AMY WALTER: Hello. I’m Amy Walter, and this is the Washington Week Extra, where we pick up online where we left off on the broadcast.
Ever since Inauguration Day, we’ve begun to see protests at town hall meetings of members of Congress. This week hundreds of people turned out to a town hall meeting organized by Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz in the heart of red state Utah. They jeered at him and shouted, among other things, do your job. This is happening at Democratic town halls as well. Yamiche, what is this all about? Where is this coming from?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: This is people very, very frustrated about the outcome of the election, and these are protesters really organizing themselves in a way that is different than I’ve seen – and I’ve been covering protests probably for the last four years. I was on the phone with someone who organizes a Google – a public Google spreadsheet that lists where every Democrat and every Republican is going to be in their town halls, so they’re not just targeting Republicans. This is really, I think pent-up aggression, one at Donald Trump and the kind of campaign he ran, but also on Democrats who they feel like – who some people feel like nominated Hillary Clinton, who is not a very likeable character for some people, and were – and they also felt like Bernie Sanders was treated unfairly by the DNC. So this is really just, I think, the beginning of a sustained protest movement.
MS. WALTER: So is it going to turn into anything, Yamiche? I mean, it’s one thing to have protests, but where does that go? Where does all that energy go? Does it go into the 2018 midterms? Does it go into picking the DNC chair? Does it go into the ether? What happens?
MS. ALCINDOR: So I was on the phone with one of the creators of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which as people might remember was – had people, thousands of people camping out in these parks, and then kind of fizzled out. And he said to me if this protest movement doesn’t understand, doesn’t figure out how to run for office and then govern, then really these protests are going to be ineffective. So I think there’s that going on. And I’ve talked to some people who there’s this movement called Brand New Congress, where they’re really trying to actually take out all members of Congress and have new people run for them. So of course it’s a little farfetched, but the idea if that they’re focusing on getting candidates to run, on recruiting candidates. I talked to someone the other day who also told me about the fact that they want to have a Black Lives Matter platform. So this idea is that, rather than just going and screaming at people on the streets, these protesters realize – at least some of them do – realize that they really have to have a political agenda and something to counter, because they watched Republicans not just win the presidency and both houses of Congress, but also the idea that they’re controlling state legislatures, that they also have governors. And they realize that this was a movement that started long before Donald Trump and that is now benefiting him.
MICHAEL SCHERER: You know, the parallel to the Tea Party in 2009 is really strong. This is actually bigger than the Tea Party was and quicker than the Tea Party was. Tea Party didn’t start up until March/April of 2009.
What’s also interesting is that so far the Women’s March, this is not really targeted at the intraparty fight within the Democratic Party. And where the Tea Party found its power was its ability to turn out Republican incumbents from the right within the Republican Party.
Now, it’ll be interesting if six months from now or 10 months from now the war cry is that we have to fix the Democratic Party and make it tougher, because if it is this sort of a movement can be very effective. If the war cry is we have to take out Republicans because they’re working with Trump, it’s going to be more difficult just because you don’t have that many competitive seats. And no matter how many people show up at town halls, those seats still aren’t very competitive. And so it’ll just be harder for them to turn into something.
MS. WALTER: And, Alexis, the White House, at least Sean Spicer, has said this isn’t organic, this is paid protesters. Do they really believe that, that these are not – this is not an organic situation?
ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: Well, there are Republicans who believe that, but it’s also a handy thing to try to say, right, because that’s another version of trying to say it’s rigged or these people are being used, this is not a – this is not really a grassroots kind of organization or uprising. And so the idea of trying to make it seem like it’s paid for – bought and paid for is a handy political argument to make for the White House.
MS. WALTER: But are they – are they watching this closely, taking this seriously?
MS. SIMENDINGER: They’re watching it. And one of the interesting things that I’ll just add to the discussion about the issues that seem to be grassroots that the White House is starting to hear more about is the president’s focus on sanctuary cities and communities, and his threat to take away funding from these communities. So you’re starting to see at grassroots level it’s not just the political discussion, it’s not just what is happening in Washington, but it’s also what is Washington doing in our communities and more focus on what kind of mobilization is going to help the communities that these individuals are in – not just Washington, but also in the communities they’re in.
JOSH GERSTEIN: And you have cities that are setting up funds to pay for immigration lawyers for people. You have cities that are filing lawsuits to block this crackdown that’s expected on sanctuary cities. And it’s a very dubious, disputed kind of area. The notion that you’re going to take all federal money away from a city because they say they’re a sanctuary city, I’ll tell you right now it’s not going to happen. But where the line is in terms of how much money you can take away from cities that are misbehaving in the eye of the federal government is not at all clear.
MS. WALTER: And can’t states also – the governor has some discretion about money that he can take away. I saw in Texas, for example, the governor there saying, look, Austin, you’re not going to get funds that you’re supposed to get for your police department if you do this.
MR. GERSTEIN: Right. I mean, states may have an entirely different set of rules. But there are – there’s Supreme Court precedent saying that – even if you look at the Obamacare case, for example, you can’t just shut somebody out of a program completely because, you know, you don’t like one thing that they’re doing. It has to be proportionate. So maybe you could take away certain types of law enforcement money or certain types of homeland security grants, but the notion that you’re going to pull all funding from a city or a state because they declare themselves to be sanctuary, regardless of what Trump may think he can do, I don’t think it’ll happen.
MS. WALTER: Well, one of the president’s closest advisors, Kellyanne Conway, faces bipartisan backlash after she promoted Ivanka Trump’s brand on Fox News. Conway’s not accused of doing anything criminal, but she could be the target of an ethics investigation. What would this look like, Josh?
MR. GERSTEIN: So there is a rule, a regulation, that basically says that government employees are not allowed to use their office to endorse a brand or a product or something along those lines – even a nonprofit organization. It did seem that her comments on TV ran afoul of that rule. And so the real question, though, is some of these rules are more easily enforced in real government agencies than they are at the White House. Usually it’s the White House, the White House counsel, or the president that has to decide how they’ll be enforced.
There may be another mechanism to try to go after her, but, you know, the White House so far has indicated that, you know, Sean Spicer said that she had been counseled. But at the same time Conway later had an interview where she said, you know, she would want any woman to be treated by her boss the same way she was treated when Trump was dealing with this issue. So it sounded like it was a not a really severe slap on the hand. There were even reports that Trump was unhappy that Spicer had publicly announced that Conway had been counseled.
MS. WALTER: But does this play into the broader questions about Trump’s own business practices and his family members? It’s all in that same category.
MR. GERSTEIN: Sure it does. And it also shows you the double standards that are involved, because Trump himself had tweeted out an attack on Nordstrom for cutting Ivanka’s clothing line. And so it shows you that he doesn’t have to follow the same rules. What was interesting about the episode with Conway is some Republicans on the Hill – notably Jason Chaffetz of Utah who runs the Government Oversight Committee, actually joined with Democrats in publicly complaining about this. And Chaffetz has seemed to be in kind of a slumber on, you know, White House-related ethics matters. And this issue managed to wake him. So you do wonder if it might have some impact going forward.
MR. SCHERER: Chaffetz, who suffered the wrath of the town halls. I think the most interesting and telling part of this is, again, what it shows about the internal dynamics in the White House. Kellyanne said this thing, which was very unusual, to actually do a commercial for a private company from the White House. But she was doing a commercial for her boss’ favorite person, right? And then she talked about her relationship with the president afterwards. And then you had this sort of leaking going on in the White House about whether she had done the right thing or the wrong thing, and the shade that is being cast from Sean Spicer.
And really, this is all just a window into this bizarre dynamic of this court in which everyone’s sort of jockeying for position inside and there’s lots of rivalries, and they’re often carrying out those rivalries through us, either on the record and on-camera interviews or in blind quotes to various publications. And it’s just – I – since I’ve been in Washington, I’ve never seen a White House like that.
MS. SIMENDINGER: Today, just to give you an example, the prime minister of Japan – obviously the president and the prime minister had a news conference. Who was in the front row? Not just the president’s son-in-law who is working for him for no pay, but as an assistant to the president, but his daughter Ivanka is sitting next to his son-in-law, in front of her father, in the front row. And we’re all supposed to – and then right behind her is Kellyanne Conway. And we’re all supposed to figure out what are all these ties, what – you know, because, remember, Ivanka’s not technically working for the government, although she has a portfolio of things she’s interested in.
MS. WALTER: And she’s not technically working for the company currently.
MS. SIMENDINGER: Correct. She’s supposed to have severed her relationship with Nordstrom, which was then following up with her about his contractual connections, to the company not to her personally, right, although it has her name. So it is – as you say, it’s leaving all these people as targets for a much bigger question, which is the ethical, you know, contradiction with the president.
MS. WALTER: Bigger, broader ethical –
MS. ALCINDOR: I think the key here though, in my mind, when I think about this – and I agree with a lot of the things that you said – they’re taking their – they’re taking their lead from the president of the United States. If he can tweet about Nordstrom’s, if he can say – not only just tweet at .com – or on Twitter, but also if he can retweet that on the POTUS Twitter account, which is supposed to be the government-run Twitter account. And if he can do that – so not just in his personal life, but also use the office of the presidency to go after that – if he can go after private companies – I know it seems like a long time ago, but you think about Boeing, you think about all these other places that he could attack. If he can go after companies in that way, then of course his aides are going to be able to go on TV and keep their jobs.
So the question is whether or not you’re going to have people in the ethics office say, you know what, where is the line? And at what cost are they going to draw that line? Are they going to say, well, you know what, what we’re getting out of this – out of this presidency is Supreme Court nominations, a budget that we can live with, all of the things that we’ve been dreaming about, a repeal of Obamacare? Or are they going to say, look, this crossed the line, this is where we have to say no?
MS. SIMENDINGER: Just remember, though, you know, Ivanka is getting a set salary from the company. She’s getting a set fee every year. And the president is not doing her any favors, because what has happened to the value of her line – the value of her name and the line that her name is attached to has gone down not up. So the longer he keeps doing this, my suggestion is it’s not helping his daughter and her financial well-being every time he points his Twitter-thumbs – tweet-thumbs in her direction.
MS. WALTER: Thanks, you all. We have so many more topics we could have covered, but we don’t have much more time left. The lights are going to go out soon enough.
Thank you for watching. And while you’re online, test your knowledge of current events on the Washington Week-ly News Quiz. I’m Amy Walter. See you next time.