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What else happened in Washington as the world watched Comey

June 10, 2017 at 5:22 PM EDT
The first public testimony of former FBI director James Comey since his firing by President Donald Trump captured the nation’s attention this week. Meanwhile, the Senate made moves on a Republican healthcare bill and the House voted to roll back Dodd-Frank financial reforms. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan from Santa Barbara, California, with more.

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: The first public testimony of former FBI Director Jim Comey since his firing by President Trump captured the Capitol’s attention this week, but there were other significant developments on the Hill outside of that spotlight.

“NewsHour Weekend” special correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins me from Santa Barbara, California, to discuss that.

So, what did we miss?

JEFF GREENFIELD, NEWSHOUR WEEKEND SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the entire political universe was focused on the Comey testimony.

Up on Capitol Hill in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took the Republican repeal and replace Obamacare bill and put it on a so-called fast track. That means it can go right to the floor of the Senate with no committee meetings, no hearings, virtually no debate, and it would only take 50 votes to pass it. There were some concessions to moderates. It’s not clear that the most conservative senators will sign on, but it represents a significant step in that direction.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House passed significant cutbacks of the Dodd-Frank bill. That’s legislation that puts significant caps on what big banks can do in the wake of the financial meltdown in 2008. That faces some tough sledding in the Senate, but what it indicates is that the Republican majorities in the House and Senate are determined to press ahead with the core Republican agenda on matters ranging from financial regulation to the role of health in the government and beyond.

SREENIVASAN: Is there a pattern here on how they are going to pursue this agenda?

GREENFIELD: Well, I think the pattern extends beyond Capitol Hill, and it indicates why some congressional Republicans who might have a lot of problems with Trump’s behavior are not going to be that willing to step away from him.

The executive branch has done all kinds of regulatory changes. They’ve granted a lot of exceptions to the energy industry, to for-profit colleges. They’ve appointed into positions of government representatives from various interest groups and have given them exemptions from conflict of interest rules. They’ve clearly appointed some — or trying to appoint staunch conservatives to the federal bench.

And that suggests that for congressional Republicans looking at Trump, there’s a thought that, well, he may have problems, but he seems to be pursuing what we conservatives have wanted the government to do for some time, which is why I think that they will be less inclined than otherwise to take sides against him in, say, a fight with the former director of the FBI.

SREENIVASAN: So, where does this leave the president then? On Thursday, we heard basically Jim Comey say that the president in some ways lied, and then Friday, we explicitly heard the president refute that.

GREENFIELD: Well, you know, I think in the short run — and we’ve talked about this before — the whole impeachment idea is a nonstarter. We don’t have a lot of history about impeachment, but one thing is as long as the president retains the support of his or her party, removal from office is almost impossible. But when the president said publicly he’d be willing to take — to testify under oath before special counsel Mueller, he may have bought himself a world of trouble because once you testify under oath, anything you say that’s false can be used as either a source of a criminal indictment or in the case of a president, impeachment.

And under those circumstances, I think you would see congressional Republicans, particularly from those in the swing districts, begin to move away from him. The fact of the matter is, right now, whatever his overall poll numbers are, he is hugely popular within his party.


GREENFIELD: But I do think he set himself up for a potential problem with that statement about testifying under oath.

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