ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra, where we pick up online where we left off on our broadcast.
Joining me around the table, Yamiche Alcindor of the PBS NewsHour, Erica Werner of The Washington Post, Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times, and Mark Landler of The New York Times.
Two big primaries this week. In Arizona, Representative Martha McSally won the Republican nomination to replace retiring Senator Jeff Flake. McSally retired from the U.S. Air Force after serving two decades there and the was the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat. She’ll face Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, a member of Congress, in the fall. And in Florida, one of the country’s largest swing states, Tallahassee Mayor and Senator Bernie Sanders-backed Andrew Gillum, he was the winner in the Democratic primary for governor. Representative Ron DeSantis, backed by President Donald Trump, won the Republican nomination, but DeSantis quickly stirred up controversy in comments on Fox News.
REPRESENTATIVE RON DESANTIS (R-FL): (From video.) He is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views and he’s a charismatic candidate. And, you know, I watched those Democrat debates; none of that was my cup of tea, but I mean, he performed better than the other people there, so. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.
MR. COSTA: DeSantis denied his comments were racially motivated. Yamiche, we don’t know, as David Brooks said on the NewsHour, what’s in the congressman’s heart, but to have race immediately injected into this gubernatorial contest, what does it tell us about the midterms this year?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, I’ll say one thing. There’s – race was already included in this because Florida’s never had a black governor, so there is this idea that we were going to be talking about race anyways because he was already – Andrew Gillum is the first black Democrat nominated for governorship. So that was going to be there. I think race is also a big thing because I’m from Florida; there’s a big racial divide between South Florida, where I grew up, which is really I would say the Caribbean there’s so many immigrants there, and the rest of Florida which is majority-white and very much more like the South. That said, when you talk about a black man who’s educated and you say the word “articulate,” you say that he performs well, and then you follow it up by saying the word “monkey,” you should know better. If he didn’t know better, he should absolutely have known better. The moment I heard it, especially the way that he said “monkey,” I thought – I sat back in my chair and thought this is so problematic. So I think that he really needs to own up to the fact that that was something that he shouldn’t have said. He needs to apologize for saying it. And the fact that Fox News came out and said we apologize, that we are not part of this, that’s something – that’s a really big move for Fox News, which of course has had its own issues with racially-charged language.
MR. COSTA: Gillum backed by Senator Sanders. Are we seeing the Democratic Party move a little left in the months ahead of November?
ERICA WERNER: Yeah, really interesting outcome in that both parties kind of showed, you know, the – what they are in this political season as far as the Republican side, you get the guy who Trump backed and pulled from behind in the polls to winning, showing, you know, how Trump is the kingmaker in these primaries. And then on the Democratic side, as in New York with Joe Crowley’s seat, you see that a progressive can overcome polling and expectations and win. And so it’s going to be really interesting to see what happens when these two face off in the general election and it’ll be very telling as to what direction Florida and maybe even in the country wants to go.
MR. COSTA: Trump does seem to be the kingmaker on the Republican side, but Arizona’s a little different. Martha McSally was at first wary of attaching too close to Trump, but by the end it was all about Trump, and you saw that in Florida with DeSantis.
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Absolutely. I mean, as Erica said, he endorsed DeSantis. He didn’t endorse in the three-way primary in Arizona, but all three of the candidates – all three of the Republican candidates hugged Trump as hard as they could, even in the week after John McCain’s death, and he was a Navy pilot, war hero. You might think a candidate like McSally would want to associate herself with him, try to, you know, draw in some of the voters who kept on sending him back to the Senate from Arizona, but she didn’t mention him at all. She talked about being a supporter of President Trump’s agenda. And of course, Joe Arpaio was – you know, he called Trump more of a hero than McCain because he was on the receiving end of a pardon from him. And so the candidates really, I think, have embraced this idea that if you want to win a primary you really have to hug Trump hard. The question is really going to be, I think, in the next couple months, whether that gets you over the finish line of a general election when you have a lot of voters who are repelled by the idea of Donald Trump – certainly Democrats, but even some independents and some of the Republicans who may have supported him in 2016. So it’ll be interesting to see how those numbers may change, or maybe they will not.
MR. COSTA: Why aren’t the Democrats talking about impeachment as much as we may have thought months ago, that there will be this big push against President Trump? And of course, some of the elements of the party are doing that – Tom Steyer, the billionaire donor, leading an impeachment push – but a lot of the Sanders wing seems to actually be pushing for other issues: a higher minimum wage, more economic and health emphasis in their – in their call.
MARK LANDLER: Well, there’s – a lot of Democrats feel that impeachment’s a distraction and ultimately you need to be talking about issues people care about. I think, though, that – to talk about these new Washington Post poll numbers that show this relatively high number of people that are open to impeachment, that regardless of what the party leadership – whether you’re on the progressive end or the establishment, regardless of how reluctant they feel about impeachment, I think they’re going to find it a very tough pressure to tamp down. I think there is enough fervor out in the grassroots to push impeachment that, should they take the House, I think they’ll face enormous pressure not to – not just to hold hearings, but to act on those hearings.
MS. ALCINDOR: And I’ll say, in talking to voters after Andrew Gillum won – and even though this, obviously, is a governor’s race – there were so many people that said, well, as soon as the Democrats can just get the House back we’ll impeach President Trump. So in some ways I wonder if these candidates know that their voters know what the deal is and that there’s an elephant in the room, that they don’t have to say we’re going to impeach President Trump because with all the reporting that Axios did this week, with that long list of investigations, some of the stuff I forgot was things that we did know: Where’s the president’s tax returns? Why did he fire James Comey? There are all these things that Democrats want to know. So even if they don’t impeach him, all these investigations could end up becoming an impeachment process in and of itself. So I think Democrats are smart to say, hey, Hillary Clinton won on an – or Hillary Clinton lost running against just Trump, saying I am not going to be Trump; maybe what we need to do is actually have a Democratic agenda so that years down the line, when we don’t have President Trump, we can still say, hey, this is what our party stands for.
MR. COSTA: When you look at President Trump’s schedule, he’s going to be a lot of places but he can’t be everywhere. And there was a POLITICO report this week that said that now the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of the GOP in the House, they’re going to have to make some tough decisions because Republicans still face that blue wave even if President Trump’s helpful in a lot of places.
MS. WERNER: Yeah, there is the suggestion that, you know, as far as the money spigot for Republican candidates, you have 23-seat majority currently and maybe 45 Republicans who are quite vulnerable. Well, the party can’t lift all those people up, so they’re starting to talk about who do we cut off because they’re just not going to make it. Those are going to be difficult decisions, obviously, but necessary. I mean, it’s all about survival and it’s about keeping the majority for Republicans because in the House, if you have the majority, even if it’s a one-seat majority, I mean, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to get anything passed, but you control all the gavels, and that’s really going to be what matters to the Trump administration.
MR. COSTA: And Trump can go to a big rally, but who are they sending to the suburbs from the White House, Ivanka Trump?
MS. DAVIS: Well, that’s a great question because, you know, we just saw President Trump tweeted that he was going to have a big rally in October for Ted Cruz in Texas, who is facing a rising Democratic challenger in Beto O’Rourke. And he said, you know, I want to rent the biggest arena I can. He loves these big arena rallies. That’s what gets him going. That’s what makes him feel like he’s needed and like he is the star, which is what he wants out of these events, and it’s also what Republican candidates want out of these events, but it is a good question. Some of these more vulnerable Republicans really need him to come to their little small high school on the outskirts of the city where they really need to get voters excited to come out and vote for them in November, and he is not going to want to play those places. The few times when we’ve seen him go to venues like that he makes comments publicly about how I never go someplace this small, and so, you know, to get him where he needs to be to help Republicans get across the finish line is going to be a challenge. Maybe it will be Ivanka Trump or Mike Pence, or who knows.
MR. COSTA: Mike Pence seems to take a lot of those gigs.
MS. DAVIS: Mike Pence does do a lot – a lot of those gigs. (Laughter.) He’s going to be a busy man.
MR. COSTA: That’s true. I mean, he was at the Capitol for Senator McCain. I mean, it’s almost like a rock band when they say we won’t play clubs anymore, we’re only going to play arenas. (Laughter.)
Speaking of rallies, at a political rally in Indiana on Thursday, President Trump repeated one of his common themes, calling the mainstream media “fake news.” Mr. Trump has had a contentious relationship with the press – that’s not news, of course – but he’s been singling out news organizations and whipping up crowds at his rallies for over a year now and even before then during the campaign.
But it’s reached a new level. The Boston Globe spearheaded a series of editorials nationwide speaking out on behalf of a free press earlier this month. And this week, a man was accused of calling The Globe the enemy of the people and he was charged with threatening violence against the newspaper and its journalists.
Mark, you’ve – I mean, we’ve all been at rallies, but you’ve been recently covering the president.
And so have you, Julie, I know, and everybody has.
When you hear about the threat to The Globe, the shots from the president, the punches at the press, expected. But the violence that seems to be creeping into some of these attacks on the fringe, it’s unsettling to say the least.
MR. LANDLER: It is. And, you know, one of the things that has developed over time in President Trump’s campaign against the press is he started off with the phrase “fake news,” which is derisive and I think inaccurate and offensive to all of us. But it’s not the same as what he has more recently taken to saying, which is “the enemy of the people.” That’s a really loaded phrase. It has, you know, a deep historical provenance. It was used in totalitarian states and Stalinist Russia, in Nazi Germany. And when you label any group the enemy of the state, you’re really declaring them, to some extent, open season, that they are a group that can be victimized.
I don’t know whether President Trump has that historical perspective or that sensitivity. I do know that members of the press, including the publisher of my newspaper, have personally asked the president, appealed to the president not to use that phrase and that language. But he persists, as recently as this week he tweeted it yet again.
So when you see episodes like the threats against The Boston Globe or the mass shooting at the Annapolis newspaper, which, you know, to be sure was not in any way connected to a Trump supporter, it’s happening within a context, within an atmosphere and an environment that the president is really contributing to creating. And so this language, the continued use of this language does trouble me.
And, you know, one of the interesting nuggets that came out of our publisher’s visit with the president several weeks ago was that he mentioned to the president that newsrooms around the country were beginning to hire armed guards to guard the newsrooms. And President Trump’s response to my publisher was to say I’m surprised they weren’t doing that already, so, you know, sometimes you wonder how much the president thinks these issues through. But this type of language in particular is so incendiary that I think that’s, you know, one of the contributing factors and something that I hope we will see less of over time.
MS. ALCINDOR: I went to a Trump rally in Charleston, West Virginia. And I started – I end up – I ended up interviewing people about Jim Acosta because so many people were yelling and screaming about him in particular. And it got to the point where I kind of got concerned. And I’m someone who covered Ferguson, who covers Baltimore protests, who doesn’t really get rattled. I’ve never really gotten rattled at a Trump rally in all the times I went on campaigns, and that’s speaking as an African-American woman where there were sometimes white nationalists there. Never had a problem.
But the level of anger that I got and that I received when I – when I was watching people yell at Jim Acosta made me pause. And people were saying, well, he’s the fake news and he wants to let – he wants this president to go. And it made me think that if Robert Mueller does come out with the report and it does say this president broke the law, that he obstructed justice and then we start reporting on that, I don’t know how people are going to take that. I don’t know if they’re going to be able to receive the evidence if there is evidence that this president did something wrong. And that, to me, is the thing that worries me. Yes, it’s the media aspect of it, but it’s also we’re pushing out facts and if you don’t like those facts, I don’t know how people would – how people might lash out.
MS. DAVIS: Well, and that is the point –
MS. ALCINDOR: Right.
MS. DAVIS: – right, I mean, from the president’s perspective. I don’t know, like Mark said, whether he has a historical perspective of these terms that he’s using and if he’s trying to incite this kind of feeling. But I think he does very well understand the result and he has a desired result which is for people to say everything we’re reading, everything we’re seeing on the news, with the exception of Fox News, is wrong, is discredited, is fake, is meant to bring somebody down.
And it is actually quite frightening to think of the prospect that something like that would happen, we would all report it, and, you know, would there be some sort of an uprising? Would people feel enabled by the president’s rhetoric to really take action rather than just talk about how much they hate the media?
MR. COSTA: And it’s about information generally. You think about the president’s attacks are on the media – against the media, but also against Google and social media companies.
MS. WERNER: That’s right and kind of against experts of all kinds, right? Scientists, you know, university professors, that sort of thing. And unfortunately, it’s been effective based on polling that shows that – and I don’t remember the numbers, but the standing in which journalists are held has sunk and there’s more than a majority, I believe, of people who think that we do make up stories and that we do fabricate sources, which, of course, we don’t. So it really is quite troubling. And I believe the president has in fact acknowledged that this is what he’s trying to do, right, to make it so that he is the one who’s believed and that no one else is believed.
And I think Yamiche is right, that when the time comes for Bob Mueller to say whatever it is he has to say, however damning or not that turns out to be of the president, we’ll report it, a lot of people won’t believe it unfortunately.
MR. COSTA: Well, that’s the question I’m always asking myself and my colleagues is, what are we supposed to be doing? Because if that happens, right, if there is a new breaking point in the media where people are questioning the press and there’s real attacks on the press, part of my reaction is just keep reporting, just keep telling the story. But is there anything else we should be doing or thinking about as journalists? I don’t know.
MS. ALCINDOR: I think it’s always reporting and it’s always respecting people. It’s really trying to bring people and show people what you do. The idea is that I always think that no one – no one owes me an interview, no one owes me time in their home. So when I go and I talk to people, I’ve always had a pretty pleasant experience and I would say that at Trump rallies. I wrote a story about people who voted for Obama and then voted for President Trump, and this was before the election where things were very, very high and people were very angry. And again, I’m an African-American woman with an afro walking through a Trump rally saying, who voted for Obama? That’s a kind of tough thing to do. People were pleasant to me because I was pleasant to them.
So I think that if you meet enough people like that and you report the facts, that’s all you can really do because I can’t convince you if Robert Mueller comes out either for or against it because there could be Democrats that are very mad. If Robert Mueller says, actually, everything the president did was fine, there was no evidence of wrongdoing, we don’t know what people might do on the other side. People might be very, very angry. If the Republicans keep the House and Robert Mueller says the president’s cleared, there could be a whole other side of the country that says can we really do another two years and what that could mean. So I think people – I think as journalists, our jobs are just to report and be respectful to people.
MS. DAVIS: Yeah, I mean, I think you have to continue to report the ways in which the president is attacking these issues. Right? I mean, the fact that he is, his behavior when it comes to this investigation, when it comes to the media is very much similar to what you seen in authoritarian societies, is an important comparison to make.
It’s also important to talk to people, as Yamiche said, all over the country who come from different perspectives in order to, you know, make it clear that not everyone is singing from the same song sheet, not everyone has the same perspective.
But facts are facts. And so I think it’s really important, even in an environment where we are under constant attack, that we keep on trying to talk to the primary sources and keep on reporting what we see. Because the opposite, frankly, is what Donald Trump seems to want and what a lot of leaders in countries that don’t have the freedoms that we have here tend to want. And, you know, we just have to keep on doing the job.
MR. COSTA: We’ll leave it there for now. And we’ll leave it there for the Washington Week Extra.
Thanks for joining us. And while you’re online, check out our Washington Week-ly News Quiz.
I’m Robert Costa. We’ll see you next time.