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Trump defense of aide accused of domestic abuse collides with the #MeToo movement

President Trump’s highly anticipated infrastructure plan and budget was upstaged by continuing questions about allegations against White House aides. Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join Judy Woodruff to break down the politics of the the cloud of domestic abuse allegations hanging over the White House and the White House’s expensive budget proposal.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We turn back now to politics and to our regular Politics Monday pair, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Welcome to both of you.

    So, I think, by my calendar, we are now in day six following the saga of the departed White House aide, Tam, Rob Porter after allegations of domestic abuse by both his former wives. The White House still apparently struggling to explain what happened, how they handled it.

    Are we any clearer on how they did handle it?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Not really.

    We get new timelines on a semi-regular basis. And, today, Sarah Sanders delivered what was a new timeline that encompassed some of the previous timelines. And the basic message was, within 24 hours of learning the full extent of the accusations, he was gone.

    However, there have been — you know, the chief of staff, General Kelly, has tried to say that he acted within 40 minutes. It's not clear what that actually means, because, within that 24-hour period and well after that 40 minutes, the White House was still on the record praising Rob Porter.

    And then, of course, you have the president of the United States, who on Friday came out and said that he hoped that Porter would get a great new job, that he was a valued member of the White House team, so sort of contradicting the distancing that other White House aides had been trying to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Excuse me.

    And then the president, Amy, tweeted on Saturday basically sympathy for people who were accused, in his words, wrongly of these kinds of things.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    So, there are two branches to this story. The one is the sort of narrative that we have seen now for this entire year, which is the lack of vetting for many of the staffers, the chaos inside the White House, the sloppiness inside the White House in terms of the staffing and dealing with when there's internal problems.

    But then the other branch of this is the issue of women, and we are now in the middle of what we're now in the middle of, a reckoning on discrimination and violence against women and assault against women, which is taking this in an entirely different direction.

    The president, of course, not simply just defending Porter as a person and saying good things about him, but also going on to say, I don't know, maybe this MeToo — he didn't say it exactly like this, but maybe this MeToo movement has gone a little bit too far. Why aren't we talking about the people who have been accused? We spend way too much time focusing on the accusers and taking their word for it.

    That's very much out of step with at least where we know as a society and where other industries have gone, which is to say, we're going to believe the accusers first and then we're going to start talking about these who are accused.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you did have the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, Tam, today saying, well, I talked to the president and he told me to tell you, meaning to the press corps, that domestic abuse shouldn't be tolerated in any form.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right. And then the question was, well, why doesn't he just tell us that himself or why doesn't he tweet it?

    The one time that we know of that President Trump has been asked by reporters about the MeToo movement, it happened in the same time that he was also asked about Roy Moore. This was back in November. And it's a fascinating 45 seconds, where he was asked about the MeToo movement.

    He says, it's great that some of these things are coming to light, women should be heard, and then within 30 seconds, was also saying Roy Moore denies it, we should hear what he says, we should listen to him, Roy Moore being the Alabama Senate candidate who President Trump endorsed.

    So there is this sort of distinction between people that President Trump likes and knows and has spoken to and abstract others, Democrats, Harvey Weinstein or Al Franken, who President Trump has a very easy time criticizing and didn't talk about a rush to judgment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let's talk about, Amy, what the White House did want to talk about, and that is a release of their 2019 fiscal budget, which, as we pointed out earlier, deficits are not a major feature.

    Every budget statement, whether it's going to pass or not, is a statement of political priorities, isn't it?

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right. That's right.

    As a lot of people have talked about, Republicans, at least since Obama was in office, made debt and deficit a central argument, certainly in the 2012 election. That was the Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan message, that this president, Barack Obama, had just been responsible for skyrocketing deficits that are going to be burdening our children from here to kingdom come.

    What's interesting, though, is, ever since 2012, you have seen sort of a decrease in the intensity in which Republicans have sort of made this argument about debt and deficit.

    President Trump, as a candidate, he did talk about, I'm going to balance the budget in eight years, but he also said, I'm not going to cut entitlements. He also talked about big spending on infrastructure and on the military.

    So, he did not run as a Paul Ryan fiscal conservative. He ran as a Trump Republican, which is, I'm going to talk about some of these issues, but, fundamentally, you're going to be able to — I'm going to be able to do both of those things.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And one of the political questions, of course, emerging from this, Tam, is, is there some sort of political price to pay among Republican voters?

  • Tamara Keith:

    And that is a very good question, and the answer to it isn't particularly clear.

    Sort of the ranking among all voters of what is your top issue, what is the thing you care about the most, debt and deficit have just been falling like a rock in terms — and probably in large part because Republican leaders aren't talking about it in the way that they have in the past.

    Mick Mulvaney was asked today — he's the budget director — what happened to Mick Mulvaney the budget — the deficit hawk? And he's like, well, he's still here, but he understands — because the White House budget shows a deficit and doesn't balance the budget. He's like, but Mick Mulvaney understands that it's up to Congress to do these things. And when we ask them to, they just don't.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We are going to have to leave it there. Lots more opportunities to talk about deficits in the future.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tam, Amy, thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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