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How Washington is handling a historic hurricane season

September 11, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
How is President Trump handling the numerous hurricane disasters? Tamara Keith of NPR and Stuart Rothenberg of Inside Elections join Judy Woodruff to discuss the president’s strategy, plus their reactions to an exclusive interview with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, signs of bipartisan collaboration at the White House and more.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Time now for a closer look at the White House handling of Hurricane Irma, President Trump’s fraught relationships with his own party, and more.

It’s Politics Monday, with Tamara Keith of NPR and Stu Rothenberg, senior editor for Inside Elections.

Welcome to both of you.

But let’s first ask about what Governor Christie just had to say.

Tam Keith, he was pretty emphatic that that’s not what happened, whatever it was that Steve Bannon said.


TAMARA KEITH, National Public Radio: Yes, that was a barn-burner at the end of an interview. That was incredible. Chris Christie doesn’t hold back.

And the interesting thing to me is, as critical he was of Steve Bannon, he was praising the president, even used the, “I have broad shoulders,” which is a phrase much used in the Trump administration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He said, “I’m a soldier for Donald Trump.”

STUART ROTHENBERG, Inside Elections: Take that, Steve Bannon.


STUART ROTHENBERG: I wrote down two things.

One, still a Trump loyalist. That absolutely came through loud and clear. And bad blood between Governor Christie and Steve Bannon. It was so obvious, the personal animus.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does that say something about Trump world, or is this just a sideshow? What do we think, Tam?

TAMARA KEITH: Trump world is — has many orbiting planets.

It’s a complicated place, because Steve Bannon, in that “60 Minutes” interview, portrayed himself as sort of the flame keeper of what is Trumpie. He is there to defend Trump. He said he was going to be his wing man on the outside.

Well, Chris Christie obviously sees himself as the president’s wing man, too. And I think there are a lot of people who see themselves in that role.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Stu, it was Steve Bannon who ended up going into the administration, and not Chris Christie. He’s heading up this opioid commission, which is important, but he doesn’t have a job.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Which makes you think that something happened to deny Chris Christie a post in the administration, or at least one that he likes, because he said he was offered some.

So, it may be in this case Bannon and Bannon’s folks won that battle. But, as we now see, they’re both outside the administration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what we’re focused a lot on right now, understandably, Tam, is these terrible storms. After Harvey, right away comes Irma wreaking destruction across the Caribbean.

We’re now seeing it in the state of Florida. It’s moving across into Southeast.

How is the president handling all this?

TAMARA KEITH: The president has kept a relatively low profile. He has not been sort of tweeting himself, though his account has tweeted videos of him. He has made remarks here and there.

He’s really put Tom Bossert, who is his homeland security adviser — that’s not the correct title.


TAMARA KEITH: Homeland security adviser. He has put Tom Bossert out there, also his FEMA director.

One thing that President Trump did is, when he formed his team, he brought in people who had some experience in dealing with natural disasters, which is a mistake that the Bush administration made.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Stu, we know from a lot of experience that presidents can get into trouble when there is a natural disaster. It seems to me President Trump is trying very hard not to do that, to stay focused on…

STUART ROTHENBERG: Yes, I think, so far, so good.

He hasn’t been demeaning Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. He hasn’t been attacking people. He’s been able to adopt a role that is more presidential.

Now, people may argue whether he looks more presidential. That’s a different question. But at least he’s able to talk about national unity and responding to the crisis and laying wreaths at the 9/11 anniversary.

So, this is better for him, probably better for the country. I don’t — personally, I don’t expect it to last. I think when we get back to politics as usual, we will see behavior as usual.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, quickly, Tam, there are some sticky questions coming up I asked Governor Christie about, about the money the federal government is going to have to spend on places like Florida, on top of Texas.

Is the president, is the administration prepared to deal with that?

TAMARA KEITH: Well, there certainly is a large congressional delegation from Florida.

They had to postpone votes in the House today because there are so many members of the House that come from Florida. So, there will certainly be pressure to have additional funding. And, actually, the money that was put in place for Hurricane Harvey is not going to be enough.

So, this will be something that will come up. There are many must-pass legislative vehicles coming up in the next few months.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, a lot of issues.

And, Stu, I’m asking this because we know FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is just about out of money already, even before Irma hit.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, I think there’s going to be money for these natural disasters.

But I do think, the further we go from the incidents, the further the calendar passes on, I think there will be more calls for offsets and for fiscal responsibility. But, for right now, I think the photographs, the pictures, the videotapes are pretty compelling to get even members of Congress to spend money.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we will see.

Another thing, Tam, I asked Governor Christie about is the president’s deal, the deal that he cut with Democrats last week. And, you know, he and other Democrats — Republicans and Democrats met with the president the day after that Pelosi-Schumer agreement to talk about this New Jersey-New York tunnel project.

But what are you hearing? Are you hearing concern among Republicans? Are you hearing — what are people saying you’re talking to about this?

TAMARA KEITH: This is a president who came back from visiting the damage from Hurricane Harvey, talking to people who were affected.

And he — what I’m hearing, he just wanted to get something done. He wanted something to show for it. He wanted to help those people whose kids he hugged and who he took pictures with. And so he did a deal.

Also, this president knows that, among a lot of people, a lot of people who voted for him, he’s a whole heck of a lot more popular than the leaders of the Republican Party in Congress. I mean, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are rapidly becoming the enemies of Republicans, of rank-and-file Republicans.

STUART ROTHENBERG: So, in the short term, I think that’s a plus for the president, but, long term, it’s a little different.

I don’t see how the president benefits by belittling and criticizing the Republican leadership on the Hill. I don’t see how he benefits by making it seem as though they’re inept, incompetent and can’t pass anything, and only he can make a deal. I don’t see how that helps him in the midterms, because, if they lose, if the Republicans lose in the midterms, the president loses.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, do we have reason to believe that this is — something I was trying to tease out what Governor Christie thinks. And he said, yes, he will continue to cut these.

But is this the thinking, Tam, that this is something that he is going to continue to do if he sees that it is in his interest?

TAMARA KEITH: I think there’s a math analogy here about one point doesn’t make a line.


TAMARA KEITH: It’s hard to form a trend from one data point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I was really good at math.


JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m not going to wade into that one.

But to extend that out, you now have Republicans who are looking at whether they are going to stay in Congress or not, Stu. There are a couple of moderates. This is another case of, do one and one make three?

You have got a couple of Republicans who are now saying they’re not going to run for reelection.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, you have four recent Republicans, one in Florida, one in Washington State, and, most recently, Charlie Dent in Pennsylvania and David Trott in Michigan, who have announced they’re not running for reelection, two in Clinton districts, and two in Trump districts.

You have Bob Corker, Senator Bob Corker, from Tennessee…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And speculation.

STUART ROTHENBERG: … kind of talking about this.

I actually talked to Senator Corker last week about this. And he told me the very same thing. But he also told me he’s not sure whether it would be good to lose his voice in the Senate. So, I’m not sure he’s actively thinking about whether to run or not run. I think he just is delaying a general decision.

But there is no doubt there is nervousness among House Republicans, and there is much more talk about potential — about additional retirements from House Republicans, particularly moderates, who just are uncomfortable with the direction of the administration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It just looks like the landscape has been shaken up once again.


And, basically, every two years, there are a lot of retirements. You would expect some retirements. The thing is that this gives Democrats some hope that — you know, when they’re incumbents, they’re harder to beat. When there is no incumbent, it’s more of an open race.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s early, but it’s not early, if…


TAMARA KEITH: No, it’s 2018 already.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … if you’re running — if you’re running…

STUART ROTHENBERG: Remember, the Alabama Republican runoff middle of September, the establishment vs. the outsider. Keep an eye on that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I have got it on my watch right here.



STUART ROTHENBERG: Write it on your hand.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Stu Rothenberg, Tamara Keith, thank you both.


TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Politics Monday.