ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is Washington Week Extra, where we pickup online where we left off on the broadcast.
Michael, this week TIME Magazine reported that a pastor who was part of the Trump inaugural festivities, he’s now having a safe haven in his church. What’s the story?
MICHAEL SCHERER: Our reporter, Elizabeth Dias, got this story. And he was one of the four pastors who prayed at the inauguration. He’s – his name’s Sam Rodriguez. He has a church in Sacramento. But he’s also the head of the national Hispanic Evangelical association. And for a long time, he’s been an advisor to, you know, Republican politicians, sometimes Democratic politicians as well. During the campaign, he had had meetings with Trump and he had requested two things. He had said: Please don’t deport the DREAMers, the people who had DACA. And he said, please don’t split up families. And he now feels disappointed on the second point. He feels like the immigration plans that have been put in place right now are dividing families. Some people are being deported; other members of those families are staying back.
And so what he did in early February, at his church, is set up cots in empty rooms for two reasons. They call them safe havens. For two reasons, people who are fleeing domestic violence and people who are fearful of immigration raids can come stay in the church. It’s slight different than a sanctuary city – or the sanctuary effort that other churches are doing. But it’s symbolic in that even within the umbrella of the Republican Party, of the conservative Hispanic Evangelical community, there is significant concern.
MR. COSTA: Do you think there’s a real political concern for the Trump administration? He did so well in the election with Evangelicals and conservatives. Does he risk now, with some of his immigration policies, alienating at least part of that group?
MR. SCHERER: It’s hard to say three years out from, you know, a reelect, whether that will be a big thing. I think one question, though, is whether this resistance spreads within the conservative Evangelical church world from the Hispanic churches to others. There are a couple other churches, a church in Arkansas where they’re also setting up a system where immigrants can come and stay in the church. Interestingly, Customs and Border Protection have kept the policy from the Obama administration which says agents will not raid churches, hospitals or schools to get deportations. So there’s technically here a mechanism for churches to protect people who they feel should not be deported.
MR. COSTA: Looking back at his speech, the big takeaway I had was the Republicans just felt this was a little bit normal. They like normal. (Laughter.) They like a president who sounds like a Republican president. Is this going to – is this going to hold, this dynamic?
DAN BALZ: Well, if history is any guide, it probably won’t. But, you know, Donald Trump, President Trump, is in on-the-job training. This is a person who came to the White House without any political experience, any military experience. This is brand-new. And, you know, to some extent, he’s learning as he goes. And I would – I would think that a lot of people who watched that speech would say this is – he’s bringing something different to this than he did, for example, to the inaugural address. Policies are not particularly different, but the presentation was. And the sense – you know, we went from American carnage to a spirit of American renewal. And that’s a big rhetorical leap. And as you say, I mean, Republicans have been hoping for this kind of thing for, you know, the better part of six or eight months, that so-called pivot. But Donald Trump is somebody who seems, for the most part, to go off course unexpectedly over a grievance or something that bothers him or who knows what.
And I think that the fear of Republicans, and probably people in the White House who would like him to kind of settle down, is that he’s uncontrollable in that way. I mean, and to some extent, I think he assumes that that was what got him where he is, I mean, that he didn’t get there because he’s a conventional politician. So this kind of war over who’s the – who’s the Trump of today and tomorrow and the next day is going to be one that we’re all going to watch. And Republicans in particular are going to be hoping that the president that they saw in that House chamber is the president who keeps on going.
MR. COSTA: Is he settling in or is he still uncontrollable, President Trump, when it comes to his agenda, his behavior?
ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: Oh my gosh. I think he’s just – he is unscripted and innovating every minute of every day. The teleprompter has helped him, and maybe some better speechwriting helped him a lot this week. And the discipline of learning. But he’s still – this president believes that he got to the White House by being an unconventional, non-Washington figure. And for one evening, for an hour, he was willing to be that kind of conventional figure. And but then he’s moving off to try to build some support for some of this, and then trying to deal with Congress. And I think we’re still going to see lots and lots that is going to look like pure Trump.
MR. BALZ: But there’s – but there’s another aspect, though, which is that we know he likes to be liked. And he likes to be admired. And he likes to be seen as successful. And the degree to which he gets reinforcement for the kind of thing he did in that joint session speech, perhaps that has a cumulative effect on the way he thinks about the job.
MS. SIMENDINGER: Well, the only reason I’m saying this is because he has so many fissures in his own party. And he doesn’t want to butt-up against those. He doesn’t want to settle those arguments yet. He’s not quite sure, what should I do on entitlements? What should I say I’m going to do on that? What should I tell people I’m going to do about the DREAMers? Should I settle that? Should I argue that case now? On tax reform, should I offer those additional details and really go full out? And he hasn’t done that.
MR. COSTA: That’s a good point. Hey, Michael, is – do you think – it seems like Steve Bannon, the chief strategist, would like to settle some of those Republican arguments and move it in a more nationalist direction. But the president himself doesn’t seem to wade into those ideological debates.
MR. SCHERER: And not just on policy as a disagreement, but Bannon also would like full-on war with us. I mean, he’s very much pushing the president to make his administration a fight against the elites, a fight against the media. And clearly Bannon on issues like how big the infrastructure bill is, whether you touch entitlements, is not a conservative. I mean, he’s just – he’s just not. And there’s a lot of evidence that Bannon’s ideological approach is the rising one within the Republican Party. And that may, in the long run, be a winning game. But when you have only 52 seats in the Senate and, you know, a 20- or 30-vote margin in the House, that kind of transformational shift is a real gamble.
MR. COSTA: What wins out? Who has the political capital – the Bannon wing of the party or the House Speaker Paul Ryan wing?
MR. BALZ: I think it’s hard to tell at this point. I think Michael’s right, that – I mean, Bannon has a particular view of the world. And there is – there is support around the country, not necessarily for the stylistic ways in which the president has approached this, but the notion of a kind of an America-first jobs – I mean, focus on jobs for American workers who have been left behind. That is popular beyond just the Republican Party. The idea of securing the borders in one way or another or doing something about immigration, that enjoys a fair amount of popular support. They have hurt themselves with the travel ban and the initial way they rolled out the deportations. But the concept of that, if you talk to people out in the country, they kind of like a lot of that. But a lot of this is how consistent they are, how well they can present this in an attractive package. Bannon is – you know, he’s a blow-it-up kind of person.
MR. SCHERER: Well, the other thing is the clock is ticking. Trump has made enormous promises in terms of how much better everyone’s life will be now that he is president.
MS. SIMENDINGER: Or already is.
MR. SCHERER: Or already is, right. (Laughter.) And if – you know, talking about ideas, putting forward legislation, all that’s great. But he’s got two years to start showing some results. And if he doesn’t show results the ideological debates will shift aside and it will just be up to the next candidate to come along and say: That failed. I’m change. Vote for me. And we’ll have change again.
MR. BALZ: And lines in that speech on Tuesday night were extravagant in the promises of how much better things are going to be for people.
MR. SCHERER: Yes. That’s right.
MR. COSTA: Well, that’s it for this edition of Washington Week Extra. While you’re online, test your news knowledge of the Washington Week News Quiz. I’m Robert Costa, and we’ll see you next time.