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Week In Politics: Trump Briefing On Russian Hacking, Obamacare Fight


We're following the news of a shooting at the Fort Lauderdale Airport in Florida with multiple victims. We'll have updates on that story throughout the program. But we're going to take a step back for a moment to look back at the week's political news.

Senior intelligence advisers briefed President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump on their findings regarding Russian hacking during the U.S. election. Russia has long denied taking any such actions. But to talk more about the politics of this week - our Friday regulars - in Washington here with us, columnist David Brooks of The New York Times. Hey there, David.


CORNISH: Also with us - E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Hey there, E.J.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: So as we're hearing elsewhere in the program, the director of national intelligence - his office actually released an unclassified version of this report to the public today. So tonight, people will be able to read this.

And among the big findings they want to read - one, they assessed that Putin and the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. They say all three agencies agree with this judgment. What else struck you about this report, David?

BROOKS: First, just the unprecedented nature, at least in the post-Cold War world and maybe including the Cold War era, of one country manipulating and trying to get inside the electoral process of another. It's kind of shocking. The report says it was done for a mixture of motives.

Some of them were personal. Putin took it personally that Secretary Clinton, he thought, reacted badly to the 2011 and 2012 democracy protests that were happening around the Russian Republic and in Ukraine. Some of it was ideological - the feeling that Trump would be stronger in the fight against Islam.

What I think is not clear from the report is how effective it all was. Some of the things that Russia did, including their own TV station, seemed to be a little lame. But I - so we don't know how - what effect it had, but we know the aspiration, which was pretty severe.

CORNISH: Right, and we should note that they say, we did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. E.J...

DIONNE: Yes, and it's - they didn't make an assessment. They didn't say it had no effect. In fact, they have this lovely, dry sentence that says the intelligence community, quote, "does not analyze U.S. political processes or U.S. public opinion." But I think it's very clear that there was this - the RT, which they use a lot to - the RT, the Russians television...

CORNISH: This is Russian Today, the network.

DIONNE: ...Which they use a lot to show where the Russians were publicly in terms of being pro-Trump. That wasn't the main influence. The main influence was through WikiLeaks and trolling in other areas. And there are some fascinating tidbits here.

For example, they say Putin had many - has had many positive experiences working with Western political leaders whose business interests made them more disposed to deal with Russia, such as Berlusconi of Italy and Schroeder of Germany. That paragraph will invite an awful lot of new reporting.

CORNISH: Now, one thing, E.J. - I want to jump in here because even before Donald Trump got his briefing, he was calling the inquiries into this a political witch hunt. And I want to get your sense from the two of you about the relationship between Trump and the security community after this week.

DIONNE: Well, first of all, I think Trump's relationship with Russia is only further underscored by this report. He has refused over and over again to even allow that the Russians were trying to influence the election. And he's stayed very pro-Putin right through to this moment.

That already creates problems for the intelligence community. They're talking about, in the Trump camp, of reorganizing U.S. intelligence. Some of that could be bureaucratic. But in this case, you started to worry, is he trying to defang parts of this community?

CORNISH: Right, David Brooks...

BROOKS: Well, first we're seeing all of American policy being distorted by the gravitational pull of Trump's ego. He wants to take full credit for this election, and the idea of the Russians may have helped him, more of a line, is an insult to his sense of self. And so he's very sensitive to the thought that he got any help in winning this election. But there's a larger and substantive issue, especially within the Republican Party.

The Republican Party, including Paul Ryan and John McCain and others, have always basically believed in the post-war global international order - the organizations, like NATO that we built. And they've considered Russia a threat to it and a threat to the Democratic alliances.

I think Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, his chief ideologist, do not think that way. They think of Russia as a potential ally in the war against ISIS. And they don't particularly value the post-war global international order. And so we could - aside from the personal nature, there's a deep ideological rift here which could be seeing the attempt to really change American grand strategy with Russia turning into an ally and not a foe.

DIONNE: And I think that's exactly right. And the report does - for the intelligence community - underscores that Russia actually saw that overlap in a view of the world with the Trump - Trump and some of his entourage.

CORNISH: Now, before I let you go, I want to just touch on one more thing because Congress was back this week. And before the members of the House could even hang up their coats, you had Mike Pence and President Obama up on the House laying out the strategy on Obamacare. So they're sort of opening salvos in that battle.

We spoke with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer today about how Democrats plan on fighting the repeal of Obamacare, and he told us that Republicans are in danger of overreaching and driving away key votes.

CHARLES SCHUMER: If they lose only three votes, they have trouble and especially since it seems, particularly on the House side - but even the president-elect are adopting such a hard-right agenda - makes it easier for us to get some Republican defections.

CORNISH: So the hope there - Republican defections. E.J., is that hope (laughter) misplaced?

DIONNE: It's not clear yet because you've already - it looks like Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is going to vote against this resolution. If that's true, they need only two more.

CORNISH: And this is the budget resolution which will set the rules going forward that might allow the opening steps towards repeal (laughter).

DIONNE: Toward repeal - but it basically cut...

CORNISH: (Laughter) Did that sound right, David?

BROOKS: Perfect.

DIONNE: It's a partial repeal that would cut the money and, according to the Urban Institute, by 2019, could throw 29 million Americans out - off health insurance. I think there's going to be a lot of pressure on senators from states - from pro-Trump states who have a lot of people there who would lose health insurance.

In West Virginia, according to this Urban Institute study, the ranks of the uninsured would go up 208 percent if this resolution approach went through. That's pressure on some of the Republicans.

CORNISH: David...

BROOKS: Yeah, I - the Republican strategy is to repeal now and then replace Obamacare later. I do not know too many Republican health care experts who think that can work because if you take - if you repeal...

CORNISH: Why? They have plans sitting on the shelves, David Brooks.

BROOKS: It's not clear how serious (laughter) these plans are. You know, if they take away, say, the premium subsidies, which are part of Obamacare, then you get people leaving the exchanges, leaving the system. And you get precisely the death spiral that Republicans in the current system are suffering from.

And so you could be taking away some of the benefits without replacing them with something different. And then the replacement which they think they can push off till after the next election will just never come. And you sort of get the worst of both worlds.

CORNISH: E.J. pointed out Rand Paul, and also red-state Democrats are - who are the defectors you're looking at?

BROOKS: Well, I'm not sure they can get to a plan, (laughter) so I'm not sure we're actually going to get to a vote.

DIONNE: Right, no - I think David's exactly right about that. There's something shifty about saying, we'll take this away now, but really, really, really we promise that we'll give you, in Donald Trump's words during the campaign, something terrific. And I think if they had something terrific to put on the table, they could put it on the table now. Their reluctance to do that suggests that something terrific just isn't there.

CORNISH: Well, I'm sure we're going to hear a lot - (laughter) a lot more about this topic. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, thank you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: And David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times, have a good weekend.

BROOKS: You too.

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