ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra, where we pick up online where we left off on the broadcast.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly finds himself in a power struggle with the president’s son-in-law. Jared Kushner, a senior White House advisor, has been unable to get full security clearance since joining the White House more than a year ago. Last week Kelly established a new protocol that revokes access to top-secret intelligence to anyone who has not passed a full background investigation. The president was asked Friday if he would make an exception for his son-in-law. Here’s what he said.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) Jared’s done an outstanding job. I think he’s been treated very unfairly. He’s a high-quality person. So that will be up to General Kelly. General Kelly respects Jared a lot and General Kelly will make that call.
MR. COSTA: There has been speculation that President Trump may be looking to replace Kelly, but Axios is reporting that First Lady Melania Trump supports him and that he has wisely cultivated her support. Jim, what have you heard?
JIM VANDEHEI: I mean, there are so many different factions right now in the White House. There’s definitely some people who still think that’s Kelly’s going to be out within the next month, and there’s no doubt that the president has talked to his friends, to his advisors about whether Gary Cohn should be chief of staff, whether Kevin McCarthy on Capitol Hill should be chief of staff, but he does that all the time. He muses about everybody all the time, and so you can’t read too much into it. What’s interesting is, like, Kelly, the drama with Jared goes way back, remember. He didn’t want Jared and Ivanka in that White House. A lot of people don’t think that that’s appropriate. I think we lose that in some of the Trump coverage, and it’s very, very unusual, unprecedented to have two family members in the White House with this much access, which just makes things terribly complicated even if you put aside the security issue, which is a huge issue. He’s negotiating Middle East peace and he doesn’t have the proper security clearance, and doesn’t look like he can get it? That’s why Kelly’s mad.
MR. COSTA: Where is Jared’s clearance going?
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Well, the White House was actually informed, we just learned today that – this month – that there are issues in Jared Kushner’s background investigation that are very likely to hold up the process of figuring out whether he should be recommended for a full clearance for a long time. And while the White House has not been informed what the issues are, there are many administration lawyers and people in the West Wing who believe that the issues go well beyond what Jared Kushner’s lawyers have said were the holdups, which are, you know, an incomplete submission initially of his forms and the fact that he has a lot of business dealings around the world because he was in the private sector and he was – you know, had a lot of business interests. And so what it looks like is that for whatever the reason, whether it’s related to the Mueller probe, whether it’s related to something that’s just personal to Jared Kushner, whether there’s wrongdoing or there isn’t, it looks like he is not going to be able to get cleared for a permanent clearance. And so I think with the president’s statements today that really is going to bring this to a head. John Kelly is going to have to decide. And if you watched Trump’s body language today, it was very much like, well, no pressure, you know, he’s a great guy, he’s my son-in-law, but you know, if you think he should not get his clearance then I guess he won’t have his clearance.
MR. COSTA: Tells you a lot, the body language in politics. Often you have to watch that, as well as the words.
A special election in Kentucky is getting lots of attention among Democrats and Republicans. Democrats flipped a state legislative seat in a district President Trump won by 49 points. Voters in the rural district just south of Louisville overwhelmingly elected Linda Belcher, a retired teacher and former Democratic lawmaker. Historically speaking, special election results are sometimes predictive of midterm election outcomes. You have to wonder, though, are we starting to see, if you look at that race and others, the state of a blue wave?
ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: Well, Democrats seized on that special election in the state race, saying this is like the 16th that Democrats have been able to flip looking at districts that you would have thought Republicans would have done well. But this also was an unusual race, and so it gave opportunities for people to say this might not necessarily be indicative of other races. In other words, she had held that office twice before; she was very narrowly defeated by 150 votes by someone who won that race and then committed suicide after a scandal; and then she came back and won the seat again. So that’s a very unusual set of circumstances.
MICHAEL SCHERER: Won the seat against the widow of the guy who committed suicide.
MS. SIMENDINGER: Yes.
MR. SCHERER: So the branding of the guy who had just been accused of sexually – misconduct with a minor’s wife was running against her. It is pretty unusual. (Laughs.)
MS. SIMENDINGER: Very unusual.
MR. COSTA: You covered Senator Doug Jones’ race in December, in the South. You look at what’s happening in Kentucky. What’s the state of play for the Democrats in the South?
MR. SCHERER: Well, there’s definitely the same sort of enthusiasm bump in the South as there is all over the country. Now, in most places it doesn’t matter as much, because there’s less Democrats to begin with to grow beyond that. But there is a path here. And the path is that Democrats are able now to run basically moderate, middle of the road candidates and get enormous base enthusiasm for them because of opposition to Trump, and then use that moderate branding to try and win over disaffected Trump voters, moderate Republicans. Former Governor Bredesen in Tennessee is a perfect example of that. Former governor, a Democrat. He’s basically running as a not-Democrat right now for the Senate seat there. But he’s going to get enormous base turnout. He doesn’t have to do anything to activate the Democratic base. All he has to do is focus on winning some portion of people who stopped being Democrats 10 years ago to come back to the party.
MR. COSTA: That’s why Senator Bob Corker’s thinking about jumping back into that Senate race, after retiring. Sometimes people can’t give it up.
The governor of Missouri, another big story this week, has been indicted on a felony charge of invasion of privacy. Forty-three-year-old Governor Eric Greitens has been charged with taking a compromising photo of a woman without her knowledge or consent. The married father of two admits he had an extramarital affair with a woman in 2015, but denies he tried to blackmail her to keep quiet. Greitens, a Rhodes scholar and decorated former Navy SEAL, was once thought to be a rising star in the Republican Party. No more, perhaps.
MR. VANDEHEI: He’s sure not rising. (Laughter.) He was. And especially in this – it’s astonishing the number of episodes that we’ve had like this, from both parties but for a lot of Republicans. And in this environment – what I find so fascinating about this year is you have – you have some really big trends taking place that are – that also are trickling down to politics. You have – you have the public rethinking its romantic views of technology. You have the #MeToo movement, which continues at pace for months at a time, hitting each and every industry. And now we have gun control. And so these three things that are happening at the same time, if Trump weren’t president these would be massive obsessions of the media, massive obsessions of the public. But for whatever reason, Trump always blots out the sun.
MR. SCHERER: My favorite part about this story is it just underscores that –
MR. COSTA: You have a favorite part?
MR. SCHERER: I do. Anything can happen in politics. You have right now in Missouri the Republican Party of Missouri attacking a prosecutor for charging a governor with taking undressed photos of his mistress, right? It’s just a remarkable turnabout that the Republican Party – the institutional Republican Party of Missouri is upset that someone is prosecuting someone for taking photos of their unclothed mistress.
MS. SIMENDINGER: For now.
MR. SCHERER: For now.
MS. SIMENDINGER: For now. (Laughter.)
MS. DAVIS: Well, I mean, and it is analogous to the race with Roy Moore and Doug Jones in Alabama, where you had Republicans rallying – well, at first they didn’t rally – but then you had President Trump rallying behind Roy Moore even though he was accused of, you know, molesting children, teenaged girls. And it was very clear in that case, as it seems like in this case, that, you know, that the goal was to elect a Republican, you know, come hell or high water, or to protect a Republican come hell and high water. And we see how that worked out in Alabama.
You know, it’s just – there have been so many of these, as Jim pointed out, this year. And it’s hard to detect what the political trends are in the midst of all these, you know, unique cases. I mean, this is not a statement on national politics. This is one governor who has a pretty bad scandal that’s befallen him. But it can be hard to detect what the actual trendlines are when you have so many of these sensational stories coming out of states all around the country.
MR. COSTA: It is a torrent of stories. I mean, we joke at the Post, a story that would be A1 any other time is A9, A14, or it’s not on the chyron of a cable network. Wild times we’re living in.
That’s it for now. While you’re online find out if you missed any big stories this week by taking the Washington Week-ly Quiz. I’m Robert Costa. See you next time.