Making sense of a chaotic week at the White House

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  It was another turbulent week at the White House featuring a contentious press conference and a departure of senior strategist Steve Bannon.  Bannon has promised to wage war at figures inside the White House and congressional Republicans from his Breitbart Website.  And there's also the collapse of several advisory panels whose members included some of the most powerful CEOs in the country.  All this as soon-to-return Congress faces heavy pressure to deal with everything from a possible government shutdown to a default on the death.

Special correspondent Jeff Greenfield is here to try to put all these in context.

Jeff, let's first talk about the Bannon news that happened late in the week.  On his way out or just after he left, he made some comments that said the Trump presidency is over, at least the one that — as we know it.  The one that we came in with.

JEFFREY GREENFIELD, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT:  Right.  I think what he meant was that in Bannon's view, Donald Trump was going to wage war on both parties' elites.  He was going to create a kind of nationalist workers movement — tough on trade, tough on immigration, skeptical of foreign intervention and populist in terms of economics.  And his point is now that he's gone, the globalists, the elites will be more in charge.

What's puzzling about this to me is that while Trump indeed has always had nationalist populist views on trade and immigration and intervention, there's not been any sign in the Trump White House of an economic populism.  The tax policy that his people sketched out comforted the comfortable.  The health care plan he more or less embraced came down very hard on working class, older rural people.

So, the idea that Trump was in any way going to marshal a plan that was going to tax the rich more heavily, I don't see where Bannon ever thought that was going to happen, or why.

SREENIVASAN:  You know — so, does this set up a scenario where there's a civil war inside the Republican Party?

GREENFIELD:  Yes.  Well, one of the things about a part of the right, the talk radio folks, Rush, Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Breitbart Website itself, they've long been suspicious about the Republican leadership in Congress, that they would wimp out on things like building a wall, defunding Planned Parenthood.  And so, what this raises is the specter that what happened three years ago, when the right helped take out House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary may happen again, that they may aim their fire at Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, even House Speaker Paul Ryan.

But when you look at what this new congress is going to face, you're looking at the possibility I think of a legislative train wreck.

SREENIVASAN:  Between now and the next election, they've still got a lot on their plate, just even when they just come right back from recess.

GREENFIELD:  Just in the next few weeks, they've got to fund the government or it shuts down.  They've got to raise the debt ceiling or the government defaults instead, which means tens of billions of dollars in borrowing costs and a possible jolt to the whole financial market.  So, if you've got people on the right in the House Freedom Caucus being pressured from the right not to cooperate unless they get what they want, like a border wall, or defunding Planned Parenthood, if they make that a condition of passing a debt ceiling increase, you know, I would have hurt my eyes at a possible chaos it's going to create.

SREENIVASAN:  And what about health care?

GREENFIELD:  Well — OK, now this is one you got to keep your eye on, because it's really strange.  The health care bill is not exactly dead.  Trump would like to see it revived, so do some people in the Freedom Caucus.

Here's the kicker: Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democratic senator, is going to go on trial on federal corruption charges.  If he is convicted and has to leave the Senate before January, Chris Christie appoints his replacement, and that could be the vote, the 50th vote that lets Mike Pence cast the tie breaking vote and the so-called skinny repeal is alive again.  Stay tuned.

SREENIVASAN:  All right.  Jeff Greenfield, thanks so much.

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