Why it's so hard for the White House to change the conversation


JUDY WOODRUFF: And to continue our politics conversation, we're joined now by Tamara Keith of NPR and Stu Rothenberg, senior editor at Inside Elections.

Thank you both. It's good to have you.

So, Tam, you just heard Chris Ruddy, who does talk to people in the White House — he said he talked to the president on Friday — say that he thinks the president is considering terminating Robert Mueller.

Is that something we were aware of?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: Certainly, there has been stuff around on Twitter of other Republicans raising questions about Mueller.

But the way that Ruddy just couched that, he made it clear that — and maybe he was protecting himself and the president, but he made it clear that he was basing that on something that one of the president's lawyers had said on TV over the weekend.

The other thing that stood out to me is talking about Robert Mueller having had a meeting at the White House, having met with the president, possibly to take the job of FBI director, which is a job he had held before.

NPR and Carrie Johnson, my colleague at NPR, had been reporting that Mueller had met with Justice Department officials and also White House officials. But the idea that he also met with the president himself is new, to me at least.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Stu Rothenberg, this is — these are — the story just keep bubbling up about Mr. Mueller, Mr. Comey, the president, the Russia investigation.

This is a White House that, this week, is trying to get — clearly get away from this.

STUART ROTHENBERG, Inside Elections: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: They have labeled it Workforce Development Week.

What — can they have — can they make any progress in changing direction when you have this kind of conversation going on?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Right. I think it's a great idea that they should try to change the discussion and narrative.

But, in this case, as you point out, there's too much is going on. During Workforce Development Week, tomorrow, we have the Sessions testimony on the Hill. We have two attorneys general, one from D.C., one from Maryland, announced that they're going to sue the president over the Emoluments Clause. We had today the Ninth Circuit Court issuing an opinion upholding the travel ban.

It's as if the president has already kind of broken so many bottles and glasses that there is glass strewn on the floor and any step he takes, he's going to crunch something.

So, I think it would be a wonderful idea for the White House to change the subject, but you can see what happened in the last 24 hours.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Tam, they're still trying. Last week, it was infrastructure week.

TAMARA KEITH: And that was not…




TAMARA KEITH: And Mr. Comey week is actually what it was.

And so the president is flying tomorrow. He's going to Waukesha, Wisconsin, to tour a technical college and talk about apprenticeships.

On a slow news day, any other president, that might sort of be a headline, but it certainly wouldn't be a front-page headline. If you're trying to distract some very big headlines, going to a technical college isn't necessarily the answer.

Here's the other thing. We have been trying to press the White House to find out what policy change the president actually envisions or they say that they want more private-to-private partnerships, to do more apprenticeships.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Around this work force development, right.

TAMARA KEITH: Exactly, around this work force development.

But then they're saying, well, you will have to wait until Wednesday to find out exactly what we're talking about. And that's a long time to wait and it's a long time to expect people to pay attention to something that is not related to the biggest news of the day.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Two other points.

One is, are there tapes? That hasn't been answered, so, every day, reporters are going to ask that. And the other thing was, I think Chris Ruddy made some news today. He said the president is considering the firing of the special counsel.

Isn't that the next week's discussion now? So, it's hard for me to believe that…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, and we couldn't tell — as Tamara was saying, we couldn't tell if he was just referring to what one of the president's lawyers is saying, but the fact that he said it has…

STUART ROTHENBERG: And the way he said it, yes, absolutely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: .. has to make us wonder.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, as you mentioned, Stu, you have got the travel ban decision today by the federal court.

There doesn't seem to be good news. I mean, health care reform seems to be, at least for the time being, slogged, stopped up. Stopped up, is that the word in the Senate? There is nothing happening yet. Maybe it will happen. We haven't seen a tax reform plan.

Are we just going to watch the news develop every week like this? And…


So, there is a problem for the White House on a number of levels. The president wants to change the narrative. He also wants to accomplish things. He hasn't yet. Maybe he will.

But one of the things I believed for many weeks and months is that he has to worry about the fatigue factor on the American public. I remember thinking back to Bill Clinton and all the drama in the Clinton White House. And after a while, people thought, ay yi yi, another thing we have. Oy gevalt, as we say.

This is the same kind of thing. It's — there is another crisis every day. And after a while, people just — they don't want that. They want things to return to normal.

And Donald Trump's — the whole premise of Donald Trump is upsetting normal. Well, you can only do that if you accomplish certain things and people start to feel better about themselves and the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How much do they recognize this at the White House, do you think, Tam?

TAMARA KEITH: Well, they're obviously trying to correct it.

They're trying to do things that normal presidents do, like hold a Cabinet meeting, as they did today, though it turned into somewhat unusual session of every Cabinet head praising the president in very effusive ways that is sort of beyond what would be normal for one of these types of events, one of these types of photo-ops.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to turn you to something — because we do pay attention to parts of the country, Stu, outside of Washington occasionally.

But there are a couple of elections coming up. Tomorrow in Virginia, there's a primary as they choose their governor.


JUDY WOODRUFF: A week from tomorrow, there's a much-watched vote to choose the next member of Congress from the 6th District in Atlanta, Georgia.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Yes, and I think that special election is a really big deal.


STUART ROTHENBERG: I think Democrats have been hoping…


STUART ROTHENBERG: In Georgia, right, the Georgia 6th special.


STUART ROTHENBERG: Democrats have been hoping for a victory to take off over a Republican seat.

This one was very close. Donald Trump won it by a point in November. And the Democrats feel like they have a great opportunity here. And if they do, then we will have another news story, another data point that the White House will have to respond to.

If the Democrats lose, I think, after losing in Kansas and Montana — and, yes, the Democrats kind of exceeded expectations — but losing in the Georgia seat, there will be a sense of just, are the voters really turning on Donald Trump or not?

So I think it's a big deal for both parties.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is the White House watching that one?

TAMARA KEITH: Oh, absolutely they're watching it.

And just today, President Trump was saying, look, we did well in Kansas, we did well in Montana, Democrats think they have something going on, but, no, they don't, look at what we have done.

So, the president himself is watching this closely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And he said complimentary things about Karen Handel, the Republican candidate.

TAMARA KEITH: I think he would take it as a personal loss if she loses.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because — is it, Stu?

STUART ROTHENBERG: It would be. It would be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A statement about Donald Trump?


Neither Karen Handel, the Democrat — the Republican, nor Jon Ossoff, the Democrat, are perfect candidates. They have raised a lot of money. There is a lot of energy, and most of it is national money and energy.

But I don't — think there's no doubt. If there was a Democrat in the White House, I would expect the Republican to win the race easily. And now, with a controversial Republican in the White House, no, this election is — it's about Donald Trump.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Stu Rothenberg, Tamara Keith, this is about the two of you. Thank you.


TAMARA KEITH: Thank you.

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