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Can Trump pursue a conservative agenda?

President Donald Trump started his “working vacation” with declining poll numbers, a legislative failure on healthcare and the convening of a grand jury in an ongoing investigation. This weekend, The New York Times also reported on a Republican shadow campaign for the 2020 presidential race, which raises questions about the state of the conservative agenda. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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    As President Trump begins his working vacation, some of the news for the administration might appear grim. There are the declining poll numbers, a legislative failure on healthcare, the convening of a grand jury in an ongoing investigation, and the report in today's "New York Times" about a shadow campaign of would-be 2020 GOP presidential candidates. But those headlines may be distracting us from significant changes the Trump administration is making.

    "NewsHour Weekend" special correspondent Jeff Greenfield is here with me now.

    Before we get started with some of these changes, let's talk about this "Times" article here. Kellyanne Conway dismissed it this morning on ABC.

    Too soon for these folks to be doing this?


    Well, it just shows you the unique nature of the Trump presidency, and that's six months into his term. There are Republicans who say, well, he may not be around. I happen to think that trying to figure out 2020 from 2017 is a fool's errand, and when you see that some people speculated, well, maybe this is about 2024, you really want to say to the political press, get a grip.




    But I do think — I just think it's just one small piece of evidence that this is a presidency unlike any other we have seen, that there'd even be thought, well, we don't know if he'll be around.


    Even that considered, there are the legislative defeats, the health care was the kind of the most spectacular one. But there's kind of changes that are happening underneath that Congress doesn't necessarily have to approve.


    Yes, and I think all of the daily OMG stories, breaking news, breaking news, is kind of distracting us from the following.

    The federal bench is being totally remade. Dozens of new appointments with no traditional filibuster, they are going to get through this Congress at the district court level and significantly the court of appeals level, right below the court, where the great majorities of decisions are made. Trump has outsourced judges to the Federalist Society and other very conservative groups. So, this judiciary is going to move to the right, and those people are lifetime appointments.

    Then you get the changes on things like environmental policy, the Paris accord, climate accord obviously, but all across the line — new rules, old rules being brought back, all to the benefit of drillers, of coal mines, of the auto industry, a 180 turn.

    Consumer protection, you know, the Dodd-Frank bill that was supposed to protect us from banking excesses after the meltdown, that's being eroded away. The Volcker rule so-called, to stop banks from speculating, may be eroded.

    On race and crime, what the attorney general was doing on everything from how the local police departments are being policed, to the whole notion now that affirmative action may be under threat. You know, they're going to after schools that may be discriminated against whites.

    These are huge changes but they don't get spotlight of the latest Marx Brothers' White House impression, but it's significant stuff.


    Yes, and all of these shifts are to the political right.


    That's really interesting. There were people who thought, you know, Donald Trump is essentially a third party candidate. He did a hostile takeover of the party.

    And some of what he said was a great variance with the Republican conservative catechism. Maybe we'll tax rich, maybe single payer works in some places. He'd been pro-choice. He'd been pro-gun control.

    But I think — I think that he has either decided or instinctively decided — it's hard to know with the president — that I'm losing support. There are signs even among my base that they are becoming a little less enthusiastic.




    So, every — every decision that he has made, whether it's social policy that the transgender troops no longer are going to be allowed in the military — I mean, he tweeted that, it's not a policy. Everything has been just to shore up a conservative base, both socially and economically, and I think that's significant.


    All right. Jeff Greenfield, thanks so much.

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