ROBERT COSTA: I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra, where we pick up online where we left off on the broadcast.
Joining me around the table, Nancy Youssef of The Wall Street Journal, Geoff Bennett of NBC News, Dan Balz of The Washington Post, and Jackie Calmes of The Los Angeles Times.
Half a million students are expected to converge on Washington on Saturday for the March for Our Lives event focused on school safety. Five students who survived the deadly shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida will be leading the charge. This week they were on the cover of TIME Magazine with the simple caption “enough.” And Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Friday that the Justice Department is proposing a change to federal regulations that ban bump stocks, these devices that turn semiautomatic firearms into automatic weapons. It’s what the shooter in last October’s massacre at a music festival in Las Vegas used up in that building that killed 58 people and left hundreds of others wounded. The shooting was just five weeks ago in Florida, and the question is, will this movement play into the midterm elections. Geoff?
GEOFF BENNETT: You know, it’s kind of hard to tell. I think what’s different, of course, about this march is that you have these students from Parkland who are, what, members of the debate team. A lot of them are theater kids. Some of them are in student council. So they’re articulate, and they’ve really given voice to this gun-control movement in a way that has not happened after any of these other mass shootings, these situations in which, you know, countless people have died. So the fact that they are now spearheading the effort – five weeks, I think, is significant, five weeks after the shooting, because so often in the immediate aftermath you have this sort of political routine where there’s outrage followed by calls for action, and then sort of relative inaction by Congress.
MR. COSTA: And they’re trying to do a lot of voter registration at this event.
MR. BENNETT: That’s right. So this time I think is different, like, in significant ways. But we’ll have to see whether it’s enough.
JACKIE CALMES: Because, Bob, you know that in a midterm election year like this one, what are the two groups that are the – where participation falls off the most? The young and minorities. If this – this can’t help but increase the number of young people across the country who I think – who can participate in – who vote this year. So in that sense I think, you know, it’s going to be – and it’s not going to accrue to Republicans in most places, either. So I think it will be significant and a factor.
DAN BALZ: You know, this younger generation is the biggest generation now in the country. And as they begin to filter into the political system, they are likely to have an enormous effect on our politics. They are – they are greatly at odds with this president in their views of him and some of the issues that he supports. It’s the most diverse generation. They need a push or a spark. Young voters are always slow to get to the ballot box. And if this provides, as Jackie said, just some push, they could have a significant effect this fall.
NANCY YOUSSEF: You know, Dan, that’s a great point because one of the things I’ve noticed since Parkland is, talking to teachers and parents who have to talk to their children now about what happens if there are school shootings, or teachers who think I should know the difference between an assault weapon and a rifle, that that’s the kind of discussion that’s happening. You now have kids for years who have been living with this, and I think this comes at a time where you have the convergence of a very effective and powerful movement out of Parkland and now a whole population that is – that this has become embedded into their school experience. And I think that lends itself to a potential for a real impact on elections, not just from youth but from mothers and teachers and young adults who are having to think about this in their everyday lives.
MS. CALMES: One question I have about this, though, is that this bump stocks regulation that you mentioned, that may be the only thing that really comes – by way of gun control that comes out this year because there’s not any significant move in Congress to push the gun-control legislation. We’ve seen the president, who had some ideas, including raising the age limit for purchases of long guns, has stepped back after his talks with the NRA. And so my question is, if nothing significant happens, will these young people be so disillusioned that they fall back, or will they be motivated out of anger to be even more –
MR. COSTA: Well, it’s a great question. I mean, I was at the Capitol this week talking to lawmakers and they say you’re right, nothing else is going to happen except federal regulations like Sessions did on Friday. But if the House is taken over by the Democrats, the president’s already signaled that he’s willing to do something on guns, that maybe that kind of bipartisan dynamic in divided government could lead to something.
MR. BALZ: I think, though, that in the fall – excuse me – I think that in the fall they’re going to need another push. There’s going to be – there’s going to have to be organizational efforts on the part of individual candidates, political parties, outside groups to mobilize these young voters.
MS. YOUSSEF: I just wanted to add, you know, I think when you talk to these kids they have an expectation that it’s not going to be in just one push, that they’re kind of going in this with a mentality that it’s going to be a long-term effort. So in that regard there may be several efforts, and that they know that going – starting from now rather than the expectation that one rally or one movement will lead to change.
MS. CALMES: Yeah, I’ve been impressed by that.
MR. COSTA: And you’ll be there, Geoff, right, covering it for NBC?
MR. BENNETT: Yeah, all day tomorrow. Yeah, I think the bulk of it happens between 12 and three Eastern, but yeah, we’ll be out there all day.
MR. COSTA: Excellent. Turning to a different subject, a former Playboy model who says she had a consensual relationship with the president more than a decade ago went on national television this week to set the record straight in her view. Karen McDougal said she never wanted to discuss her relationship with the president and for years refused to answer questions from reporters. However, she has filed a lawsuit against American Media, Inc., which owns the National Inquirer. McDougal alleges the Inquirer paid her $150,000 a couple years ago to buy her silence about her alleged affair with Trump. Now she wants to end that contract.
KAREN MCDOUGAL: (From video.) I’m not out to make money on this. I’m out to get my rights back, to prove a contract was illegal, that I was taken advantage of, and then go back to my life, period.
MR. COSTA: On Sunday, adult film star Stormy Daniels will tell her story to 60 Minutes on CBS. The president has denied having a relationship with either of these women.
When you think about all this, Dan, it’s hovering over the presidency. I mean, as we discussed on the show, he’s watching cable news all the time. And you turn on CNN, this was on for over an hour the other day. What does it mean for a president to, one, have this confronting him all the time? And why hasn’t it become, at least not yet, this explosive story in the same way Monica Lewinsky did in the late 1990s?
MR. BALZ: It’s a really good question. I think – I mean, I think the first way we have to look at it is just the personal side of this, and what this does to the president’s marriage with Melania Trump, and how difficult that is, presumably, for both of them, and certainly for her. And that must weigh on him as this continues day in and day out. It hasn’t become explosive, I think in part because there’s been so much said about him and women in the past. There have been many allegations of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct on his part. There’s obviously the infamous Access Hollywood video.
So in a sense, this is not new information for people. But it’s been interesting that this has continued on and on and on. And, that the lawyers for these two women, particularly for Stormy Daniels, are as aggressive and seemingly skillful on TV – which is the medium that the president prizes most – skillful on TV in continuing to put this in front of the American people and in front of the president.
MS. CALMES: I think since we all knew a lot of this about Donald Trump when – on election day, and people had sort of made their peace with it one way or another, the only thing that I can see changing the dynamic here is Melania Trump and what she does. And that’s why I think these two interviews – the CNN interview last night with Karen McDougal and the one coming up with Stormy Daniels on Sunday on 60 Minutes are so important, because that is a degree of humiliation, really, that no wife should have – even the third wife – should have to undergo. And it will be interesting to see whether their marriage can survive things like this.
MR. BENNETT: Yeah. I’m struck – Dan mentioned the sort of PR aspect of this. And in many ways, I feel like Donald Trump has met his match in Stormy Daniels and her attorney, Michael Avenatti. And in this way: We know the president has used the media to great effect to silence his opponents. But I think Stormy Daniels, dare I say, as a consequence of her very profession, cannot be shamed and sort of – you know, shamed into silence. And so she and her attorney have played this sort of expert cat and mouse game with the media, dripping out details over the course of weeks, culminating in this CBS interview that we have yet to see. And the president, I think, has been rather flat-footed, certainly the White House has, in trying to address this in a way that really sort of gives any sort of semblance of –
MS. CALMES: Yeah. What’s extraordinary to me, though, is the way – he will attack anyone and say it’s counterpunching. He has not said a word about these two women, which I find amazing. I really couldn’t – I can’t even speculate as to why that is. You could say, well, someone told him he shouldn’t. People tell him things he shouldn’t do all the time, like do not congratulate Vladimir Putin, and he does it anyway. So it’s interesting to me. I wish I could even – I wish someone knew the answer and would tell me.
MS. YOUSSEF: Well, I do think one factor we have to think about that didn’t happen, say, in the ’90s with Clinton, is news is now so – there are silos of news. And so there – if you have an opinion about Trump one way or the other, you can get news to validate that one way or the other. And I think that affects sort of how these stories land, because there isn’t sort of one source of information. And in that regard, it’s hard to sort of have this wave when as a public we’re so stuck in our particular views on this presidency, and even on individual policy decisions.
MR. BALZ: There’s an interesting aspect on this, though, that – and that is that most of the other battles that go on have an ideological tinge to them, or a partisan tinge. There’s nothing particular partisan about this, right? I mean, this is –
MR. COSTA: Democrats aren’t saying much.
MR. BALZ: Right. This is a different – this is a different kind of problem for Donald Trump.
MS. YOUSSEF: Right, but your opinion of Trump, I think, has been established – do you know what I mean? And so if you feel one way about him or have reconciled your opinion of it, that can stay safely. And you can even almost protect yourself from even hearing about this, whereas if you’re outraged you can easily access. And that’s what I – that’s what I mean.
MR. BALZ: Yeah.
MS. CALMES: And I think the thing we have to note too is this isn’t just about the alleged sex and the affairs. This is about payments made within days of an election, and whether that was a violation of federal campaign law. You know, as an in-kind contribution to help him get elected by keeping a lid on news that could hurt him very badly.
MR. COSTA: Talking about the president that doesn’t have a chief of staff, I mean in his previous career at the Trump Org Michael Cohen wasn’t chief of staff, but he was as – certainly a confidant. And he is deeply involved.
MR. BENNETT: A confidant and fixer. I mean, he even refers to himself in that way. But this is certain a situation where, as you say, it’s follow the money.
MR. COSTA: We’re going to leave it there. Thanks, everybody, for joining us. And while you’re online, take the Washington Week News Quiz. This week we have something for everyone – questions about politics, pop culture, and entertainment news. I’m Robert Costa. See you next time on the Washington Week Extra.