Economic boom presents challenge for 2020 Democrats

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 3, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT: Now we're seeing the most rapid increase in wages in the last 10 years, and the best increasing wages over the last year has been among working Americans, blue collar Americans.


CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: Vice President Pence celebrating strong economic numbers today. And let's take a look. The U.S. economy added 263,000 jobs in April, far exceeding predictions of 190,000, and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.6 percent, that the lowest since 1969.

Time to bring in our panel, none of whom were born until after 1969. I think that's not quite true, but I don't know, maybe it is, Charles Hurt of "The Washington Times," Susan Page from "USA Today," and "Washington Post" columnist Marc Thiessen. I, of course, was born long before 1969.


WALLACE: All right, Susan, the so-called experts just a couple of months ago were projecting that the first quarter growth was going to be under two percent. It ended up at 3.2 percent. They were talking about a recession before the end of the year. It seems the so-called experts were flat wrong.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": This is supposed to be impossible, right? To have this kind of growth, this kind of low unemployment, not a -- inflation not a problem. This is a remarkable economy, an incredible historic recovery. And the predictions that there is a looming recession certainly don't really look very true at the moment.

WALLACE: There's a new poll out, and not surprisingly even before the numbers today, it showed that 56 percent of Americans approve of the president's handling of the economy. That's his highest number in that poll since he became president. And this may be the reason why. Look at these numbers, this is from the Trump inauguration until today on GDP growth, on unemployment, on consumer confidence, on wages, all up substantially since President Trump took office. Charlie, obviously and most importantly, it's good news for America. But how good news is it for President Trump and his reelection campaign?

CHARLES HURT, OPINION EDITOR, "WASHINGTON TIMES": I think it's tremendous news. And I think that it's everything that the president wants to build his reelection campaign on. And it's the best strategy for building a campaign -- a reelection campaign. And, of course, in a weird way, I think that all of the circus we see in Washington, talking about the Mueller report, and the Russia, all that stuff, all that sort of in a way plays into the president's hands, because as long as he can sort of point to the economy, and Democrats are talking about all of this other stuff, he winds up by comparison looking fairly serious and being concerned about the things that most Americans actually care about, which is their own pocketbook and the economy.

WALLACE: Which raises the question, Marc, how do Democrats find a way to play down this very strong economic news? There's no two ways about it. This is a very strong economy. Here is how Joe Biden went about it in one area this way.


JOE BIDEN, D-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The middle class is hurting. The stock market is roaring, but you don't feel it. There's a $2 trillion tax cut last year. Did you feel it? Did you get anything from it? Of course not. Of course not. All of it went to folks at the top.


WALLACE: Obviously folks at the top pay the most so they do get the biggest from a tax cut. But "The Washington Post" fact checker looked, and, in fact, the vast majority of working class, middle class Americans, also got a substantial tax cut. And he gave the worst rating you can give on a statement by anybody, four Pinocchio, four long noses. Not helpful for Joe Biden to say that.

MARC THIESSEN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Not at all. This is great news for America, and very bad news for Joe Biden. And look, the biggest economic problem we have in America right now is that there are more job openings today than there are unemployed people to fill them. Small business according to NFIB, small businesses, 90 percent of them said they're having trouble finding qualified applicants for jobs. So when Joe Biden says, are you feeling it? Yes, people are feeling it. And the people who are feeling it most are the forgotten Americans because manufacturing jobs, half a million manufacturing jobs created in the last year, and wages for those, according to "The Wall Street Journal," wages for those at the bottom without a high school education rose six percent, which is outpacing everybody else.

Joe Biden's rationale for his campaign is I'm going to go win back the forgotten Americans who voted for Trump in states like Ohio and Michigan and Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, the unemployment rate is 2.9 percent. Are those people going to switch horses with 2.9 percent unemployment because Joe Biden came along? I don't think so. It's very bad news for Biden because the whole rationale of his campaign is I can win the voters back.

WALLACE: Susan, how do -- Joe Biden, how do Democrats try to win back those voters when you have got a 3.6 percent unemployment rate and you have wages going up 3.2 percent in the last year?

PAGE: So, we don't have a precedent in modern times for a president with an economy this strong losing his bid for reelection. But I'll tell you, there's one opening for Democrats, I think, and that is we see this disconnect in polls where people say the economy is good, they recognize that, but they say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

So even though people understand that this recovery continues, there is concern about the direction of the country in other ways. And those are measures that traditionally move into some synchronization. If people feel the economy is good, they think the country is headed in the right direction. That hasn't happened this time.

WALLACE: Charlie, I want to switch subjects on you, because there was another piece of big news today, and that is the fact that we learned that the president was on the phone with Vladimir Putin for more than an hour. They talked about everything from Venezuela to the possibility of a new arms control deal, to, according to Trump, the quote, Russia hoax. What part of that in what we've heard, and we haven't heard much about the readout, what part of that interests you the most?

HURT: I think the most interesting thing to me is at the beginning, before the whole -- I think there's a real sigh of relief out of the president, out of the White House, about the outcome of the Mueller report. And it allows him to go back to the thing that he said during the campaign, which was, wouldn't it be great if we got along with Russia? Wouldn't it be great if we worked together with Putin? And I think that this was the first time that we know of that he spoke to Putin after -- since the release of the report. And it allows him to sort of go back to that.

And it is a legitimate point to make of his. Obviously, we're adversaries, but if we can work together in fighting terror, and I realize that there are lots of -- that gets into a lot of thorny issues, but if we can work together in fighting terrorism, if we can work together in doing anything on the global stage that is in keeping with American values, is that not a positive thing? Probably. And I think that conversation was probably part of that.

WALLACE: Mark, it was interesting. The president gave a little bit of a readout today in the Oval Office. And he said that Putin, when they talked about 2016 and the Mueller report, that Putin said something like, this began as a big deal, I forget the word, and it ended up as a mouse -- a mountain, and it ended up as a mouse. And then he was asked, did you say anything about laying off in 2020? And he said, no, that didn't come up. Does that surprise you a little?

THIESSEN: It does surprise me a little bit. But he also told Catherine Herridge yesterday that he's been tough with Putin about it behind the scenes in the past. So we don't know what's happening in the private conversations that the president is having.

But one of the silver linings of the Mueller report is that President Trump felt very compelled to have a very tough policy with Russia. He withdrew from the INF treaty. He gave Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. He put sanctions on the Putin regime. It will be interesting to see whether he continues that hard line or whether he feels freed from that hard line because now the Mueller cloud is off.

But the other thing, effect of that is also it gives him freedom. One of the reasons why his poll numbers are so bad despite the economy, is because for two years he's been dealing with this Russia investigation. And when you're under attack the way he has been, being called a traitor, being called a Russian agent, you coalesce around you base to stick with your supporters. He is now free to go out and reach to people in a way that he probably wasn't when the Mueller probe was happening.

WALLACE: Real quickly, because we're running out of time. He put out a tweet today that was very un-Trumpian and basically kind of a kumbaya thing, let's all get together, let's all work together. Some people are very skeptical about it. Do you think it's possible this could be the time for the page turn in the Trump presidency?

THIESSEN: It could be, because I think one of the biggest problems, the reason why his poll numbers and his approval rating -- his approval rating is 43.6 percent despite this economy. One of the reasons is because he hadn't made an effort to reach out and expand his base. He's been feeding his base. He's got a chance to do that.

WALLACE: I want to leave time for winners and losers. Winner first. Charlie, you start.

HURT: Winner of the week is President Trump for picking William Barr as his attorney general, America's attorney general, who this week showed himself to be perhaps the only adult on Capitol Hill. Loser of the week is the Poynter Institute for creating a list of fake news publications only to pull the list after they discovered that their list was full of fake news.

WALLACE: Whoops. Susan?

PAGE: Winners -- Senators Perdue, Cornyn, and Daines, three Republican senators, their strongest Democratic challengers all decided for different reasons not to challenge them. This will make it harder for Democrats to win back the Senate in 2020.

Loser -- the White House briefing room. I was there when it was dedicated with Nancy Reagan standing there. It's got nice chairs, it's air conditioned, it's got microphones. Briefings no longer take place there. Today, as she has in the past, when the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders wants to brief, she tends to do it out in the White House driveway.

WALLACE: And she doesn't do it very often either.


WALLACE: I was in that briefing room for six years. Sometimes you would make your teeth hurt. But sometimes it was pretty darn useful. Marc?

THIESSEN: Winner is Bill Barr. He spent six hours taking partisan attacks with decorum and professionalism, and he overrode Justice Department regulations to release almost unredacted the Mueller report. He promised transparency and he delivered it.

My loser is Tennessee Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen who brought a bucket of KFC to the House Judiciary Committee to mock Bill Barr for being too chicken to testify. First of all, Barr spent six hours getting grilled, pun intended, by the Senate the day before, and so that's ridiculous. But second, Kentucky Fried Chicken from a Tennessee congressman? He should have brought Hattie B's.

WALLACE: I have to say, I did think it was kind of a stupid photo op. On the other hand, it did make me hungry for Kentucky Fried Chicken. And who doesn't like Kentucky Fried Chicken? Thank you all, panel.

When we come back, "Notable Quotables."


WALLACE: Finally tonight, "Notable Quotables."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lori took the bullet for all of us. She died to protect all of us.

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm not in the business of determining when lies are told to the American people. I'm in the business is determining whether a crime has been committed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You knew you lied. And now we know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will not hear from the attorney general today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chicken Barr should have shown up today and answered questions.

JOE BIDEN, D-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man.

HILLARY CLINTON, D-FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: China, if you are listening, why don't you get Trump's tax return.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., HOUSE SPEAKER: What has happened? You all turned into shouters.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT: I had a very good talk with President Putin. He is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This isn't between the U.S. and the Maduro regime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our hemisphere. It's not where the Russians ought to be interfering.

TRUMP: Unemployment, job numbers, wealth numbers, I think we have the best economy we have ever had.

CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Leader McConnell, the grim reaper, has turned the Senate to legislative graveyard.

BIDEN: We agree on basically everything, all of us running, all 400 of us.

TRUMP: Can you imagine sleepy Joe, crazy Bernie?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Politicians and diaper must be changed often and for the same reason.


WALLACE: KFC got a lot of facetime this show. That's it for “Special Report.” I'm Chris Wallace in Washington. This weekend please join me for "Fox News Sunday." We'll sit down with the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the failed coup in Venezuela and President Trump's extensive phone call today with Russian President Putin. That's this "Fox News Sunday."

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