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Tamara Keith and Shawna Thomas decipher three days of Twitter turmoil

Tamara Keith of NPR and Shawna Thomas, DC bureau chief of Vice News, discuss President Trump’s reaction to the Florida shooting, the background check legislation in Congress and the fallout from the latest Russia indictments.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Turning back now to the ongoing Russia investigation, the school shooting in Florida and President Trump’s response to both, it’s time for Politics Monday with Tamara Keith of NPR and Shawna Thomas. She is the Washington bureau chief for VICE News.

    And we welcome both of you to the program, Politics Monday.

    So, Tam, the president has now had several days to, I guess you would say, soak in what happened at Parkland, the high school in Parkland last week. How do you size up his reaction? There have been tweets. He did visit Parkland over the weekend. What do you make of it?

  • Tamara Keith:

    There haven’t been that many tweets, actually. And one of them tied the FBI’s error in the shooting to the Russia investigation. Most of his focus this weekend has been on Russia.

    As for the gun issue, there is this interesting development where, with the past two mass shootings that have happened during the Trump presidency, the White House has said the president wants to be part of the conversation.

    Well, this week, they are actually trying to drive a conversation, and that’s a little different. Typically, they have sort of hung back and waited for the conversation to fade away. But this week, they are bringing some students to the White House, as well as state and local leaders, trying to do that thing that presidents can do, which is convene and guide a conversation.

    Who knows if that will result in anything different, but it is slightly different on the front end than some of the other past mass shootings during the Trump administration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, Shawna, how is it different? We’re trying to — we’re looking at this and trying to figure out, are they reacting differently?

  • Shawna Thomas:

    Well, I think there’s two things.

    There’s, one, we also had the White House confirm that President Trump has spoken with Senator John Cornyn of Texas about possibly a background check bill that him and Chris Murphy had written. And the fact that — I think that they confirmed it, put it out as a press release basically, that was one step towards an actual thing that exists on paper right now.

    And I think the other thing that can’t be denied is the power of those students, and that it’s really hard not to say something or at least put out a press release or do the student thing that you were talking about when you are faced with those kids on all of the Sunday shows yesterday, playing on a repeat on cable.

    They clearly know they are losing a little bit of a P.R. battle here, and that he needs to get on top of it, to a certain extent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, on the other hand, Tam, they are still dealing with the same relationship they have with the gun lobby, with the NRA.

    So, the same — it seems to me it’s the same landscape out there of political support. Or is it changing?

  • Tamara Keith:

    I don’t think that the landscape has necessarily changed. There’s a lot of wiggle room in the language that Sarah Sanders used in her statement about how the president feels about possibly considering this background check legislation.

    The other thing I would say is, President Trump has been tweeting a lot all weekend. He hasn’t tweeted an endorsement of the legislation, and he hasn’t spoken publicly about it. And so he hasn’t really — he has a spokesperson out there, but he hasn’t really put himself out there.

    The other thing I would say is that, earlier — this legislation actually came about as a result of the last major mass shooting, that Texas church shooting. And the NRA, at least on some level, backed the legislation. It doesn’t expand background checks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    This is a far cry from what advocates, gun control or gun safety advocates are arguing for.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in fact, Shawna, it is. It would be — the Cornyn-Murphy legislation is really about just making sure that information goes into that database, right?

  • Shawna Thomas:

    Exactly. It is about that.

    And it’s trying to make sure the databases are talking to each other properly. It does give some more money to the states to be able to do that. But I think the thing about it is — and maybe this is a small thing that people could get done.

    There are so many background check systems. There are so few people in the various agencies to actually do the work that needs to be done here, that if you don’t see any movement at least on money or trying to confirm certain things, then it is going to be a little bit toothless.

    The other problem being that the House legislation, that version of it had a concealed carry provision within it, which the NRA did like. And even Senator Cornyn has said that needs to be sort of separated from the background stuff if it’s ever going to get through the Senate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, meanwhile, these students, we heard them on our program a few minutes ago being very passionate about this, but how long will that last? We don’t know.

    I do want to turn to Russia.

    Tam, as you said, that is what you said the president did tweet a lot about over the weekend. He’s still pretty unhappy with what came out from the special counsel on Friday.

  • Tamara Keith:

    It sure seems that way.

    He has been tweeting. And those are the public statements we have from him this weekend, largely trying to separate himself, trying to really say, you know, I was a great candidate. You know, basically, the president is doing what he’s been doing all along as it relates to the Russia investigation, which is trying to say, this doesn’t threaten the legitimacy of my presidency. Here, look at all the other ways how.

    And he didn’t go after Russia.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And he also didn’t offer any prescriptions for how he, as president of the United States, would lead the nation in dealing with what laid out in that indictment is a very serious problem.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    And he also kind of went after his own national security adviser just a little bit on Twitter.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He sure did.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    Yes.

    And I think one of the things is, the indictment doesn’t indict him, and it doesn’t indict the Trump campaign. And the sort of overreaction on Twitter makes you wonder a little bit, why are you overreacting so much?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as you say, because, Tam, if you look at it, I mean, the Russians started in 2014. They were clearly trying to hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances.

    Donald Trump points out, well, I — you know, they’re not saying that I was the main beneficiary of this, because this happened long before I was a candidate.

  • Tamara Keith:

    It started long before he was a candidate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Ultimately, the indictment makes clear that they did favor both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and were trying to disadvantage Hillary Clinton as part of that campaign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sure. Yes.

    Well, it is — we heard the conversation earlier in the show, Shawna. People look at this indictment. It’s deadly serious. You have to believe there’s more coming out. And yet the White House reaction is no.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    No, but it — one of the things that — the White House doesn’t need to push back necessarily in the way they did.

    They have an opportunity here to shift the conversation to our election process in 2018, to shift the conversation to what are the states doing, how is the federal government going to act with what the states are doing to protect the election systems, and, for some reason, they aren’t doing that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And not going after Russia, as both of you are pointing out.

    Shawna Thomas, Tamara Keith, thank you both.

    Politics Monday.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You’re welcome.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    Thanks.

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