Week In Politics: Senate GOP Health Care Bill, Georgia Special Election
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Let's bring in our Friday commentators to talk about this health care bill and the rest of the week in politics. We've got E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Hi there.
E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.
MCEVERS: And David Brooks of The New York Times. Hi to you.
DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Hi to you, too.
MCEVERS: David, we'll start with you. As we just heard, it is still very much up in the air whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has the votes to pass this bill. Handicap it for us. What do you think needs to happen for him to get those votes and pass it?
BROOKS: Yeah, I - the more I think about it, the more I think this probably may not pass. And I say that because I think McConnell actually did an excellent job of putting together a bill that wouldn't offend everybody. For the centrists like Susan Collins, he basically kept the structure of Obamacare with the exchanges and all the rest and the pre-existing conditions and that sort of thing. For the Ted Cruzes, the people on the right, the Rand Pauls, he cut the Medicaid. He cut all - some of the subsidies.
And so I think he got it to the best place he could where it was not loved by people on those two sides, but it was not completely detestable. The fact that five have already come out and said they're no votes before the public has registered opinion, before others have registered their opinions - I don't think it's going to get any better because any way you adjust it is going to offend the - one of those sides even more than they are right now.
MCEVERS: Wow, so making something for everyone is something that can't pass, basically (laughter).
MCEVERS: And E.J., there's a theory going around that maybe McConnell would be fine with this not passing, and he'd rather turn to tax reform. I mean what do you make about - what do you make of that?
DIONNE: Partly I think that's wishful thinking on the parts of opponents of this bill. Although McConnell did write in his book published a couple years ago that owning the health care system was the worst thing that happened to the Democrats and Obama. But I actually disagree with David on both ends. I'm not sure that Republicans are going to hold out against this thing, on the one hand. And I do think the bill is kind of detestable.
I think that you're seeing some opposition from the right. But except for Rand Paul, I think most of those people will fall into line. And the real burden is on people like Dean Heller, who is of Nevada, who was very critical of the bill today, is up for re-election. Jeff Flake is up for re-election - Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. They could provide a - some opposition.
But I think we have to face up the fact that this is more a tax bill than a health care bill. The purpose of it is to cut taxes by $700 billion. And most of the health care part of the bill simply cuts money from the health care system and health care coverage. And I think that will become a big issue next week.
MCEVERS: I want to talk now about the ongoing investigation of the Trump administration and Russia. President Trump seems to have tried to close one chapter of that saga this week. A few months back, he had tweeted that former FBI Director James Comey better hope there were no tapes of their private conversations. That led to a lot of speculation, congressional demands for the tapes. And then yesterday on Twitter, the president said he didn't have any. Then this morning on "Fox And Friends," he said again - don't have tapes. What I meant was, well, that anyone could have taped his - the conversations with Comey. And then he said this to Fox's Ainsley Earhardt. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX AND FRIENDS")
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: When he found out that I - you know, that there may be tapes out there, whether it's governmental tapes or anything else - and who knows - I think his story may have changed. I mean you'll have to take a look at that because then he has to tell what actually took place at the events. And my story didn't change. My story was always a straight story. My story was always the truth. But you'll have to determine for yourself whether or not his story changed. But I did not tape.
AINSLEY EARHARDT: It was a smart way to make sure he stayed honest in those hearings.
TRUMP: Well, it wasn't very stupid. I can tell you that. He was - he did admit that what I said was right.
MCEVERS: Is President Trump suggesting that he tried to influence Comey's testimony, E.J.?
DIONNE: First of all, I think it's astonishing that we have a president who would just joke around or just toss out that he had tapes when he didn't have tapes. Secondly, this was an amazing admission because he was essentially saying that Comey told the truth when he had said earlier that Comey had lied.
And your question I think is the right one, which is - we've been talking about whether the president at some point is vulnerable to obstruction of justice charges. If he is trying to influence testimony, he's willing to fire Comey because he didn't like where the investigation was going. He was telling Comey, don't investigate Michael Flynn. This is building up evidence that if somebody wants to make this case that he obstructed justice, the case gets easier by the day.
MCEVERS: David, what did you make of it?
BROOKS: Yeah, I mean he's - he came close to lying in order to influence testimony. I do think that. Though on this whole thing, I'm beginning to think this is - we're getting ahead of ourselves. There's really very little evidence right now of some major underlying crime, that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. And so this has become an investigation about itself where we lay a bunch of legal minefields around President Trump and he, being Trump, stomps all over them and hurts himself. But it's a little wishy-washy to me to have this kind of scandal when there's no underlying crime. It feels a little like elite entrapment.
DIONNE: I think that there is evidence that points to something going on here. You have all these meetings between Trump campaign officials and the Russians, including, by the way, Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner. So I think it's - we don't have a smoking gun yet, but I think it's really premature to say that we don't know that this is headed to a real problem on collusion during the campaign.
MCEVERS: I want to talk quickly about this very heavily covered special election in Georgia for a seat in the House. Republican Karen Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff. It's one of the most expensive House races in history. And there have been a lot of questions about the Democratic Party going forward, a lot of hand-wringing on the part of Democrats themselves. E.J., what do you think Democrats need to do between now and the midterm elections in 2018?
DIONNE: Democrats do hand-wringing really well, don't they? I think that there are two ways to look at this. One is, the Democrats lost. They thought they might pick up this seat. But Karen Handel, to win that race, had to distance herself from Donald Trump. And if you look at the four seats controlled by Republicans where we've had special elections, if you took the Democrat - the Republican - sort of swing against the Republicans in those seats and applied them nationwide, they'd have trouble holding the Congress. Do the Democrats need a stronger economic message? Yes they do. Would that have made a difference in Georgia's 6th? I'm not sure it would have.
MCEVERS: And David, what did you make of the Georgia 6th? I mean do you think people are making too much of it as a bellwether for what's going to happen in 2018 that doesn't tell us everything?
BROOKS: No, I think it's a pretty big deal. If they can't - if the Democrats can't pick up an upper-middle-class, highly educated, suburban seat that Trump barely won, then that's a sign that they have their own problems. And the core problem for me of the Democratic Party is they're too coherent. They've got a left wing. They've got a Bernie Sanders wing. Fine, that's going to win them in a lot of places. But they need a moderate wing. My friend E.J. always used to say you got to have two wings to fly. And the Democrats...
DIONNE: I still believe that.
BROOKS: Still believe that - but the Democrats need a center wing (laughter), or else they're not going to win those seats. Those are very winnable seats.
DIONNE: Ossoff ran as a centrist, and he didn't win. And that's going to set off a big debate.
MCEVERS: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times, thanks to both of you.
BROOKS: Thank you.
DIONNE: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE SHAOLIN AFRONAUTS' "JOURNEY THROUGH TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.