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Politics & Government

Week In Politics: Sean Spicer Resigns As White House Press Scretary


We're going to talk more about that kiss with David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome back.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be here.

CORNISH: And Jamelle Bouie, columnist at Slate. He joins us from WVTF in Charlottesville, Virginia. Hey there, Jamelle.

JAMELLE BOUIE: Hi. Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So I want to talk more about this shakeup briefly because given that this president for better or worse speaks most powerfully for himself - right? - via Twitter or as he did this week in an interview with The New York Times. Does it matter who mans the communications shop? Jamelle, I'll let you start.

BOUIE: I think it does. Sean Spicer, in the six months he has been press secretary, has engendered a lot of hostility from the press. That's largely I think because of his method of dealing with the press, which was often stonewalling. He was often telling - crafting narratives that were sort of plainly false, things that we could all see with our own eyes weren't true, most famously or infamously the assertion that the president's crowd size at his inauguration were larger than any other president before. That kind of behavior, again, engendered mistrust, engendered anger.

And so going forward, even if ultimately President Trump is going to be the only arbiter of his message, I think it will or may improve his relationship with the press just to have a press secretary who isn't so openly contemptuous of what people can see with their own eyes.

CORNISH: David Brooks, what does this pick tell you about where this White House is headed?

BROOKS: Well, I think it's a step up. I mean there's always going to be multiple streams of information coming out of the White House. There'll be the tweet stream which comes out of the president's id somewhere. And then there's some - an official stream which maybe comes out we hope from the frontal cortex of the White House. And Scaramucci will be in charge of that. And I think he's a significant step up.

He's a bit of a bro (laughter). He's a guy who likes to have fun. He's tremendously enjoyable to be around. And I thought that what - how he did today was actually pretty excellent - just seems like a likable guy, sort of modest, as much as it's capable of him being. I think the test for him is that Donald Trump's sort of like an anti-mentor. He diminishes everybody who works for him. And how will he diminish Scaramucci, and will the Mucc (ph) allow that to happen?

CORNISH: Speaking of which, in an interview with The New York Times, President Trump discussed wanting to - having regrets about hiring the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. We don't know if this was about wanting to fire Sessions or getting him to resign or just venting. This is related to the investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election. David Brooks, how did you read these comments?

BROOKS: Donald Trump has many flaws, but guile is not one of them. He's, like, the most transparent human being on the face of the Earth. And he says things he clearly should not. The people who work in the White House are spending 16 to 18 hours a day working for the guy, and he is always disloyal down. And in that interview with The Times, he more or less pointed to the fact that my tax forms are where you really want to look if you want to find a scandal - second, that he'd probably fire Bob Mueller if he looked there - third, that he'd probably fire Jeff Sessions if he didn't do anything except pass the time of day. So the guy is nothing if not transparent.

CORNISH: Jamelle, your reaction to what you read this week.

BOUIE: Yeah, I thought it was - in addition to what David mentioned, the thing that struck me was the extent to which President Trump seems to have real contempt for the entire ethics process. I mean what the president said forthrightly with no - unvarnished was that if an independent investigation began tackling something that he did not personally like - not that it was not relevant to the investigation but that he simply did not personally like - he would take steps to end that investigation.

He is angry at Jeff Sessions because for him, the role of the attorney general is not to execute the laws of the United States or defend the laws of the United States. It is to protect him, Donald Trump, from any kind of scrutiny. And that to me is a very disturbing attitude to have from the president.

BROOKS: Yeah, I actually thought the most disturbing part of the whole interview was the transcript. I mean we all are embarrassed when we read transcripts of our conversation. But usually with most people, there's some flow of thought there (laughter). There's some more than just sort of spasms about what Napoleon was doing. And then we go off to some other issue and some other issue. I thought - and especially compared to the transcripts of Donald Trump 15 years ago, there's a totally different conversational style, the explanation for which I do not have.

CORNISH: In the little time we have left, I want to get over something that was overshadowed this week, which is, the Senate health care legislation basically flopped with no votes or supports - or support. And Jamelle, you said that a lot of this has to do with the fact that the president just didn't get behind it.

BOUIE: That's right. President Trump I do not think has been a very good leader of his party and certainly not a very good leader of his party's agenda. It's interesting to contrast this with the events of January in February 2010 when the election of Scott Brown nearly derailed the Affordable Care Act.

And in addition to a lot of other things to help get the Democratic Party past that impasse, it is also true that Barack Obama's investment in the legislation, his ability to articulate its reasons and purpose for being and defend that - all of that helped buck up Democrats to power through and push and eventually pass that legislation. And by contrast, President Trump has done almost nothing to advance health care - and sort of no surprise that in the absence of that...

CORNISH: Yeah, although - could be some benefit to that, right? Then he doesn't get blamed for it.

BOUIE: Right, right, but then he doesn't have any accomplishments on his ledger. It's six - we're six months in, and not a single piece of major legislation has been passed. And that is very unusual, even for presidents working in a divided government.

CORNISH: I want to let David jump in here 'cause you've said this is reflective of a Republican Party that's a legislative disaster. But more specifically, you say the problem is an intellectual one. What do you mean by that?

BROOKS: Yeah. I don't think the - Donald Trump's incompetence has nothing to do with why Republicans on Capitol Hill can't govern. A normal party goes to the health care reform fight and say, well, where are people hurting? How can we help them? What are some of their problems? And there are plenty of good conservative ideas for helping people with their problems. Give universal catastrophic coverage for the 20 or so million who are still uninsured even after Obamacare. That's something positive you can do for your life.

But this is a party that has become - we're just going to get off your backs; we're going to get off your backs; we're going to leave you alone. And so they come up with health care reform, and you end up with a bill that's basically centered around cutting Medicaid. And that's a bill that nobody likes - 17 percent approval rating. That's a bill that has no sponsors, no friends no advocates. There are no hearings because your basic attitude is one of negativity, not helping people solve their problems.

And for people who are younger, the Republican Party wasn't like this. The Republican Party actually used to have Jack Kemps and people of this world who said, what creatively can I do to make people's lives a little better? Now that seems to have vanished and been replaced by don't tread on me; we're just going to get off your backs.

CORNISH: We're going to have to leave it there. David Brooks of The New York Times, thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

CORNISH: And Jamelle Bouie, writer from Slate, thank you.

BOUIE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERROLL GARNER'S "HIGH WIRE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.