ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra. Let’s continue our conversation on the 2020 race and the latest congressional efforts to follow up on Robert Mueller’s report.
Joining me tonight, Kaitlan Collins, White House correspondent for CNN; Toluse Olorunnipa, White House reporter for The Washington Post; and Jake Sherman, senior writer at POLITICO and co-editor of Playbook.
We finished the show talking about 2020. You guys were at the rally; what are we missing about the president’s reelection campaign that we didn’t get to in the show that you saw?
KAITLAN COLLINS: About what the campaign is doing?
MR. COSTA: Yeah, and what’s your impression of it up close.
MS. COLLINS: I mean, I do think it’s true that they’ve revamped it. I think the money makes the biggest difference because they have the leeway to spend in a lot of states, but I do think they are genuinely concerned by those polls that show the president so far down. There is a reason they went to Orlando, of all places, for the president to do this.
MR. COSTA: Why did they go there?
MS. COLLINS: Because they know, obviously, Florida is critical. He can’t win in 2020 without having Florida, and they’re worried about what their numbers in Florida are showing. But they weren’t in – you know, typically these rallies we can be in airport hangars, we can be – sometimes they’re 5,000 people somewhere, a small city two hours away from the nearest big city. But this is Orlando, and that was like the first time we’ve seen the president go somewhere like that.
TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA: And you can’t underestimate the power of bringing 18,000, 20,000 people together in one building. Not every politician can do that, give a long speech, to have people sort of on their feet for that much time clapping and energized. So there is some power in that, and I think the president values that, and I think he’s going to try to use that as much as possible, the fact that he is a big draw and he continues to be a big draw four years after he came down that escalator talking about, you know, rapists and people coming over from Mexico. He’s using some of the same lines. But he’s also able to bring large numbers of people together, and we’ll have to wait and see to see if it’s just those people there in that room or if that is a broader appeal that can help him win in those states that will be key in 2020.
JAKE SHERMAN: But is the question any more complicated than this? He won chiefly on the back of people who believed that he was uniquely qualified to do something that no other president could do, which is break the gridlock of a city that’s been mired in it for – you could choose your number – two decades, three decades. Has he done that, and do people believe? He didn’t say I would pass immigration reform if the Senate cooperates; he said, no, he would will the Senate to cooperate because he had the capacity to cut deals. Do people believe, based on what we’ve seen in the last two years, that he – four years – that he is that person – he is the person who could break up what has plagued Washington for decades? I don’t know the answer to that. That’ll be people’s impression –
MR. COSTA: Well, Republicans believe it. They’re with him.
MR. SHERMAN: No, I don’t think a lot of Republicans do believe it, to be honest with you. I don’t think Republicans believe it on the border. I think they believe – a lot of them believe he threw away a lot of opportunities to get deals he should have had. They don’t believe it on spending. I mean, there’s –
MR. COSTA: You’re talking about Republican lawmakers.
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah, I think – Republican lawmakers, that’s right. And do Republicans across the country believe that he’s building a wall on the border, a new wall that is – has not been built before? I don’t know the answer to that, but that is what interests me.
MR. COSTA: So the lawmakers are skeptical, but when you’re talking to voters, when they see him going to the brink on the national emergency with the wall, do they believe he’s doing all he can?
MS. COLLINS: I think the president frames it like that, and I think sometimes he does create his own problems and then he solves them, and then he can tout that to voters and they do believe it. I think that’s true. You talk to Trump voters at all these rallies and very rarely are they disillusioned. Of course, the people who probably are are not at these rallies, not waiting hours to get in line, but I think it’s a big issue. And I think with health care that’s something that the president is now saying they’re going to develop and introduce this health care plan in two months.
MR. COSTA: Is that for real?
MS. COLLINS: Based on what we’ve been told from the inside, no, there is no health care plan that they’ve established. And it’s interesting because the way he’s framing it is if we win back the House then we’ll be able to do this, but you have to remind voters he already had the House and the Senate and of course the presidency and they weren’t able to get anything done then.
MR. OLORUNNIPA: And that’s why you hear advisors and allies of the president saying this is not just about the president, this is going to be a binary choice. And part of the role of the Republicans here is to sort of demonize the Democrats and make them seem like they’re so far to the left, that they’re socialists, and that will allow the president, even though he doesn’t have the strongest record of accomplishments and being able to accomplish everything he said he was going to do on immigration and on health care, they can say, you know, look at these Democrats; they want to take over your health care system and do Medicare for All.
MR. COSTA: Does that actually help someone like Vice President Biden, who says: I’m more moderate, I’m more in the center, I can’t get tagged as a socialist?
MR. OLORUNNIPA: If he’s able to get through the primary process that may be helpful to him. He may be able to win some of those Trump/Obama voters who might be looking for an alternative to the president who don’t necessarily want to go as far left as the Bernie Sanders or an Elizabeth Warren. If Biden’s able to make it through the primary process, he may be able to win over some of those voters in those key states.
MR. COSTA: Warren’s picking up steam.
MR. SHERMAN: She is. And her issues I think – the weakness in that argument for Biden, to me, is that the energy of the party is not where Joe Biden is. It’s not with, hey, by the way, Republicans are going to suddenly start working with me if I’m – if I’m president. No. The party is Medicare for All, it’s Green New Deal, it’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it’s Elizabeth Warren. It’s not Joe Biden. So he can say that in the general election if he gets through, and he might depress Democratic turnout. (Laughs.) I don’t know how brings out his party, which doesn’t believe in moderation at the moment.
MR. COSTA: Let’s talk about one more issue. Former White House advisor Hope Hicks testified before the House Judiciary Committee this week. Her legal team blocked her from answering 155 questions, claiming she could not address anything related to her time in the administration. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this week she was ruling out censuring the president.
HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): (From video.) I think censure is just a way out. If you’re going to go, you got to go. In other words, if the goods are there you must impeach.
MR. COSTA: Censuring the president means, in essence, Congress would pass a formal statement of disapproval. It has happened in the past when presidents have clashed with Congress over documents.
Hope Hicks didn’t say much. Did you ask the president about what he thought of her testimony?
MS. COLLINS: Yeah, he said thought she did a great job. He talked about what a good person she is. But of course, that was before the transcript came out of what exactly she said. And the president had been telling people in the days before that he wasn’t worried, because he was telling people: Hope is on our side. We’re going to be OK. Yes, Hope very much is still a supporter of the president’s, but when you’re talking about hush money payment scandals, which she was talking about how she did not know about when she was on the campaign, and she later learned about them when she issued denials of his affairs – his alleged affairs with these women. Those are not flattering things that you’re talking about. And other aides realize that. And of course, they realize the optics of bringing the president’s most trusted advisor in previous times back on Capitol Hill.
MR. OLORUNNIPA: She also contradicted the president on the issue of whether it’s OK to accept foreign opposition research from foreign adversaries. The president said a couple weeks ago that he thought it was fine, it’s just normal politics. But Hope Hicks was very clear in saying that, you know, she did not think that that was OK, and that if that happened in the future she would not be willing to accept that research.
MR. COSTA: Was this helpful for the Democrats to have her there testifying privately?
MR. SHERMAN: They believe so. I don’t see it. I don’t. I don’t see – I don’t know how Pelosi survives 15 months. That doesn’t mean I doubt her. It just means I don’t know how she does it. (Laughs.)
MR. COSTA: What do you mean you don’t – survives?
MR. SHERMAN: Without impeaching the president.
MR. COSTA: Ah.
MR. SHERMAN: I want to also – the censuring thing is very interesting, because Pelosi’s taking a really useful tool off the table, because if it gets too hot passing a censure resolution is actually a way to lower the temperature and get people a way to beat the president, proverbially, over the head with this issue.
MR. COSTA: But what does it really mean to censure?
MR. SHERMAN: It doesn’t mean anything. But it could help – none of this means anything. (Laughter.) Sixty-five, 70 Democrats want to impeach the president, and they’re doing hearings and stuff. I mean, Democrats are not happy with how this is going, let’s be clear. And a censure resolution is a tool. I’ve just never in my 10 years covering Nancy Pelosi seen her take something off the table that could be useful to her. And might put it back on the table, we don’t know yet.
MS. COLLINS: Yeah. We’ll see how these next few months go for her.
But do think one interesting argument that the Democrats are making by bringing Hope Hicks back to the Hill, is that they can say: Look at this transcript. Look how many times the White House objected to simple questions about where even her desk was in the West Wing. And they can say that’s an argument for us when we go to court that we need to be able to compel these people to answer our questions.
MR. OLORUNNIPA: The president – it really got under his skin when Nancy Pelosi accused him of a coverup. And I think the Democrats want to keep pushing that message, that as long as the White House is stonewalling, as long as they’re lawyering up, that what are they trying to cover? What kind of coverup is this? And I think that’s the message that they’re pushing for the next several months.
MR. SHERMAN: Here’s the ultimate question, though. If Nancy Pelosi believes, as she said, that the president is engaged with a widespread, complex criminal coverup, and that he’s obstructing justice, which she told us – she told us this week, the only responsible thing to do as the Speaker of the House is to impeach him. She’s accusing him of crimes. So if you don’t impeach a president who is, in your admission, in your judgement, committing crimes, how do you explain that?
MR. COSTA: Well, some of her allies – some of her allies tell me she’s letting it kind of unravel.
MR. SHERMAN: Simmer, yeah.
MR. COSTA: She’s letting people have their complaints, say a lot of tough things, but keep the process moving slowly.
MR. SHERMAN: It’s a time game. She’s not going to – it’ll be tough to impeach in 2020. There’s only a couple months left in the year soon.
MR. COSTA: She’s tough.
That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts or watch it on our website. While you’re online, check out our Washington Week-ly News Quiz.
I’m Robert Costa. Thanks for joining us. See you next time.