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Did Charlottesville controversy damage Trump’s agenda?

August 21, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the ongoing political ripple effects after President Trump’s reactions to a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and the departure of White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the ripple effects inside the White House, after President Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville and the departure of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Here to break it all down, our politics Monday regulars, Amy Walter of the “Cook Political Report” and Tamara Keith of NPR.

And welcome to both of you, politics Monday.

The country got through last week, Amy, but I think it’s fair to ask the question how many damage was done to the president.

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I was away last week enjoying some family vacation time, but there was no avoiding what was going on.

AMY WALTER: That’s right. It’s never a good time, Judy, when you’re the president of the United States and your own party is finding lots of different ways to distance themselves from you. Report after report was that elected leaders weren’t even going to go on television to defend because they were worried they would have to defend the president.

The short answer, though, is we don’t really know what total effect that the results of Charlottesville and the president’s reaction have had. We’re starting to get some polling data, but it’s really not definitive yet. The only thing we have is history to guide us.

And we’ve sat at this table plenty of times during 2016, Judy, where we watched the “Access Hollywood” tape, the attack on John McCain not being a war hero, the president attacking a gold-star family who was Muslim, where we said, well, maybe this is it, maybe the Republican base will now divide over this candidate, this nominee. Obviously, they never did.

So, it’s a little bit soon to tell, but it’s pretty clear even in talking to the voters, listening to the voices of voters and a lot of the reports over the weekend, they’re not abandoning this president. The question, of course, is what happens when a president is constantly being — his own party in Congress has constantly distanced themselves and watched out for themselves. How much effect can you have as president when you’re only talking to a narrow slice of the electorate over and over again?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what’s happening, Tam?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: Yes. Now, an interesting thing is there are some rank and file Republicans like Bob Corker from Tennessee or Susan Collins from Maine, who are saying things that are clearly distancing themselves from the president and saying it in a way that says the president’s name. But when you get someone like Paul Ryan, the speaker of the house, or Mitch McConnell, the majority leader in the Senate. And Ryan put out a statement, you know, arguably, a very strong statement condemning neo-Nazis, saying there are — there are no sides when it comes to racism and neo-Nazis and white supremacists, never mentions the president’s name.

But there certainly is a sense there are many Republicans in Congress, obviously, you have these business leaders who jumped ship from the advisory council to the president and all this indicates that there are a lot of people who aren’t as afraid of this president as they were earlier in his presidency.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, would do it — Amy, what does that mean? I know we’re all, you know, sort of groping

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: — trying to understand what has changed. Has anything changed? Are we just right back where we were eight, 10 days ago?

AMY WALTER: It feels like every day is about like a dog year. It’s like every day, seven years. So, you have to sort of live within that, knowing that by tomorrow, we could be talking about something else, and so, it’s unclear if there is real systemic damage.

But the president has a pretty important task ahead of him as we come back into the fall and that’s will he be able to get his legislative agenda back on track, and that’s where we can have an answer to this question about how much damage did this really do. As I said, if you’re a president who’s sitting at anywhere between 35 and 40 percent approval, it’s hard to get a whole lot done.

It’s hard to first of all pressure members of Congress with an approval rating that low and for members who are Republicans, the base may still be with Trump, but they know that independents and other swing voters in their districts may not be. They can’t guarantee that he can come and help them in the fall of an election year with approval ratings this slow. So, it really does limit his ability to be a strong legislator and chief as well as an executive.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And when it comes to appealing to the base, the person who I think most represented the base in the White House, Steve Bannon, is now out as of three days ago, Tam. How much difference is that going to make do we think in what’s going on?

TAMARA KEITH: I think we just don’t know. You know, how many times have we said on this very set, how much difference is this going to make?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

TAMARA KEITH: This person leaving, this person coming in, this new chief of staff? And I think the answer is we don’t know.

What we can say is that Steve Bannon is still going to have a voice in this country and on the right, and he also is still going to have a telephone. And President Trump may be unhappy with him now but as we have seen, people who have been fired from the Trump orbit, they come back like celestial beings, they come back around and come back in. Like a Corey Lewandowski who was fired as campaign manager, who then I saw walking out of the White House the other day.

So, people go way. They come back. And Steve Bannon is going to continue to have an influence in this White House and with this president, simply, if only because President Trump reads “Breitbart News.”

AMY WALTER: Yes. And the shakeup in the White House is reflective of the broader debate within the party right now, between these two different wings of the party, the more establishment versus the anti-establishment, the Tea Party versus the original. That is a debate that’s ranging within the Republican Party. It makes sense that it’s also happening within the White House and that debate isn’t going away at anytime.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, because as you look at Steve Bannon who represented all the nationalist instincts and populist instincts, the fact that’s not going to be in the president’s ear, it’s not that he’s not going to hear it. But it’s not going to be as regular.

TAMARA KEITH: It’s also still going to be in the president’s head. President Trump believes — President Trump has those nationalist instincts. I mean, he has been talking about some of these nationalist ideas for years and years and years, well before Steve Bannon entered his orbit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, that’s — and that’s still going to be there. So, as we look to see, OK, different chiefs, chief of staff, the chief strategist has gone, the communications shop has changed, but the president is still the president.

AMY WALTER: The president is still the president. And as I said, you know, the people who have left the White House, you had one establishment wing with Reince Priebus, the former RNC chairman, Sean Spicer came from the RNC, and one from the outside. And that’s what his policy portfolio looks like so far thus far. You had some wins from the nationalist side, the Steve Bannon side, the travel ban, pulling out of Paris. But also, the more traditionalists have gotten their way as well.

So, it has been this balancing act within the White House and, of course, within the party. But both those issues are tearing — the difference on those issues are tearing the party apart and the president’s temperament as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: More to come.

Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, politics Monday — thank you both.

TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.

AMY WALTER: You’re welcome.

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