ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra.
It was a busy week on the 2020 campaign trail. Senator Elizabeth Warren and other Democratic candidates spoke out against former Vice President Joe Biden’s support for the Hyde amendment, which bans the use of federal funds for abortion. Warren said this at a town hall: “Under the Hyde amendment…women of means will still have access to abortions…Who won’t will be poor women, working women,” and others.
Let’s just come back to the table here. So we see Vice President Biden as dealing with some serious issues on this Hyde amendment. He’s pulling back. And what does he face as he deals with the Democratic field on this issue? He was on one position for a long time.
ANNA PALMER: I think it’s going to be a big problem for him, right? I think he has been more conservative than the vast majority of the Democrats in the field right now and he’s flip-flopped. He flip-flopped and then flopped again, right? And so the question is going to be, where does he stand? Does he have to reexamine all of his positions throughout the many decades that are oftentimes now at odds with where the Democratic base is?
JOSHUA GREEN: That’s the problem. I mean, Biden historically is out of step with where the Democratic Party is today. The party has moved to the left. He has a long record of centrist or moderate, now conservative-seeming positions that aren’t going to fly with the activist base of the Democratic Party. And you could – you could – you could see this happening during the week kind of in real time as activists began to criticize him and other candidates began to criticize him, and then you had that sudden pirouette of Biden kind of changing positions. You know, he’s done it on this. There are other things in his record that he’s probably going to have to think about now and could have a whole series of events where Biden is apologizing or making amends for old positions.
MR. COSTA: Do you think that this is going to pay a price for Biden in the debate? Does this make him more vulnerable for people to attack him, or is he more protected when the debates happen?
VIVIAN SALAMA: It certainly raises questions about whether he’s too removed from sort of the state of the party now, and especially the voters themselves. It’s a different era from when he ran the last two times or the last three times, sorry, and so it’s really hard to say how people react at the end of the day. He was ultimately playing to a general election voter base that he was thinking, you know, they are a little bit more to the center, but ultimately a lot of people are going to view him very skeptically because it was a flip-flop and they don’t know what his views are at this point.
MR. COSTA: Inside the White House, Vice President Biden is still seen as one of the leading contenders?
MARK LANDLER: Absolutely. I mean, if you just look at President Trump’s Twitter feed, he seems to be really – I don’t want to use the word “obsessed,” that’s too strong, but I mean, he really views Biden as the one he has zeroed in on, the one he goes after. You know, he criticized him when he was in Japan on his recent trip. So regardless of the conversation we’re having about how Biden does with the progressive base or whether Biden’s flip-flops hurt him, the Trump orbit appears to regard Joe Biden as their most formidable foe at this point. Now, it’s so early that it almost doesn’t – it makes sense that perhaps they are focused on the person who has the greatest name recognition, and it could well be that in six months when someone else emerges from the field President Trump will turn his attention to that person. But at this point, regardless of whatever perceived vulnerabilities Joe Biden has, Donald Trump seems to think he is the guy he will be facing next year.
MR. COSTA: So let’s call a little bit of an audible right now. We were going to discuss 2020, Joe Biden. But literally a minute after we ended our broadcast here at WETA in Shirlington, Virginia, President Trump tweeted that he has now struck a deal with Mexico and he has suspended the tariffs that were planned to go into effect on Monday. So we spent a show talking about what it would mean for consumers, what it would mean for the political fallout; now a deal has been struck. It comes back to this point we were talking about at the beginning: Does President Trump see tariffs as a way to kind of get what he wants in immigration? And is he right?
MR. GREEN: I think it’s clear that he does. I mean, he drummed up this threat, if Mexicans didn’t staunch the flow of immigration he’d apply tariffs. And judging by his tweet, he’s gotten concessions that he was looking for. So I think all this is going to do is – you know, on the one hand, it’s going to make markets happy. You’ve avoided, at least for the time being, the chance of economically damaging tariffs. But it’s also likely, I think, to encourage Trump in his future use of tariffs. And say to himself, hey, you know, it worked this time. Maybe I can use it again.
MS. PALMER: I think it really depends on what he actually gets, right? There are no details right now. He says he’s had a great deal, but what is the deal? Is he the boy who cries wolf at the end of the day, who’s threatening tariffs but then kind of backs away when he probably talks to his advisors who say this is going to be really bad for the U.S., potentially?
MR. LANDLER: I mean, to me, the tweets that we all just read felt a little reminiscent of the tweets he put out after his Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un, where he sort of said I’ve now solved the nuclear problem with North Korea. In these tweets, he sort of suggested: I’ve now solved the – Mexico will solve the immigrant problem. Of course, in the nuclear case nothing was solved. And we find ourselves pretty much were we were at the beginning of the administration. I’m just a little curious when we actually see the fine print. And more than the fine print, how the Mexicans go about implementing this, whether it, in fact, will be the breakthrough that he’s perceived –
MR. COSTA: This comes to the point about the details matter. We’ve seen reports that President Lopez Obrador could send 5,000, 6,000, 7,000 troops to the southern border as a way of preventing people from coming up from Central America. Yet, you have a 600-mile border. And Mexico historically has had a very porous border in its southern region. So even if Mexico is promising something, does that mean it’s actually the reality?
MS. SALAMA: Well, not only that, it’s going to take a long time for them to actually see some real tangible results in a crisis that’s this – of this magnitude. And the Trump administration continually saying at least they want to see them doing a number of steps to show that they’re going in that direction, that they are actually taking serious measures to address this problem and not just, you know, promising empty promises. But ultimately, what this tweet shows, and what we basically determined here today, is that the president believes that tariffs work. He believes that sanctions work. Anything that inflicts economic punishment or pain on a country he believes will see results. And this is another indication where he believes the Mexicans saw his threat, took it seriously, and came to the table to comply.
MR. COSTA: But does that apply to China?
MR. GREEN: Well, China’s a much bigger and a much stronger country. So, no, it probably doesn’t. And in speaking to market analysts, economists this week, one fear is that an ancillary effect of Trump’s Mexican tariffs – or even the threat of Mexican tariffs – would actually make it harder to strike a trade deal with China, because the Chinese understandably as they – as they consider making concessions have to be thinking to themselves: Well, gee, you know, if we agree to a deal the way the Mexicans and the Canadians and the Americans did with the USMCA, and then Trump can turn around and hit us with tariffs anyway, well, why should we concede anything at all?
MR. COSTA: And does this maybe increase the odds that the USMCA gets a vote in Congress, or not?
MS. PALMER: I don’t know. I think it’s a little too early to tell. I mean, he just tweeted. And so I think there needs to be a little bit of a pause. I think the fact that the White House put a clock on Nancy Pelosi for when they wanted this to get done was a very bad sign that it is going to be done. Nancy Pelosi doesn’t like to be forced on anything. I think general the White House can get pretty good marks for how they’ve gone about trying to get the USMCA passed. But it seemed like it took a really big step backward this week.
MR. COSTA: Thanks all to my guests tonight, dealing with some breaking news. Mark Landler, White House correspondent for The New York Times; Vivian Salama, White House reporter for The Wall Street Journal; Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent for POLITICO and co-author of The Hill to Die On; and our friend Joshua Green, national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek.
That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts or watch on our Washington Week website. While you’re online, check out the Washington Week-ly News Quiz. Thanks for hanging with us tonight, even we sometimes from time to time make a mistake. But we appreciate your support – (laughter) – each and every Friday night. Thank you so much. See you next time.