign policy matters. Just a couple of weeks ago, we were going to invade Venezuela, right? I'm like, Jesus, stop this.
MR. COSTA: What did we learn about Buttigieg over this weekend?
MR. DEAN: We don't know yet.
MS. BRAZILE: We don't.
MR. DEAN: This is a critical test for him. We don't know what we learned yet because we haven't seen what the outcome is and where people are thinking, but so far, he's done the right thing, get off the campaign trail and go back and take care of the crisis in your state. But I think we've got to learn more about how this all sugars out. But this is an absolutely critical test about a relatively unknown candidate who had a very good start.
MS. BRAZILE: But it also tells you--I mean, when you run for president, all of this is out there, not just your past record, but the community that you serve.
I mean, we've learned from New York and California and other places that your police workforce should mirror your community, period, and you're telling me in your city, that has not been a focus? So the Mayor has to deal with these issues, and I hope he doesn't get defensive, okay?
When it comes to race, people get too defensive.
MR. COSTA: Is he too defensive?
MS. BRAZILE: Oh, right now, he is. He has to address it.
But I applaud him for going home and standing up and being there in the presence of the people who he represents, and he needs to stay there as long as is needed so that he can heal. This is about healing as well.
MR. COSTA: Are you disappointed with how he's led that police force? You seem to suggest that.
MS. BRAZILE: Well, I'm suggesting that, and it's not just for Mayor Peter. It's for every city to reflect, to reflect the community. This is a very sensitive issue for people of color. I mean, I can't tell you the number of times.
I have a little GPS. I call her "Gladys." She told me to make an illegal U-turn. I said, "Police behind me. Hell no."
MS. BRAZILE: I don't know what's going to happen when I do that, okay? I was finding myself talking to Gladys. I said, "Shut up. Police behind me." No, black people can't do that. White people can do that. I cannot make an illegal U-turn. I'm scared. Police behind me. Hell no. Okay.
MR. COSTA: Race is still a very--
MS. BRAZILE: Race is raw. Race is an emotion.
MR. COSTA: So what do you make of Vice President Biden's response to segregation remarks?
MS. BRAZILE: And race is exhausting.
MR. COSTA: Vice President Biden. Are you satisfied with how he handled his response to segregation?
MS. BRAZILE: If Joe Biden would have said--who I love, respect. He's not a racist. He's a good man. If Joe Biden had have said, "You know, when I joined the Senate, I had to work with--they were the chairs of my committees. I had to work with them. We disagreed on X, Y, and Z." Now, I would have understood that context because that is the context we know, but this reference to he called me "son" and not "boy, well, when he first said it, it was like, "Whoa, boo. Whoa."
My daddy was called "boy." My daddy got four Bronze Stars. Four. Served his country, came home, was called "boy." He reminded his nine children every day to be respectful because they're going to be called "boy" or "girl" and never by their names. Joe Biden didn't put it in context, but later he did.
Ladies and gentlemen, deal with race. We're getting too old as a country to keep ignoring our original sin. Deal with it.
MR. COSTA: Governor Dean, race is raw. Should Vice President--are you satisfied with Vice President Biden's response on race and the segregationist remarks?
MR. DEAN: I think that is the kind of thing that I was talking about when I said the frontrunners are going to have to worry about saying things like that tomorrow night and tonight, and the challengers are going to have to have a different tack.
But people are going to say things like that. You know, I mean, the truth about race is it's a white problem, not a black problem, and the white community has never really done the work they have to do to address this in a serious way.
And people like Trump make it worse because they appeal to the worst in people, not the best.
So we've got a long, long discussion, and I think Mayor Pete found out how hard that discussion is, which people on the national stage have a little more experience with. But this is an issue we have to get through, and we have to get through it now. We can't wait. We can't put this off anymore. So we'll see who's going to deal with that.
I'll tell you one thing. If we have two old white guys at the top of our ticket, we lose this race.
MS. BRAZILE: Hell to--hell, yeah.
MR. DEAN: Absolutely.
MS. BRAZILE: Hell, yeah.
MR. DEAN: We do because you cannot motivate people, and our core base does not look like me. You cannot motivate people to get out and vote if you keep telling them one thing and then showing them something else when you're actually putting together you're ticket.
MS. BRAZILE: Not when people of color, especially women, make up the majority of the electorate.
MR. DEAN: Right.
MS. BRAZILE: This is the 100th anniversary of suffrage. I am so proud we're going to see six women over two nights. We have earned a seat at the table, and no one should take it away from us.
I am looking forward to seeing a woman on the ticket. Top, bottom, I don't care. I still believe we're ready for the change.
And, by the way, speaking of change--
MS. BRAZILE: You know, we're in hurricane season, so you all know I got to give my PSA. Climate change is real.
MR. DEAN: Right.
MS. BRAZILE: We need to have a conversation about it. We need to stop ducking behind all of this "Is this science or not science?" I could tell you by the way my tomatoes are growing right now up in Upper Northwest. Climate change is real. All of this rain, all this water, Lord have mercy. Some places around the globe, they're not getting any water. They're fighting for water.
And migration is caused also by climate change, not just people fearing their lives.
MR. DEAN: That's true.
MS. BRAZILE: This is a big issue, and the Democrats will have to address it because, as you know, some other people don't think it's real.
MR. DEAN: And may I introduce you to the 26th candidate for the presidency of the United States.
MS. BRAZILE: No.
MR. COSTA: I feel like Donna is about to jump in the 2020 race.
MR. DEAN: Yes, yes.
MS. BRAZILE: I'm turning 60 at the end of the year.
MR. COSTA: A [unclear 00:28:54] revival.
MS. BRAZILE: At the end of the year. I'm enjoying my best life. I'm like Oprah now, my best life.
MR. COSTA: Donna Brazile, Governor Dean, thanks so much for joining us here today. I know we really appreciate it here at The Washington Post.
MS. BRAZILE: Can't you tell who is the activist and who is the governor?
MR. DEAN: Wait a minute. Wait a minute here.
MR. DEAN: I started out as an activist. Wait a minute here.
MS. BRAZILE: This is my brother, you all. He's my brother. I love him.
MR. COSTA: Give a round of applause to the two former chairs.
MS. BRAZILE: Thank you. Thank you.
MR. COSTA: And just FYI, we’re going to have more conversations for Post Live in July. Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Cory Booker will be here on this stage in July, so go to WashingtonPostLive.com to keep tabs on when those events are happening. And we appreciate you joining us for the conversation with the congressmen and with the two former chairs of the Democratic National Committee.
I'm Bob Costa. Thanks very much.
MS. BRAZILE: Thank you, Bob.
MR. DEAN: Thank you.
MS. BRAZILE: Thank you, sir. Thank you.
MR. COSTA: Thank you. Appreciate it.
MR. DEAN: Put a little spice on that one.
[End of recorded session]