JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: President Trump and Congress may be away from Washington, but there is still plenty of politics to consider.
Here to discuss for this Politics Monday, our regulars are Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.
And welcome to both of you. It is Politics Monday.
Not only that. As we know, it is the 200th day of the Donald Trump presidency.
Tam, the president today tweeting up a storm while he’s on vacation in New Jersey about the senator from Connecticut, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who did, when he ran for office, later admitted he was misleading about having served in Vietnam. He was in the military, but not in Vietnam.
The president today: “Never in U.S. history has anyone lied or defrauded voters like Senator Richard Blumenthal. He told stories about his Vietnam battles and conquests, how brave he was, and it was all a lie.”
He said: “He cried like a baby, begged for forgiveness like a child. Now he judges collusion?”
All this because Blumenthal said something about the Russia investigation. How do we read this?
TAMARA KEITH, National Public Radio: Yes. And just to be clear, this is a working vacation that the president is on.
And part of working is tweeting at Senator Blumenthal. What Senator Blumenthal is doing is, he’s part of a bipartisan piece of legislation. He’s one of the co-sponsors of a bill that would protect the special counsel, Robert Mueller, from being fired by President Trump.
Now, the Trump administration now says that the president doesn’t intend to fire Mueller, but President Trump, it seems, was watching CNN this morning when Senator Blumenthal was on CNN talking about this legislation, talking about the Russia investigation. And it prompted this tweetstorm.
And then Senator Blumenthal was on CNN later, and there was another tweet about Senator Blumenthal.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And it continued this afternoon, Amy. He said that, “He should take a nice long vacation in Vietnam, where he lied about his service, so he can at least say he was there.”
AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Right.
And this tells us much about the president’s viewing habits as it does about anything else, but that, as he watches cable television, he reacts in real time and tweets these out.
And, again, when it’s about Russia, the president likes to tweet about this, and defending himself against people he believes are attacking him unfairly and promoting this what he calls a hoax about the Russia investigation.
But it just goes to show that his Twitter account, as we have discussed many, many times, instead of being used as a vehicle to push a positive message, which he tried to do a couple of times, to be fair, this weekend about the economy and about what the administration is doing, it also gets overshadowed by these personal attacks on other individuals.
TAMARA KEITH: Yes, President Trump loves a good feud. And he — this is not the first time he’s gone after Senator Blumenthal on Twitter.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And if it hadn’t been for the Blumenthal tweets, we might have first spoken, Amy, about the other tweets this weekend about how strong his political base is.
He said it’s far stronger, bigger and stronger than ever before. He cited — he said, look at the rallies in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio.
He says the late polls that have been lately — are phony, they’re fake. But there have been a couple of polls lately showing that among white voters, his support is slipping just a little.
AMY WALTER: The president is probably responding to the fact that poll after poll, including polls that have in the past shown the president doing well, are all showing him at historic lows for his presidency, right, around day 200.
As you said, he’s somewhere around 37 percent, 38 percent as an average. That is not a good place to be as president. Now, he is right that Republican voters haven’t abandoned him. In fact, if you talk to strategists and you look at what candidates are doing, they are tying themselves as closely as they can to the president.
There is a special election in Alabama to replace Jeff Sessions and his Senate seat. All the Republicans running there, if you watch their ads, they’re doing everything to out-Trump each other. Who is as close to him as possible?
So he hasn’t lost his base. The question, I think, is, what does it matter that he has only his base? What is it getting him? And in this case, it has not gotten him much legislatively, certainly not on repealing Obamacare.
And on other big pieces of legislation, it’s going to be really critical to see if his support among his base is going to be able to deliver a debt ceiling increase, which we will get to in September, tax cues, and a budget.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All of which, Tam, members are talking about, thinking about as they go home for their vacations.
But I do want to raise another issue that came up in a New York Times story yesterday, Jonathan Martin writing about this in The Times,” that there are Republicans out there who are already looking to the next presidential election.
We are, as we said, 200 days into this administration, and they’re already — including none other than Vice President Mike Pence. Now, they’re saying that he spent time with donors, he’s been out to go to GOP dinners, but the impression the article gave is that there’s a lot of serious interest.
TAMARA KEITH: Well, and Mike Pence, the vice president, has a political action committee of his own, which is very unusual, and very unusual at this point.
Now, the pushback that came from Pence through the official White House channels was strong and fervent. He doesn’t deny any of the sort of facts of the case, that he has this political action committee, that he’s met with donors, that he’s been to Iowa.
But they’re saying he’s just getting ready for 2020 as the vice presidential candidate. Now, this is not — this is unusual. There are a lot of Republicans out there who are doing things that look like people who are potentially raising their profile, people who are running for president if there is an opportunity to run for president. But they’re all being very careful, because there is a Republican president right now.
AMY WALTER: So, that’s the question.
I think there are two categories. There’s one. Will Trump one run in 2020 and who is going to position themselves if he’s not on the ballot in 2020?
But then there’s the other piece, which is, will somebody primary Donald Trump? And it’s been a while since we have had a sitting president primaries, but in — not so long ago, it wasn’t that rare to see, whether it was Jimmy Carter getting primaried or Gerald Ford getting primaried or George H.W. Bush getting primaried.
What all three of those have in common, of course, is, they didn’t lose their primaries, but it led to defeat in the general election. Clearly, it showed that the party was divided.
So, the’s what I’m fascinated by, continued to be fascinated by, a president who is not of the Republican Party, but they have rallied around him. Will they continue to rally around him, especially if the 2018 elections don’t go particularly well?
JUDY WOODRUFF: It just feels really early for this to be happening.
AMY WALTER: That is very early.
TAMARA KEITH: It’s incredibly early.
AMY WALTER: You’re not wrong, Judy.
TAMARA KEITH: Yes.
But, also, you have a president, and we have talked about this before, who talks about the Republican Party, calling them “they,” which doesn’t necessarily breed closeness.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And he’s been going after Republican senators, saying — criticizing them for not coming after — not producing on health care and passing Russia sanctions, which he didn’t like.
AMY WALTER: Right. Right.
And that’s something we haven’t seen before either. We see members of a party trying to distance themselves from an unpopular president of their own party. What we haven’t seen is a president who’s in control — whose party is in control of both branches of government going after his own party.
Remember, they need to run for reelection in 2018. If the president is attacking them, and they’re getting hammered for not doing certain things, that’s a tough place to be.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both.
TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.
AMY WALTER: Thanks, Judy.