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Week In Politics: Trump Pivots To Health Care And The Southern Border


So what does a post-Mueller report world look like for the president, for the Democrats, for the rest of the country? We're going to talk about all of that and more in our regular week in politics segment. This week I'm joined by Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post and Guy Benson of Townhall. Welcome to both of you.


GUY BENSON: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: All right, so as we just heard, the president is claiming victory. He's going on the offensive. He's been ripping into Democratic leadership. For example, he's calling Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intel Committee, a pencil-neck. That is the new nickname. Here's the president last night at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Mich.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He's got the smallest, thinnest neck I've ever seen.


TRUMP: He is not a long ball hitter. But I saw him today. Well, we don't really know; there could still have been some Russia collusion.


CHANG: Meanwhile, Democrats are still trying to get not only the full Mueller report but all the underlying evidence - looks like we'll see a redacted version in mid-April. But, Karen, do you think Democrats should be moving on?

TUMULTY: Congress does have a constitutional responsibility to do oversight of the executive branch. And to do that, they need to see the underlying materials from the investigation. But I do think there is a great appetite to move on, to move onto the issues that a lot of people were talking about when they elected the Democrats to run the House. And certainly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, even before this report had come out, had essentially taken impeachment off the table.

CHANG: Right.

TUMULTY: She said it was such a divisive thing, that she was not going to support moving ahead on removing the President from office unless the Republicans essentially asked for it.

CHANG: And that's clearly not going to happen.


CHANG: Guy, what do you think? Are Democrats taking on a big political risk if they keep moving on with this?

BENSON: I think if they keep pushing on Russia, probably yes. Mueller needs to be the final word on the Russia matter because that was his charge. He was held up as a trusted figure by the president's opponents for many, many months. I was actually onboard with that as well. And if he was unable to find a conspiracy or coordination with the Russian government on the part of the Trump campaign, I think that's the final word on that. Of course we should not close the book on this chapter until we actually see the report, which fortunately we apparently will in a matter of weeks.

CHANG: A redacted version, yeah. So, you know, there is a group of Democrats who are not talking a lot about the Mueller report. How are the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates dealing with this, you think, Karen? How would you group them?

TUMULTY: I think that primarily they, too, are wanting to move on because these are not - I've been out on the road.

CHANG: Yeah.

TUMULTY: This really is not an issue if - when they go out and talk to voters and get questions in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, this was not coming up all that often. People really are asking them, what are you going to do to change the quality of my life? So yes, there are lingering questions. If not about collusion, it sounds like there's evidence on both sides on the question of whether there might have been obstruction of justice. But most of these Democratic candidates are ready to go out and make the case for how they would run the country.

CHANG: Do you think the Democratic candidates who also happen to be on the Senate Judiciary Committee are handling the Mueller report issue a little differently on the campaign trail?

TUMULTY: Well, I think everyone is saying we need to see the report. And the question will be of course once they see the redacted version whether they say that is enough. But beyond the sort of calls, which most of the public agrees with, that all of this information should be out there in the open, I do think that this is something that is going to sort of recede barring any gigantic, explosive material in this.


BENSON: And just one small note on the redactions...


BENSON: In the letter today from the attorney general, he did point out that the redaction process is being conducted in association with the special counsel. So Mueller is involved in this. So I think some people might be saying, oh, are they going to redact things that could hurt the president? I think if you have faith in Bob Mueller, that's not going to be the case.

TUMULTY: And I would be surprised if they don't actually call Bob Mueller up to testify as well.

BENSON: And he offered in the letter that - to show up May 1 and 2.

TUMULTY: That Bob - the attorney general did, yeah.

BENSON: The attorney general did.

CHANG: Right, not Robert Mueller.

BENSON: And then they'll try with Mueller certainly.

CHANG: So the president is clearly happy, and the first movie made this week with what he seems to perceive as newfound political capital is reviving the health care fight. Guy, is this a good move?

BENSON: No. I'm mystified by this one a little bit.

CHANG: (Laughter).

BENSON: Having the president reportedly overruling a number of people in his own administration who are urging him not to do this, Republicans on Capitol Hill saying please no because if this lawsuit in particular were to succeed - and a lot of legal scholars suggest it will not - but if it were, Obamacare could be gutted or ruled unconstitutional, then what? I think the...

CHANG: Right.

BENSON: ...Republicans had majorities not too long ago. They went through...

CHANG: And failed to...

BENSON: ...This exercise. It didn't go well.

CHANG: ...Repeal.

BENSON: And so many Republicans that I speak to are saying, look; we are just getting the messaging engine going on single-payer health care and outlawing private insurance for 177 million people, which is what a number of Democrats have proposed. And in comes the president with this sort of legal Hail Mary that doesn't necessarily have - make much legal sense and certainly to my mind it does not make much political sense.

CHANG: Karen, the Democrats are probably delighted.

TUMULTY: They are delighted.

CHANG: (Laughter).

TUMULTY: The fact that the president decided that the - to do this on Nancy Pelosi's birthday may not have been a coincidence. The fact is that the last time the Republicans ran up this hill, they succeeded in doing something the Democrats couldn't, which was actually making the Affordable Care Act popular. So they - and we've - saw last year in the midterms. It was the single biggest issue that people said they were voting on.

So what they've done is raised the prospect of knocking 20 million people off their coverage and also getting rid of a lot of things that have been very popular with people who do have coverage, things like keeping your kids on your policy till they're 26 or closing that infamous doughnut hole - the gap in coverage for Medicare prescription drug benefits. This is not really - it's just - it's inexplicable.

CHANG: We only have a little under a minute here, but I do want to also touch on immigration very quickly. The president has tweeted that he may be closing the border or large sections of it as soon as next week. If I could just get a sentence from both of you on what you think of that threat that the president made - let's start with you, Karen.

TUMULTY: It's not going to happen. There's just so much commerce that we're talking about. It would be such a hit to the economy. It's not going to happen.


BENSON: I would point out that the former DHS secretary under President Obama, Jeh Johnson, was on television this morning. And he said what we are seeing is a crisis on the southern border. Closing the whole border may be not realistic, but there's a real problem there.

CHANG: All right, that's Guy Benson of Townhall and Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post. Thanks to both of you.

BENSON: You bet.

TUMULTY: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.