ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra, where we pick up online where we left off on the broadcast.
It appears that President Trump may be on a collision course with his newly appointed chief of staff, General John Kelly. The headline says it all: “During a summer of crisis, Trump chafes against criticism and new controls.” Kelly, a retired Marine general, has been given the nickname “Church Lady,” which I doubt anyone would dare to call him to his face. And according to your reporting, Phil, Kelly’s military live-by-the-rules management style seems to be rubbing President Trump the wrong way, but it’s – he also seems to be unhappy with other members of his inner circle.
PHILIP RUCKER: That’s right. You know, Trump generally speaks highly of Kelly and praises him, likes what he’s doing with management inside the West Wing, but he’s chafing at the personal access issue. Kelly is screening phone calls into the president. He’s limiting who gets to come by and visit and talk to the president. The president longs for those days when his Oval Office was a hub of gossip and friends would just come and go. But there are other tensions, too. Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, the president and he have disagreed on a number of policy issues over the last few months. We’re hearing mutually both the president is growing tired of Tillerson and Tillerson’s growing tired of the president, so that may be reaching its expiration date soon. And also Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director, spoke out publicly against the president’s leadership after the Charlottesville rally, and the president was really upset about that and feels like that was a disloyal thing to do. And it came after Cohn had confronted the president personally at the Bedminster golf course to share and really vent his feelings about it in private.
MR. COSTA: Why is Gary Cohn still there if – it seems like if you give an interview out of line in this administration, you’re out of the White House.
MR. RUCKER: Well, he considered resigning but decided to stay. He faced a lot of pressure, especially from CEOs and Wall Street types who see Gary Cohn as their conduit to this administration, pressure to stay in that job. And the president hasn’t pulled the trigger to fire him, and it would be difficult to do that. He’d face a lot of blowback on Wall Street. They sort of need each other in a certain way. And the biggest point, actually, is that Gary Cohn’s the face of the tax reform effort, and for Trump to fire his tax guy in the middle of launching this big campaign for tax cuts would be a political problem.
MR. COSTA: Let’s stay with tax reform, because President Trump has often said that tax reform is the linchpin of his economic agenda. This week he traveled to Missouri to announce the plan, but he offered few specifics.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) I want to work with Congress – Republicans and Democrats alike – on a plan that is pro-growth, pro-jobs, pro-worker, and pro-American.
MR. COSTA: The Missouri speech was more of a political rally rather than a policy announcement. The president told Congress, quote, “not to disappoint” him, and he took a jab at home-state Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, telling the crowd they should vote her out of office if she does not support his plan. Geoff, what is the plan? And if we don’t know the plan, where is this all going this September?
GEOFF BENNETT: We don’t know the plan. You heard there the president encouraging members of Congress to get behind legislation that hasn’t been written, and he’s promoting a plan that doesn’t exist. You mentioned that the big push for tax cuts – and during that speech, the president kept drawing this parallel between the big tax reform effort from Ronald Reagan in 1986. That came in the sixth year of the Reagan presidency, and it was a two-year-long effort. What are we, like seven months into the Trump administration? So this is a pretty ambitious timeline, as we said, for legislation that has not been crafted. The White House, to their – I should say that the White House says that was done intentionally. They’re putting this on the House Ways and Means Committee to do the heavy lifting of writing the legislation. The White House really just wants to have the president give guideposts for that.
MR. COSTA: But, Abby, we’re looking at a congressional schedule right now in September and October with all the push for aid for Houston and Texas. Is tax reform another thing, do you think, that’s going to get pushed on the backburner?
ABBY LIVINGSTON: I don’t see how it doesn’t. And I mean, the thing is we’re almost into the midterms. I mean, they’re – health care ate up almost this whole year, and I’m standing there in July wondering when this is going to wrap up so they can move on to tax reform, and then Harvey came. And so I don’t see how it doesn’t get delayed at least some.
MR. COSTA: And there are major appropriators in Texas, in the delegation.
MS. LIVINGSTON: Absolutely, we have four of them, and they’re very busy with Harvey right now.
MR. COSTA: Jeanne, does Wall Street want taxes now? Does it have to come by Thanksgiving?
JEANNE CUMMINGS: They want it – Wall Street, business, everybody. The corporate community is much more realistic about passing major tax reform through Congress than the White House is. They’ve been here. They lived through it. And so they know that if it takes a year, fine, it takes a year. They just want the bill, and this is their top priority. And so what we’re seeing is that where the White House might falter, the CEOs will step in. Maybe they can’t go to the Oval Office and take a photo with the president because of all the social issues and other things that they don’t want to be exposed to, but they have huge lobbying arms that know exactly how to run and work Congress. And so the business community is both creating platforms for the president to go to and to pitch this, Paul Ryan made a round through August where he stopped in businesses and, you know, the employees who were there, sold the idea that tax reform is going to help a worker. It’s a tough sell, but they’re working on it. So, yes, the business community is perfectly willing to be patient as long as they know they’ve still got a shot at it.
MR. RUCKER: But will the president be patient? (Laughter.) He wants it now, and Congress is going to be messy and take a long time.
MS. CUMMINGS: And the White House, though, did probably see how that impatience hurt the effort on health care.
MR. BENNETT: There’s a political play here, too, because look at the states where he’s giving these speeches: in North Dakota, where they want to try to primary Heidi Heitkamp or at least take that seat; Missouri of Claire McCaskill, the Democrat; and even the vice president, Mike Pence, was in West Virginia trying to put the pressure on Joe Manchin.
MR. COSTA: Well, we’re also heading into Labor Day this weekend, and the White House has decided to stop collecting data about how much businesses pay workers of different genders and races. The program was established by President Obama last year to recertify pay inequality. Ivanka Trump, special assistant to the president, has campaigned and said that she would make closing the pay gap, paid family leave, and child care tax credits a priority. The White House claims that the initiative was burdensome and costly to employers because of the volume of documents that had to be produced. Jeanne, do we see the White House making – fulfilling its promises when it comes to equal pay?
MS. CUMMINGS: No. If you don’t know what the data is, then you don’t know what the problem is. Now, we have heard from the business community that the recordkeeping that these regulations required of businesses was going to – was, indeed, going to be a burden. Now, they never took effect, and so we never saw the real-life, you know, reality of what was happening. But there was a deadline approaching, and businesses were going to have to – they were developing the forms and they were, you know, three weeks or whatever – that deadline was close – out from actually having to work with this. And I think that that shortness of time is what pushed the White House to act, you know, like forced its hand. Now, there’s some talk that they might review them and maybe some of them will come back, but because of that deadline they had to act. They were either going to force the companies to start filling them out or give them a break, and they gave them a break. And without that data, they can’t talk about pay equality.
MR. COSTA: Phil, Ivanka, Jared, we’re always told they’re the moderating influences. Sometimes their ability to control policy comes up for – under question.
MR. RUCKER: You know, Ivanka Trump has talked a lot about this issue, but there’s really no record of accomplishment there, and it’s frustrating for her and for Jared Kushner. They have access to the president. They’re able to speak their mind and tell him what they think and channel the views of people that they’re hearing from on the outside, but it is not translating into policy victories. Look at climate change, where they advocated for the president – for the U.S. to stay in the Paris Climate Accord and the president did the opposite. So we see it again here on equal pay.
MR. COSTA: Indeed we are.
Hurricane Harvey has exposed a long and lingering resentment between Texas Republicans and some Northeastern lawmakers. Senator Ted Cruz was among the Texas congressional delegation that opposed a $51 billion disaster relief bill after Superstorm Sandy ravaged parts of New York and New Jersey in 2012. Cruz and others said the bill at the time was packed with wasteful spending, but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in recent days has been calling Cruz out, saying it just isn’t true. Abby, what are the facts when it comes to Senator Cruz and Sandy versus Harvey?
MS. LIVINGSTON: Well, your fine newspaper had ruled that he had three Pinocchios and that maybe he wasn’t on the mark when saying that the Sandy bill was loaded with all sorts of pork. I think one of the most interesting comments I’ve heard on this story was from a congressman from Long Island – former Congressman Steve Israel, who – Democrat; his district was heavily affected by Sandy. And he said, you know, it’s – pork depends on who you ask. And so some of the issues that the Texans would point out, there is a logical defense for them which your fact-checker noted. But the most fascinating thing is just how this was carried for five years. When the voted happened on the floor – the bill passed. That’s kind of the amusing thing of all of this, or the irony I guess is the better word. These New Jersey and New Yorkers literally wrote lists out – physical lists, mental lists – bookmarked. And so they – it wasn’t just Texans, but Texas, again, is the largest delegation and the most powerful one, and 24 of 25 Texans voted against aid. And the problem with that is that it was also Florida Republicans, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and these are all coastal states that are more frequently hit by hurricanes. And so there was just a deep-seated resentment, and it wasn’t just Chris Christie. There was a succession of Democrats and Republicans alike from Jersey and New York, and they laid into the Texans. It was mainly focused on Ted Cruz because he’s the most prominent one, but they went after all Texans, and it was very shocking to the folks in Houston who were trying to get through the day, basically.
MR. COSTA: What’s your read, Abby, on Senator Cruz? He lives in Houston, and based on everything you’ve just said about his experience with Sandy, how is he being seen in Texas by the press corps, by the people?
MS. LIVINGSTON: I mean, he’s always going to be the point of interest. He is basically the most famous politician in the state. But one of the more interesting things is I’ve had a bunch of phone calls among the delegation and their staff in the last few days, and his name rarely comes up. He has not distinguished himself as a master legislator at this point. This may be an opportunity for him to move legislation, but really the focus is on Senator John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican who’s close to Mitch McConnell, and the seven chairmen – seven House chairmen who have jurisdictions over a lot of the issues that are going to be affected by Harvey, and the three – or the four appropriators who are going to trying to get money into the state. And so it’s sort of this bifurcated situation where to the outside world
Cruz is the point of interest, but into the insular world of how do we solve this problem he’s not a central figure.
MR. COSTA: Geoff, does this remind you whenever these kind of moments happen – crisis, disasters – it’s the people who control the money with the power? They may be in the background most of the time, but they come to the fore in these situations.
MR. BENNETT: It’s a truism of politics. What I also thought was noteworthy this past week was how Chris Christie was trying to call out Ted Cruz as being a hypocrite, as if hypocrisy isn’t the lifeblood of politics, right? But it also shows – it shows the dangers, really, of playing politics with federal relief aid.
MS. CUMMINGS: And we should keep in mind that only nine Republican senators voted for Sandy aid, so the majority of that caucus voted no – and Senator Cornyn was one of them, along with Cruz. So there was quite a bit of opposition to Sandy.
MR. COSTA: It brings up, Phil, something just to close that we heard in – we discussed in the show. Will there be offsets, you think, from the – will the White House push for offsets in spending, in spending cuts, as they look forward on Harvey assistance?
MR. RUCKER: They might. I think that’s a conversation going on as we speak and will continue into next week when Congress gets back. But this is really interesting because this is the moment where people need their government the most, and for years in our national political debate we’ve been hearing Republicans like Senator Cruz especially, but also Donald Trump, talk about government’s too big, it’s bloated, we’re spending too much money, we want to cut taxes. And here’s the time where they really need it.
MR. COSTA: Fascinating. Well, we’ll leave it there, and that’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. While you’re online, test your knowledge of current events on our Washington Week-ly News Quiz. I’m Robert Costa. See you next time.