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Arpaio pardon hurts GOP relations with Trump

August 26, 2017 at 6:09 PM EDT
President Donald Trump’s pardon of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who aggressively pursued undocumented immigrants, exacerbated an increasingly tenuous relationship with national Republicans. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan from Santa Barbara, California, on what the latest rift means for the party and country.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  President Trump has formalized his ban on transgender Americans serving in the U.S. military, signing the official memorandum late yesterday.  The order asks the defense secretary to determine what to do about currently-enlisted members of the military who are transgender.  It also prohibits the military from spending money on surgery for military members who are transitioning.

Joining me now to discuss the president’s latest actions is “NewsHour Weekend” special correspondent Jeff Greenfield, who’s in Santa Barbara, California.

Jeff, is there something that binds all these different actions together?

JEFF GREENFIELD, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, like the song says, it’s all about the base.  So, you have the second level departing White House aide charging that the White House has been captured by the globalists, the neo conservatives, the enemies of the Steve Bannon nationalists.

So, if you want to appeal the base, well, you please the social conservatives with the ban on transgenders of the military, then you pardon Sheriff Arpaio, who’d been convicted in criminal contempt of hassling people suspected of being undocumented aliens.  And you say that Obama’s plan to protect the children of undocumented immigrants, that may be going by the wayside.  That’s all about shoring up the promises you made to be tough on immigration and to side with the social conservatives.

SREENIVASAN:  Why do that on a Friday night literally as a hurricane is coming to shore?

GREENFIELD:  You know, for anybody else, you’d have the suspicions that he was trying to hide it.  But remember Trump all but announced he was going to issue that pardon at a very well covered raucous rally in Phoenix.

So with Trump, I’m beginning to think there was something about Friday night because it’s been happening all summer where everybody else goes home and he’s left alone with his iPhone and the tweets and decisions start coming.

SREENIVASAN:  Si, let’s talk about the pardon here because people are also seeing a different message from that.

GREENFIELD:  Right.  The obvious message is to the people who want to crack down on immigration if you’re with me on that, I’m going to protect you.  But for a lot of Trump’s critics, they’re looking at other people, they’re looking at Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager, General Flynn, both of whom are in the crosshairs of special counsel Mueller.

And some people are saying if there’s a message here, if you protect me, if you stand with me, I’ll make sure you do not suffer legal consequences, which is another way of saying if you’re thinking about flipping, as they say in the law, turning the tables on me or my son or my son-in-law, remember, I’ve got this pardon power.

SREENIVASAN:  And Joe Arpaio is already using this as an opportunity to raise some funds he says for his legal defenses.

GREENFIELD:  Well, it’s very expensive to put on a criminal defense and now he’s got the president of the United States basically saying not just I’m pardoning you, I forgive you, saying there’s nothing to forgive.  You did the right thing.

SREENIVASAN:  You know, all of this is also happening around Arizona and you’ve got Senator John McCain pushing back even against Joe Arpaio saying, hey, Mr. President, you said you respect the rule of law but this goes, you’re supporting a guy who went against a federal judge.

GREENFIELD:  Not only that but the other senator, Jeff Flake, who has been very critical of the president, Trump at his rally I’m going to back one of his opponents in the primary.  And Flake is one of the two Republican incumbents who is seen as most endangered.  That in turn is not pleasing people like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who wants to keep his Senate majority more probably than he wants to be nice to President Trump.  It’s an amazingly unpredictable, unprecedented series of events and it’s going to get weirder.

SREENIVASAN:  All right.  Let’s talk a little bit about the consequences here down the line when they get back in session.

GREENFIELD:  It’s astonishing what’s on the table.  They’ve got a relatively short amount on time to fund the government or the government shuts down.  Even more perilous, they’ve got to raise the debt ceiling.  If not, the full faith and credit of the United States is thrown in the doubt.  What does that mean?  Countless billions of dollars more in borrowing cost and potential destabilization of the entire world financial market.

Now, normally presidents really care about not doing either one of those things, but you have Trump saying if they’re not going to build the wall, then maybe we should shut down the government.  And you have the most conservative members of the House Republican Caucus, the Freedom Caucus folks who are prepared it looks like, to say if you don’t link the debt ceiling, the things we care about, maybe we won’t vote for it and let the heavens fall.

It’s another of the maybe 500 examples where people like me keep telling people, you know this is not normal.  This just isn’t the way the government normally works.

SREENIVASAN:  And if you actually had a government shut down, and we’ve had these conversations before when we’ve come to the brink and it’s been kind of veered off the last minute or a couple of days where you know, people in Washington, D.C. could go home.  What are the significant consequences?

GREENFIELD:  Yes, if it’s just the kind of shut down that’s happened where they close the national parks and they close the monuments for a few days, I’m glad you asked this because people always said in the last one, well, the Republicans took a real hit when they were blamed for the government shut down.  But if you look at what happened in like the last midterm elections of 2014, no, they didn’t.  They had a second huge victory.  So, one thing I’d be cautious about is ascribing to the government shutdown, a necessary political peril for the Republicans.

On the other hand, they have everything now.  They got the White House and the Congress.  So maybe this time the government shut down wound really wind up having serious political consequences.  But we’ve been surprised so often in the past —

SREENIVASAN:  Yes.

GREENFIELD: — by what has and hasn’t happened.  A little humility is in order here.

SREENIVASAN:  All right.  Jeff Greenfield, thanks so much.

GREENFIELD:  Thank you, Hari.

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