President Trump turns to issues aimed at rallying his base, tensions flare between some Republicans

President Trump turns to issues aimed at rallying his base, tensions flare between some Republicans


ROBERT COSTA: Checks and balances. Tensions flare between President Trump and
Republicans over health care, sanctions, and the special counsel; and the Russia investigation
heads to a grand jury. I’m Robert Costa. Recess in Washington starts with last-minute
drama, tonight on Washington Week. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) They can continue their obsession with the
Russian hoax, or they can serve the interests of the American people. COSTA: While the president fumes, the investigation
into Russia’s election meddling ramps up, again. The special counsel convenes a grand jury. President Trump rallies his base. PRESIDENT TRUMP: (From video.) We don’t need advice from the Washington
swamp. We need to drain the swamp. COSTA: Aggressively pushing conservative policies
on immigration and jobs. But his low approval rating and sharp jabs
at Congress are sparking friction within his own party. SENATOR JEFF FLAKE (R-AZ): (From video.) That’s not conservative for elected officials,
those of us in Congress, to watch this and not say anything. COSTA: Congress heads out of town, but not
before putting new limits on the president’s ability to lift Russian sanctions, a bill
Mr. Trump reluctantly signed. Will the summer recess bring clarity or bipartisanship
to a long list of unresolved issues? We get answers from Dan Balz of The Washington
Post, Susan Davis of NPR, Carol Lee of NBC News, and Franco Ordoñez of McClatchy. ANNOUNCER: Celebrating 50 years, this is Washington
Week. Once again, live from Washington, moderator
Robert Costa. COSTA: Good evening. This was supposed to be a week for the White
House to reset after a tumultuous first six months. A new chief of staff was enlisted to stabilize
a divided West Wing. But instead President Trump found himself
in a familiar place: up against the ropes, with new developments about the ongoing Russia
probes. Special counsel Bob Mueller – he’s assembling
a grand jury as part of the investigation into Russian interference in last year’s
election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign. Last night the president did what you’d
expect: counterpunch. PRESIDENT TRUMP: (From video.) The Russia story is a total fabrication. There were no Russians in our campaign. There never were. We didn’t win because of Russia. We won because of you. COSTA: Dan, the Russia issue, day in, day
out, seems to be the issue the president just cannot escape. DAN BALZ: You know, you can call it what you
will – the dark cloud, the – sort of the festering wound, the low-grade fever that
could become a – you know, an acute fever. No one knows how it will end. But he’s totally obsessed with it. And whether it was coincident or not, the
fact that the news came out yesterday that Bob Mueller is now using a grand jury to advance
the investigation and the president did what he did in West Virginia with that speech – which
was not a kind of an offhand, you know, ad-libbed rant; this was a prepared speech – to go
right after this, to sow doubt about it and to reinforce with his people, his base, that
this is an investigation designed not just to hurt him but to hurt the things that he’s
trying to do for them. COSTA: Sue, the congressional Republicans
are watching the president’s speech in West Virginia. They see him venting, and they’re trying
to put up a stop sign in case he ever decides to move toward firing Bob Mueller. They’re even moving some legislation. SUSAN DAVIS: They’re putting up a lot of
stop signs. You know, rhetorically you don’t hear a
lot of pushback against the Trump administration from Republicans in Congress. But the actions that Republicans in Congress
have taken tell a very different story. Congress, by almost unanimous margins, passed
a Russia sanctions bill. When the president fired James Comey, members
of the Senate made very clear that they needed a nominee who was not a political nominee,
who was aboveboard. The – Christopher Wray was approved this
week, the new FBI director, by, again, almost a near unanimous vote, sending a message. And when the president attacked Attorney General
Jeff Sessions, Senate Republicans made a – sent a very clear message that firing Jeff Sessions
was not on the table and doing so would have severe and dramatic consequences in Congress. COSTA: But do you think the White House, Franco,
is still considering firing Mueller? Is that part of their – the options they
have on the table? FRANCO ORDOÑEZ: I mean, I think this is something
that he has floated a few times. I think this is something that he’s considering. I mean, it’s like one of those trial balloons
has gone out. But I think the pushback that we’ve heard
about how “holy” et cetera would come across if he did that – I think he’s very
hesitant to make such a move, because he knows there would be a lot of pushback. COSTA: Carol, a grand jury is the beginning
of a process. It’s a new investigative tool. But we know from various news reports that
Bob Mueller is possibly looking into financial crimes with President Trump or his family. CAROL LEE: And if you notice, when that news
came out, that is when you saw the president really step up his criticism, and he really
– I mean, he’s obviously been critical of this from the start, but there is this
narrative that that was what made him very nervous. And you know, that’s – that – and then
he also felt like – that Mueller was moving in a direction that was out of the zone of
what his investigation was supposed to be about. And so, you know, you could – yes, it’s
about, you know, whether or not the campaign colluded with Russia, but if you move into
looking at businesses and the Trump – Trump Inc. and the whole – that is a very large
space, and that makes the president even more upset about this. COSTA: Is this the issue, Sue, that just,
as Dan said, maybe clouds up everything right now for this entire administration? DAVIS: You know, in a lot of ways what’s
happening in Russia hasn’t really affected Congress. But I do think firing Mueller would be that
thing that finally really does blow up the agenda. And I think that’s also part of the reason,
as you referred to, that there are bipartisan groups of senators right now working on legislation
that would give recourse to any special counsel, but specifically aimed, obviously, at Robert
Mueller, to protect him if they were to fire him. And that’s sending another message to the
White House: Do not do this. LEE: Also, we don’t trust you. DAVIS: Yeah. LEE: Which is the same as the Russia sanctions
bill was. BALZ: I agree with Sue that it’s – that
it’s possible that Congress can continue to do its work while this hangs over Trump. We’ve seen this in past administrations
when there are investigations. They’re able to, in one way or another,
compartmentalize. There’s an investigation that’s going
on that consumes the attention of a lot of people, but nonetheless a White House can
do business in the absence of that. This is so interesting because it’s so personal
to Trump, and I think that that affects him and therefore, because of the way the White
House has operated pre-General Kelly, it has made it more difficult for the White House
to operate effectively. We’ll see whether that changes. ORDOÑEZ: I mean, it’s something that he
really believes in. It’s a fight that he wants to keep having. I think we saw that in West Virginia. I mean, he is going at it. He is not backing down. He is pushing and pushing. And what better place to do that, in front
of like essentially a hometown crowd? I mean, that’s your – that’s a local
ring that you can attack, and it’s a message, I think, that’s been effective from – for
the base. COSTA: Let’s dig into this, because that
hometown base in West Virginia, it is a constant theme for this administration as the Russia
questions continue to linger over the White House. We’re watching in real time this president
recalibrating, and it’s amid dismal poll numbers. Six months after taking office, Mr. Trump’s
approval rating has dipped to a new low. In the latest Quinnipiac survey, 61 percent
of Americans disapprove of the job Mr. Trump is doing. Just 33 percent approve. That’s 7-point drop from just a month ago. The president is returning in this environment
to his signature campaign issues that fire up that conservative base. Last week it was a ban on transgender troops
from serving in the military. This week it was a plan to cut illegal immigration
by nearly half – excuse me – let’s put an asterisk there, because it was actually
cutting legal immigration. That’s where this debate has moved. That’s a – that’s a core issue for the
right – cutting legal immigration. And the Justice Department is now looking
to investigate affirmative action and how it may discriminate against white people. Carol, we’re looking at a president now
in West Virginia – and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, today, on Friday, is starting
to go after the media. You have not only the president but top Cabinet
officials targeting these enemies for this White House and the administration. Sessions said he may even subpoena journalists
to talk about leaks. So it’s leaks, it’s transgender issues
and that ban for the Pentagon, it’s affirmative action over at the Justice Department, it’s
red meat. Will that work? Will the Trump base stay with him? LEE: That’s the big question, how long this
can last. You know, you’ve seen presidents – President
Obama a number of times, for instance, tried to pivot, and he would pivot to being a moderate
and try to, you know, broaden the tent. And you’ve seen and what you’re seeing
with President Trump is he’s going very narrow and very targeted, and, you know, he
was saying things in his speech last night about “we” – we don’t need this, we
don’t need Washington, we’re going to do this, and it was like this collective. And so these are the true believers, and we’re
going to see in the next few months whether or not they stick with him if he can’t get
health care, if he can’t do anything on immigration or tax reform or infrastructure
or bring back coal jobs. So I just think – and, you know, he’s
heading into a period of his first year in office where there’s a lot of must-dos in
Congress that are going to make life even trickier, and we’ve seen it to be very – it’s
been very difficult in the first six months. He’s got a debt limit and he has to pass
spending bills. And so, you know, if we’re in this same
position a year from now, I don’t really – it’s hard to imagine that all of them
would still be with him. ORDOÑEZ: You know, I guess I take a little
bit of a different perspective in that. I think they’re – the base is pretty loyal. I mean, I think when you get down to these
groups, they love Trump. I mean, you go to Iowa, you go to these different
communities in Alabama, the fan – the fever that they have for Trump is so large. I think we’ll know a lot next month – or,
pardon me, later this month with the Alabama special election coming up. Who will they come? Will they go with Larry, or will they go with
a more moderate Republican? COSTA: On the immigration legislation, cutting
legal immigration by half, does that have any chance of passing? ORDOÑEZ: I think it has very little of passing. But let’s just remember, I mean, the most
– the most popular line that Trump would ever give was about immigration, about building
the wall. This goes even further. This is about legal immigration. It was kind of overshadowed during the campaign. But this really attacks essentially one of
like the national tenets of the national immigration system. It talks about family unification. This is something that our immigration system
was built on. It really will change that dramatically. And we could have – if this were to pass,
you know, over the next several decades, perhaps we could – the idea is to maybe cut legal
immigration in half, and that’s significant. COSTA: Sue, it seems like we’ve been talking
about Attorney General Sessions for weeks, how the president called him beleaguered,
yet his agenda – this affirmative action move, you talk about his work on illegal immigration,
cutting legal immigration – the Sessions populism that infused the campaign now seems
to be at the fore of this presidency. DAVIS: That was also what was so remarkable
about the president taking on Jeff Sessions, is was there any Republican in Washington
who was more loyal and with Trump from the very beginning than Jeff Sessions? And so much of Jeff Sessions’ ideology fueled
the Trump campaign. So many of Jeff Sessions’ staffers now populate
the Trump White House, including Stephen Miller, who we also saw on television this week. I also think when Trump went after Sessions,
that’s part of the reason why I think you saw the establishment types of Republicans
really come out hard for him, because Jeff Sessions is still a guy that the traditional
conservative base knows, likes and trusts. And I think Congress likes him because a lot
of senators there feel like they have a personal connection with him and they trust him in
that job, even if a lot of his former colleagues in the Senate may not always agree with Jeff
Sessions, particularly on that question of – questions of immigration. But there is – they’re comfortable with
him in that job. ORDOÑEZ: In the immigration issue, let’s
remember Sessions was the one who almost – with Stephen Miller, almost singlehandedly ended
the Gang of Eight effort to bring a comprehensive package that would have put these undocumented
immigrants on a path to citizenship. When he attacked Sessions – when Trump attacked
Sessions, those people, the base that want immigration enforcement, Trump’s signature
issue, were pushing back. So it’s a dangerous move. COSTA: Yet Stephen – yet Stephen Miller,
this longtime Sessions confidant, he’s out there this week as the spokesman for the administration. Dan, you have to wonder, is the president
retreating to this populism from the campaign, or is it part of a strategy? BALZ: Well, I – with this president it’s
always hard to say there’s a particular strategy behind it, but I think that there
are core principles. And it ebbs and flows with him, and there
are – there are times at which it looks like he has strayed completely from kind of
the campaign agenda, and then he comes roaring back to it. And what we’ve seen over the last 10 days
or two weeks with the things that you outlined are a reminder that those are core issues
that connected him with the people who brought him to the White House, and he is remaining
true to those issues and to them. It’s a combination of this “America first”
notion, this sense of national identity, the social and cultural issues – beyond the
economic issues, the social and cultural issues that have bound him to a part of the electorate
who remain quite loyal. COSTA: Let’s talk about the other end of
Pennsylvania Avenue for a moment, because President Trump’s low approval numbers have
rattled members of his own party. Many of them, amid all this populism and the
president going to rallies, they’re suddenly putting a little distance between themselves
and the president. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott laid out
his priorities. He said: “We work for the American people. We don’t work for the president.” And, Carol, what we’re watching is a Republican
Party really unsure at this six-month mark about how close they want to be with this
president. LEE: Right. And if you look at Senator Jeff Flake’s
– you know, he stuck his neck out there, and it doesn’t appear to be working so well
for him. And so they are very uncomfortable with – COSTA: Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, he took
this big step against President Trump with a new book. LEE: Right. COSTA: And, I mean, why don’t you think
it’s working? LEE: Well, it seems – if you look at it,
there are some polls that say his support is eroding and that it seems like it could
hurt him. We don’t know where that will be in a year
from now. But I think what you’ve seen with Republicans
is this kind of resistance to – not wanting to criticize. The private criticism has been increasingly
becoming public. The things that Republicans have told all
of us on background or off the record or in private discussions is now becoming a little
bit more public. And I don’t know – when you look at what
Congress has to do and all of the challenges that they have, you know, at a certain point
they’re going to need each other. The president and the Republicans are going
to need each other to do anything because they have been promising that once they got
control of all the – of the House and the Senate and the White House that it would be
great for all these people who voted for them, and they need to put up. COSTA: Sue, was health care the turning point? When health care fell apart in the Senate,
is that what prompted Senator Flake and others to walk away? Or was it more of a temperamental difference? Maybe it’s both. DAVIS: I think Flake is his own man on this. I don’t think Jeff Flake wrote this book
and thought this is going to help me in my reelection. I think Flake is the one that is most willing
to voice the concerns that Republicans have about the president, not just in terms of
what he believes but in terms of character. And for Jeff Flake, who is a Mormon, who is
I would certainly say a conservative before he would consider himself a Republican, and
who had been battling these sort of conservative wars in Congress long before Donald Trump
ever really entered onto the political stage with his good friend Mike Pence – who is
now the vice president, which is such an interesting parallel between these two warriors during
the Bush years – so he is the most vocal. But I think his concerns are privately, as
Carol said, shared by other members. Health care was a failure, and they know this. You know, they left town a week earlier than
planned. They left quietly. The things that they have to go home and campaign
on are a Russia sanctions bill and a new FBI director. I mean, the Republican Party’s not in a
good place. And I think that that is now where you see
them doubling down and saying tax reform or tax legislation, tax cuts are the next big
issue, and if we don’t deliver there then I think it’s going to be even worse for
the party. COSTA: So, Franco, is health care dead? I mean, I saw a picture online today of Steve
Bannon’s office at the White House. It had taxes in big, bold letters on the whiteboard. Are they just moving on? ORDOÑEZ: I’m not sure I would ever count
out health care at this point. I mean, it’s always going to be a tough
slog to get health care passed. I think certainly the Republicans want to
move on. They’re desperate to move on, to get some
victories before the 2018 elections. I’m not sure if they’ll necessarily be
able to. Trump is certainly pushing, his administration
is certainly pushing it. They seem to be saying want to move on and
pushing them off, but I wouldn’t count out this issue. I think Trump has shown that he can kind of
turn the screws on the party. I’m not saying they will move, but I think
they’re going try to shoot for any hole they can. COSTA: Well, one thing we’re going to keep
watching as all of this unfolds and as we mentioned earlier was this was the first week
for the new White House chief of staff, John Kelly. The retired four-star general was hired to
bring some military discipline to this White House. And, Dan, everyone’s asking in Washington:
Can General Kelly actually change the culture of a place that has been riven by division? BALZ: Well, it’s an unanswerable question
right now. I think one thing we can see is that he has
been very effective at managing down, which is to say he has set down marching orders
for the staff that works for President Trump and now for him. He has – he has created lines of authority
that did not exist under Reince Priebus. If he is able to continue that, that will
bring a significant change to the operation of the White House. The question is, is he going to be effective
managing up? There’s no particular sign that he’s closing
off the Twitter account of the president of the United States. COSTA: None at all. The president keeps tweeting, Dan. BALZ: If anything, we’ve seen more tweets
this week than we’ve seen in the past. (Laughter.) We know that the president has a particular
style, an operating style, a temperament, a personality that no one has been able to
tame, and that can continue to get in the way of an effective chief of staff with the
rest of the operation. COSTA: And Carol, you wrote a terrific piece
this week on Afghan policy. The strategy in Afghanistan’s a real subject
for debate. You have H.R. McMaster, the national security
adviser, on one side; Steve Bannon on the other. Is that going to be resolved by General Kelly? LEE: Well, it’s – that totally remains
to be seen, but the Afghanistan discussion has become THE staging ground for these two
different – very different policy views and ideologies. And it’s unclear where this is going. And this a strategy that was supposed to be
decided several months ago. And what we’ve seen is that the president’s
really increasingly frustrated, and he’s getting a pull from the Steve Bannon crowd,
and then you have the McMasters and Kelly and others who want him to make a decision
and kind of keep going at the pace we’ve already been going in. And that’s – and then so it keeps getting
pushed further and further along, and you know, it’s going to have to come to a head
at some time, and who wins that, I think, will be very significant in what direction
the White House takes. COSTA: Sue, what’s the impression on Capitol
Hill of General Kelly? Can he spark maybe some bipartisan talks? He’s not really an ideological figure. DAVIS: No, and I think people underestimate,
though, that if you’ve been a general and have served in the past 15 years, when we’ve
been at war, you have very good relationships on Capitol Hill. A lot of senators on the Armed Services and
Appropriations committees know him. They have personal relationships with him. They have met him overseas during CODELs. His hire, I think, was very reassuring on
Capitol Hill, not just for Republicans. I’ve heard from Democratic senators who
know John Kelly and like John Kelly and trust John Kelly. And in a lot of ways he’s much more suited
to this kind of role than Reince Priebus ever was, who was sort of an unconventional White
House chief of staff, but Trump is an unconventional president. COSTA: Franco? ORDOÑEZ: It was more – it was also reassuring
at the White House. I mean, there was so much dysfunction. There was so much fractured thinking and so
much backstabbing among the different factions at the White House that as soon as – soon
as that announcement that Kelly was in, we were already hearing from members of the West
Wing who were saying a little bit of a – breathe a sigh of relief, of calming down and saying,
this is going to be OK. COSTA: And General Kelly also reached out
to some Democrats. We’ll see if there can actually be some
deals – or not. We’re going to have to leave it there, my
friends. Thanks, everybody, for watching. And welcome to Washington Week, Franco. Great to have you on the show. ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. COSTA: We have to leave you a few minutes
early, so you can take the opportunity to support your local PBS station, which in turn
supports us. But our conversation, as ever, will continue
online, on the Washington Week Extra, where we will keep talking about President Trump’s
frustration with the Pentagon strategy in Afghanistan, based on that Carol Lee story. And you can find that later tonight at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. I’m Robert Costa. Thanks for watching. Have a great weekend.

30 comments

  1. The true believers are completely brainwashed and they still believe this man who cares nothing for them will be their savior. It is so very pathetic.

  2. Ah….humbug garbage….Looking to the future. Hopefully we have a president soon who really is for America and not so burden by a narcissistic personality. That type of ego must be such a burden.

  3. At some point you have to ask yourself how many foreheads is enough which obviously is a deferred question with the host but to add insult to injury the act of forcible seizing both of those innocent caterpillars for his eyebrows is cruel and unusual punishment I'm sure everyone can amid their disgust for this behavior Policies aside this is an animal-rights issue sure we could agree to disagree on his grandfather's choice of wardrobe But animal-rights is definitely the priority here

  4. If Kelly wants to maintain his reputation he either better straighten Trump out right quick or resign in short order. No middle ground there.

  5. Yes you forget that sessions the attorney had secret talks behind closed doors was Trump and the Russians and session said that there was nothing in the talks besides regular talks and sessions said that there was never no meeting that he wasn't there now since the discovered that he was there over than an hour there was something going on

  6. Its simply a Cabal War within (which include many factions). The Old guard v. the New guard. The NWO agenda is the same with perhaps a deeper pseudo capitalistic convoluted plan for the next alt right 1%. American politics and ecomony will just be in complete control of the Jesuits going forward. The US has not been a Republic government since the Act of 1871.
    All this is media theatre complete with matrix holograms and artificial information, delivered by purchased talking heads on both sides. Alt left v. alt right media.
    Zoharastic metaphor "…to infuse the left within the right. "
    Its all an illusion (including multiple distractions) sold as reality….while our freedoms are in jeopardy.
    (S 720 & HR 1697 Mar 2017, sponsored by AIPEC, with currently 234 cosponsors)
    A compilation list of media false narratives and memes beginning October, 2016 is at approximately 30 and growing.

  7. Exploiting others intolerance, bigotry, anger, racism, ignorance and prejudice are not the qualities of a good leader.

  8. The President, and it's civilian team, are traditionally supposed to keep the military, and it's generals in check. And to buffer a military heavy strategy. But in this White House, it is the opposite. Now the generals are trying to keep the President in check. So there is no civilian oversight of the military in this administration. It's just the military in control without executive oversight. Think about it.

  9. In a complaint filed in federal court in New York in June, a woman referred to as Jane Doe alleges that Trump and convicted pedophile and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein raped her 22 years ago when she was a minor: During the fourth and last sexual encounter with Trump, Doe alleges, the now-presidential candidate tied her to a bed, exposed himself to her and then forcibly raped her. The then-13-year old claimed she loudly pleaded with Trump to stop, but to no avail. “Defendant Trump responded to Plaintiff’s pleas by violently striking Plaintiff in the face with his open hand and screaming that he would do whatever he wanted,” the complaint added. – thegrio –

  10. Washington Anti-Trump, Anti-GOP, Anti-Conservative Week? Journalism Fail?

    Will Grand Jury investigate DEM Rigging of 2016 Election For Hillary against Bernie?
    Will Grand Jury Investigate Russia / Clinton Foundation Collusion and Donations?

    FACT:Trump Won 45 of 50 States and Held Hillary to Only 5 Bluest States?
    Why Do Majority of Media Insist Those 5 Bluest States Hold Mainstream Beliefs? BIAS?

  11. Trump could get caught like a grifter preacher calling the flock sheep while the rolling around in the sheep's money…disgusting

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