Special: Trump eyes 2020 challengers and will skip White House Correspondents Dinner

Apr. 28, 2017 AT 9:40 p.m. EDT

During a speech to the National Rifle Association, President Trump revived an old campaign slam at Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, dismissing his potential 2020 Democratic challenger as "Pocahontas." On the same trip, Trump raised money for Georgia Congressional candidate Karen Handel in her bid to beat Democrat Jon Ossoff in a seat held by Republicans for four decades. Plus, first daughter Ivanka Trump spoke in Berlin. And while the president will skip the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, he still craves media attention.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is Washington Week Extra, where we pick up online where we left off on the broadcast.
Donald Trump may be only 100 days into his presidency, but he’s obviously keeping an eye on who his Democratic challengers may be in 2020. Here’s what he told the audience at the NRA’s annual meeting in Atlanta today.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) I have a feeling that in the next election you’re going to be swamped with candidates, but you’re not going to be wasting your time. (Laughter.) You’ll have plenty of those Democrats coming over, and you’re going to say no, sir, no thank you – no, ma’am, perhaps ma’am. It may be Pocahontas, remember that. (Laughter, boos.) And she is not big for the NRA, that I can tell you.
MR. COSTA: (Laughs.) Michael, that to me was so telling, that he’s already looking ahead to 2020, and he’s maybe thinking about it when his tax plan’s being tied to the wealthy, to Wall Street, that maybe his challenger on the Democratic side could be a populist, a progressive like Senator Warren.
MICHAEL SCHERER: You get the sense that President Trump would love it if the job was just to campaign nonstop for four years and not have to govern. He loves that stuff. You see him going back there to, you know, bringing up this racially-charged word that got him in a lot of trouble, but he’s doing it to the base. He loves being in front of those crowds. And I think one of the things he’s had a lot of trouble with as president is he doesn’t have a heel to play off of. You know, the people who have been obstructing him are fellow Republicans. You can’t rail against them every day. So you saw he plays that very well. I think he would love for Warren to be his rival in a reelection. I think there are a lot of other Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, who wouldn’t mind to have Elizabeth Warren at the top of the ticket for the Democratic Party. So, yeah, I think he’s just – he’s just sort of playing it up. He’s having fun. I think it will be interesting to see what he does tomorrow night. I mean, he’s going to be back in that campaign rally setup.
MR. COSTA: Saturday night in Harrisburg, the president, although White House Correspondents Dinner will be going on, will be speaking to his base. But real quick, Michael, on Senator Warren, do you think she’s angling to run in 2020? She’s out with a new book. She’s making some speeches.
MR. SCHERER: She’s out with a new book. She put herself on Armed Services, which is a tell, I think. You know, this is – the scuttlebutt on her, when Hillary was looking at her, was not only can I not trust her, but does she have foreign policy experience. And here she is spending the next four years working on that. I think she has made the decision to put herself in a position to make the decision to run. I don’t think she’s made the decision to run. So I don’t think it’s a certainty that she’ll run. She’s going to be over 70 years old by the next election. But if you look at the Democratic field right now, it’s not one populated with a lot of young, fresh faces. It’s hard to see exactly who is going to rise above the pack right now, and of that group Elizabeth Warren is the one who could, by announcing, almost guarantee she’d raise almost a billion dollars in small money. I mean, she has an enormous following, a lot of base support. So she has a lot of advantages going into the primary.
MR. COSTA: If she doesn’t run, some of my sources on the Hill tell me they wouldn’t mind seeing Senator Franken of Minnesota think about a run in terms of his celebrity status, being able to go after President Trump. While he was in Atlanta today, the president endorsed Georgia’s former secretary of state, Karen Handel, in the runoff election to fill Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District House seat. Handel is running against first-time candidate Jon Ossoff. Jake, is this a sure-fire win for Republicans down in Georgia now that there’s a runoff race?
JAKE SHERMAN: I was having breakfast with a top Republican today who says it’s over. They’re going to have to work at it and spend some money. But you were down there, and this district is changing. The suburbs of Atlanta are not – it’s not – this Republican said to me Georgia’s not a ruby-red state like Mississippi. I mean, I remember when we were down there this fall it was in play – we thought it was in play for the presidential election. It wasn’t in play. But this is one of those seats – special elections are strange, and parties spend a lot of money to avoid getting embarrassed. Republicans are spending money in Montana, where there’s a special election for Ryan Zinke’s seat. And they – top party operatives say to me better to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars or a couple million dollars to make sure we win this seat instead of being embarrassed and having the narrative turn against us.
MR. COSTA: Are Democrats helping out Ossoff? And what’s their strategy? Because if it’s a more swing district or more traditionally Republican that leads a little bit more toward the center now, do you bring a Senator Warren in or do you bring in a Bill Clinton?
MR. SHERMAN: I would probably bring in Bill Clinton. I’m not sure – you know, I’d bring in someone like Bill Clinton. I’m not sure I’d bring in Bill Clinton specifically. (Laughter.) And, frankly, to be honest with you, both parties have told me – both sides have told me they don’t want to nationalize this race, they want to localize it, and so it will be interesting to see how they use Trump. Trump fundraised for Handel today in Atlanta while he was down there, probably raised her some big bucks. But Republicans say to me one lesson they’ve learned is not to nationalize these races, run these races locally, keep them squarely focused on the district, don’t bring in big names. I mean, you saw Paul Ryan raise money for a lot of these Republican candidates, but you don’t want to be tied to anybody. You want to run these as kind of discrete races.
MR. COSTA: Some of these Democrats, though, when I was down there, they would love to nationalize it.
MR. SHERMAN: Of course.
MR. COSTA: There’s this break in the Democratic Party. Some Democrats think if you run against Trump you really get people out to vote, others say it’s a dangerous strategy.
Turning to the first family, Ivanka Trump made her first official overseas trip as the president’s advisor this week and found herself face to face with a less-than-friendly crowd. German Chancellor Angela Merkel invited the first daughter to Berlin to take part in an international summit on entrepreneurship, where she boasted about her father’s support for paid family leave. Skeptics in the audience, however, hissed and booed. Ivanka also blamed the media for perpetuating a negative image of her father. Julie, is Ivanka’s role something that’s now at the center of this White House? And what does this trip tell us about her role in the next 100 days?
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Well, I think her role is really still very unclear. I mean, it’s very clear that the White House wants to – wants the perception to be that she has a central role. She certainly is very ambitious and wants to be playing a prominent role in her father’s administration, in part because of what she talked about in Berlin, that she sees herself as a moderating influence on him, someone he listens to, someone who can broaden his mind on key issues. She mentioned Syrian refugees in a(n) interview she did while she was there. But, you know, she – the booing that she weathered while she was over there did kind of point up the contrast here between what she’s saying she cares about and what Trump is actually doing, and I think that’s going to continue to sort of bedevil them because if they can’t find a lane for her where she’s actually able to show that she’s got some influence on policymaking, it’s not clear what she’s doing there. Now, she did – I was very impressed with how poised she was. That was a really difficult moment to be at an event like that and you’re getting booed. And instead of sort of brushing it off like you might expect an event host to do, the person moderating said, well, you hear the boos, so what’s your response to all of this? And she had a response. But I still think the question is, does she really have any power? Does she really have a voice in this administration? Nothing President Trump has done to date would indicate that she does.
MR. COSTA: That point you made about her comments regarding Syria and Syrian refugees, what did you learn this week in your reporting? So she makes this comment about maybe having – welcoming some refugees as part of the solution on Syria. Was that taken seriously inside of the White House as the advice of a top advisor that should be heeded and considered? Or was it just discarded by some of the senior officials?
MS. DAVIS: I think it was greeted with some degree of panic, like nobody really – I don’t think that was a planned thing for her to come out and break with him on this issue, which he’s been very aggressively, you know, tough about, you know, we’re sealing the borders, no more refugees, and actually in the original version of the travel ban it was a complete blockage on Syrian refugees in particular. They didn’t expect her to say that. I haven’t – none of my reporting indicates that they are taking a second look at this issue now because of what Ivanka said. But now she has a stake in maybe pushing that issue because, again, she does want to show that she has a voice. She wants to be able to have an issue or two that she is really showing some movement on. So maybe this is it. It’s difficult for me to imagine, given the way that Donald Trump has positioned himself on immigration in general and refugees in particular, that he’s going to change course because of this, but you never know with him. (Laughs.)
MR. COSTA: President Trump’s love-hate relationship with the media will be apparent at this year’s White House Correspondents Dinner, he being absent, noticeably absent. He’ll be in Harrisburg at a rally. The president announced in February, via Twitter of course, that he would not attend, but did wish everyone well. Yesterday he said he does plan to attend next year’s fundraiser. Abby, the president seems to want to be there but not want to be there.
ABBY PHILLIP: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s a little bit of a split-screen moment in his own mind. It actually is very reflective of how he is as a person about the media in general. He rails about the media on Twitter, on the podium, but in private he talks to reporters all the time, he reads newspapers, he’s an avid consumer of the news, of television news. And so this is actually just the kind of discord that exists with him. And the Correspondents Dinner is going to be a different kind of affair this year than it has been in the past, but I do think that it’s the sort of thing that Trump would actually in some ways enjoy. He has always wanted to be accepted by the crowd, and in this case the crowd is the Washington crowd. And so it doesn’t surprise me that he’s changed his mind on that one issue about the future years.
MR. COSTA: And when you look back at President Trump’s career, one of his key moments as he thought through the presidency came a few years ago when President Trump made fun of him from the lectern at a White House – excuse me – President Obama made fun of president – then-businessman Trump. (Laughter.)
MS. PHILLIP: Businessman Trump.
MR. COSTA: At the White House Correspondents Dinner. And we see him using this event throughout his career as a place of some import.
MS. PHILLIP: Yeah. And I think it’s important that he was there at that time, at a time when he was sort of mulling this idea of getting involved in politics. He was in some ways humiliated in that moment that night, being made fun of by President Obama, someone who he had basically accused of not being a legitimate president. It was a searing moment. But I think that now he’s the guy on top, he’s the president of the United States. And I do think that he recognizes that there is an opportunity here to sort of have a triumphant moment on that podium, being the person telling the jokes, not being the butt of jokes.
MR. COSTA: Just real quick from everyone, when you look at these hundred days, he’s the president who maybe hates the media more than almost any president we’ve seen – though Nixon maybe hated the press as well as much. But he also seems to be accessible in a strange way.
MR. SHERMAN: He’s done – I think he did five to seven interviews this week with The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, POLITICO. It’s – I think – one of the things I say is he’s the most accessible president ever. And the thing that’s great about Trump for a reporter is he is a voracious consumer of media. So if you’re on television or you’re writing stories, the chances are he’s going to find them. He’s going to get them. (Laughter.)
MR. SCHERER: He’s also oddly candid. You know –
MR. COSTA: You’ve interviewed him many times.
MR. SCHERER: Yeah, many times. And also, not only to go on what you say, he’s said to me several times when I interviewed him, you treat me terribly, or something like that. And he says it to other people too.
MS. DAVIS: Yes, he said that –
MR. SHERMAN: But he also wished everybody well in your interviews, that was –
MS. DAVIS: Yeah. (Laughter.)
MR. SCHERER: No, and when he says that there’s no hostility. It’s not like he’s really angry at me. I don’t take it – take offense. It’s not meant to take offense. It’s kind of like a joking, oh, you know, I’m nudging you here thing. I think what it comes down to is this is a guy who loves getting press. He always has loved getting press. I would even say that it was one of his motivations for running for president, that he knew he would be on the front pages of newspapers for months as a candidate. And if he won, he’d be on the front pages of, you know, the world’s newspapers for years. And so I think there was always this tension.
When, you know, Steve Bannon was the one who first said you’re the opposition party about the press. He then adopted that language. The problem for Trump is he really doesn’t want to be the opposition party. He doesn’t want the press to be his opposition party. He wants to be on the front pages of TIME Magazine. He wants to be on the TV shows. He wants to be on the front pages of newspapers. He wants to see himself. He wants his ideas out there. So it is. It’s a very odd –
MS. PHILLIP: And he really wants to tell his own story. I mean, what’s remarkable about this week is the degree to which he is – he wanted to take the reins of how his 100 days’ story was told. So he did a lot of these interviews, really sort of wanting to frame a narrative around who he is and what he’s done. Back in the day, The Washington Post, and during the campaign, wrote a story about how Trump at times when he was a businessman would impersonate his own PR person to call reporters and talk to them about whatever he wanted to talk to them about. This is someone who is perfectly comfortable being his own PR machine. And he’s doing that as president, which is really remarkable.
MS. DAVIS: But it’s also such a love-hate thing with him. I mean, he does love the coverage and he loves the engagement. He’s very much of a – he takes it in, and he wants you to take in what he’s putting out. But he’s thin skinned. And so it’s really – it is a love-hate thing. He wants to be adored. And he knows that the way to do that is to be out in public and having people see him and hear him and listen to his message. But when it doesn’t turn out the way he wants it to, when the headlines are not good, when the interviews fall flat and people are like what was that about, it’s really – it angers him. And so that’s I think part of the reason we see him out there as well, because he wants to push back.
MR. SHERMAN: I think he seeks elite approval.
MR. SHERMAN: That’s the one thing he craves. He rails in The New York Times –
MR. SCHERER: Which is a weird thing for a populist. (Laughter.)
MS. DAVIS: But it really is that. When he came to see the Times a couple weeks after he was elected, he started out by saying: You guys are really tough on me. Always so tough on me. And you’ve said some really horrible things about me. And then he ended the session saying, you know, the Times is a great American jewel. And we though, well, how is that the same person saying those two things? I think he really – he wants to be accepted by the establishment. And the media is part of that.
MS. PHILLIP: We call it the outer borough – the outer borough syndrome, and Donald Trump always being the guy from Queens wanting to be accepted by the Manhattan folks. (Laughter.) He’s doing that again in Washington.
MR. COSTA: All right. We can play psychologist here all night. (Laughter.) That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. While you’re online, you’re just a click away from the Washington Week-ly News Quiz. Check it out.
I’m Robert Costa. We’ll see you next time.


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