DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump's racist attacks this week on four Democratic congresswomen came as he is already campaigning for a reelection bid, which begs the question, is this controversy helping President Trump with those key swing state voters?
Well, joining me now is a senator from one of those swing states that President Trump won in 2016, Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson, who is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
Thank you so much for joining me this morning.
Senator, I have to start by asking you about President Trump's tweet just this morning continuing his attacks on those progressive congresswomen.
Here's what he tweeted in part: "I don't believe the four congresswomen are capable of loving our country."
Do you agree with the president that they are not capable of loving the United States?
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): Good morning, Dana.
You know, I would say, in general, the whole America love-it-or-leave it is not -- not a new sentiment. Back in the '60s, that wasn't considered racist.
I just find it very unfortunate that so many parts of our public debate right now are getting immediately stuck inside a racial framework, when what I would like to see is us moving toward that colorblind society.
And I was hoping, when President Obama was elected, it would really go a long way toward healing the racial divide, so we can concentrate on these enormous challenges facing this nation, where we really could embrace Dr. King's sentiment that let's judge people on the basis of the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin.
JOHNSON: So I would like to see everybody -- I would like to see everybody reduce the rhetoric, and let's start dealing with these enormous challenges facing this nation in a good-faith effort.
Dana, I truly believe that Americans, by and large, all have the same goal in mind. We all want a safe, prosperous and secure America. Let's concentrate on those shared goals and let's start tackling some of these problems.
BASH: Fair point.
But when the president of the United States tweets, first last week, "Send them back," which, for people like you and me, maybe it doesn't hit a -- hit a chord and strike a nerve, but, for people of color, it does, because many of them have heard that in their communities in a very negative way, still, even in 2019.
So, given that, and today saying that they are incapable of loving this country, how is the president doing -- practicing what you just preached?
JOHNSON: Well, again, I understand people not liking to hear that.
And, again, I would like to see everybody tone down the rhetoric and start concentrating on the big problem.
So what I'd prefer is, we start talking about these enormous challenges. You have been down to the border. You understand the overwhelming nature of that crisis. Let's start focusing on that, which, by the way, I'm doing it.
JOHNSON: You had Cory Booker on.
JOHNSON: I'm a co-sponsor with him on the Fair Chance Act.
We voted in the FIRST STEP Act. Those were things that President Trump championed. So let's concentrate on the problems and let's start looking at some nonpartisan solutions.
BASH: I have a lot of questions about issues, but I just feel like, because this is the president of the United States, the leader of your party, who won your state with votes from your constituents, I just -- it's incumbent, I think, upon me, and maybe you, to be more clear.
Do you disavow his statements last week and this morning, or not? And then we're going to move on.
JOHNSON: Yes, well, again, the president did not like the chant. I didn't like the chant.
BASH: What about incapable of being...
JOHNSON: And so, hopefully, there won't be another crowd in one of those rallies that do that.
BASH: What about his tweet this morning saying they're not capable of loving the country?
JOHNSON: I mean, that's his opinion. I don't agree with it.
BASH: OK. All right.
So let's move on to talk about some of the big issues, including international issues.
Iran seized two British tankers -- British tanker ships, rather, this morning in the Strait of Hormuz on -- and this -- on Friday, this happened. They're still holding one of those ships captive now.
And this comes as the U.S., according to CNN reporting, is looking at possibly being more hawkish in tone towards Iran.
So, you chair the Homeland Security Committee. You sit on the Foreign Relations Committee. Is the U.S. headed closer to war with Iran?
JOHNSON: I hope not.
But let's face it. Iran has been a malign influence, the largest state sponsor of terror since its founding back in the late '70s. You go down the list of the Beirut bombing, or the IEDs they supplied in the Iraq War, their involvement in Syria and Yemen.
That is why we were so opposed to the Iranian agreement, because it pushed -- it allowed hundreds of -- more than $100 billion of money to flow into the economy and the military of the largest state sponsor of terror.
And, by the way, as you see as they have increased their enrichment of uranium, it did nothing to stop their nuclear weapon program. So, again, I think Iran is playing a very, very dangerous game. It makes no sense that they would go after the U.K. I think they were trying to divide the U.S. from our friends and allies.
They're just uniting us in hopefully standing up to Iran once and for all, demanding they never have a nuclear weapon, and to end their missile -- their ballistic missile technology and their malign sponsor of terrorism around the region and around the world.