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Week In Politics: Campaigns Grapple With Immigration, #BlackLivesMatter


A little singing there - when Trump is president - we want to keep those lyrics in mind for our political roundtable. Our Friday regulars are away this week. Filling in today for E J Dionne is syndicated columnist Cynthia Tucker Haynes. Welcome back.

CYNTHIA TUCKER HAYNES: Thanks, Audie, good to be here.

CORNISH: And in for David Brooks is Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor for The National Review and a columnist for Bloomberg View. Welcome to the studio, Ramesh.


CORNISH: So we just heard Asma's report of voices of voters responding to Donald Trump's immigration ideas. And this brings me to another moment in immigration this week - Jeb Bush in New Hampshire yesterday. He was pressed about a phrase he'd used in an interview earlier in the week and a reporter asks him this...


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Do you regret using the term anchor babies yesterday on the radio?

JEB BUSH: No, I didn't.


BUSH: I don't - I don't regret it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You don't regret it.

BUSH: No, do you have a better term?

CORNISH: Ramesh, I want to start with you and first disclose that your wife does work for Jeb Bush's campaign. But hearing this tape, was that the right answer? Is there a better term?

PONNURU: Well, you know, the funny thing about this whole controversy, which, you know, Hillary Clinton criticized Jeb Bush over his use of that phrase, is on the underlying issue, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are in agreement. Both of them believe that there should be - that we should continue to have birthright citizenship. Both of them say that they want to reduce illegal immigration. So it really is just a question about whether it's ever appropriate to use that phrase, even if you use it as I think Jeb originally did in that interview with kind of air quotes on it.

CORNISH: Right, right.

PONNURU: So I think that there is - this is really a lot of ado about a question of usage.

CORNISH: Well, talking about linguistics, birthright citizenship, but also about who has control of this conversation. Right now it still seems like it's Donald Trump. Cynthia, what do you make of how it's playing out in the primary here?

TUCKER: Well, I think that what happened with Jeb Bush shows that establishment Republicans who ought to know better have been frightened by the rise of Donald Trump and don't know how to respond to it. The fact of the matter is that Jeb Bush knows better than to use the phrase anchor babies. He was chairman of a group a few years ago - the Hispanic Leadership Council - that issued recommendations for how Republicans should talk to Latino voters. And one of the things they said was don't use the term anchor babies. But I think Jeb has seen how Donald Trump has taken off in the polls. He's frightened by that. He knows that many conservative voters are not with him yet. And I think the biggest danger for Republicans - more establishment Republicans - is that they'll drift too far to the right trying to steal some of Donald Trump's thunder.

CORNISH: Ramesh?

PONNURU: You know, I think that it's a tricky question for a lot of the candidates what they should do about Donald Trump. And I think Jeb Bush has in part been emphasizing things that he - that might appeal to Trump supporters. But he's also been critical of Trump. He was quite harshly critical of him over the last few days, saying that he's a liberal Democrat. And I think that if you look at the field in general, you know, the basic picture is people are criticizing him on some things, praising him for others and in general just trying to get some attention for their own campaigns, which, in this month of Trump, has been kind of difficult.

CORNISH: Month of Trump - OK (laughter). I want to continue in New Hampshire 'cause we're going to talk next about Hillary Clinton. Activists affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement managed to get some one-on-one time with her after a town hall there. And they pressed her on some Bill Clinton-era anti-crime policies that they think contributed to mass incarceration. So in a video posted by GOOD Magazine, she says that she agrees with some of their statements. And then she follows with this...


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: You're going to have to come together as a movement and say here's what we want done about it because you can get lip service from as many white people as you can pack into Yankee Stadium and a million more like it who are going to say, well, we get it we get it. We're going to be nicer, OK? That's not enough, at least in my book. That's not enough how I see politics.

CORNISH: Ramesh, we so rarely hear Hillary Clinton speaking frankly in any way, right, people haven't really had access. What did you see in this interaction?

PONNURU: I saw the continuation of a long streak of pragmatic liberalism in her tactical advice, which is what I think she was basically giving. And I thought, you know, it's arguable advice, but pretty sensible advice in general. And I think it shows that there are some difficulties and tensions within the Democratic coalition on this issue, but I didn't think that what she said was offensive at all.

CORNISH: Cynthia, the activists themselves found this condescending in some ways. What do you make of how this conversation's playing out?

TUCKER: I thought that Hillary was awkward, stiff, when she didn't need to be. The fact of the matter is that her husband, Bill Clinton, addressed the issue of his crime bill, which is what the activists were bringing up to Hillary Clinton. The crime bill that passed, I believe, in 1994 that Bill Clinton, by his own admission, contributed to the mass incarceration of black men. In talking about this to the NAACP a few months ago, Bill Clinton apologized for that unintended consequence. I'm surprised that Hillary Clinton couldn't bring herself to do the same thing. I think Ramesh is right that the practical advice she offered was fine. But she was - activists are looking to her for leadership on this issue. And I think she should've started by acknowledging that the crime bill that her husband passed and that she lobbied for had unintended consequences.

CORNISH: Ramesh, I want to come back to you because every time I looked on the screen, Hillary Clinton was explaining something, right, whether it was the emails or this video with the activists. What's going on here?

PONNURU: Well, I think she has went into some trouble that is deepening. There have been some absolutely brutal numbers out this week. Quinnipiac, the pollster, for example, associated with a university, shows her having only a minority - of small minority - of people in swing states thinking that she's honest and trustworthy. A lot of that, I think, is because of email story, and that doesn't mean she can't win in November 2016. Still, less that she's in serious trouble for the nomination, but I think it is going to be a serious problem for her.

CORNISH: And, Cynthia, I want to give the last few seconds to you. A bad week for Hillary Clinton?

TUCKER: Hasn't been a great week for her. The email controversy won't go away. A federal judge has just said that she did not follow government procedure and part of her explanation has been that she did follow procedure. So I think she's going to have to find a much better way of explaining this, getting it behind her and admitting that she didn't follow procedure.

CORNISH: That's Cynthia Tucker Haynes, syndicated columnist. Thank you.

TUCKER: Good to be here, Audie.

CORNISH: And Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor for The National Review and a columnist for Bloomberg View. Thank you for coming in.

PONNURU: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.