ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra.
The opioid crisis in the United States has killed more than 59,000 people in the last year, and this week President Trump declared the rise of drug addiction a public health emergency. He stopped short, however, of his August pledge to declare it a national emergency, and he has yet to allocate any funding to combat the crisis.
What does this declaration of a public health emergency mean in the effort to stop the opioid epidemic? Julie, that’s the question.
JULIE PACE: It is the question. And we sent AP reporters out across the country to a lot of these communities that have been really hard-hit by the opioid crisis. The stories that they come back with are really just heart-wrenching. And what they say is that they’re quite pleased that the president and the first lady have made this an issue that is at the forefront of this national debate. I think President Trump really does feel this one personally. He and the first lady have met with people who have been affected by this. But over and over again, our reporters in the field heard that while they are happy that there is attention focused on this, they were quite disappointed that there wasn’t new funding because money is not the answer completely here, but it is part of the problem. Especially in these rural communities you have people who are separated physically from a lot of treatment options, a lot of programs, and they have told our reporters that putting more money into this effort, getting more treatment options on the ground where people are living, is really crucial to addressing this. It’s a massive problem that’s going to go on for quite some time.
MR. COSTA: The president talked a little bit about his own family and how he’s seen addiction up close.
MS. PACE: Yeah, he talked about his brother. It’s a story he’s told a couple of times, but it’s not something he brings up that often. It is quite powerful. He talks about the impact that seeing his brother’s addiction had on him. It made him decide not to drink, not to smoke, to pass that on to his children. And again, I do think that this is an issue that you see him connecting with. He’s someone who has difficulty with empathy, really connecting with people who are in difficult circumstances, but on this one you’ve seen him and Mrs. Trump really take this on. I think it’s an issue you are going to see him at least discussing quite a bit during his presidency.
MR. COSTA: Do we expect the funding, Ed?
ED O’KEEFE: I’ll tell you, as Nancy Pelosi said yesterday when asked about it, show me the money. There’s nothing in the current budget proposal that would significantly raise it. And while the White House may claim that they’re working on plans to fund the money – or to, you know, ask for the money, they have not produced that yet, and it doesn’t appear that many lawmakers up there are aware of it. But certainly that was one of the criticisms I noticed, was great that you’re doing this, but show us the money.
NANCY CORDES: And Democrats have pointed out that all of the Republican health care plans that were put forward this summer would have dramatically cut Medicaid by almost a trillion dollars, and Medicaid is often the first line of defense for a lot of these opioid addicts. And you know, it’s great to pour money into a 12-step program, but you know, a lot of them have ongoing health needs that really can only be addressed by their Medicaid coverage. And so, you know, to your point, what a lot of Democrats have argued is, you know, if you’re cutting Medicaid, you are, you know, directly hurting the people that you’re claiming you want to help.
MR. COSTA: We’ll keep an eye on how that all unfolds.
And sticking with Capitol Hill, in the wake of a national discussion – and it is truly national; more and more people are talking – about sexual harassment and assault, female members of Congress are joining forces. Nancy, you’ve been tracking this on Capitol Hill.
MS. CORDES: Yeah. So Jackie Speier, who’s a five-term congresswoman from California, put out a very moving video this week talking about facing harassment herself at a young age on Capitol Hill back in the 1970s when she was a staffer to a member of Congress. And she talked about the chief of staff coming up to her and sticking his tongue in her mouth in his office, and the shame that she felt and the confusion and not knowing what to do. And the reason that she told the story was because she, and other female members of Congress who have talked about their own experiences this week, want to make it clear to female staffers on the Hill that you should not feel ashamed, you should come forward if something like this is happening to you and maybe happening to other women as well, and also, secondarily, to draw attention to the fact that there is a very unusual system on Capitol Hill that governs claims of sexual harassment. It’s different from the rest of the federal government. Essentially, if you want to file a complaint, you first need to get 30 days of counseling. You then need to go through 30 days of mediation with the person who you are accusing before you could move along in the system, file a formal complaint, file a lawsuit, that kind of thing. And so it really discourages a lot of victims from speaking out, and these women lawmakers say that’s something that has to change.
MR. O’KEEFE: I covered this years ago when I was covering sort of government workers here in Washington. It is a ridiculous system. And it makes you wonder how many people left public service because something happened to them, and they figured getting out and getting out of the way made more sense than trying to work their way through this labyrinth? It’s ridiculous, and one would hope that this will compel Congress to take it up.
MR. COSTA: And it seems like, Julie, in Washington – we saw Hollywood and journalism this week are all dealing with different fallouts from this new national discussion. And this national discussion was prompted by reporting – reporting which is so healthy to now have people speaking out. Do you think the political orbit of D.C. and perhaps even beyond D.C are going to see more talk of reform, more talk of people just speaking about their experiences?
MS. PACE: I certainly hope so. I think it’s been a really amazing couple of weeks to experience. The women who have come forward are so brave, the people who have come forward who are named and unnamed, because – we were talking about this, actually, earlier – some of these stories are from years ago, but you wonder if these incidents were happening right now, would people have felt like they could come forward? Would they have felt like they would have support? You hope now that so much is out in the open, that there’s been so much support given to women who have come forward, that people will feel like they are able to go to their employers, to go to their coworkers and put this out there. I think the role of journalism has been just incredibly vital to give a platform, to put this out there and to show that there is positive feedback, that there is support. But it’s that next step, what happens. Is there – what happens in these workplaces, the Congress for example? I mean, Ed is right, that is ridiculous that that is the policy on Capitol Hill and in the government right now.
PETER BAKER: It helps that the – for the first time in a lot of these incidents that women recognize some of the women who have spoken out, right? With the Harvey Weinstein case, they were recognizing Angelina Jolie, they recognize, you know, Ashley Judd, they recognize Gwyneth Paltrow. These are people who are part of our cultural conversation. And if people like that can go through what I go through, I think a lot of people must be thinking, maybe I can say something too. And it’s a different culture. This is not a new issue. We saw, going back to Clarence Thomas, obviously, Washington has been consumed with these issues at times over the years. The difference is, rather than attacking the women, we’re now seeing the women, you know, having a much more sympathetic audience and a more empowering, I think, moment, where people do feel the – you know, the ability to speak out, including on Capitol Hill.
MR. COSTA: Moving to on a different topic, it’s been more than 50 years since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. But for the first time, some 2,800 previously-classified records have been released by the National Archives. And while there isn’t a smoking gun about a second shooter that conspiracy theorists have long debated, there were some interesting revelations, including news about an anonymous call made to a reporter in London about 30 minutes before the shooting. Some of the super-secret details included some FBI and CIA files that are still classified because of national security concerns, and WikiLeaks is offering a $100,000 reward for those documents. Peter, what did we learn this week about one of America’s darkest days?
MR. BAKER: Well, one of the things I think we learned again is sort of the context in which it happens. If you go through these documents, they do sort of amplify and underscore some of the themes and ideas that we’ve had about this case for a long time. But they also remind us of the context in which it happened – in the Cold War intrigue, spy versus spy, assassination plots and schemes and the mafia, some of which is real and some of which is fanciful. And you know, Cuba loomed large in our imagination back then. Cuba must have something to do with this because it’s the main battleground of the Cold War at this point. So why did Lee Harvey Oswald go to Mexico City and go talk to the Cuban consulate there? What must be happening? So some of it may not be a smoking gun. It may not necessarily solve the case for those who think the case is still unsolved, but it adds to our broader understanding.
But the real documents we’re going to see that might change our understanding are still kept secret. Under law, they were all supposed to be released as of Thursday of this week. President Trump, under the law, was allowed to basically withhold some, and he gave the intelligence community another six months to review. He got a last-minute lobbying campaign by the CIA and FBI. Oddly enough, 25 years didn’t turn out to be enough time for them to go through these documents. (Laughter.) They needed some more time. And he said, fine, you’re going to have six more months, but – you know, he said very clearly – the predicate the presumption is for disclosure. You have to make a pretty good case to get me to not put these out in six months.
MS. PACE: And we’re told he was pretty irritated about that last-minute lobbying push. Trump actually wants these documents out. He’s fascinated by this as much as we are. I thought he sent a great tweet this week where he was almost talking about this as though he was an observer, you know, waiting for the archives to put out the documents.
It’s a fascinating piece of American history. And even though the documents that came out yesterday don’t have any bombshells, don’t change exactly, you know, what the history books have told us about this. I think the excitement around it, the transparency that it’s bringing to what transpired there, is great for our country. It’s fascinating.
MS. CORDES: And can someone translate that Grassley tweet for me, about –
MR. COSTA: Explain. What are you talking about?
MS. CORDES: (Laughs.) Well, I was having trouble understanding it myself today. Grassley, you know, he was also irritated about the six-month delay and he said, you know, you guys didn’t have enough time, and you know, there was lots of all-caps. (Laughter.) And you know, Grassley tweets are kind of always a work of art, but this one, you know, was special today.
MR. O’KEEFE: Yesterday the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, had her weekly press conference. And at the end I said, look, you’ve been receiving intelligence briefings longer than any sitting lawmaker, because she was a member of the Intelligence Committee, and now as a senior leader she still gets the classified briefings. Has any CIA director or other intelligence official ever raised concerns with lawmakers about the release of these documents? And she said no, never; we always focus on operational stuff and current threats, but nobody has ever come to me and said that they shouldn’t be released or that there are issues with certain documents, so.
MR. BAKER: Well, and there are some of the documents they released yesterday, you’re wondering why on Earth did that take 50 years, right?
MR. O’KEEFE: Exactly.
MR. BAKER: There’s a memo about making the Secret Service and the FBI work better on presidential protection, and the memo things – says things like we ought to have more active verbs in this declaration and things like that. So that makes you wonder why they kept these under wraps.
MR. COSTA: Let’s end tonight where we began the show this week: Senator Jeff Flake’s surprise decision not to run for a second term. Ed, do Democrats have a chance of flipping this seat?
MR. O’KEEFE: So I think they absolutely do. Kyrsten Sinema is a moderate Democratic congresswoman from the Phoenix area. She’s served three terms, pretty moderate, pro-business voting record. In talking to Republicans this week about the bad polling that Jeff Flake was seeing that helped him decide that it was time to go, I asked three strategist types and Flake directly today, did that polling show you a general election matchup against Sinema? Yes, it did. Would you have won? Nobody said yes, which suggests that she’s in very good shape – would have been against him, and probably will be against whoever else runs because their name ID across the state will be just as low as hers.
MR. COSTA: So you’re saying Flake’s decision in part may have been driven as much by the threat of a primary challenge as it was by a general election threat.
MR. O’KEEFE: Everyone said there was a bigger problem for him in the primary, but they believed that he would be competitive and would have –
MR. COSTA: Who’s going to run on the Republican side?
MR. O’KEEFE: So that’s still unclear. The one woman who is running is Kelli Ward. She’s a former state senator, ran against John McCain in the 2016 cycle, making a generational and ideological argument. In the past year she had been making an ideological argument against Flake, saying he’s not loyal to the president, he’s voted with Democrats in the past. She’s still in the race, but the state party is not uniting behind her. You’re going to see other members of Congress, sitting members of Congress – a woman named Martha McSally, former Congressman Matt Salmon, and possibly a handful of others.
MR. COSTA: And State Senator Kelli Ward has Steve Bannon’s support.
MS. CORDES: Right, although, interestingly, a couple of Steve Bannon acolytes who were working on her campaign actually left in recent weeks because –
MR. COSTA: What was that about?
MS. CORDES: You know, it’s a little bit unclear. Apparently, you know, they didn’t think that she was walking the walk, just talking the talk when it came to backing up President Trump and his policies. And this is, again, something that really worries Republicans, is that there is no amount of fidelity that is ever quite enough with this Bannon crowd. And they’re – you know, they do worry that even if you don’t speak out against the president, if you show the tiniest bit of daylight between yourself and President Trump or yourself and Steve Bannon, you could very quickly find yourself on the outs. So it’s a little bit of a losing proposition.
But I think it’s important to point out that part of the reason that Flake’s approval ratings were so low was because he started speaking out against President Trump a year ago and decided –
MR. COSTA: He even wrote a book about it.
MS. CORDES: Wrote a book about it, decided not to endorse him. And he knew what he was doing that entire time. He knew that his popularity would take a hit if he did this, and he did it anyway.
MR. COSTA: Peter?
MR. BAKER: No, I think it’s exactly right. And we’ll be watching as a bellwether; you know, will the Bannon wing, first of all, manage to capture the nomination with either Kelli Ward or maybe somebody else who’s like her? And then, what is the cost in the fall? As you mentioned earlier, you know, Mitch McConnell – or you mentioned earlier, sorry, Mitch McConnell had already said candidates like these will lose us seats. This is a seat they obviously cannot afford to lose if they want to keep a 52-vote – a 52-seat majority. A lot of money will be poured in there. And then waiting in the wings is what happens with John McCain, obviously. He’s ill and his seat at some point, obviously, may be in play, and people will be watching for that one too.
MS. PACE: Kelli Ward is basically the poster child for what Mitch McConnell was talking about, the candidate who gets through the primary and ends up in the general election and is simply not acceptable to most voters. And the Sinema advisors would love for Kelli Ward to be that challenger. You’re going to see a lot of focus from more traditional Republicans trying to get somebody else into that race and push Ward aside, because even people who have been working around Ward right now and in that Bannon crowd are pretty realistic she’s going to have a rough road against Sinema if she makes it through to the general election.
MR. COSTA: And a lot of these primaries are not like Arizona. You look at Tennessee, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn. She gets the support of some Bannon forces and the establishment GOP. So how this all plays out in different states is going to be different in a lot of ways.
MS. PACE: Absolutely. I mean, look, Republicans still have to put together a coalition like anybody does. You can’t win completely by being the sort of moderate, business-minded Republican or completely being the Bannon-Trump candidate. You have to be able to put together a coalition. And I think that’s why these races, while we are looking at them for patterns, while we’re looking for a trend in them, it’s a little cliche to say in politics but it is true these are local races. They’re local and state races, and there are so many factors that will go into play beyond what we’re seeing play out at the national level.
MR. COSTA: We’ll leave it there. That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. While you’re online, take our Washington Week-ly News Quiz.
I’m Robert Costa. We’ll see you next time.