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Week In Politics: Joe Biden Enters 2020 Race And Trump's Approach To North Korea


Let's talk now about the week in politics as we do around this time every Friday. Our guests today are Susan Glasser, who writes the Letter From Washington column for The New Yorker. Welcome to the studio.

SUSAN GLASSER: Thank you so much.

SHAPIRO: And Hugo Gurdon, the editorial director of the Washington Examiner, good to have you here.

HUGO GURDON: Great to be with you.

SHAPIRO: Let's stay in North Korea for a moment. Beyond the back and forth about Otto Warmbier, this week, Kim Jong Un met with Vladimir Putin. And President Trump's last summit with Kim of course went nowhere. Hugo, do you see the U.S.-North Korea relationship going in a positive direction or backsliding?

GURDON: I think it's backsliding. I think that Kim said to President Putin that the United States negotiates in bad faith. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that $2 million was not paid for the hospital bill. No, I don't think it's been going very well ever since the president walked out of the last meeting. I mean, obviously the negotiations with North Korea could be one of the biggest wins. But it could also be one of the biggest humiliations.

SHAPIRO: Susan, what do this week's events with North Korea tell you about the relationship between these two countries?

GLASSER: Well, a couple of thoughts - first of all, seeing President Putin having a summit welcoming Kim to Russia, to Vladivostok for the first time - you know, his father, his grandfather had a very close relationship with the Soviet Union and Russia after that. This is Kim's first visit. But, you know, there was a smile on Putin's face. He doesn't have very much to offer Kim except perhaps some legitimacy at a time when his previous summit with President Trump has fallen apart.

But President Putin - it's great for him. He loves to insert himself into the middle of international events. That's his asymmetrical guerrilla warfare advantage in international diplomacy these days. You see him in Venezuela. You see him in Syria. You see him basically saying, well, gee, President Trump, if your talks don't work out, maybe we should restart the six-party talks. And I think that was his agenda.

For President Trump, this terrible story about Otto Warmbier is a good example in a way of the dangers of extreme over-personalization of diplomacy. And as we know, President Trump has not only sought a policy of engaging and talking with North Korea which many Americans in both parties would support, but he's just gone over the top in terms of his praise for someone who, after all, is one of the world's worst dictators.

SHAPIRO: Let's turn to domestic politics now and, I think, the biggest political story of the week - former Vice President Joe Biden entering the 2020 presidential race after months of speculation. Now, in another part of the program, we're going to dig in-depth into Biden's apology to Anita Hill. In this conversation, I'd like to look more broadly at where Biden's candidacy fits into the race. This morning, he went on "The View" for the first extended interview since his announcement yesterday.


JOE BIDEN: That this is not who we are the way we're treating people. It's not who we are as a nation when we're talking about things like the reason for your problem is the other. There's an American creed. It's about decency, honor, including everyone, leaving no one behind.

SHAPIRO: So we hear him there framing his candidacy as kind of a battle for the soul of America, a battle between his values and Trump's. Hugo, do you think that's a way to define this candidacy?

GURDON: Well, it's very interesting that he uses the phrase that's not who we are because that was a phrase used by his former boss President Obama repeatedly during the Obama administration. And in fact we wrote an editorial in the Washington Examiner just this morning about how important it will be to look at how the candidate Biden defines who America is. Will he be dragged to the left? Will he be more inclusive?

The one candidate who has most to lose by Biden entering, I think, is Bernie Sanders because there's a limited number of votes in the Democratic base for the old white guy. And up until Biden joined the race, Bernie Sanders had that one all to himself. Significantly it's been Bernie Sanders' supporters who have been most attacking.

SHAPIRO: Which is a little bit surprising because Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are perhaps the two ideological ends of the Democratic Party, Susan.

GLASSER: Well, that's right. I'm not sure that Biden and Sanders are really in the same lane. But, you know, your first point, I think, is an important one, which is Trump bashing and this is a national emergency essentially being at the core of Biden's campaign launch, at least. We'll see. Many of the other candidates - Sanders, Elizabeth Warren - you know, they're identified with their policy prescriptions and their vision for America as much as they are with opposition to Trump although of course that's something that certainly unifies the Democratic Party. But the Democratic Party is very divided right now on the politics of taking on Trump. They're not divided on the issue of Trump himself.


GLASSER: But they are uncertain, as we see in this debate that's playing out right now over impeachment and whether that's something that should be pursued in Congress. And I think that for Biden, on the one hand, he has no choice but to make the argument that this is a national emergency because otherwise why would you go for a 76-year-old guy who's run for president multiple times before?

SHAPIRO: Yeah. It is such a big, diverse field. And Biden is on the older end of the field, and he's also spent more time in Washington than almost anybody running in that 2020 race. Is that an advantage or a disadvantage?

GURDON: No, I don't think it is an advantage. I think that he's got many things that he's going to have to - that make him vulnerable to attack. I mean, he was involved in the 1994 crime bill, which is now deeply unpopular in the Democratic Party. Still further back in the 1970s, he was opposed to - very cynically in a Delaware election, he was opposed to the bussing of students and the integration of races in Delaware schools.

I think he's - his record gives his opponents lots of ammunition. And also, you know, the justice Democrats - again, Bernie Sanders - people came out yesterday and said, you know, this isn't really where the center of gravity of the Democratic Party is anymore.

SHAPIRO: OK, just in our last couple of minutes, I want to ask you each about something that I promise we will only talk about one week a year, which is this weekend, an annual rite of spring in Washington is the White House Correspondents' Dinner. And, I mean, five years ago, I was NPR's White House correspondent when the event had administration officials, a humorous speech by the president, Hollywood stars, high-profile comedians. This year, the keynote speaker is a historian. The president is not attending. He has ordered officials from his administration not to attend.

Susan, do you think these changes to this event signify something larger?

GLASSER: But, you know, look. It does tell you something, I think, about our politics and where they're at right now. Trump - it's been sort of the death of irony, right? We're living in an age when it's often hard to distinguish between the headlines and The Onion headline version of events. Sometimes the comedy skits on "Saturday Night Live" are actually just reading from transcripts of actual news conferences. We were looking at the chyron of the president's impromptu remarks to reporters earlier today. Much of that could be inserted seamlessly into a bizarre parody routine.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, Hugo, is scaling back the glitz of the dinner necessarily a bad thing?

GURDON: No. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing. The New York Times, I think, pulled out as early as 2011. A lot of people find this a fairly gruesome event. I, for my sins, have been to the last 16 of them.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

GURDON: I'm quite looking forward to Ron Chernow giving me a history lecture.

SHAPIRO: That is Hugo Gurdon of the Washington Examiner and Susan Glasser of The New Yorker. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful weekend. And if you're both going to the dinner, I hope you both have a wonderful time.

GURDON: Thanks very much.

GLASSER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.