JOHN HARWOOD: Hillary Clinton declared herself the Democratic Party’s nominee. So where does that leave Bernie Sanders? Donald Trump talks terror threats and Supreme Court nominees. And President Obama pushes through sweeping new rules to extend overtime pay to millions more Americans. I’m John Harwood, in for Gwen Ifill, tonight on Washington Week.
DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) A plane got blown out of the sky. If anybody thinks it wasn’t blown out of the sky, you're 100 percent wrong.
FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: (From video.) The consequences of his statements are not just offensive to people, they are potentially dangerous.
MR. HARWOOD: Unpredictability. That’s become the calling card for the presumptive Republican nominee. So Donald Trump named potential Supreme Court choices to reassure nervous conservatives. Then he turned to Hillary Clinton’s qualifications and Bill Clinton’s past. All while Democrats face internal strife as Bernie Sanders targets the party’s rules and its front-runner in a fight for transformation.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): (From video.) The Democratic Party is going to have to make a very, very profound and important decision. It can do the right thing and open its doors and welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change.
MR. HARWOOD: And new rules from the Obama administration making millions more Americans eligible for overtime pay.
Around the table tonight, Dan Balz, chief correspondent for The Washington Post; Lisa Lerer, national politics reporter for AP; Joan Biskupic, legal editor for Reuters; and Alexis Simendinger, White House correspondent for RealClearPolitics.
ANNOUNCER: Award-winning reporting and analysis. Covering history as it happens. Live from our nation's capital, this is Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Once again, live from Washington, sitting in for Gwen Ifill this week, John Harwood of CNBC.
MR. HARWOOD: Good evening.
The Republican Party has wrestled with bitter divisions for months: Donald Trump on one side, the stop Trump movement on the other. But suddenly it’s the Democratic race that’s awash in bitterness, as Bernie Sanders keeps trying to spark a political revolution and Democratic leaders want him to back off so front-runner Hillary Clinton can focus on November.
Tensions between the two campaigns erupted in a ballroom brawl at the Democratic convention in Nevada last weekend. The Vermont senator, officially an independent throughout his career in Washington, shared his frustration with the Democratic Party during a rally in California this week.
SEN. SANDERS: (From video.) In every state that we have run in, we have had to take on literally almost the entire Democratic establishment. And in state after state, the people have stood up and helped defeat the establishment.
MR. HARWOOD: Now, Clinton is looking past her Democratic challenger and instead aiming her attacks on presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. She flatly declared Trump unqualified to be commander in chief.
MRS. CLINTON: (From video.) If you go through many of his irresponsible, reckless, dangerous comments, it’s not just somebody saying something off the cuff. I have concluded he is not qualified to be president of the United States.
MR. HARWOOD: Trump threw it right back at the former secretary of state, using words from Sanders as his weapon.
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) Bernie Sanders said that Hillary really isn’t – essentially not fit to be president. She is not qualified to be president. You know why? He said, because she suffers from bad judgment.
MR. HARWOOD: Now, let’s start with the widening Democratic divide. Many Clinton allies have been quiet and polite about Sanders’ attacks on the party and the front-runner. But what’s happening behind the scenes, Lisa?
LISA LERER: Well, behind the scenes there’s a lot of frustration in the Democratic Party with Sanders’ insistence on staying in the race. The math is really not there for him. The pathway is more and more narrow. Basically, by the primary, she is less than a hundred delegates away from capturing this nomination.
The problem, a lot of Democrats have told me, isn’t so much that Bernie Sanders is staying in the race. They believe it’s his right to stay through all the primaries and, of course, as we remember, that’s what Hillary Clinton did in 2008. It’s his tone. It’s that he’s staying in the primaries and he’s actively going against her. And now, with the specter of Donald Trump looming on the other side, they’re awfully nervous that he’s, in fact, weakening her at this crucial moment as the party heads into the general election.
MR. HARWOOD: And why is he taking that tone? What is he trying to accomplish with it?
MS. LERER: That is the question in Washington of the week, of the day, of the hour. That is what everybody’s wondering. There are a lot of theories. There are theories that this is – his campaign is taking that tone and he really doesn’t think that.
You know, I think when you’re a politician and you’re attracting thousands of people to your rallies, he’s still – money is still coming in, of course not at the pace it once was. It’s really – his fundraising has really slowed down. But he still gets huge crowds at these rallies, thousands of people. He wants to get his message out, and he believes that these kinds of attacks are resonating. It’s possible he believes that there still is a pathway there, even though that would largely depend on flipping superdelegates, who are by their definition party insiders. So that’s a pretty tough road for him to go down.
JOAN BISKUPIC: Well, Lisa, he just referred to the rules in that clip. Is there any way he can change the math at all? I mean, do you envision a scenario that would work in his direction at this point?
MS. LERER: So you don’t want to say anything is impossible this year in politics, right, because it’s been a highly unpredictable year. But it is really, really, really hard. She’s – as I said, she’s less than a hundred delegates away. So the only – and the way the Democratic system works is it’s proportional. So even when she loses, she still picks up delegates. So once you have that gap in the pledged delegates, it becomes very difficult for him to catch up. The only way he can do it is by flipping these superdelegates – and not just a couple dozen like President Obama did back in 2008; hundreds of superdelegates.
Superdelegates are elected officials. They are lobbyists. They are party officials. They are people who love the Democratic Party. That’s why they’re superdelegates. They’re not likely to come along to a guy who’s attacking the party. So it just doesn’t seem like a realistic scenario at all.
ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: Lisa, one of the things we’ve heard from Senator Sanders over the weeks is almost an acknowledgment at times that he understood he was not going to be the nominee and he was looking ahead to the convention and the platform. What’s the latest on the fighting that’s going on inside the Democratic National Committee? And there has been – there have been some harsh words exchanged –
MS. LERER: Yes. (Laughs.)
MS. SIMENDINGER: – this week about the importance of the convention to the Sanders campaign, to Bernie Sanders, and what they hope to achieve.
MS. LERER: So one the things his supporters really want are these platform changes, to get some of their ideals enshrined in the Democratic Party platform. Now, the platform is mostly – I mean, it’s an important document, sets the tone for the party, but it’s not like a legislative document. But they would like some reforms to campaign finance. They would like some of their Wall Street regulations put in that platform. They’d also like changes made to the system, how primaries work, pretty arcane stuff.
I think there is an incentive, when this is all said and done, for Bernie Sanders to get onboard with Hillary Clinton. First of all, I think it’s hard to imagine any liberal in Washington wanting to be the guy that helped elect Donald Trump. Nobody wants that on their tombstone.
MS. SIMENDINGER: And he has said that.
MS. LERER: Yeah, least of all Bernie Sanders. And, should Democrats be able to regain control of the Senate, there’s potentially an awfully good job for him, which would be chairman of that Senate Budget Committee, where he could, you know, affect a lot of these principles that he has been talking about in his campaign.
DAN BALZ: You know, we’ve spent this spring talking about how chaotic the Republican convention might be because of the divisions within the party. This week that talk all shifted toward the Democratic convention in Philadelphia. What’s your sense of how worried the Clinton people are about how quickly they will be able to get the party unified after the primary’s end?
MS. LERER: They’re not – they are – there is some degree of worry. They were hoping to basically wrap up this process when the primaries end, you know, in early June. Now it looks like this can continue on all the way to July. That complicates a lot of things, including how you plan a convention and how you integrate these supporters. They certainly don’t want scenes of people booing at the convention or the kind of chaotic scenes we saw in Nevada this week. So they’re hoping they can do what they can to get Sanders and his supporters onboard.
There aren’t a lot of natural allies between the two candidates. In 2008, Dianne Feinstein really helped broker that peace. She hosted a meeting, a very famous meeting, between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at her house. There isn’t a natural person to do that in this case. Elizabeth Warren’s name is tossed around. It’s unclear how realistic that is. So there aren’t a lot of pathways for brokering this peace, and that I think that’s what makes people nervous.
MR. HARWOOD: Guys, let’s take a look at a little data, because the one thing that both Trump and Clinton share are high unfavorability ratings. If you look at these numbers from the CBS/New York Times poll, you can see two-to-one negative for Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton’s slightly better than that. The only one of the three major candidates left is Bernie Sanders at 41-33, but of course he doesn’t have much of a shot at the nomination. If you look at the general election matchup, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, it’s now a six-point race. It had been 10 in the CBS/New York Times poll, so it’s getting closer.
Dan, what’s happening? Why is Donald Trump drawing closer to Hillary Clinton? And what can either of them do to boost their favorability with voters in the next few months?
MR. BALZ: Boy, that second question is a – is a very tough question. And having talked to people on both sides about it, there’s some sense that there’s very little that they can do, other than kind of the natural course of events. Which is to say, once a person becomes the nominee, voters begin to look at them a little bit differently, and presumably a successful convention makes people feel a little bit better about them. But we’ve never had two nominees who are as unpopular as these two.
I think the numbers are tightening in part because the Republican Party is beginning to coalesce around Donald Trump, surprisingly, because there are still some very prominent holdouts, Speaker Paul Ryan being the most prominent, who have yet to endorse. But as you look at some of these polls, he’s getting a very substantial part of the Republican vote, equivalent to what she is getting in the Democratic vote. And I would have thought that this might have taken a little bit longer to happen. I think one thing that’s helpful to him among Republicans is the reality that, whether they love Donald Trump or not, they really don’t want Hillary Clinton. And that is a motivating factor in the way Republicans are beginning to think about this race.
MR. HARWOOD: Well, speaking of consolidating the Republican vote, you know, Donald Trump, who still hasn’t released any of his tax records, did put out a list of eight men and three women he would consider nominating to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Here’s what all 11 of those have in common.
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) I want high intellect. I want great intellect. These people are all of very high, high intellect. They’re pro-life. And so that’s my list. And we are going to choose from – most likely from this list. Perhaps, outside of the defense of our country, perhaps the single most important thing the next president is going to have to do is pick Supreme Court justices.
MR. HARWOOD: So, Joan, we’re going to talk about President Obama’s pick a little bit later, who is still languishing. But what do we know about the Trump 11?
MS. BISKUPIC: Well, this is interesting because this is a departure from some other things that he’s done, because this list is similar to what maybe another Republican presidential candidate might have put out: 11 people; six federal judges who had been put on the court by President George W. Bush, five state judges. That’s really unusual. We haven’t had a state court judge elevated to the Supreme Court since 1981, when Ronald Reagan chose Sandra Day O’Connor from Arizona. So that’s also showing a bit of his wanting to go out into the heartland, didn’t want to pick someone from inside the Beltway, at least hypothetically. I should – we should all be cautious about this list. We don’t know how real it is. He has said it’s a representation of what he wants. He has said he might add names. But let’s just take it at face value for this moment.
MR. HARWOOD: But, Joan, on the political question, are conservatives in fact reassured by the names on this list?
MS. BISKUPIC: Yes, yes. But they’ve also – they’re expressing both some favorability toward this, but also a little skepticism. Will he actually put these people on?
Now, one thing I will mention, there are two names that were not on his list that typically come up for Republican candidates. One is Paul Clement, the former U.S. solicitor general who has been the go-to lawyer for conservative causes, including the birth control mandate that we’ll talk about later in the program. And a man by the name of Brett Kavanaugh, who is a judge on the D.C. Circuit, which happens to be the springboard for a lot of federal judges. In fact, Justice Scalia had come from the D.C. Circuit. So Donald Trump has broken a little bit from that practice in terms of going with insiders, but all 11 of these people are folks with a record.
I do just want to point to one that has a little amusement in his background, a Texas judge by the name of Don Willett, who Trump chose, who happens to be almost a rival tweeter like Donald Trump. (Laughter.)
MR. HARWOOD: I’ve seen those tweets.
MS. BISKUPIC: In fact, he has mocked Donald Trump repeatedly. And one of my favorite tweets of his way back when was, can’t wait till Trump rips off his face Mission: Impossible style and reveals a laughing Ruth Bader Ginsberg, with the idea being that people who are worried about the Court would never want Donald Trump. But he put out a list that, again, will not reassure liberals, but conservatives.
MR. HARWOOD: Speaking of ripping off people’s faces, Dan – (laughter) – Donald Trump, in addition –
MR. BALZ: Interesting segue. (Laughter.)
MR. HARWOOD: – in addition to naming these potential appointments, also went very hard at Bill and Hillary Clinton, at their relationship, at Bill Clinton’s past, you know, talked again as he has in the past about Bill Clinton as an abuser of women. Is that a potent attack? And are we going to see a lot more of it?
MR. BALZ: Well, we’re going to see a lot more of it. I mean, Donald Trump is going to go places in terms of his rhetoric in this election that no candidate has ever gone before, and he’s already signaled that. There’s been discussion of will he become a somewhat more – you know, will he go through a modification once he becomes the actual nominee? I don’t think there’s any indication at this point that he’s going to tone down his style.
And he is a relentless attacker, and one of the things he wants to do is put Hillary Clinton on the defensive in any way he can. And one of the ways he wants to try to do that is to bring up Bill Clinton’s past, I think obviously in part because he’s so weak among women at this point – he’s got such terrible numbers among women – he needs to do something to kind of change that equation.
But also, I mean, it’s – you know, he’s doing a variety of things, John, that are meant to reassure Republicans that he can really take her on. Some of them are the kinds of things you’re talking about in terms of the attacks. Others are the kinds of things in terms of what he did with the Supreme Court justices. He signed an agreement this week with the Republican National Committee to begin to jointly raise funds, which the party badly wanted him to do and it took a while to get that done. He’s made other appointments which are reassuring to kind of the party establishment. So he’s going in several directions at once to try to show that he is going to be the same kind of candidate he’s been throughout the primaries, but also that he understands that the party wants to see certain things for reassurance.
MR. HARWOOD: All right, we’re going to – we’re going to shift to the current occupant of the White House.
MS. SIMENDINGER: Oh, OK.
MR. HARWOOD: And that’s relevant to you, Alexis. Millions more Americans will become eligible for overtime pay later this year, thanks to a change being pushed through by the Obama White House. Vice President Joe Biden announced the new overtime rules and explained why they’re long overdue.
VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) When Ronald Reagan was president, for example, the Fortune 500 companies, the CEO made on average 32 times as much as the average employee. Today, it’s 380 times as much. What happened?
MR. HARWOOD: Now, the Obama administration says the rule change is a means to restore and expand the middle class. But, Alexis, it’s also a legacy move for the president.
MS. SIMENDINGER: Oh, absolutely. And very much a political effort to expand what it is the president says that he came to office to do, and hopes to defend and see a Democratic president who succeeds him if he hopes to continue. But also to really argue the case more strongly, I think, to voters who are angst-ridden about the economy and are concerned about whether the system is rigged against them, that the government works – the government can do positive things for them. That, with the Department of Labor behind him, and this rulemaking that took a couple of years to actually complete, that in an instant he can argue, look, we’re going to change the scale for those of you who are salaried, who are getting in some way the shaft from your employers on what you’re being compensated for. So in an instant it went up – the threshold went up to $47,476. If you earn under that, you now have to get paid overtime if you’re working more than a 40-hour a week and you are within the actual description of it.
All of that is an argument very much along the lines of what the Democratic Party is trying to say and will say at its convention. President Obama is going to play a big role at that convention to argue, as we’ve been talking about with Lisa, bringing the party together; trying to argue forcefully about why he believes not only the record of the Obama administration is positive, but the record going forward with a Democrat would also be positive, that finishing what we started.
MR. HARWOOD: Now, Republicans in Congress say they want to block this rule. Can they do it?
MS. SIMENDINGER: They cannot do it just – unless they do new legislation. And that’s the bait, right? The bait is that this was done by rulemaking over several years. It’s indexed for inflation, but you know, in the far distant future. In other words, it would actually begin to increase by inflation without Congress trying to act. But the bait is, go ahead and try. Go ahead and try to tell middle-class Americans who just got a raise that you Republicans want to take it away. And so in some ways that is part of the political jujitsu, right?
MS. BISKUPIC: Well, let me ask a practical question about it. It affects millions of workers, and there has been some pushback from business. Is that – you know, how do you think this will play out on the ground?
MS. SIMENDINGER: You know, conservatively, the administration says 4.2 million salaried workers could benefit. There are other estimates that say the downstream effect could be much more. The business community, especially small businesses, have pushed back and said, look, the economy is just not strong enough. This money’s going to have to come from somewhere. And we’re going to have to change either who we offer the salary to – in other words, the category of who’s a manager – or we’re going to have to change them to hourly workers. And the administration has said go ahead and do that because their argument is, any way you do that, it’s going to work. The employers are saying, no, this money – we’re going to have to raise our costs, we’re going to have to trim the number of jobs and the people we employ. And so there is, you know, a lot of unrest about how it would actually work. And I have to argue it has to happen by December 1, so that’s not too far in the future.
MR. BALZ: Are there other things in the pipeline like this? I mean, in other words, we’ve seen these things happen in the final year, although he’s done executive order things over the course of the last few years. But how much more of this is kind of sitting out there that might pop?
MS. SIMENDINGER: Well, it’s as if the administration has gone around the Cabinet table and almost chosen in the last year something from almost every department. So, you know, there probably is more coming. What it is I don’t know, but rulemaking is one thing.
MR. HARWOOD: Thanks, Alexis.
Now, this week the Supreme Court avoided issuing a major ruling on a challenge to Obamacare, one of the president’s other legacy achievements. This case involves religious groups that oppose the mandated contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Now, Joan, the judges said there was room for compromise between the two sides. Did they sketch it out?
MS. BISKUPIC: A little bit, but it’s a question of whether the two parties can actually get together, and whether the litigation will continue or there will be a settlement. At issue is a provision that was spawned by the Obamacare law, enacted through a regulation, that requires free birth control for employees nationwide. And a group of religious organizations that want to – want out of it and can opt out of it – the government is saying you can opt out of it, but have you to tell us who your insurance company is and you have to fill out some forms. And they said, no, we don’t want to even do that because we don’t want to be part of the process that would then enable anybody to get birth control. We want – we just don’t want any part of it. And the justices, now at – ideologically divided – four liberals, four conservatives – came up with an unsigned opinion that essentially kicked it back to the lower courts and said, could you guys please figure out a compromise here?
Now, it was essentially a unanimous ruling by the justices to these courts, saying even though most of you have ruled for the administration saying that this provision just requiring notice on the insurance issue is not impinging religious rights, we’re going to throw out those rulings and have you start all over again. So it’s really tough because what – it’s actually a very fine line to walk here. The Obama administration has already tried to accommodate these religious organizations. For example, it’s the Archdiocese of Washington, a group of nuns called the Little Sisters of the Poor – very attractive name for this case. You know, so it’s gotten a lot of sympathy that way. But the administration’s saying, look, you don’t need to be part of providing this kind of coverage, but we do need to know, you know, about your employees and who the insurance companies are.
MR. HARWOOD: If we had nine justices on this Court, would the case have been decided?
MS. BISKUPIC: You would have had a ruling, and you probably would have had a ruling reversing the lower courts five – with five conservatives. Because Justice Scalia in an earlier case on this issue, in 2014, had very much been against the administration, thinking that this kind of requirement could be – could impinge on religious rights.
MS. LERER: We’ve seen a number of these cases over the health-care law. Are there other cases percolating in the lower courts that we could see rise up to the Supreme Court?
MS. BISKUPIC: Constantly, yes. (Laughter.) Since when, I think that bill was signed in – March 23rd, 2010, and it went into effect a couple years later, we had the one in 2012, the major one. We had a second version of it last year. And those were larger challenges. This, Lisa, was not a direct hit on the law itself as much as it was on this provision. And that’s exactly what we’re going to start seeing, more that go to individual provisions, yeah.
MR. HARWOOD: Is the flow of cases slowing down, at least?
MS. BISKUPIC: Well, there’s – what’s happening is they’re kind of minimizing in terms of they’re getting to the guts of the law. They’re now around the fringes. But as you can see, when you talk about religion and birth control, it inspires lots of other passions.
MR. HARWOOD: Thanks, Joan. Thanks, everybody.
Now I’m delighted to tell you, and you will be delighted to hear, Gwen Ifill will be back around this table next week, right where she belongs. Be sure to tune in.
As always, the conversation continues online on the Washington Week Webcast Extra, where among other things we’ll talk about President Obama’s trip to Vietnam and Hiroshima, and some of the cases still to be decided this term by the Supreme Court. You can find it later tonight and all week long at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek.
I’m John Harwood ,in for Gwen Ifill. Thanks for joining us. Good night.