ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is a special Facebook Live edition of the Washington Week Extra, where our Facebook friends, you, get a chance to ask us questions. I’m joined by Emilie Plesset. She is our Gwen Ifill fellow, and will be helping me to moderate this discussion. Send us your questions in the comments section, and we’ll try answer as many as we can. And I’ll answer some more later on. Great to be with you, Emilie.
EMILIE PLESSET: Yeah, great to be with you too.
MR. COSTA: What’s on people – what are people talking about?
MS. PLESSET: Yeah. Well, we have a lot of viewers writing in. So one of our viewers teaches government. And he sort of wants to know what he should tell his students about how government is supposed to work given, you know, what seems like a lot of polarized rhetoric and a lack of bipartisanship in D.C.
MR. COSTA: This is a charged political time. And when you’re a reporter out there, you always have to be careful that you stay objective. And I think when you’re a student or you’re a teacher, you want to be almost like a reporter in Washington who’s on the campaign trail or at the Capitol. You want to learn as much as possible, and you want to – you really want to soak in the first draft of history as it’s happening. Read the newspaper. Read magazines. And really try to understand what’s happening, who are the key players, what are the dynamics that are shaping the debate, and not necessarily immediately take a side.
Of course, if want to take a side, that’s great. This a country where you can take a side on anything. But I think as reporters, we always try to avoid wading too far to the right, too far to the left, and learn as much as possible. And sometimes when you learn a lot, you can appreciate someone like Bernie Sanders, who’s on the left, or you can appreciate someone like President Trump, who’s on the right, not necessarily as people you like personally or people you’re going to vote for, but people you understand.
MS. PLESSET: Yeah, definitely. I bet a lot of students will take that to heart. Also, a lot of people, especially over the past few weeks, have been writing in about family separations at the border. So whenever – viewer Patrick wants to know if you can shed some light on why some parents have been deemed ineligible for reunification and what happens next for those children.
MR. COSTA: It’s a complicated situation. Congress is very – the Republicans run Congress, run the House, run the Senate. They haven’t really come up with a legislative solution. Right now this is an executive branch issue. And President Trump, who has taken a conservative position in immigration, encouraged by his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his advisor Stephen Miller, they’ve really taken a hard line, a hard stance. And they say, if you come over the border, even if you’re a parent with children, you risk separation. And they’re doing this as a way to discourage people from coming over the border.
But it’s very controversial, as we’ve seen. And parents have been separated from their children. It’s been very sad to see this, to cover it, just because you see human suffering and human pain in any form, regardless of your politics it hits you. And so we’re going to have to see how the executive branch of the Department of Homeland Security handles this. They’re under scrutiny about how they’ve handled it. They’ve been trying to reunite some families that they split apart. But they’re still under the spotlight. And it’s important for reporters to keep the pressure on in the reporting, asking more questions about what’s happening for those families that are still separated.
What’s going to happen, though, is really the midterms I think are going to force more of an answer on immigration. If the Democrats take over the House, you’re not going to see this kind of policy. Maybe you’ll have legislative action against it if the Democrats take over the House. But for the time being, with Republicans controlling Congress and a Republican like President Trump at the White House, families are under real pressure if they’re migrating here over the border illegally. They’re finding themselves in difficult situations. And it’s just important to keep track of all of it.
MS. PLESSET: Yeah. This is definitely going to be a story that’ll be reported on for many weeks to come.
MR. COSTA: Yeah. It will. It needs to be.
MS. PLESSET: Yeah. Well, a lot of our viewers are definitely very concerned about it.
Well, anyways, well I know we didn’t get a chance to talk about the Supreme Court tonight with all this breaking news today, yeah, but you’ve been reporting on it all week, right?
MR. COSTA: I mean, it’s amazing how much news happens in these weeks, right? We’re covering – we’re talking earlier in the week with our team and we think, of course we’re going to cover the Supreme Court. Judge Brett Kavanaugh is nominated by President Trump on Monday, after a weekend at his golf club, he’s making the decision. And he’s a conservative judge from the D.C. Federal Circuit. He’s someone who went to Yale Law School. He’s someone who has worked for President George W. Bush in the White House, has – was nominated by Bush to be on the Federal Court, now nominated by President Trump. He’s in his early 50s. He’s seen as a favorite of the right wing, someone who’s close to the Federalist Society, a conservative group that helped President Trump vet many of the nominees for the Supreme Court.
But what we’re watching now is the confirmation process. So Kavanaugh, he’s under the microscope. What is his financial situation? What are his past writings – legally, personally? They’re all going to come under scrutiny in the coming weeks as the Senate plays its constitutional role of either confirming or denying a Supreme Court justice nominee from the president of the United States. I think it’s going to be important to watch the moderate Republicans – Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, the Senators – and also the red state Democrats. If you’re like Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana, who’s up for a tough race this year, or Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, where do you go on this? Do you try to rally your Democratic base against the nominee? Or do you maybe vote for the nominee and say the Supreme Court nominees should usually, historically, get through unless there’s some major fight?
But we’ve seen the Supreme Court process – it used to be pretty apolitical. But after Judge Bork, his whole situation in 1987, he didn’t end up being on the court, even though he was nominated. Clarence Thomas, now a justice, in the early 1990s. And even Merrick Garland, who came from the D.C. Circuit, nominated by President Obama in 2016, never even got a vote on the Senate floor. It’s become a very politicized process.
MS. PLESSET: Yeah. Well, where would, like, Kavanaugh sort of lie on the, I guess, ideological spectrum of the Supreme Court as it currently stands?
MR. COSTA: He’s pretty conservative. He has over 300 opinions, which is the way you can really judge this. You look at a judge’s legal opinions, and they are your guide in how they would probably operate once on the court. Kavanaugh has been criticized from some conservatives as being not conservative enough. But no one’s really questioning if he’s conservative. He’s taken conservative positions on issues like health care – President Obama’s health care law, on abortion. And he’s seen as a favorite of the right.
MS. PLESSET: OK. Well, that’s definitely interesting.
OK, well, I guess, I know is a lot is happening in Washington always. But is there anything specifically interesting that you’re doing next week?
MR. COSTA: Well, I’m going to be keeping an eye on President Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin on Monday. It’s going to be fascinating to see how that plays out. What does he say about the indictments, if anything? Does he talk about extradition, to get those Russians back in the U.S. to face the charges? He’s been talking about President Putin as a potential friend. What does that mean, to be a friend? We have allies and enemies in foreign policy. But a friend? It’s a strange situation because Russia is not in NATO, it’s had hostility with the U.S., it’s meddled in the election, yet the president seems ‒ he’s such a disruptive force and he’s so unconventional. Is he really going to try to reframe U.S.-Russia relations? Or is this more about the seen, the image of the handshake, sort of what we saw with North Korea in Singapore with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un?
The other thing I’m watching: 2020. It’s far away. But I’ve been spending some time getting to know some of the candidates, just watching them and going to their events, like Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, just trying to pay attention to who are some of the rising Democrats. Because I know it seems like a long way away, but it’s not that long ahead. And so as a reporter, you always want to make sure you’re learning about who’s coming up, who’s going to be maybe the candidate we’re not paying attention to who takes on President Trump.
MS. PLESSET: Is there anyone, I guess, that might be a surprise that we’re not watching out for right now?
MR. COSTA: There are a lot of people. There’s going to be a big Democratic field. I’ve written a story about Oprah Winfrey. Could she run? You never know. My motto for reporting is assume nothing. You never really can assume what people are going to do in American politics. People assumed Senator Sanders would go nowhere in ’16; he almost won the nomination. People assumed President Trump was a celebrity candidate; well he’s president now. So I don’t try to assume anything about it.
So if you’re an unknown person, mostly unknown nationally, like Mayor Landrieu or if you’re Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks who’s toying with the idea, or you’re a senator like Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota or Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, you may have a shot. If the Democratic Party hasn’t figured out what its future wants to be, there’s going to be a big debate, a big field, anything could happen.
MS. PLESSET: Well, definitely it will be exciting, although we do have to get to 2018 first.
MR. COSTA: I know, very true.
MS. PLESSET: Well, this fall at least. Anyways, are you reading anything particularly captivating at the moment?
MR. COSTA: I try to read a book as much as I can to get away from the newspapers, blogs and Twitter. I mean, it’s the healthy thing to do, right, to try to actually sit down with a book, a physical book.
And my dad recommended ‒ he’s a ‒ he’s a big history buff ‒ a book called Grant by Ron Chernow.
MS. PLESSET: I’ve heard very good things about that one.
MR. COSTA: It’s very good, it’s very readable. He’s a phenomenal writer, Ron Chernow. It’s a very accessible book.
But what I love about the book so far ‒ just got it out of the library ‒ is that you have Chernow talking about Grant as someone who struggled throughout his entire career. He became president. He was a major general. But he was someone for years as a general who wasn’t being really appreciated, he wasn’t seen as a first-rate general for a long time. It took a while for Lincoln and others to really bring him into the fold.
And so it’s just a good lesson for all of us. When you look at Grant, he dealt with so much trouble in his life, but you never can count people out. Like I say, assume nothing. Grant, he was an unlikely top general in the Civil War, an unlikely president, but he overcame a lot of things, a lot of curveballs his way and succeeded.
MS. PLESSET: He died trying to write his biography.
MR. COSTA: He did. It was one of the famous presidential autobiographies because it’s pretty candid.
MS. PLESSET: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
MR. COSTA: He needed to make money.
MS. PLESSET: Yeah, I ‒
MR. COSTA: What have you heard about it?
MS. PLESSET: Well, actually, I heard a lot of people talking about that specific Ron Chernow book when I was at the Grant, like, Tomb in New York.
MR. COSTA: Oh, you went to Grant’s Tomb in New York?
MS. PLESSET: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
MR. COSTA: It’s kind of like Napoleon’s tomb in France, right?
MS. PLESSET: Yeah. It’s crazy. I did not know they made tombs like that for American presidents. Very pretty, though, like, the whole area.
MR. COSTA: It’s on the Upper West Side.
MS. PLESSET: Yeah. Yeah.
MR. COSTA: Or that area.
MS. PLESSET: It’s kind of, like, in Washington Heights area, so it’s pretty far Upper Manhattan. But, well, yeah.
So obviously, this was a different week a little bit with all our guests remote. What’s coming up new for Washington Week?
MR. COSTA: Well, I’m very excited to share some news. Washington Week ‒ I know you know this, others don’t ‒ has a new set that we’re going to debut very soon. It’s really exciting for Washington Week which has been on the air since 1967. And it’s had this ‒ it’s had this set, a great set, since 1999, 2000 era that we’ve used since I became moderator back in April of ’17.
But now to have this new set ‒ look at that set. It’s amazing. Now, we’re taking down the old set. I love that old orange. There’s no other set in TV that’s as orange as our old set. I’m going to miss that orange right behind me. That’s a classic Washington Week orange.
When I became moderator of this show following the lovely Gwen Ifill, who we miss all the time, Gwen loved this set and it’s hard to see it go in some ways. But I bought oranges ties and purple ties because I was told they look good with this old set. We’ll have to see which ties work with this new set.
But, Emilie, I’m so excited about the set, but you’re the Gwen Ifill fellow here.
MS. PLESSET: Yes.
MR. COSTA: Talk about it’s sad in a way to get rid of the set Gwen used, but her spirit, of course, always is at the center of this show and what it’s ‒ what it’s all about. What’s it been like to be the Gwen Ifill fellow and to have that association with such a lovely and legendary journalist?
MS. PLESSET: Oh, it’s great, like, especially since starting this fellowship. I’ve definitely done more research on her and, like, watched a lot of her old, you know, reporting, especially here on Washington Week and on NewsHour.
It’s really cool having ‒ sort of having this opportunity, especially in her name. And also, the Washington Week team is the best and everyone’s so nice. And it’s been ‒ it’s been really great working here, I’ve very much enjoyed it.
MR. COSTA: Well, you’re going to be going to the U.K., correct? What are you going to be doing over there later this year?
MS. PLESSET: Oh, yeah. I am moving to London in a few weeks, I guess. I’m going to be in grad school actually for the next year. So, yeah.
MR. COSTA: Hopefully you’ll ‒ are you looking forward to getting away from American politics, or are you going to still follow it every day?
MS. PLESSET: Oh, no, I ‒ the past few weeks, it’s been like waking up, reading all American politics and then getting, like, the Politico playbook London one. So it’ll just be, like, another country to add onto my news, like, digest, I guess. But we’ll definitely be keeping up with American politics and British politics.
MR. COSTA: Well, it’s a good time to be talking about going over to England with the president over there.
MS. PLESSET: Oh, yeah. Well, I guess I’ll see more of London than he has on this trip.
MR. COSTA: That is true. The president has avoided most of London for the protests. So we’ve really appreciated having you as part of the Washington Week team. You’ve done a great job and you’re a great team member.
Now, you’re going to have to come back and hang out with us on the new set.
MS. PLESSET: Oh, I cannot wait to see it.
MR. COSTA: Very good.
Well, we’ll leave it there. That’s it for this special Facebook Live edition of the Washington Week Extra. I’ll go online later on Facebook to answer a few more questions, I promise. But while you’re online, check out our Washington Week-ly News Quiz that’s on our website and on Facebook.
I’m Robert Costa. See you next time.