ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra.
Let’s talk a little bit about fake news. We found out this week just how much President Trump loves seeing himself on the cover of TIME Magazine. He has copies of a cover featuring him hanging in several of his golf clubs. Only problem is, the cover isn’t real. Michael, you work for TIME. Tell us the story.
MICHAEL SCHERER: The most important real estate in media, right? (Laughter.) The cover of TIME Magazine.
You know, during the campaign – at TIME, we constantly have fake covers coming across the transom, especially with Twitter now. People love making fake covers. During the campaign it was a thing. People were making fake covers. You know, the Trump campaign and Dan Scavino would even retweet fake covers during the campaign. It was something that happened. Generally, we ask them not to do it, you know, when this – (laughs) – stuff happens because we’re trying to protect our brand, and a lot of the fake covers trumpet things we would not trumpet, like The Apprentice ratings on our cover. This is a case – I assume this was made on a lark. You know, Trump is someone who likes to be praised by people around him. I’m sure someone was trying to praise him for good Apprentice ratings, and someone said let’s put it in all the golf clubs. My understanding is at least some of them have been taken down. There are other TIME covers he could use to put up in the place. Yeah, that’s what I got to say. (Laughter.)
MR. COSTA: What do you make of the White House’s response?
MR. SCHERER: In silence, you mean? I mean, this isn’t like – look, it’s a complicated story for the White House because the White House’s major message of the last week and a half, and more or less the last three months, has been that the media is fake, and so it’s pretty embarrassing to be caught boasting of something that is not even arguably in any way real. I mean, there’s just no way of defending a cover like this.
MR. COSTA: I think it’s been pretty revealing, though, about President Trump and how he sees the media, because he does have a real appreciation for TIME Magazine.
MR. SCHERER: That’s true.
MR. COSTA: He’s brought TIME Magazine to the White House many times. When you would go up to his office at Trump Tower, he would make sure, when he was on the cover of TIME, that it was piled high on his desk.
MR. SCHERER: No, that’s absolutely right.
MR. COSTA: What does that tell us about him?
MR. SCHERER: You know, I’ve talked to him about it. He said that when he was growing up in Queens that, you know, he got issues. It was always – I think he saw it always as a – as a sort of American iconic thing to be on the cover of TIME, and he always praised it. I don’t think it’s just TIME, though. I mean, he’s always seen magazine covers as a thing. And if you go to that Trump Tower office, it’s not just TIME on the wall. It’s Playboy. It’s pretty much every magazine he’s ever been on. And he still keeps stacks – I mean, I’ve seen stacks at the White House of, you know, TIME Magazines when they come out. We walk them over on occasion, you know, when the new issue comes out. (Laughter.) And, yeah, I think he – you know, there are – there are certain media institutions that he cares a great deal about, and I think the cover of TIME Magazine has always been one of them.
NANCY CORDES: The irony is there’s so many real covers of TIME Magazine with him on it that could be posted in the golf clubs instead.
MR. COSTA: He was first on it in, I think, the late ’80s.
MR. SCHERER: ’89, and he could have – I mean, I assume this cover was put there before he ran for president. I think it’s been there for a long time, so this isn’t a recent thing that he put up in his golf club. So we didn’t have a lot of covers between 1989 and 2015. Yeah, August 2015 we put him back on the cover. But he did have one from ’89. It was back during his Atlantic City casino days, and I think he’s holding up the ace of diamonds. And it’s real, 100 percent. (Laughter.)
MR. COSTA: It’s real. The one from the ’80s is real. Good to know. We need to fact check these things, I guess, now.
This wasn’t the only story about President Trump in the media this week. He got into a very public back and forth with the hosts of Morning Joe on MSNBC. He tweeted a specific comment about host Mika Brzezinski’s looks that we won’t repeat here, but the backlash was immediate and it came from Republicans on Capitol Hill too. Nancy, I know you’ve been talking to some lawmakers. They see it as a distraction.
MS. CORDES: And they see it as just beneath the dignity of the office that he holds. They say it’s one thing when he was a candidate, but now he is president of the United States. He’s occupying the Oval Office. And what I was struck by this time was how ferocious and immediate the Republican reaction was. You know, they’ve condemned lots of his tweets before, but this time they were saying stop it, this isn’t normal, you know, please set an example, what kind of example are you setting for young people when you talk this way. And then the White House defended it and said, well, this is who he is, he has the right to hit back, and Republicans basically said no he doesn’t, you know, he’s got all the power, and he can hold his tongue. But the reality is they don’t expect him to. They know that, you know, this is behavior that’s pretty engrained at this point.
MR. SCHERER: I would just say if you – I’ve learned, watching a number of these scandals happen where Trump does something that everybody else thinks is totally irrational that he’s very proud of, he was able to take a big failure this week of the Senate health care bill failing and recast it, at some personal cost, as him versus the elites and social norms. And he did that all through the campaign. Something would be going bad for him, he would do something outrageous – often on Twitter, sometimes at a rally – and then all of a sudden the entire media conversation is taken over by this dynamic of Donald Trump versus the elites and social norms. And generally speaking, he feels like he wins when he’s in that situation.
MR. COSTA: Is that strategic, though?
MR. SCHERER: I think it – I think he thinks it is. You know, whether it works in the White House I don’t know. I think there’s lots of evidence that it’s not working for him right now. I think –
MR. COSTA: So you think the president is actually not just reacting to negative news coverage or negative comments, he’s actually strategically thinking about setting up the elites or the media as an opponent?
MR. SCHERER: The best most recent example is when he tweeted that Obama wiretapped him. Came after a very rough week. He needed to change the topic. He gets down to Mar-a-Lago Saturday morning: Obama wiretapped me. It cast – again, there’s a pro wrestling dynamic suddenly and the press takes over the whole storyline, away from Russia. We were talking about Russia and what role Russia played in his campaign. It becomes whether Obama wiretapped him. It’s him versus the Washington elite, and it plays to his base. He thinks it’s a winning strategy. Now, I think there’s a lot of evidence it doesn’t work, but there’s also a lot of evidence – we were outraged during the campaign when he was doing this, and it did work for him in the end.
MR. COSTA: Let’s get back to health care. Wishing Mika Brzezinski the best. She’s a friend. So, Sarah, one thing we didn’t talk about during the show, but it’s – really, part of this debate is Planned Parenthood. It provides a lot of coverage, or at least services, to women and other people, of course. What is the effect on Planned Parenthood in this Republican proposal?
SARAH KLIFF: So there is a one-year defunding of Planned Parenthood in this – in this bill, which would essentially mean if you are someone who is on Medicaid, you could not go to a Planned Parenthood clinic. And this would be particularly problematic in kind of more rural and even some urban areas, where Planned Parenthood is often the only provider that’s affordable to women, where it’s kind of become the place you go to get contraceptives, to get treatment for STDs, to get certain sort of preventative care. And you have this one-year defunding provision that is something that two senators in particular, Susan Collins from Maine and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, have been quite outspoken that they will not support.
It's interesting, though, this has really been a key goal of conservatives for a number of years now, just about a decade. And I actually remember back in 2010 or so, when I was a new reporter in D.C., there was this representative, Mike Pence, who was the one kind of really pushing this issue. He was the guy who kept introducing year after year this Planned Parenthood defunding bill, and now he is back as vice president and it is an issue that has gotten a much higher profile, and I think could be one of those issues that really is one of the last things to be resolved in the fight over health care.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: And I think Planned Parenthood is somewhat like Obamacare in that Planned Parenthood has become – just the name alone has become this polarizing thing where people instantly think abortion, people instantly think that that’s something that’s anti-religious and that they are trying to change the culture of the society, and that they’re essentially hurting American families, when in reality, as you said, Planned Parenthood provides services that are – go way beyond abortion. And in most cases when we talk about – when we talk about defunding Planned Parenthood, we’re talking about poor and working-class women who are then going to these clinics to just get rudimentary care that they can’t afford at another kind of doctor. And that, in its own way, is kind of who the victims would be in this case if the defunding of Planned Parenthood goes through.
MS. KLIFF: One of the interesting tidbits in the congressional office – or Congressional Budget Office report is they actually think defunding Planned Parenthood increases federal spending because you would have significantly more unintended pregnancies, and a lot of those unintended pregnancies would be paid for by Medicaid, those kids would enroll in Medicaid. So you actually see this driving up costs for the government if you cut Planned Parenthood out of the budget.
MR. COSTA: How would the Republican plan affect abortion rights?
MS. KLIFF: So it’s – the key thing that they want to do is not let people who buy coverage buy coverage that covers abortion. So if you were one of the about 7 percent of Americans who buy on the marketplace, you would not be allowed to purchase a plan that would coverage abortion through your insurance. This would actually come into conflict with a few state laws. California and New York mandate that insurance plans on the marketplace cover abortion, so it sets up a bit of a conflict there. That’s another one that we don’t quite know if it will survive this reconciliation process, where everything has to be determined by the parliamentarian to relate to the federal budget. And it is a tough case, but maybe not impossible to argue that these regulatory changes around abortion are budgetary in nature.
MR. COSTA: Yamiche, I first met you at length when we were covering Senator Sanders in California in the end of the Democratic primary last year, and you have a real sense for the left in this country and the energy on the Democratic side of the aisle. Where are the Democrats in terms of town hall confrontations, in terms of activism with relation to this Republican bill?
MS. ALCINDOR: They’re, I think, out in full force. A lot of the people that you see yelling at people at town halls, they’re not just showing up – there are some that are just organically showing up. There are also people that are being organized in a very real way by MoveOn.org, by the Working Families Party, by Our Revolution, which is the organization that came after Bernie Sanders’ campaign. So the left is really out there. The problem is that there’s two thinking – there’s two kind of ways of thinking for the Democrats. There are the ones who really want single payer, that they’re mad still that Obamacare didn’t have single payer and a public option in it. Those people – when I talked to a couple senators on the Hill this week, I was asking them, like, what about single payer, and I had one that was – I was in a cab with her and she kind of whispered like, mmm-mmm, not happening. And I was like, what? And she was like, yeah, that’s not happening. And in that way – so you have those people. Then you have this other – this other group of people that are like, absolutely not, like, that’s not going to happen. And it’s a goal that’s so far-fetched, especially because the Democrats have so little power that they’re not going to be able to push through this dream ideal of single payer when they couldn’t get that through even with a Democratic president.
MS. CORDES: Look, their main hope right now is just that the core of Obamacare stays intact. That would be a victory for them, much less being able to achieve single payer. They’ll talk about it. It’s a dream. But, you know, they are watching and waiting with bated breath to see if Republicans succeed in dismantling this health care law or not. And for years, they were reluctant to even admit that there were any problems with Obamacare that needed fixing because it was under such siege by the right that, you know, their defensive mechanism was to say, no, this is a great law, everything is perfect, don’t touch it. Now, you know, they’ve at least acknowledged that there are problems on the individual marketplace that need to be fixed, that they want to fix, that they’d like to work on fixing with Republicans. The question is, will they get that opportunity.
MR. COSTA: Who are you paying attention to when you’re at the Capitol, Nancy, on the Democratic side? Is there any person who’s rising to the moment in the Democratic Party and becoming a voice of the resistance, or protecting the ACA? Anyone of note? Or maybe the majority leader – minority leader, Chuck Schumer?
MS. CORDES: Minority leader – you know, it’s interesting to watch the way that Republicans react to the new minority leader, Chuck Schumer. Some of them say, you know, he’s a reasonable guy, we can work with him, you know, obviously we don’t see eye-to-eye on much, but he’s a straight shooter. And then some think that he’s been, you know, wildly unfair when it comes to their health care bill and that he isn’t willing to negotiate with them. And so they’re still sort of getting a feel for this entirely new dynamic in Washington that nobody really expected, which was that Republicans would have all the power. Do you know, there are a number of Democrats, like Joe Manchin or Claire McCaskill, you know, who are all saying we’d love to sit down and talk about health care, let’s do it, let’s have a negotiation. But, you know, that’s really a last resort for Republican leaders.
MR. COSTA: It’s interesting, Michael, that Joe Manchin from West Virginia, moderate Democrat, he’s telling every reporter in the Capitol that he’d love to work with the president. He’s friendly with President Trump on health care. And when the House bill first fell apart, President Trump said he’d love to work with Democrats like Joe Manchin. Bipartisanship just doesn’t seem to have come to the fore.
MR. SCHERER: Yeah, Manchin’s brand is that he’s that guy who wants to reach across the aisle. But I think the well has been so deeply poisoned. And we’re already very close to the 2018 elections, and I think Democrats, even if they were given an opportunity – if Trump says tomorrow, OK, we’re not doing this Republican-only, we’re going to do this bipartisan – I think a lot of Democrats would say what Mitch McConnell said back in 2010, that our number-one priority is to take back the House and the Senate, and let’s focus on that and we’ll get a better deal in a couple years. And I think you would have – on top of that you have a significant part of the Democratic Caucus in the Senate and the House who just would not vote for anything that takes anything away from Obamacare.
MS. ALCINDOR: The interesting thing to me is that when I think of people to watch – he’s not a Democrat – it’s Bernie Sanders, that semi de facto leader of the Democratic Party even though he’s not a Democrat, who is leading this charge of fired up base, who are the ones showing up to the town hall screaming about single payer. Now, again, I think the Democrats really do – I agree with you – want to just have Obamacare be – survive this Republican onslaught. The problem is that they do have a very fired up base. I was in Chicago with – for a Bernie Sanders kind of gathering, and there were thousands of people who said we’re tired of Democrats being moderates. This is how we lost the election. We’re always trying to be centrists. Let’s just go all the way to the left and get what we want.
MS. CORDES: But the question I have is, you know, if Democrats do take that approach – and Sarah, you probably know better than anyone – what happens to the individual markets in the meantime? Can you wait that long before addressing –
MS. KLIFF: Yeah, I mean, I think the individual market is really struggling right now. We saw two carriers pull out of the Nevada market this week. There are 14 counties in Nevada that have no health insurers who want to sell coverage. I believe we’re at about 35 nationwide at this point. And I think one of the interesting things – I cover state legislatures a decent amount, and I actually think a lot of – like, when I think of who do I watch, I watch people testing out interesting ideas in the states. And I think there’s a lot of interesting liberal entrepreneurship with Medicaid buy-in, state-level single payer. That might be where some of this bubbles up from.
MR. COSTA: We’ll have to see, and we’re going to leave it there. That’s it for this edition of Washington Week Extra. While you’re online, check out a look at the pivotal moments from President Obama’s eight years in the White House as remembered by our friend and Washington Week regular and New York Times correspondent Peter Baker. His new book about the Obama presidency is out now.
I’m Robert Costa. See you next time.