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Sunday Politics: No Slowdown In 2020


As we close out 2019, let's acknowledge one fact. It's been a year, friends. And while we don't know what President Trump's New Year's resolution is, he's certainly keeping up his Twitter habit while on holiday, including reposting a tweet that mentioned the name of the alleged whistleblower who launched the impeachment inquiry.

We have national political correspondent Mara Liasson with us here at the end of the year. Hi, Mara.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Mara, these retweets included a post that not only names the alleged whistleblower but also accuses the whistleblower of perjury. What are the ramifications? Aren't there federal whistleblower protection laws?

LIASSON: There are federal whistleblower protection laws, and they are supposed to protect the identity of the whistleblower. The whistleblower law that pertains to the intelligence community says that the president is supposed to protect the identity of the whistleblower, but of course, the president doesn't believe the whistleblower protection laws apply to him. He doesn't believe, in general, most laws apply to him. He said, famously, Article II of the Constitution allows him to do whatever he wants.

But the big question - and this is the question that always arises when the president shatters another norm - is what, if anything, Congress will do about this. What, if anything, will Republicans in Congress say about this? We haven't heard a word, including from Chuck Grassley, Republican senator of Iowa, who wrote many of the whistleblower laws and co-founded the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus. Nobody - we haven't heard a word from him, although people have reached out to him for comment from various news organizations.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. Now, in 2018, the voters decided that they wanted a divided government. They wanted a check on the president, and they elected a Democratic House. Did they get what they wanted? Is this what happened?

LIASSON: They certainly got a check on the president. The House just impeached President Trump. If - whether that's the check the voters wanted, we'll find out. But voters generally vote for divided government for two reasons. One is to stop the president from doing things they don't like. In this case, in 2018, many voters went to the polls because they didn't like the president's border wall or the tax cuts for the wealthy or his attempts to get rid of Obamacare. But they also vote for divided government because they want both sides to work together. And at year-end, we did get a kind of split-screens finish where even though the president was impeached in the House, the House also voted to approve the new NAFTA, the USMCA...


LIASSON: ...Trade deal. And so that is something that voters wanted. The president was willing to make some concessions to Democrats to get it through the House - more labor and environmental protections.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this is all happening at a time when we have the Democratic primary at the end of the year. So where are we there?

LIASSON: This year ended much the way it started in the Democratic primary. Joe Biden is still the front-runner. He's still at the top of the polls. He's still a vulnerable front-runner, but he hasn't been pushed aside. There has been a lot of movement in the race. Elizabeth Warren has moved up and down. Kamala Harris flamed out. Cory Booker never got traction.

Bernie Sanders surprised everyone by being the oldest candidate in the field in either party, having a heart attack and also not losing any ground. Maybe it's a little bit like Donald Trump and all the outrageous things that pundits said would be the end of his political career. Sanders' heart attack did not dent his position in the polls, and Biden's stumbling speech and his age have also not seemed to have mattered as much as we thought they might.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. What are you watching for as these - as the - you know, the voting's going to be pretty imminent.

LIASSON: The voting is pretty soon. What I'm watching for is, will there be a clear winner out of Iowa, someone who can develop some momentum to win New Hampshire and go on to win other states, or will we get a muddled result either - all four top contenders - Warren, Sanders, Biden and Buttigieg - coming out of Iowa with a point or two of each other, or maybe a different person wins Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. And then Mike Bloomberg, who is sitting there in the wings, having spent $100 million so far on advertising, waiting to make his mark in the big Super Tuesday states - does he take advantage of that? I think the other thing I'm looking for is, can Biden place very close to the top in Iowa? I think that's the first hurdle for him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Happy New Year.

LIASSON: Happy New Year to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.