Kelli Ward: We need new GOP leadership

This is a rush transcript from "The Story," October 24, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MARTHA MACCALLUM, HOST: Breaking tonight, make no mistake, the political earthquake that began on November 8 of last year is still sending aftershocks. Today, the latest with this one from Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE, R-ARIZ.: It must also be said that I arrive today with no small measure of regret. Regret because of the state of our disunion. Regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics. Regret because of the indecency of our discourse. Regret because of the coarseness of our leadership.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACCALLUM: This echoes the words and the decision, really, of Senator Bob Corker, who has also taken himself out of the running for his next race, and a primary win by Judge Roy Moore in Alabama over Senator Luther Strange. And you see what could be the continuing cracks in the GOP establishment as we know it. That really began when Mr. Trump vanquished so many of them from a debate stage and continues with his banished strategist supporting candidates on the outside.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: This is not my war, this is our war.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BANNON: And you all didn't start it, the establishment started it. But I will tell you one thing: you all are going to finish it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACCALLUM: So, we will speak with one of those who would like to finish it, in Steve Bannon's words, he's the supporter of Doctor Kelli Ward who is standing by -- she's campaigning for Jeff Flake's now open seat in the U.S. Senate. We'll take to her in a moment. But first, we go to Fox News' Peter Doocy, live on Capitol Hill outside of Jeff Flake's office. The senator making some very big news today, Peter.

PETER DOOCY, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Martha, I caught up with Senator Flake after than very dramatic retirement announcement on the Senate floor, and he explained that he didn't think he would be able to win his Republican primary next year -- running the same kind of Republican race that he's won in the past.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FLAKE: I think that this spell or fever that we're in right now that is more about your tone than your policies --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOOCY: I've spoken to a source close to Steve Bannon, the president former chief strategist, who is engineering a national effort to remove Republicans from office who he doesn't think are doing enough to help advance the president's agenda. And the source says Bannon is fired up that Flake is quitting while adding: "with the surrender of America's number one never-Trumper Jeff Flake it's clear Mitch McConnell's vision for the Republican is an abject failure." But conservatives are not the only ones cheering today. Look at Chuck Schumer's smile in this next clip and you'll see the Democrats see an opening in the southwest, too.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can Democrats win Arizona, sir?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER: We will see.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOOCY: After announcing, he'd be leaving in 2019, Flake did say he'd worked with the president on things like judicial nominees and DACA, but the president's spokesperson did not like the tone Flake used to announce his exit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I thought that his attacks and a lot of the comments that he made -- I don't have a readout in front of me, but as I was watching it, I noticed that a lot of the language I didn't think was befitting at the Senate floor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOOCY: Sanders also, at one point, referred to Flake's remarks as petty. In his criticism of the president, I asked what Flake what he thought of the White House's review and he said that he invites anybody out there to watch or read his speech and then make up their own minds. Martha.

MACCALLUM: Peter Doocy, on the Hill. Thank you very much, Peter. Here with more: Bill Bennett, host of "The Bill Bennet" podcast and a Fox News contributor and a friend of "The Story." Good to see you tonight, Bill. I'm very curious -- what your reaction is to all of this.

BILL BENNET, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, there's a lot of historical planes. We've had a history of members of Congress and presidents arguing and not so long ago -- Republicans criticizing Nixon. Read Joe Lieberman's speech, a full-bore Democrat then attacking and criticizing Bill Clinton, just demolishing him for his behavior, and this goes way back in American history, so it's not groundbreaking.

I like Jeff Flake, I like Bob Corker, I think they're good men, but I don't find what they're saying persuasive or convincing. If you say, as Jeff Flake you have him quoted there saying "coarseness and decency," you know, "terrible disunity in the country." Therefore, I'm going to quit. It just doesn't add up. So, he and Corker are quitting, which is a victory for Donald Trump.

And now we'll see, we'll see what the challenges are as you rightly said. We'll see what happens with the Bannon candidates and others. I just hope we're selective. I just hope we don't throw out everybody. There were some very, very good Republican Senators. And I hope the challenges that are pushed and supported are people who can win.

MACCALLUM: Do you think Kelli Ward lives in that category? We're going to talk with her in a moment, Bill. Do you think Kelli Ward could win in Arizona?

BENNETT: We will find out. I've never heard her, but I've heard some very good things about her, but I will be listening intently after I'm done yapping. But one of the thing about Corker and Flake, Martha, is I never heard these guys talk about Barack Obama like this. I never -- when he was taking this country down the tubes economically, taking all of America, black America, white America down the tubes, I didn't hear this kind of criticism. So, I think a lot of this is very personal and it does go back, as you said in the lead, you're right, this is November 8th, this is the election: people are still fighting this election.

MACCALLUM: Yes. You know, so much of it. And Jeff Flake said this when Peter Doocy caught him in the hall, seems to be about tone. And we all know that the president --

BENNETT: Yes, tone.

MACCALLUM: -- speaks in a way, and, you know, tweets in a way. He said, you know, Bob Corker couldn't be elected dog catcher in Tennessee. And you know, he doesn't hesitate, and he is coarse sometimes in the way that he talks about things.

BENNET: Yes.

MACCALLUM: But it seems that the American people -- and there's an interesting poll that shows that people are not considering themselves, you know, I'm sort of a liberal and I'm sort of a conservative; I'm kind of in the middle, you know, I sort of split it. They see themselves very clearly in one camp or the other today, and I wonder where that leaves the Jeff Flakes and the Bob Corkers of the world. I guess, in some ways, we're finding out.

BENNET: Yes, well, it leaves them out. I mean, they're thinking themselves out. But think of the middle ground, you know, it's not a bar fight, it's not the kitchen table. Your friends -- our friends at "Fox and Friends" go to those diners and they talk to people there. Donald Trump talks like people talk when they're having breakfast in a diner, maybe sometimes talk, some people talk after having a beer somewhere else. But it's direct talk, it's straight talk. And the tone, what? He says Bob Corker couldn't, you know, run and win as dog catcher. Come on, the Republicans survived this, I guarantee you we can survive this. This is a country that's faced greater challenges.

MACCALLUM: Yes.

BENNET: Tone -- you know, the tone is nice, tone matters, but it doesn't matter as much a substance. And we're getting some things done. The defeat of ISIS, really, the wrecking of ISIS, the wrecking of the caliphate, 65 percent down with the border, the economy is moving; let's focus on that.

MACCALLUM: One of the things we're going to focus on tomorrow is opioids, which is a subject that is near and dear to your heart, and to your work in your life's work as well. What is your message for the folks who are going to head into that hearing tomorrow, and for the president in terms of what really needs to be done?

BENNETT: Do what works. It happened in the late '80s and early '90s. We did it right in this country -- by we, I mean the American people. The federal government did the right thing; advertisers did the right thing; school teachers and principals did the right thing. We got the messaging right. You've to get after China and Mexico for the importation of this Fentanyl and Heroin. You've to get the drug dealers off the street. It does make a difference, the supply. If you've got more of this stuff coming and it's cheaper, and more people get addicted. So, that's step one.

Step two: the prevention -- and that's a big part of the message. Advertising, the president has to leave with the bully pulpit, and the advertisers have to step in. Messages in schools; grade school curriculum -- and my wife has presented and other folks have worked on. All of this is important. But the president's leadership is critical, I gave them my recommendations, but others are giving theirs, we'll see with the president does. Glad he's taking it up.

MACCALLUM: Yes, I know you're doing that at the White House earlier, so thank you. And thanks for being with us, Bill, as always. Good to see you.

BENNETT: You bet.

MACCALLUM: Thank you. So, Senator Flake's decision not to seek reelection is very good news for the aforementioned Dr. Kelli Ward. The Arizona state senator has been running to unseat him in 2018, so she welcomed the news today by tweeting: "Arizona voters at the big winner in Jeff Flake's decision not to seek reelection. They deserve a strong conservative in the Senate who supports the president and the America first agenda. Our campaign offers an opportunistic path forward for Arizona and for America."

Dr. Kelli Ward, welcome, good to see you tonight. Joining us in an exclusive interview on "The Story." So, that's your reaction, I guess, what happened today, you must be pretty fired up.

KELLI WARD, ARIZONA SENATE CANDIDATE: Thanks for having me, Martha. Yes, we are, because we do need a positive way forward. We need new leadership, new GOP leadership in Washington, D.C., and I look forward to being a part of that class of 2019 who was putting the America first agenda out in the forefront. And the policy that we create to secure the border, to stop illegal immigration, to get rid of Obamacare, to fix the tax code, to grow the economy, and to make sure our military is the strongest in the world so that we have peace through strength.

MACCALLUM: You know, in terms of Arizona. So, now, you know, Jeff Flake has taken himself out of the running. The president won Arizona by 3.6 percent in the presidential race. Mitt Romney took it by nine percent, back when ran. So, you know, one of the questions is: is somebody going to sort of come into the middle of you and present a threat to your hopes for election?

WARD: You know, I really don't think so. We have got an amazing professional team. We've gotten grassroots support like you wouldn't believe across the entire state. We've had fund-raising that's been out of this world. We have everything in place to be able to get the Arizona voters what they are crying out for: a strong conservative leader in the United States Senate.

MACCALLUM: What you say to those who put you in the category with the Sharon Engel or Todd Aiken and go back to the contrail Kelli name, which I know you have shut down and say that you do not believe in, you know, any of those conspiracy theories, but you do get grouped into that group as a risky candidate for the GOP.

WARD: You know, it's a common tactic for the establishment left and right to go after, especially conservative women. But when you look at what have to offer. You know, I'm a military wife, I'm the mom of three awesome kids, I'm a family physician, I'm a former Arizona state senator who was very, very effective at putting forth a great policy that was good for the state of Arizona. Those things, you know, blow their ridiculous argument out of the water.

MACCALLUM: Dr. Kelli Ward. So, you haven't done much lately, have you? Glad to see you. A busy woman. Thank you very much. Great to have you here tonight.

WARD: Thanks, Martha.

MACCALLUM: You bet. All right. So, still to come tonight...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I would say it's the same baloney they've been paddling for years, and there has been no credible evidence by anyone. In fact, it's been debunked repeatedly and will continue to be debunked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACCALLUM: So, will Hillary Clinton have to eat some of those words as several congressional committees are now launching investigations into her role in the Uranium One deal? They want to know more despite the fact that she says it's baloney and it's in the past. We're going to talk to two of the biggest names behind those probes: Congressman Trey Gowdy and Senator Chuck Grassley, both join me next.

Plus, President Trump goes to the Hill for lunch with some senators after a tweet storm over breakfast. He wants to get tax reform done. Tony Sayegh from Treasury will join me with what he thinks -- about how things went today for that big lunch.

Also, there's going to be lots of little Moanas out there this Halloween. But one of the nation's oldest women's magazine says to be careful, wearing it could be deemed racially insensitive. Stick around for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MACCALLUM: Breaking tonight, as the Russia probe becoming a problem now for Democrats. Investigations have a way of migrating and the Clintons know that well from prior experience. Today, two brand-new investigations were launched on the Hill as new information has come to light that raises questions about Russian influence during the Obama administration with this Uranium One sale, and also the FBI and Hillary Clinton's emails. Tonight, two of the top lawmakers behind these investigations join us on "The Story." We'll be hearing from Senator Chuck Grassley in just a moment.

But we begin with House Oversight Committee Chairman, South Carolina Congressman, Trey Gowdy. Congressman, good evening, great to have you here as always.

REP. TREY GOWDY, R-S.C.: Yes, ma'am. Thank you.

MACCALLUM: So, let me start with the FBI and the email investigation; what is new there that causes a new look at this?

GOWDY: I think the most recent new thing is the allegation that Director Comey or the bureau may have made up their mind in May of 2016, whereas they announced their decision in July, so they interviewed two dozen witnesses after they had already made up their minds. That's the allegation. But, Martha, it's more than that, there were Democrats who were really unhappy with the Department of Justice last fall; there are Republicans that were unhappy earlier in the year, and that's the one entity that everyone has to have confidence in.

Even if you disagree with the decisions that are reached, you have to understand those decisions and you have to have confidence that they were apolitical. So, Chairman (INAUDIBLE) and I came up with really six questions that we think are pretty evenly divided in terms of what Democrats want to know and what Republicans. And the Department of Justice is not above scrutiny, and they're not above review. I've great respect for them, but they are not above scrutiny. In 2016, in my opinion, left a lot of unanswered questions for the department.

MACCALLUM: Yes. And one of those is why they Hillary Clinton investigation was discussed and the Trump investigation in terms of the possibility of Russian collusion was not discussed. But in terms of what you just mentioned, the political aspect of this, is there any evidence that Loretta Lynch made a phone call that she asked anyone before she took that meeting with Bill Clinton on the tarmac?

GOWDY: If there's evidence of that, Martha, I haven't seen it and it has not been brought to my attention, but you put your finger on exactly what you need to have investigations. You need to come up with a list of witnesses, and, of course, she's on that witness list, and then you need to access the documents. Again, you and I are having this conversation because someone sought to access documents from the Department of Justice, so you do all of that, and then you do your interviews, transcribed interviews, which is my preferred way of doing it. And whatever you learn, you share in a public forum. But you don't start with public hearings, you end with public hearings. You have to do the hard work of investigating before you get to that point.

MACCALLUM: And in terms of that, do you expect that you will have access to anyone at the FBI who may have been privy to the writing of the Jim Comey draft when he started to put that together two months before reaching his conclusion about Hillary Clinton?

GOWDEY: Well, that's a really good question, and that will be up to the Department of Justice. And so far, in some instances, we have gotten no better cooperation from the current Department of Justice than we did, their predecessors. So, that remains to be seen, whether or not the Department of Justice is cooperative, I would remind them of this: Congress created them; Congress funds them and no entity is above oversight. I get oversight done on me every two years for sure and more often -- more frequently than that. The Department of Justice is not above having to explain the decisions they reached or do not reach. And it doesn't have to be adversarial, but so far, it's been really difficult to get information from this Department of Justice and I would recommend that they change that posture.

MACCALLUM: That's interesting. Here's Hillary Clinton, and her reaction to the reopening of these two investigations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I would say it's the same baloney they've been peddling for years, and there has been no credible evidence by anyone. In fact, it's been debunked repeatedly and will continue to be debunked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACCALLUM: She and others -- other Democrats on the Hill, Representative Cummings, and Representative Connors excuse me, are both suggesting that this is just hays being thrown at the Russia investigation in an effort to distract from the Trump investigation.

GOWDY: Well, I would tell Secretary Clinton, and Mr. Connors, and Mr. Cummings, Republicans don't get to write the headlines. We don't get to decide what the media covers and what they don't cover. God knows they've been covering Russia since January. I spent all day in a skiff, interviewing witnesses related to the Russia investigation. So, I don't know where Mr. Connors or Mr. Cumming or Secretary Clinton were today, but I know where I was, which is investigating allegations of collusion. So, I'm at peace with what I'm doing, but Congress is actually capable of doing more than one investigation at a time, and there was a time when Democrats did not think Jim Comey was the second coming of Christ. Remember last fall, Harry Reid wanted him prosecuted for a hatchet violation.

MACCALLUM: I sure do. Yes -- I've got to go, but before I go, have you found any evidence of collusion on the Trump-Russia collusion investigation?

GOWDY: Well, I will be really careful not to do what I think the Department of Justice did, which is draw a conclusion before the end of the investigation. It still ongoing to date. There has not been a single witness who has provided a single piece of evidence supporting collusion, coordination or conspiracy, but we are not through with the investigation.

MACCALLUM: Well, that opens up a lot of question about the dossier, which we will stay for another day.

GOWDY: Yes, ma'am.

MACCALLUM: And another interesting conversation with you as always. Congressman Trey Gowdy, thank you so much, sir, good to see you.

GOWDY: Yes, ma'am. Thank you.

MACCALLUM: So, my next guest has been calling on the Justice Department to lift the gag order on the FBI informant who could provide key information about the Russians. Today, we learned the DOJ has met to work out how and when the informant's testimony could happen. Late this afternoon, I spoke to Iowa Senator, Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, R-IOWA: I have to tell you that you just gave me some information that I have not had answers to my letters, to my knowledge; my staff might know about it. When you said that the Justice Department is trying to work with us to get this person to be able to testify before Congress, I would say that if it gets worked out so he can testify without any problems for him, we will take him up on that whenever that can be worked out because he's very key.

MACCALLUM: And what exactly do you want to know from him, what would you ask him?

GRASSLEY: Well, I think in your opening comments you mentioned things about money-laundering, about fraud, about bribery and those things playing a role in the Uranium One business dealings between the United States and Russia, and we want to know what those arrangements were; what he knows that the public at large doesn't know; and why he had this nondisclosure agreement in the first place? Is the FBI trying to not let the public know exactly what went on in that investigation? Maybe why they had some plea agreements that maybe weren't as strong as they should have been. And what efforts that went on in the business dealings that they want to keep from the public. Because our job in the Senate is to make sure that these laws are faithfully executed under the constitutional provision of oversight.

MACCALLUM: All right. So, you know, obviously, Eric Holder and Hillary Clinton were both on the committee that allowed this sale to go forward. Eric Holder -- excuse me, at the time was the head of Justice Department, who obviously knew about an FBI investigation that was going on. So, how can it be that the committee that approved this sale of 20 percent of the U.S. Uranium holdings to a Russian company not know that that company was under this big investigation and all of these things were being uncovered?

GRASSLEY: Let me explain to your listeners that the committee you're talking about is a committee within the Treasury Department that is the focus on whether national security is being violated in any way with these sorts of agreements. So, we have two questions: one, was the committee informed of possible information about money-laundering in the bribery sort of approach? And secondly, if they weren't informed, why didn't the Justice Department to inform them?

MACCALLUM: It's a great question. Jeff Flake today announced that he will not run for reelection. It's getting a lot of attention and he said some very strong things against the president, what's your response to that, Senator Grassley?

GRASSLEY: I think my response, basically, is that he's a very good senator, I wish people like him would stay in the United States Senate. I believe that he would be in a better position to fight the problems that he brings up being within the Congress than being outside of the Congress.

MACCALLUM: Senator Grassley, thank you very much. Always good to see you, sir. Thanks for being on "The Story."

GRASSLEY: You bet. God bless you.

MACCALLUM: Coming up next...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-K.Y., SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: If there's anything all Republicans think are important to the country and to our party, its comprehensive tax reform.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACCALLUM: President Trump was on Capitol Hill today for lunch. Bob Corker was there as well. So, what happened in that room, and will they all be on board for what he's calling generational tax reform? The Treasury Department's Tony Sayegh, here live with the White House reaction.

Plus, breaking news in the deadly ambush of four U.S. soldiers in Niger. We now know tonight what their mission was; we will tell you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEF OF STAFF: I believe that ISIS will attempt to establish a physical presence outside of Iraq and Syria. That's exactly where we're conducting the kind of operations we're conducting in Niger is to ensure that local forces have the capability to prevent that from happening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MACCALLUM: So President Trump was on Capitol Hill today. He had lunch with the Republican senators. He's trying to get the votes put together for tax reform, and he very much wants that done by the end of the year. So how did he do in that mission? Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. JOHN KELLY, R-LA.: The president touched on an assortment of subjects, everything from tax reform, to health care, to trade, to disaster relief. It was a very professional meeting.

(INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And if you don't get tax reform done can you talk about what's going to happen in 2018?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: Oh, I think we all know we're dead.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MACCALLUM: Lindsey Graham there. And the president tweeted just a little while ago, so nice being with the Republican senators today, multiple standing ovations, most are great people who want big tax cuts and success for U.S.

Tony Sayegh, assistant secretary for public affairs at the Treasury Department. Tony, good to see you tonight.

TONY SAYEGH, TREASURY DEPARTMENT ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Martha, great to be with you.

MACCALLUM: Obviously, a very busy day and a lot going on. What was the White House reaction to how things went on the hill today, especially after all the tensions with Bob Corker and the Jeff Flake speech today?

SAYEGH: We feel it's been very productive, and not just today, Martha. We've had weeks of progress and momentum building on tax reform and, frankly, it started when senators like Bob Corker voted in the senate budget committee for a budget that made it clear that we were going to get what we needed through the reconciliation instructions as a vehicle to pass tax reform. The full house passed it, the senate passed, and now the house is going to pass again, hopefully on Thursday or this week. The budget that's going to take us to being able to vote on tax reform. So we feel that the president has been working very well and very closely with leadership, with other members, and we're going to get this done and get it done this year because the middle class and workers and our businesses need tax reform immediately. And that's something the entire party represents.

MACCALLUM: The markets took off like a rocket again today. And it clearly has liked the suggestion that big tax reform, meaningful tax reform is coming, and they're definitely counting on it in the U.S. markets. You know, it's interesting, as you just pointed out, Bob Corker voted in favor of the budget. Senator Flake and Senator Corker have voted with the president I think 92 percent of the time. So how did these relationships where they're voting and they're supporting with the president wants to pass and they want to pass obviously, how do these relationships get so bad?

SAYEGH: Well, look, these are questions you're going to have to ask the senators. We look at, for example, a state like Tennessee, Bob Corker state, where during the eight years of President Obama's term unemployment averaged 7.6 percent. During this first year of President Trump's term, Tennessee unemployment is around 3 percent. His economic policies are great for both Arizona, Tennessee. I think these senators know that. And I think they know it good for the country. And it's very important to remember that whatever personally they might feel or might say the party has been unified by this president around tax reform. And that's why we're at a position now, Martha, despite a lot of skepticism throughout the year, that we're going to get it done and we might even get some bipartisan support on this.

MACCALLUM: There's a suggestion that the senators would like the president to give them some distance, that he wants them to stay -- they want him to stay out of the process in terms of, you know, whether or not the 401(k) requirement or tax reinvestments in your 401(k), how much that's going to be. They want him to stay out of that conversation until they've sort of got it together, and then they can go out with a united front.

SAYEGH: Well, look, I think there's always going to be a part of the legislative process that members of the house and members of the senate are going to want to protect, you know, for themselves to work on. I think they all know, and it's been made very clear that it's really been the president's leadership that is going to be able to take us over the finish line on tax reform. I think that something that almost unanimously is understood. And we have been working again extraordinarily well together from when this process began back in April with Secretary Mnuchin, with Director Cohn from the White House here, working with the congressional leadership on the framework that we released. And now the members are all working on it as well through regular order. And we feel very well- positioned, Martha, to get tax reform done.

MACCALLUM: You know, it seems like -- the president, obviously, isn't afraid to let the American people know where he stands. Again, today, he was pushing apparently in that meeting for a 15 percent corporate tax rate. I think we all know that's what he would like to see. But because he -- you know, there's the art of the deal, and the negotiation he puts out that marker, and I think even if he falls short of it in the end, a little bit short of it in the end, he considers that a win. But he doesn't seem to mind letting people know where he stands on the top tax bracket, or the 401(k) issues, or the 15 percent, right?

SAYEGH: You're right. Look, the president is extraordinarily engage in this process. And here's what he wants, he wants to make sure tax reform delivers a major middle-class tax cuts. He wants to make sure that the code is simplified and that we get rid of special interest loopholes and deductions, and he wants to make sure that we give our businesses the most competitive rates in the world so we can have a tax system that actually incentivizes the growth of American jobs and American wages that helps American workers in our economy.

MACCALLUM: Well, 15 more work days on Capitol Hill until Thanksgiving. The rest of us have quite a few more than that, but, you know, that's the way it goes. Tony, thank you, good to see you tonight.

SAYEGH: Thanks, Martha.

MACCALLUM: So still ahead, Catholics at the nation's oldest Catholic university could be labeled a hate group, the unbelievable back story on this coming up. And as we're learning new details about our soldiers and what specifically, who they were looking for, what the mission was that they were on, details about that are coming out this evening, and some senators have said that they should have been told that our troops were there in the first place. But chairman of the house armed services committee Mac Thornberry has a message for those colleagues next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE BLACK, GOLD STAR WIDOW: I'm very grateful that he called and he spoke to the kids, and I think just the excitement from that made it a little better, even if it was just for a minute. So, yeah, he was very gracious. And I appreciate anyone who calls, because like I said, that takes quite a bit of bravery to call into that kind of situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACCALLUM: That was Gold Star widow Michelle Black. Her husband, whose picture you have seen quite a bit over the last week, was army staff sergeant Bryan Black. He was one of the four U.S. soldiers who was killed earlier this month in Niger. He was one of the Green Berets.

Tonight, we are learning that their unit was pursuing a terrorist believed to be an ISIS recruiter. In the wake of that ambush, some key members of Congress have said that they had no idea that we had as many as 1,000 troops in Niger. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS, "MEET THE PRESS"/NBC)

GRAHAM: I didn't know there was a thousand troops in Niger.

CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR: You heard Senator Graham there, he didn't know we had a thousand troops in Niger, did you?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: No, I did not.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MACCALLUM: My next guest says that he believes that that could not be true. Here now is Texas Congressman Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Good to have you with us this evening, congressman. Why not, why is that not true?

REP. MAC THORNBERRY, R-TEXAS: Well, I think specific numbers may well be true because we increase and decrease the number of troops in any particular location depending on the need, but it has been public and widely acknowledged that we have had troops in Niger, as well as some of the other countries for some time. As a matter of fact, I myself was there four years ago visiting our troops and seeing firsthand what they were doing to help the local military improve their capability so they can deal with their terrorist problem on their own without us having to come and do it.

MACCALLUM: You know, it is surprising, especially given the information that there have been a lot of people on the hill, yourself included, who have been concerned about the reports that there's not enough support for Africa, that we have soldiers doing missions in many areas of Africa, and that they're not getting the resources and the support that they need. So I don't know how Senator Schumer and, certainly, Senator Graham, who was obviously very well-versed in these things, wouldn't be up on that, right?

THORNBERRY: Yeah. Well, I think there's two different things, one is it has been difficult to get the details of this particular incident, and partly that's because the Pentagon is still putting them together. But it's a separate question to say whether we have troops there or not. That has been public information. I think, Martha, you really hit on the key point that we ought to be looking at, and that is -- is our military stretched too thin? Do we give appropriate support, including intelligence assets, to our folks who are out there on the front lines protecting us here at home? And unfortunately, we've cut the military budget of about 20 percent over the last seven years. So whether you're just talking about destroyers in the Pacific, or these folks pursuing terrorists in Africa, or a variety of other things, we are really stretched too thin.

MACCALLUM: I know, you know, according to the reports, that's one of the things that President Trump talked about at the meeting on the hill today with the GOP senators, the funding for our ISIS missions really in so many parts and Islamic radical extremist missions all over the world. So we're starting to get a little bit more information about this. You know, some of this may change, obviously, as we get more. I know you're going to have a closed door hearing that the senators will have, and the congressman will have as well on this topic. But that they were in search of ISIS recruiter and that possibly the ambush was a set up that perhaps the villagers that they were meeting with may have tipped off these terrorists?

THORNBERRY: Well, as General Dunford said yesterday, these folks were out with their local counterparts on a reconnaissance mission, but we do not know for sure is whether that mission may have changed while they were in the process of carrying it out. And that's one of the fundamental questions that will have to be answered. There's no doubt that there are terrorist groups in this area and they move across borders, and it is because the distances are so vast, it is a big challenge for the local militaries, even without advice and assistance, to find these terrorists and to stop them. So there are a variety of missions, they change all the time. It's a very fluid situation, but that's even more reason to have the adequate support, whether it's airplanes, drones, or whatever it is to back them up.

MACCALLUM: Yeah. Which is why we need to know what happened here and we know that you're going to begin that journey as you will meet on Thursday to try and get some more information. Congressman Thornberry, good to see as always, thank you, sir.

THORNBERRY: Thank you.

MACCALLUM: So coming up next, on a much lighter note, there will be probably a lot of little girls dressed up as Moana this Halloween. She's very popular. But one of the nation's oldest women's magazines said you really should be careful because if you wear this costume, girls, it could be deemed racially insensitive. Dana Loesch and Michael Starr Hopkins, who is a costume expert, join us to debate that, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MACCALLUM: Developing tonight, Catholics may be considered a hate group at Georgetown University, which ironically is the nation's oldest Catholic university. A group called Love Saxa, a group that advocates that marriage is between a man and woman is now under fire from LGBT groups on campus. The students filed a complaint saying that the group's definition of marriage violates the university standards by promoting hate or intolerance. That complaint could strip Love Saxa of all funding and ban it from using campus facilities. Joining me now is Dana Loesch, host of Dana on the Blaze TV, and Michael Starr Hopkins, Democratic strategist who worked for both the Obama and Hillary Clinton campaign. So this up first, it is just astonishing to me that a Catholic university could ban an organization that promotes basically the values that the university is founded on and has to ascribe to as a Catholic Jesuit university, Dana.

DANA LOESCH, HOST OF "DANA" ON THE BLAZE TV: No, I agree with you, Martha. It seems weird to me, and I can't stand this tactic of defining that with which we disagree as hate. Just because you disagree with it doesn't make it hateful. Just because it isn't your belief, that doesn't make it hateful either. You know, it seems pretty close-minded to refuse the same courtesy of equal existence on a college campus to groups with whom you disagree.

MACCALLUM: Yeah. They wrote an editorial, Love Saxa, they say their definition of marriage does not include same-sex couples, and we believe that marriage is a conjugal unit on every level, emotional, spiritual, physical, mental, directed towards the carrying of biological children. To us, marriage is more than commitment of love between two consenting adults. So Michael, they're saying to us, you know, in our organization, and what we write about and what we talk about, this is what we believe, so why -- how does that seem as hate or intolerance?

MICHAEL STARR HOPKINS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: So the student conduct policy at Georgetown says that it's an inclusive student conduct policy.

MACCALLUM: Right.

HOPKINS: And so the chartering document of this organization says that they believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

MACCALLUM: But that's what they believe.

HOPKINS: Which is fair enough. Anything outside of that is something that damaging to the United States.

MACCALLUM: That's the part that doesn't make any sense.

HOPKINS: Fair enough. So, what Georgetown says was this is a student organization. The student body has the right to restrict funding. The group itself is allowed to be on campus, it's a student group, but it may not be able to receive student funds.

MACCALLUM: But Georgetown is a Catholic university, it's not a public university. So if Georgetown won't allow a Catholic group -- this girl also wrote an op-ed called confessions of a college virgin, talking about, you know, what she sees as the value of abstinence. These are basic Catholic values, not everyone agrees with them, not even all Catholics agree with them, but, Dana, I think if Georgetown can't back this group, I don't know how they can be a Catholic university?

LOESCH: Well, and I think we've seen that with a number of Catholic universities, where there is other student groups and just the colleges themselves have been under attack from secular groups. Look, it's a Christian group that has Christian principles. Shocking. I mean, it's the oldest Catholic university in the United States, one of, if not the. So it's not a big surprised to think that there's going to be a student group on campus that perhaps share the same values with which the university was at least founded. Christian groups are allowed to exist and have their own beliefs, it's OK.

MACCALLUM: And I would imagine that they do not want to dismantle the LGBT group, they just want to coexist and have different beliefs.

LOESCH: Exactly.

MACCALLUM: All right. Speaking of that on a more serious note, Moana.

(LAUGHTER)

MACCALLUM: You know, she's so cute. I'm so glad we got to play two clips from Moana. We never get to do that in the show. But -- you know, so apparently, Redbook have said that they don't think that little girls who not of color should be wearing this costume because it might be seen as disrespectful or even racist to people of color when they see that little girl wearing the costume. Michael, I will start with you.

HOPKINS: Yeah. I mean, it's ridiculous. I think we should be celebrating the fact that Disney is diversifying their characters, that children are growing up seeing heroes of all different colors. And so, you know, as long as people aren't mocking, you know, people of different races we should be celebrating all of this, a hundred percent.

MACCALLUM: Dana?

LOESCH: Yeah. I agree with Michael. Disney was told to diversify your princess lineup, they did, and so now social justice warriors are saying that girls of America, half of the princesses are off limits to you. Girls of color can be Elsa, white girls can be Moana. I think it's great. I think it's a good thing to have someone of different ethnicities be a hero to your daughters. I mean, who is against that in their right mind? It's insane.

HOPKINS: Yeah. I think this writer is going -- his mentions are just going to be.

(LAUGHTER) LOESCH: They should be. It's crazy. I feel like I want to dress as Moana.

HOPKINS: I may have to do it.

(CROSSTALK)

MACCALLUM: You can both be Moana for Halloween. It's so great. Thank you so much, you guys. Great to see you both. Quick break. We'll be right back with more of "The Story" tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MACCALLUM: So tomorrow night as we often do, "The Story" goes to Washington, D.C., the House committee is taking on the nation's opioid crisis in hearings and the president is expected to announce an executive order on the epidemic. It is a very important story and we have a great panel of three people who've been deeply impacted by this crisis who will join us. So that is our story for tonight. We would love to hear yours, tweet me @marthamaccallum, using the #thestory. Tucker Carlson is up next.


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