PETE WILLIAMS: I’m Pete Williams, in for Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra, where we pick up online where we left off on the broadcast.
The – former FBI Director James Comey’s upcoming memoir isn’t out for a month, but it’s already a number-one bestseller on Amazon. A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership hits the shelves April 17th. The publisher is being very careful to avoid any leaks from Comey’s account of his relationship with President Trump. But I want to ask you, Jonathan, Axios is reporting that Comey plans to set the record straight. So what else do we know?
JONATHAN SWAN: Well, one of the most – well, firstly, I should say we know nothing. (Laughter.) So that’s the –
MR. WILLIAMS: But that’s never stopped us. (Laughter.)
MR. SWAN: That’s the bedrock. But, you know, I’m on TV, so let me tell you. (Laughter.)
So one of the most interesting things about James Comey is he was a prolific note-taker. He wrote lots of memos. And we’re not just talking about the famous memo – which was the discussion of his private dinner with Donald Trump, which became big news. He’s taken – our understanding is, and we’ve been told this by people familiar with the book, is he has written similar memos throughout his career. And if you read his memos, they have this cinematic sort of eye for detail, and you know, a good memo writer makes for an interesting book writer. So I think we’re going to see a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes details from a guy who seems to have a sort of novelist’s eye for detail.
MR. WILLIAMS: Is the Trump White House sort of ready for trouble when this book comes out?
SUSAN GLASSER: Well, you know, look at how Fire and Fury did, right? And that was certainly not somebody who had the same vantage point that James Comey did. I think it’s going to be a major event. Now, the difference is that Comey has already testified publicly about this. And certainly the contours, at least, of his major interactions with President Trump have been known because they are the subject of news and investigations. But, you know, I’m looking forward to reading it. (Laughter.)
MR. WILLIAMS: I’m sure we all will.
ABBY PHILLIP: I think it’ll be a big media firestorm. But I also, to Susan’s point, wonder how much of it is actually going to be new and sort of revelatory, especially considering some of it is probably classified or the subject of an ongoing investigation. There’s a lot that he probably can’t say in addition to what he will say.
MR. WILLIAMS: Although –
PETER BAKER: Right, he’d get in trouble, in fact, if he did, right, because people would then say, well, how come you didn’t tell Congress this when we asked you about it.
MR. WILLIAMS: Although I’m told that he hasn’t really talked to Bob Mueller much about what’s going to be in the book.
Well, the other notable thing that happened was Tuesday Democrat Conor Lamb won a special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. That’s a suburb outside Pittsburgh. While Lamb won the race by a razor-thin margin, the slim victory in a solidly Republican district that President Trump won by nearly 20 points has upended the political landscape ahead of November’s midterm elections. So, Peter, let me ask you this. Some Republican strategists are blaming the choice on the Republican candidate. Is that fair?
MR. BAKER: Well, look, every race is going to have a candidate who is strong or weak or what have you. This is a district that no Republican should have had to struggle for, strong or weak. There hadn’t been a Democratic candidate there for –
MR. WILLIAMS: He wasn’t that bad.
MR. BAKER: He wasn’t that bad, and the district is that strong. There hadn’t been a Democrat running at all for the past couple cycles and, as you mentioned, Donald Trump won it by 20 points the last time around. This shouldn’t have been a contest. That’s why it’s so interesting – not that one seat matters, not that one race matters, it’s the question of trajectory. Are we seeing increasing evidence that the suburbs in America are in revolt against Donald Trump? That’s what we’re looking to see, whether it’s sustained in the fall.
MR. WILLIAMS: So one of the things that was notable about this election was the Democratic candidate criticizing Nancy Pelosi. Are we going to see more of that? What does that mean for the prospect for the Democrats to take the House?
MS. PHILLIP: Undoubtedly, I think if Democrats want to win, they need to allow more Democratic candidates who are willing to criticize Nancy Pelosi. The path to a Democratic majority in the House now is similar to what it was in the past, which is that they need to reconstitute a moderate faction within the party. The party is very liberal at the moment. And Nancy Pelosi is a smart enough politician to know that this is probably going to happen, and she’s OK with it. I think she understands that some folks are going to need to distance themselves from her in order to win, and the question remains whether the base – the very liberal, progressive base – is going to be willing to come out and support more moderate candidates like Conor Lamb in races like that Pennsylvania race. It seems that the evidence of the past week is that maybe they will. If that continues, then it could be a good sign.
MS. GLASSER: Look, I mean, first of all, beware of drawing sweeping national trends from a House special election, right, number one. Although both parties spent – and the Republicans in particular spent millions and millions of dollars on this because they were so afraid of the narrative. They are afraid of people like you saying are – you know, and you saying are Republicans – (laughter) – are Republicans going to lose, you know, the suburbs, and therefore it’s all about President Trump. You know, they literally wasted millions of dollars. It’s like they lit it on fire in order to do this.
MR. BAKER: Well, for a seat, by the way, that’s going away.
MR. SWAN: It was you! It was you! (Laugher.)
MR. BAKER: Yeah, I mean, it was me. I admit it, it was me. This seat goes away at the end of the year as the redistricting –
MR. WILLIAMS: Yeah, so that’s the question: Why did they fight so much over this?
MS. GLASSER: Well, but also they have done a good job, though, of making all of us –
MR. WILLIAMS: Losing control.
MR. BAKER: They didn’t want her – because they didn’t want her – (laughter) – to say if they didn’t make a play for it they were –
MS. GLASSER: Well, but here we’re talking about Nancy Pelosi instead of Donald Trump. Let’s be real, there’s no evidence really to suggest that, you know, as a major drag on the national – House districts around the country. It’s going to be a very tough sell to nationalize it around the House speaker versus nationalizing it around the most unpopular president that we’ve – that we’ve had in recent memory.
MR. SWAN: But there’s also just a really basic point, which is, OK, sure, he wasn’t the greatest candidate in the world and he personally couldn’t raise any money – they had to – that’s why they had to put all this outside money in to help him. However, it’s a 20-point Trump district. It’s a 20-point Trump district. That –
MR. WILLIAMS: And the president did campaign there.
MR. SWAN: Generic cutout Republican should have won, and that is of great concern to Republican leadership.
MS. GLASSER: And they spent millions and millions of dollars.
MR. WILLIAMS: So people are not going to understand what you just said, well, in so many ways – (laughter) – but especially about the district going away. Explain to this us.
MR. BAKER: Sorry.
MR. WILLIAMS: And does – do the Democrats still get to keep the seat? It’s the district that goes away, not the seat, right?
MR. BAKER: Yeah, so what happens is that Pennsylvania is going to redistrict itself because it’s had the fight in court over whether these districts are too partisan or not.
MR. WILLIAMS: Right.
MR. BAKER: And this seat will go away under the new map – this district will go away under the new map. So this new congressman, Conor Lamb, is going to have to run in a different district to keep that seat. We don’t know whether that might actually work for him or not. And the point is –
MR. WILLIAMS: Run when?
MR. BAKER: In the fall, because this is only a special election that gets you from March until November. It was a vacant seat, vacated by another congressman who resigned. So it doesn’t really necessarily mean anything, I agree, but it’s the trend line that should be concerning to President Trump and his people because they lost so badly in the Virginia suburbs in the governor’s race last year, they lost this Alabama race. Special circumstances, doesn’t necessarily mean anything, you don’t have a(n) accused child molester in every race, but they had not had a lot of good news on the election front.
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, to put it quite simply, Susan, how can this be anything but a repudiation of President Trump or a rejection of him?
MS. GLASSER: I think, you know, is there a question mark at the end of it? You know, I think we all agree that clearly this is very much a vote that’s about President Trump. And actually, speaking to the national trend line, I saw the other day after the election somebody went and did the math, there’s something close to a hundred and I think it’s nineteen districts held by House Republicans right now where actually President Trump received less in their district than he received in this district. So that is definitely a warning sign for House Republicans looking to keep their majority.
MR. WILLIAMS: Got to go, but very quick question: What are the odds that the Democrats will get the House in the fall?
MS. PHILLIP: A lot of Republicans are telling you 50/50-ish right now, which is a sign that even Republicans are very pessimistic about them holding onto it because of this wind of change.
MR. SWAN: Better than that, because historically you just – I mean, it is the aberration when the party that holds the presidency in the first midterms – like, just on pure history and the generic ballot, I mean –
MR. BAKER: And Republicans are going to be in trouble in some of these blue states like New York, like California. The few seats they have left are going to be in danger. This Pennsylvania redraw of the map puts a few more seats into Democratic hands, potentially.
MR. WILLIAMS: All right, thank you all very much. While you’re online, take the Washington Week-ly News Quiz and find out what current prime minister began his career working as an intern on Capitol Hill.
I’m Pete Williams. Robert Costa is back next week. Enjoy your weekend.