Special: Supreme Court surprise rulings challenge notion of a strictly conservative bench

Jun. 19, 2020 AT 9:58 p.m. EDT

The panel discussed the two opinions issued by the Supreme Court this week - upholding workplace protection for LGBTQ individuals and dismissing an attempt by President Donald Trump’s administration to disband the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program - and the significance of those rulings by a court considered relatively conservative.

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

ROBERT COSTA: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I’m Robert Costa.

President Trump is not only facing political blows from John Bolton’s book, he’s also facing them from the highest court in the land. The president suffered two key losses at the Supreme Court this week, which ruled against his administration on cases regard LGBTQ rights and on immigration. On Monday, the Supreme Court rules existing civil rights laws protect LGBTQ workers from discrimination. That’s a huge victory for the gay rights movement. Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, wrote the majority opinion in the six to three ruling. And on Thursday, the Court ruled that the administration could not move forward with its plan to end DACA, the DREAMers program. Chief Justice John Roberts, a(n) appointee by George W. Bush, sided with his more liberal colleagues in both cases. The president reacted to the rulings in a tweet Thursday describing them as, quote, “shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives.” Later, he added to it, asking, quote, do you think “the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?”

Joining me tonight: Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; Geoff Bennett, White House correspondent for NBC News; Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today; and Josh Dawsey, White House reporter for The Washington Post.

Josh, inside the White House, what’s been the response to the Court moving left?

JOSH DAWSEY: Well, you saw the president’s frustrations with those on Thursday, particularly the DACA ruling. He said little on Monday about the LGBTQ ruling. One of the things that my White House sources are watching closely is what the Supreme Court is going to rule about his tax returns. They’re expecting that to come down soon, and that could force the president to reveal some of his tax returns. Obviously, he has not wanted to do that. He has resisted years of efforts, and that would be seen as a personal affront if a court forced him to do that. So when you talk to people in the building, there was a lot of frustration about the DACA ruling on Thursday, but you also hear a lot of chatter about the tax returns ruling that’s expected to come soon.

MR. COSTA: Yamiche, what does the DACA decision mean for DREAMers?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: I think it’s to be determined because DREAMers are a class of young people in this country who have really, they feel, been disappointed by both Democrats and Republicans. So, yes, the Supreme Court is now saying at least for now that DREAMers and DACA can’t be ended, but this is still a group of people who are kind of in limbo. They are – a lot of them are college-educated. They’re people who are working hard, who have paid taxes for years. It shows that the Supreme Court is not willing to throw them out of the country per se, but it also means that they still are now living with the whims of Congress and president – and the president to come up with some sort of compromise to try to figure out if they can get full citizenship or some sort of status that allows them to really have the quality of life in America that they want. But I think – so I think a lot of people, they were celebrating this victory, but when I talked to my sources they were also saying, OK, but that’s next?

MR. COSTA: Josh, I see you want to jump back in?

MR. DAWSEY: Well, with the DACA ruling, if you talked to White House officials on Thursday they say they are going to essentially just try and strip it again and just use different justification. In their interpretation of the ruling, they think the Supreme Court said they could still do this; they just couldn’t do it with the rationale that they previously gave. So I think you’re going to see an effort from the White House in upcoming weeks to try and basically do what they did before, but just justify it differently is what my sources are saying right now.

MR. COSTA: Susan, some conservatives were surprised by Justice Gorsuch, yet we’ve seen throughout American history justices have an independent streak at times.

SUSAN PAGE: You know, it’s a lifetime appointment, so you’re not beholding – not even to the president who appointed you or to the party that you represented at that time, and you see that in both these rulings. With Gorsuch, you know, there’s also a tradition, I think, of Western conservatives where they’re conservative on economic matters, foreign policy matters, but they tend to be libertarian when it comes to matters of personal behavior. We saw that with Barry Goldwater. Barry Goldwater was pretty libertarian when it came to issues like that. So I think that may have also been reflected in this decision.

Just one quick word about the DACA ruling. It’s only a reprieve for DACA recipients. On the other hand, it’s unlikely, it seems to me, that the president will be able to go through this process again and get through the court challenges before Election Day in November, so this is an issue that voters may decide by how they vote for the president and for Congress in November.

MR. COSTA: Geoff, what are you watching? You’ve been tracking these developments on gay rights and civil rights all week, as well as DACA.

GEOFF BENNETT: Well, a couple of things strike me as interesting about this. One is that the Court is now really in line with where the American public is on these two issues, LGBTQ rights and DACA, even though the president necessarily – isn’t necessarily – you know, share the same view. But the other thing I learned in talking to some Republican sources is that in their view the Supreme Court really handed President Trump a gift in that the DACA policy is fairly popular. Most Americans do not believe that young people who were brought to this country illegally through no fault of their own – most Americans don’t believe that they should be deported. And so a couple of Republicans I spoke to said that in many ways the Supreme Court basically erased this for the president; all he had to do was say he disagreed, that his administration was going to review it, and then perhaps address it after the election assuming he wins reelection. But this notion that he’s going to try to resubmit the case soon, they say, is probably not the best course.

MR. COSTA: Josh, the president’s – the Trump administration took a position on the gay rights case, but are we going to see that factor at all in the president’s reelection campaign, or he’s going to leave that – is he going to leave that mostly on the shelf politically?

MR. DAWSEY: The president hasn’t touched that issue politically nearly as much as he’s touched lots of other issues. I saw no clamoring inside the White House this week to make that a key part of a 2020 platform. It’s not something the president – Bob, you’ve seen him time and time again – it’s not something that he reverts to wanting to talk about very frequently. So in some ways I could see the DACA issue being far more front and center going forward in the next four or five months of the election than the LGBTQ case.

MR. COSTA: Josh, real quick, are you going to the rally tomorrow in Tulsa?

MR. DAWSEY: I am going. I’m going with Vice President Pence on Air Force Two.

MR. COSTA: So what’s that like for a reporter? Do you have to – I don’t know what you can share – but do you have to get tested for coronavirus? Is it – are you going to wear a mask the whole day? What’s that experience like, getting ready to cover this Tulsa moment?

MR. DAWSEY: Yeah, yeah, so yes, all the reporters who fly with the president or the vice president are tested for coronavirus. So we do that at the White House in the morning before we leave. And then of course, we’ll wear a mask on the plane and inside the arena with the rally. The rallygoers themselves have been told masks are optional, but the campaign will provide them if they want to wear them. But I certainly while I’m in the arena plan to wear a mask.

MR. COSTA: And VP Pence, that’s an interesting person to travel with because he is going to the rally, but he hits a lot of small towns and cities for the Trump campaign.

MR. DAWSEY: Yeah, and you could certainly see him doing, you know, several stops, or at least one stop before the rally. He often does when he goes to these rallies. He will do something in the town or the city where he’s going in the afternoon. Then he usually introduces the president, and then leaves before the rally ends. He’s kind of a warm-up act for the president. He gives a – you know, a fulsome and robust introduction, and gives the president all sorts of praise, and then his plane is usually wheels up while the president is still talking.

MR. COSTA: So with the president going to these rallies, Geoff, where does this leave Vice President Biden? How does he compete with the spectacle of a Trump rally week after week, or perhaps day after day?

MR. BENNETT: Well, he’s staying in and around Delaware, going out where he can, meeting with people and holding events, nowhere near as large as the one that President Trump intends to hold tomorrow night with 19,000 people in an arena. But I’m told by folks with the campaign that they believe what they’re doing – the Biden campaign, they believe that what they’re doing is working because a Fox News poll just out this week shows Biden leading by double digits. And so in their mind there’s no reason to change what they’re doing, even though President Trump often derisively refers to Joe Biden as living in his basement, hiding out in his basement, even as so many of us have followed that guidance to stay at home during this pandemic.

MR. COSTA: Susan, I was talking to a Trump advisor this week and they said: The race right now to them seems like a referendum on the president. They want to make it a choice. They want to make it a choice between Trump and Biden. How do you see that dynamic, referendum versus a choice, right now?

MS. PAGE: Incumbent presidents running for reelection, that election is a referendum on them, assuming that the alternative is at least credible, is at least somebody voters feel like, OK, this is somebody I can – maybe not the candidate I like the most, but acceptable to me. So the task for the Trump campaign is, of course, to make Biden unacceptable. That may be hard to do given that Biden has flaws as a candidate, but he has a lot of strengths. He’s been around a long time. He’s well-known. He’s certainly been – he’s certainly been vetted. And he’s reasonably well liked. So in that way – with that kind of line up, I think it is difficult – a challenge for Trump to make this election anything but a referendum on him.

MR. COSTA: Yamiche, we’ve spoken about your reporting before, going back to Ferguson in 2014. How does the Black Lives Matter movement and the activist groups on that front deal with the Trump rallies becoming a major part of the 2020 campaign? I mean, Tulsa could be a scene of unrest, to say the least. You saw the president’s tweet. We started the broadcast talking about it. How does the activist movement in this country handle this president who’s provoking them at almost every turn?

MS. ALCINDOR: Based on the activists that I’ve talked to what they’re feeling is that America is at least starting to understand what they mean when they say black lives matter, what they mean when they mean that African Americans are just not treated equally in this country. So when I talk to activists, yes, they are concerned that President Trump tends to suck all the oxygen out of the room. He has this Tulsa rally, everyone’s going to be looking at it. Everyone’s going to be covering it.

But they also think that this sustained issue of policing and police brutality that’s going to continue to be something that happens, frankly, because unfortunately we’ve seen incident after incident since George Floyd was killed. So we’ve seen people being arrested for jaywalking in Tulsa. We’ve seen Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta being killed because police officers were trying to arrest him after he fell asleep in a drive-through. And now those officers are now facing charges, one a murder charge.

So what we see is I think Black Lives Matter activists looking at this and saying: Look, this is going to continue to be a problem and people need to continue to talk about this. So they’re going to continue to protest and really make their voices heard. And President Trump is going to do what President Trump does, which is, of course, be bombastic, talk about kind of the next four years of his campaign – talk about the next four years of his presidency, rather. And they’re just hoping that they can compete with that oxygen that President Trump is sucking out of the room a lot of times.

MR. COSTA: We’ll leave it there for this Extra. Thank you very much, Yamiche, and Josh, and Geoff, and Susan. Really appreciate your time on a Friday night. And hopefully you can now go have a good time after doing Washington Week. And you all can listen to this Extra wherever you get your podcasts or watch it on our website. While you’re there, sign up for our newsletter. You’ll get an advanced look at our show each week. I write a note about what we’re going to discuss. Really hope you sign up for that. But for now hope you all stay safe. I’m Robert Costa. See you next time.


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