Trump administration faces Asian policy challenges

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," December 26, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


TOM BOSSERT, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: North Korea has done everything wrong as an actor on the global stage that a country can do, and President Trump has used just about every lever you can use short of starving the people of North Korean people to death to change their behavior. So we don't have a lot of room left here to apply pressure to change their behavior.

SEN. BEN CARDIN, D-MD.: Now it needs to be followed up with diplomacy where we get China and the United States working with the same strategy with North Korea to find a way that we can ease the tension and get North Korea to change direction.


MIKE EMANUEL, GUEST HOST: On that note, let's bring in our panel, Tom Rogan, commentary writer for The Washington Examiner, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor at Real Clear Politics and host of No Labels Radio on Sirius XM, and Michael Needham is the chief executive officer at Heritage Action for America. Welcome. Hope you guys all had a very merry Christmas. So Mike, thoughts on where we are with North Korea after hearing a sampling of that sound right there.

MICHAEL NEEDHAM, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER AT HERITAGE ACTION FOR AMERICA: We have known all year, we've known for a long time there's not a lot of good options. I think it's a little bit misleading to say there's no more options for the United States to play economically. Actually the real economic options that we've had with North Korea always involves secondary sections. That means going after other entities that are doing business with North Koreans. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce has given the administration a list of 12 Chinese banks that we should be putting secondary sanctions on.

I think if you really want to put true economic pressure on the North Koreans, the type that we had on Iran for a long time, we have to look at those secondary sanctions. We're going to have to look at Chinese banks, especially those 12 that Chairman Royce has put forward.

EMANUEL: On some new sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin saying, quote, "Treasury is targeting leaders of North Korea's ballistic missiles program as part of our maximum pressure campaign to isolate the DPRK and achieve a fully denuclearized Korean peninsula." A.B., your thoughts on this latest step from the Trump administration?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: The Trump administration deserves credit for getting the Chinese to do more with regards to North Korea than its predecessors. One of the things it did was convince the Chinese government to stop all transactions through their central bank with the regime.

A lot of the things that we've seen look really effective and could be consequential but we don't know how enforceable they are. So today the treasury secretary said this is part of a goal for a denuclearized peninsula. That's not the Chinese's goal. That's not China's intention. They help us a little but they still hold the most influence. So we are in a situation where they can take what looked like dramatic steps, and many of them can be effective, but at the end there are ways for the North Koreans to proceed with getting their hands on energy, proceeding with a nuclear program with not only the Chinese but other countries which we can't prevent and we can't enforce.

EMANUEL: It can also be tricky trying to figure out the intentions of the North Korean regime. Here's the White House on that idea.


BOSSERT: How they operate is often a little mysterious. If we knew better with perfect knowledge, we would be able to address the North Korean problem with more clarity. And part of the larger strategy of increased pressure on the North Koreans is to get them to change that behavior.


EMANUEL: Tom, changing the behavior?

TOM ROGAN, COLUMNIST, NATIONAL REVIEW: I think Bossert and Senator Cardin, Maryland Democrat, are both wrong on this, because as Michael suggests, we have not pushed the Chinese. This will not change until you pushed the Chinese, because the Chinese expectation, as Senator Cardin obviously doesn't seem to get. I don't know what he's doing on the Foreign Relations Committee because this is quite basic. The Chinese want the United States in a position of relative weakness and discomfort in the region.

North Korea at the moment is not such a big deal for them, because -- what's the harm if there's a war and refugees come across the border? The Chinese as we've seen in Tiananmen and going forward, Hong Kong, have a terrible disposition in terms of concern about those issues. So for the United States, yes, I think we have to do the banking sanctions. Frankly, I think we also have to do the kind of thing we slightly have done on counterterrorism, which is to bring down bank services that act as cut outs, mess around with the covert action side.

And finally on the Chinese factor as well, the Trump administration needs to double down in terms of force presence in the South Chinese and East China seas, get in the Chinese neighborhood and say, listen, in the end, we may not be able to resolve this, you may not be able to play ball with us, but by goodness you are going to be paying a consequence, a price tag as well as us.

EMANUEL: There is also concern about this economic surge perhaps coming in Asia and whether the Chinese will ultimately have the biggest economy in the world. What about that, Tom?

ROGAN: I think part of this is India is the critical node here. And the Indian government is deeply concerned about the pressure there. Prime Minister Modi obviously pro-American, pro-business reform, the world's most populous democracy. The Trump administration should get right alongside it and Trump should go to New Delhi, quite frankly, and say this is our anchor point.

What Trump should also be doing, I think, and my accent aside, is going on twitter and saying Prime Minister David Cameron, the British government, close American allies who are dealing with Chinese financial entities, the Asia Investment and Infrastructure Bank which former prime minister David Cameron just joined, they should not be doing that. that's bad ally-ship.

EMANUEL: Of course we've heard the president talk a lot this year about China. Let's take a listen to this.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My administration is committed to improving our trade and business relationships with China. Both United States and China will have a more prosperous future if we can achieve a level economic playing field. Right now, unfortunately, it is a very one-sided and unfair one.


EMANUEL: So A.B., the president, a former businessman, has his concerns about the Chinese economy going forward and their business practices.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Going back decades. One of the strongest themes of his economic message in this campaign was going after the Chinese. He has not followed through on those threats like the steel tariffs and things he's talked about it because he's in a weakened position because of North Korea. So while they should have confronted the Chines in the South China Seas, they let it go. A whole year has gone by where development continues apace. They obviously have benefited on the global stage economically as a leader, a global economic leader because of our withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership. So while the president talks a lot about this reciprocity and the balance that we need to counter a rising China because of our dependence on them and the situation with North Korea, he hasn't followed through on his threats.

EMANUEL: Michael, looking ahead to China and the new year, are you looking for a new approach in the administration or more of the same?

NEEDHAM: The most interesting thing actually is reading the national security strategy the administration just put out and seeing the contrast between the Chinese approach, which they call their one belt, one road approach, it's a massive centrally planned Chinese plan for 68 countries from Europe all the way to the pacific, versus what the United States offers, what free enterprise offers where the administration talks about partnerships and countries coming to America, joining us in things like the Quad, which Tom mentioned, India, Australia, Japan and the United States, voluntary relationships where we all benefit. I think that's what the future is. That's what people are looking for, not a centrally governed Chinese one belt, one road approach.

EMANUEL: All right, we'll leave it there.

Up next, should the longest serving Republican senator in history retire?



BRET BAIER, HOST: Senator, are you definitively running again?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH, R-UTAH: Well, I've set that I intend to run again. I'm still chairman of the finance committee and will still be chairman once reelected. That's pretty darn important stuff. That's the most powerful committee on Capitol Hill, and I think most people would say I know what I'm doing there. So yes, I would like to do that. But we will wait and see. I will probably amount sometime after the first of the year just exactly what I'm going to do.

BAIER: Do you think Mitt Romney has a political future?

HATCH: I sure do. If I didn't run, I would love to see him run in my place.


EMANUEL: And we are back with our panel. Check out this merry Christmas from the Salt Lake Tribune editorial page to Senator Orrin Hatch, quote, "His utter lack of integrity that rises from his unquenchable thirst for power, it would be good for Utah if Hatch finally caught the great whale of -- white whale of tax reform," you know what I mean, "were to call it a career. If he doesn't, the voters should end it for him." Then Hatch took to Twitter, saying "Grateful for this great Christmas honor from the "Salt Lake Tribune." His staff says he was being sarcastic. Mike, are you surprised by this, his home state of Utah, a very conservative state?

NEEDHAM: Well, look, they make a couple points I think are worth taking. First of all, Senator Hatch deserves enormous credit for getting this tax bill through the Senate. It was an enormously dicey proposition with 52 senators. He did a great job. It's for the people of Utah to figure out what they think about somebody who runs for 42 years having said he's not going to run in the future.

There is another element of this also, though, which is that a number of times in the last year the U.S. Senate agenda, the Republican agenda in the United States Senate, has come under great doubt due to the health of the oldest United States Senate we've ever had in this country. Senator hatch is 83 years old. We have 51 senators in the United States Senate. We can't afford to be losing Republican votes.

And I think an additional thing that the people of Utah are going to have to take into account in addition to 42 years, why are we reelecting someone to come back to Washington, is having the oldest United States Senate with such a slim margin in a divided country the best way for conservatives to get a policy --

EMANUEL: And we have seen some health issues and sources I've talked to on the Hill say that Chairman Hatch wanted to be in the middle of this tax reform push, didn't want to make any announcement, didn't want to be a lame duck chairman. And so, A.B., what are you thinking about this from his home state and what Senator Hatch's next play might be?

STODDARD: I wrote about this the day after Roy Moore lost. I wrote that Mitt Romney should take on Orrin Hatch. If Orrin Hatch won't step away, he should run as an independent and challenge him. In Utah Republican circles, you wait until there's an open seat. Orrin Hatch ran against an incumbent who had serve three terms. As Senator he said it was time for him to go home because he was getting stale.

There is no argument for his eighth term. Tax reform is done. He has served there for four decades. The polling in the state are terrible for his reelection. People want him to pack it in. And the idea that President Trump and Steve Bannon are supporting other run by Orrin Hatch after promising to purge every one of every Republican establishment incumbent and bring in outsiders is the height of hypocrisy. Senator Hatch is now the swamp if he doesn't leave his seat.

EMANUEL: Of course there are reasons why the president of the United States is not particularly fond of Mitt Romney. Let's take a listen to this.


MITT ROMNEY, R-FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump tells us he's very, very smart.


ROMNEY: I'm afraid when it comes to foreign policy, he is very, very not smart.

ROMNEY: Donald Trump says he admires Vladimir Putin.

ROMNEY: There is a dark irony in his boasts of his sexual exploits during the Vietnam War.

ROMNEY: A business genius he is not. Dishonesty is Donald Trump's hallmark.


EMANUEL: No love lost between the president and Mitt Romney, Tom.

ROGAN: And of course Trump had his slight revenge moment at the New York steak house as he was considering Mitt Romney to be the secretary of state. But look, I think ultimately it would make the most sensible choice obviously for Utah Republicans but also for the president in the sense that I don't think Mitt Romney coming to Washington would be -- number one, I think it would be a shoe in. But number two, him coming here, I think it if you look at the guy, if you look at his willingness to try and forge some kind of measure of compromise, the businessman mentality, if we look at Trump learning in tax reform perhaps over ObamaCare, getting something through, building a consensus, yielding on certain point, the president has evolved into that role.

Mitt Romney I think would also evolve into the role that to come to Washington and do things, he could criticize the president and would at certain point, but he wouldn't I think want to be the poster boy for that criticism say to the same degree that Jeff Flake has become.

EMANUEL: Briefly, does he retire, Senator Hatch?

ROGAN: I think he does, yes.


STODDARD: I think so too.

EMANUEL: Michael?

NEEDHAM: I think he well, and I think we need new blood in the Republican Party. It shouldn't just come down to Orrin Hatch. Mitt Romney is a great person but there are other people like the state auditor John Dougall who a lot of conservatives like, former Congressman Jason Chaffetz who retired, now a Fox News contributor. I think it's time if this party is going to move forward into a new era of policy for new voices to be part of that.

EMANUEL: That will do it for the panel.

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