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Trump’s popularity with his base is giving him running room

Democrats and the White House continue battles over the release of President Trump’s taxes and his plans for the border, a growing field of Democratic presidential candidates highlights divisions in the party, and the arrest of Julian Assange sets up a debate around the First Amendment. Hari Sreenivasan speaks with special correspondent Jeff Greenfield to put the week in politics in perspective.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Potential showdowns between Capitol Hill and the White House. And emerging debate among Democratic contenders about who and what they will offer the voters. And an arrest that has traditional First Amendment allies divided. These are some of the week's stories that caught the attention of NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent. Jeff Greenfield who joins us from Santa Barbara. Jeff, let's start about the tensions between both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue here, we have a couple of different examples.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Tax returns are the first most obvious one. The the chair of the Democratically-controlled House Ways and Means Committee says he wants Trump's tax returns by April 23rd and a federal law compels Treasury to release them. The Treasury Department says we're not so sure, the White House is you'll never see these returns because it's a fishing expedition, you have no real reason to have them. (UNTEL) goes back to the fact that Trump is the first presidential candidate since Richard Nixon, going back to him, not to release tax returns.

    The second is the Mueller report. We're supposed to see a version of that report this week. We don't know how much of it will be as they say, redacted. The Democrats in Congress say we want to see the whole thing and we have a right to do that. That could wind up as a court tussle. And last, this sort of bizarre story that Trump asked the incoming head of Homeland Security to close the border on his own, which is flatly not what the law says. My guess is the Democrats may well say, we want some hearings to find out how true that is. There's a lot of potential tension here.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This is part of a longer pattern in the Trump administration?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    It's a pattern also among Republicans. I mean traditionally people in Congress are very jealous of their prerogatives. And even if a president of their own party does something that they see as executive overreach, they'll slap that down. But in this case again and again we've seen Republicans particularly in the Senate, which they still control, to kind of give Trump running room on what in other cases might be seen as an overreach.

    Remember, when he declared a national emergency so he could fund a border wall that the Congress wouldn't provide money for? Normally, Congress might say, no, no that's not in your power to do. But in my view, Trump is so popular with the Republican base that Republicans in Congress are willing to give Trump room to do what in other cases they would have said no, you're reaching on our power. That's a bit unusual.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You know, today the Democratic field for president got a little wider. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg enters the race. Do you see kind of the framing of what's happening in that larger field that important conversation about the party finding itself?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Always with the caveat that at this point it's ludicrous to try to figure out who's emerging as a potential strong or weak nominee. But we are seen as a kind of division between the more progressive elements of the party and the more centrist ones. Bernie Sanders, for instance, unveiled his Medicare-for-all policy, which is flat out a very radical restructuring of American health care essentially abolishing private insurance. Other Democrats I think Amy Klobuchar say, no we can't afford that, let's take a look at Obamacare and expand that.

    The other more intriguing question for me as you know, we always say that the next president is always going to be different from the last one. So if you look at the Democratic field, how do you define who's different from Trump? If it's experience in Washington, the obvious answer is Joe Biden. If it's somebody who contrasts with Trump's appeal to the white world working class elements in the country that would you know, that would be somebody like a woman, a woman of color. If you're looking at somebody who contrasts with Trump's kind of street brawler approach to politics then it's kind of a conciliatory voice like a Pete Buttigieg or (UNTEL). We're not going to know that for a while but it's interesting to see what kind of contrasts the Democrats plan to offer both in terms of substance and personality.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And finally, Julian Assange, his defense is, I'm a journalist, this is all about free speech?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Will you see what's interesting is that you've got the editorial pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times which you'd think would ordinarily rally around anyone accused by the government of leaking secrets defending him and they're not. Thee are saying no, this isn't like the Pentagon Papers this is a case they say, where Assange was trying to help (UNTEL- Private Manning?) break into a computer.

    But there are other people who say, wait a minute, if you start going after, criminally going after people who are dealing with documents they shouldn't have, I mean, that opens a big door to potentially prosecuting journalists. So we're seeing a division between normal allies. I think it goes back to the fact that in 2016 Assange was widely seen as more or less helping the Trump campaign by leaking Hillary Clinton's e-mails while not leaking information about Russian interference. So it's an unusual kind of First Amendment debate we're about to see.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Jeff Greenfield joining us from Santa Barbara. Thanks so much.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Thank you, Hari.

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