White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway previews the State of the Union address
Rucker: Hi, everybody. Thank you for being here, and excuse my appearance. I fell and broke my arm a couple of weeks ago, so I’m so just getting by here. But we’re eager to talk with Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president at the White House, and a key advisor in helping shape the president’s policies and his message. We’re going to start by talking about the State of the Union tomorrow night, a big speech. You know, a year ago, the president gave his first speech to a joint address to Congress. He talked about American renewal and he got pretty good reviews.
It went pretty well, and it lasted a short while because in the days that followed, there were a number of controversies, including some by him that sort of created a more polarized environment on the Hill. I’m wondering, looking to the speech tomorrow night, what can the president do to set that bipartisan tone, to try to achieve those deals that he wants with Democrats in Congress, without getting sort of kicked off the script, so to speak?
Conway: Well, Phil, first of all, thank you for having me. Thanks to The Washington Post and any other sponsors. We appreciate the platform today. The president is working on a bipartisan, forward-looking speech that’s positive in tone and content. And what that really means is, when working on this speech, it’s a reflection on the past year’s accomplishments, but also those accomplishments not as just checking a box, a to-do list, but really what is the nexus between what has happened in your own life, or your own business, or your own aspirations? And then, how is that a framework for working together, in 2018?
I would point out a few things. They are pretty recent. One is, about two to three weeks ago now, the president held forth for 55 minutes, uninterrupted, undeterred, unscripted with a bipartisan bicameral group of legislators in the Cabinet Room. It was quite unexpected, I think mainly by the media, the press pool, who were covering it. And by all accounts, were very pleased to have that kind of transparency, and live, again, unfiltered and unscripted exchange between the president and the legislators. That’s good for transparency, accountability, and democracy really. And it’s that kind of conversation we need to keep having.
That particular issue was about—that particular meeting was about immigration. And you see an openness and a flexibility by this president, very recently, on the DACA recipients, the Dreamers. He will address that tomorrow in his speech. Immigration will be one of the major five or six points covered. And I would also go back to August 21st, when the president, thereabouts, came out with Afghani policy speech. His policy speech about Afghanistan. A little bit of a diversion from where he was during the campaign, having consulted with those on the ground, and his generals, and his national security team.
I know you’ve wrote about it, at the time, and were criticized for saying, “It’s a new president, new President Trump on Afghanistan, new strategy,” but indeed it was. So I would just like to show those as examples of openness and flexibility. It will be bipartisan in tone and content because that’s the only way to function in this town and as a democracy. We saw during the government shutdown, very unfortunate, that folks wanted the government shutdown; that you saw to reopen the government, you literally needed 60 votes, so you needed bipartisan cooperation. We were very happy that many Democrats came around, bucked their party’s leadership, and voted to reopen the government a week ago.
Rucker: And, Kellyanne, you talked about immigration, which is going to come up in the speech tomorrow. The White House has a framework that’s been previewed in the last couple of days that does include something for the Dreamers, the legal status for the Dreamers. Is that a redline for the president? Is he committed to seeing some sort of legal status for the hundreds of thousands of kids who are here without documentation?
Conway: The president has said that. And in fact, as you saw, the framework currently includes resolution for 1.8 million, so it would include those who never availed themselves of that after President Obama took action in 2012. So it actually anticipates and includes those who never took the action, in addition to the roughly 7-, 800,000 who did. So that is there, but also there’s $25 billion for enhanced security at the border.
We are a nation—the president will talk about how a sovereign nation must have physical borders that we, as a nation, have spent billions of dollars, over many decades, helping other countries secure their borders, and protect their sovereignty. And he believes, and has successfully won on and is governing on enhancing security at the border. That includes the wall and other security measures, but that also—I would say that is his redline. He has always made that very clear.
But again, I think it’s just a great symbol of how cooperation and discussion can be had on the same issue, with two divergent priorities. I think if you look at the conversation, in the past several months, if not year, when the Democrats talk about immigration, they basically have been talking about the Dreamers, the DACA recipients. This president put out a 70-point plan a few months ago. You can all go and read it. But he talks about merit-based immigration. He talks about an end to chain migration. He talks about an end to the visa lottery system. Obviously, border security, and now, DACA recipients.
Rucker: As his political counselor, how do you help him manage and navigate the currents in the Republican base right now? Breitbart has taken to calling him “Amnesty Don” because of this immigration framework. How does he manage being compassionate with the Dreamers and coming up with some sort of legal status for them while satisfying his base that is very hard line on immigration?
Conway: That is not a conversation we have very frequently, Phil, for a very simple reason. He is the president of all Americans, including the millions who didn’t vote for him. That’s something he said on November 9th, in the wee hours of November 9th, on election day-plus—election night-plus.
Rucker: The speech at the Hill.
Conway: That’s right, the speech. I mean, he changed that. He added that. When we were up in the residency, he added that, and he said it at the Hilton. He said, “I’m the president of all Americans, even those who didn’t support me, and there are more than a few of you.” I believe were his words, or something thereabout.
And you have to take that very seriously as president because it’s just like with the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. So people were lied to, that it couldn’t pass, and if it did, it would only help the wealthy. And people now see it’s helping folks who—it’s helping upwards of 3 million people already; 274 companies, employers have taken action as of this morning. It was the last count I saw. And you’re talking about a direct investment in your workplaces, your workforces, raises. Obviously, bonuses, but also capital investments in skills training and education for your employees. The broader communities being invested in. And even some benefits that have long been seen as the province of the other party. And I think that’s ridiculous because everybody thinks about childcare, and everybody thinks about wellness of their employees.
But you’ve got many companies, many job creators, now employers, taking action because of this tax cut. And they are saying that. They are saying because of the tax cut, we are doing X, Y, and Z. There are plenty of people there who are going to benefit, who don’t support the president, who aren’t, quote, “part of his base.” The president’s base is the entire country because he’s President of the United States. And I’ll give you the best example. I have many good examples, because in addition to working on the big issues of the day, like tax reform, infrastructure, immigration, I tend to have some things in my portfolio that I can—
Rucker: Like opioid—
Conway: —legitimately refer to, though, as nonpartisan issues in search of bipartisan solutions. And when I go around the country meeting with grieving families, or talking to law enforce officers, or health professionals, or faith-based community leaders, I don’t ask them, “How did you vote? Are you registered?” You just can’t care when you’re serving the country. And I do think people who feel that way are the ones who should serve in government.
Rucker: Well, today’s a busy news day, as every day is; has been for the last year. The deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, has stepped down. He is going to be formally retiring in a couple of months, but he stepped down immediately from his position. I’m wondering, is the president celebrating? I mean, President Trump had so much to say about McCabe over the last few months in his tweets and other comments, criticizing his leadership of the FBI. I’m curious how the White House is responding?
Conway: I have not personally seen the president react one way or the other. I know our Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, on my way over here, was saying during her briefing, in the Press Briefing Room, Phil, that the White House had nothing to do with that decision, and that you’ll have to refer your questions to, I guess, Mr. McCabe and the FBI.
Rucker: Yeah, but the president had criticized his leadership personally at the—[OVERLAPPING]
Conway: I’ve also read in the paper, maybe even The Washington Post—
Rucker: You probably did.
Conway: —on your Twitter feed, that Mr. McCabe had planned on retiring at some point.
Conway: So I would, again—this is fresh news—
Rucker: It’s not a surprising move.
Conway: —it’s not surprise move, I guess, if you read The Washington Post or Phil’s Twitter feed, as I do. We’ve seen it before. But in any event, that’s what Sarah Sanders has said, and that is what is occurring right now, as the news is breaking.
Rucker: Another story today is that the House Intelligence Committee has put together a report, a memo rather, suggesting that the FBI may have relied on politically motivated or questionable sources to justify one of those early requests for secret surveillance warrant in the Russia investigation. And you know, this is obviously something the House Committee is going to have decide in the next couple of hours, but should that memo be publicly released? Do you think the public deserves the right to see it, and do you think it should necessitate any further changes in the leadership of the FBI and the DOJ?
Conway: So when it comes to the FBI—and let me make very clear, the president went to Quantico, I believe it was in December, had he has great respect, as he has said, for the rank and file. I think there are about 25,000 or so employees at the FBI. You’re talking about a few people who are in charge of an investigation, and what we see that’s been made public. I don’t have any special knowledge, obviously, on that.
But if you see what’s being made public, some very disturbing statements about the now-president. We expect people have political points of view. They support who they support in the ballot box. Some of them gave money. At least one attended the president’s political opponent’s victory party on election night—non-victory party, I suppose. But that aside, we believe in transparency and accountability. So this president would air on the side of transparency, and I hope, Phil, so would the legion of people, including in the media, who have been covering Russia and the investigation for over a year now.
And the president has made very clear that there’s no collusion. There is absolutely no collusion. He calls it a hoax; and excuse for losing an election. But more importantly, is the transparency and accountability piece of this, that if those who are in charge of this memo—and I’ve not seen it, obviously—those who are in charge of that feel that it is ready to be released to the public. I’m not sure what would need to be redacted or not, then they should make that decision.
Rucker: And to pick up on that point, does the president think that that, the messages that you’re talking about, is that evidence that the law enforcement community was working against his campaign?
Conway: Well, the law enforcement—
Rucker: Or trying to prevent him from—
Conway: —community is a very large group of people. We should never generalize as such. And as I say, what’s been revealed now, after the fact, and ironically, I guess through the course of an investigation that was really targeted at him and his campaign—which I was the manager for the winning part, and I can tell you that the idea that I would ever have to go to Moscow rather than Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, or Macomb County, Michigan, to help guide the campaign is foolish. And I don’t know why anybody would think otherwise. So it’s meaning—think that you would have to do that otherwise.
But on this particular discreet matter, let’s let the committees decide what they think is best based on what they know. This is a president who has talked about a prosperity, security, transparency, and accountability being his three top priorities, and he will talk about those tomorrow night in the State of the Union. In fact, he’ll talk about a safe, strong, proud America. And I think the word “proud” is very important too because whether it’s this president telling the country to dignify all career types, to have invested millions of dollars through the Department of Labor into skills training so that we are not, as a nation, telling everybody, “You must go to a four-year college. You must get a degree, a four-year college degree.” Where we hear from employers and governors, from both sides of the aisle all the time, that there is a labor shortage supply of carpenters, welders.
The folks I grew up with South Jersey—I grew up outside of Camden and Philadelphia—and most people I graduated with went for a skills certificate, and were able to support themselves the next day practically. And so this is somebody who is trying to say to America, “Be proud regardless of what your choice of career or job is.” We want to find things that bind us together as a nation. And he will talk about that in tomorrow’s State of the Union.
Rucker: You know, he probably, I assume, is not going to talk about the Russia investigation in the State of the Union Address, but that’s the shadow that sort of hangs over the work he’s doing as president. And Sarah Sanders said today at the press briefing, “It’s about time everybody wash Russia-fever out of their systems.” So there’s a real desire to move past that. But the president himself, last week, said he was looking forward to testifying under oath with Robert Mueller, if indeed he is asked. And I’m wondering, as one of his advisors—considering his history and his past during his time as a business man, of exaggerating details, and saying things that are not true, and there was this one deposition that he gave in 2007 where he had 30 misstatements—do you worry at all that he could be putting himself in a position where he might perjure himself?
Conway: The question of whether or not the president testifies in Mr. Mueller’s investigation really is a question for his attorneys, of which I am not one. I’m a fully recovered attorney. I’m not his attorney. I know that Mr. Dowd, one of his attorneys, did then say that he has not decided whether the president will testify, and he’ll let everyone know when that decision is made. I know his other attorney, Mr. Cobb, also said publicly that that decision will be made at another time.
But we’ve also just said from the beginning—and I’ll repeat it here today—that the president has said, the White House has said, we’ve all said that everyone is cooperating; that we’ve turned over loads of documents. People have testified for many hours. And so everybody is complying and cooperating. But when my colleague, Sarah Sanders, says today, “Time to wash Russia-fever out of your system,” I think we’re just going back to a lot of the promises that were made; that this presidency won’t last; you will find collusion; the election will be nullified. We were promised that we were going to see those 70,000 votes in those three states that Donald Trump won, as president, fairly and squarely; that somehow, you’re going to see that there was some nefarious activity, and those votes would be turned around somehow; and he would no longer—
Just go back to what everybody was saying a year ago. It’s a little bit crazed, and none of that has come to pass. But we do have an investigation. Everybody sees it. Everybody knows what’s happening. Folks, sometimes, I guess, get details that maybe shouldn’t be made public from whatever sources. I don’t know. But the fact is that we are fully cooperating as a White House, and the president’s attorneys, his personal attorneys, have said that he is fully cooperating. He has also said he looks forward to it coming to an end, but in the meantime, we’re cooperating.
Rucker: There’s inherent risk though for anybody in talking to the FBI and recounting some of these details. And especially if you’re the President of the United States where a lot has happened, and to be able to recall all of that. He doesn’t know what other people have been telling Mueller in their interviews with him. I mean, is there not any concern at all about, you know, whether he could be caught up somehow and intentionally saying something that’s not true?
Conway: Well, again, you’re asking me questions that are really for his counsel, not his counselor. His counselor is very happy that I wake up every morning and see more Americans benefit directly from legislation. And to be frank with you, Phil, I just think in the span of one short month, I don’t understand why—someone can ask former Speaker Pelosi when she’s here—but I don’t understand why the Democrats voted against, en masse, a tax cut that is literally benefiting their constituents now. And I don’t know why then they voted to shut the government down.
I mean, those are the kinds of the things I work on. I don’t understand it. Maybe someone will ask. I don’t know what the strategy is other than just saying, “Resist, obstruct, hold the stop sign up,” when you have a president who’s saying, “I want to work across the aisle with you on immigration. I want to work with you on infrastructure”—another big piece of the president’s State of the Union tomorrow, where he will talk about—he’s a builder. He wants to rebuild this nation. But you do that in a bipartisan fashion. You do that by saying roads, and bridges, and our infrastructure, our technologies. These are—the fact that we don’t make anything anymore, build anything as a country like that, a major, big public-works project, that is bipartisan.
The air traffic control system was designed for a time when we had roughly 100,000 passengers a year. We now have close to 1 billion. I don’t know what is partisan about that. But the idea that the president will commit to investing at least $1 trillion in infrastructure, and bring the permitting process down from 8 to 10 years to about two, you see other countries that do this. You get to comment publicly. You can criticize the proposal, but you don’t have 10 or 20 years to do it.
Rucker: And we’ll get to the Democrats in just a second, but I want to pin up one thing on Russia before we change topics, which is that reports over the weekend—first in The New York Times, but confirmed by The Post, and Fox, and others—are that President Trump ordered Don McGahn, the White House counsel, to fire Mueller as the special back last summer, in June. And a number of White House officials said that he had never contemplated that, including you on August 6th, and I’m wondering how we should make sense of that? When the president talks about Mueller, is that an order, is that a directive, is that him talking? What do we make of that and how do we square everything there?
Conway: So that’s never been discussed with me is what I was trying to say on TV. And it certainly has never been discussed since, I believe Mr. Cobb has said publicly, the president’s personal attorney, that’s never been discussed since he’s been there. You have to look at his exact quote. And that’s what I was saying, he had just gotten the job. I think he and General Kelly arrived pretty much around the same day or same week. So, as Ty says, it may have been missed that he got there too.
But in any event, that has never been—I’m not aware of those discussions. But I would like to point out that when interviews like that are played, or when you show the president many times saying, “I’ve not thought of doing that. I’m not doing that,” it’s never used to refute the allegations in the news. It’s always used to show, “Wow, look at that. That must not have been true.” And by the way, The Washington Post reporting was a bit different. I read both articles. It was a bit different than The New York Times reporting in terms of there were a couple of keystrokes different there. So people have to assess which one they think is more spot-on, if either.
But as I said, the main point is Mr. Mueller is there. He is investigating. He’s been doing that since May. And we’re now into—we’re practically in February. The White House is fully cooperating, and we respect the process.
Rucker: Okay. I want to talk a little bit about the midterms coming up. One of the roles you play is helping the president sort of think through the political strategy. You were his campaign manager, of the winning campaign. And we’re going to hear next from Nancy Pelosi, who I think would like to take back the House, and feels quite bullish that the Democrats are going to be able to do that. And so my question for you is, what are the odds that Democrats can take back the House, and what do you and what does your party need to do in the next 10 months or so to prevent that from happening?
Conway: Sure. Well, Phil, I think that, “Obstruct, resist, hold up a stop sign, Donald Trump’s bad, we’re not Donald Trump,” is a campaign strategy that failed in 2016. And so it’s not necessarily the best strategy for any election. At the same time, we are well-aware of the historical trends. We are well-aware that the party in power, particularly in the White House power, do suffer grievous losses in off-year elections and first midterm elections. President Bill Clinton certainly did in 1994. I worked on the “Contract with America” at the time. Speaker Gingrich came in; historic gains in the House and Senate at that time. The same thing happened to President Obama, of course, in 2010.
So both of those gentlemen, President Clinton and President Obama suffered losses in the House and Senate, but then were successfully reelected. What I think is different this time—two things I’ll think is different. So eyes are wide open about the historical trends.
One thing that’s different is, if you look at 1994, and you really look at 2010, which I think we can all remember, is that, at that point, people were trying to run—they were trying to justify their vote for the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, at a time when people were getting nervous about it. They were worried about keeping their healthcare. They were worried about actually being able to keep their doctor, or keep their plan, which they were promised and wasn’t true. They were worried about the loss of benefits, loss of jobs, loss of hours. And then, of course, the reduction in quality and access. They started to hear more about it. It took a lot longer to pass the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, than was originally planned. And so you had members, Democratic members, who in the House who had voted for it, then trying to defend that vote.
This is different his year because the centerpiece of the domestic agenda was this tax cut. So the Republicans who voted for—I assume, I don’t advise them on this—but I assume will be out there saying, “I voted for a tax cut that now means Apple is bringing 20,000 jobs to the U.S.; is repatriating trillions—excuse me—billions of dollars of wealth. Look at the 274 companies, and counting, that have made direct investments because of the tax cut I, Republican member X, voted for. And that is benefiting members in my particular state.”
So I saw recently the generic ballot had been cut in half in a couple of these polls from plus-12 Democratic to plus-six Democratic. That will go back and forth over time. It always does. But I think that knowing what the headwinds are for the party in power, because when you think about how these members will run on something, defending something, or crowing about something, really bragging about something that they think benefits their constituents—and the metrics would say they’re right. That, plus the regulatory framework having been improved, you see everybody from the franchisees, to small business formation, to larger employers, to job seekers feeling very bullish. The confidence numbers are up. The unemployment is down.
That matters for something. Those metrics end up mattering to folks. Manufacturing confidence being up, 200,000 new manufacturing jobs are so created. Those are all big numbers. People know their 401Ks are fatter; their retirement security; the 529 education investments having been expanded through the tax bill; being able to responsibly develop our own energy resources in Alaska, which had been attempted for 40 years. So there are different things people will see over time that will be helpful.
The other thing that is a wild card—two things I think are wild card, frankly. One is the continuing retirements. I said this to Axios several weeks ago.
Rucker: And that continued today.
Conway: Continued today. We had retirement in another House, Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Mr. Frelinghuysen from New Jersey, retire. So no one knows where these retirements will end. There seem to be an awful lot of them. So that’s one thing.
The other thing is everybody knows about the October surprise, but it just seems to me, in this very fraught environment, where there could be sort of election-day surprises for people. Folks are being called out, right, left, and center, for their behavior; their terrible behavior, and allegations of behavior, and worse than behavior by current and former employees, and staffers, and whatnot. So I think that’s—
Rucker: In both parties.
Conway: In both parties. And I think that’s a wild card that we can’t—nobody can really anticipate and predict this time.
Rucker: That gets to what I wanted to ask you about next, which is, what is your assessment of the Me Too Movement, and what sort of impact do you think this will have 10 months from now politically? The Democrats seem to think it will work in their favor, and result in more and more women voters turning against this president and against the Republican Party, to elect Democrats to office. But I assume you might have a different view of that. And what do you make of that movement and its political power?
Conway: Well, anytime people who feel like they are powerless and inferior to a superior who is treating them poorly, particularly, I guess, certainly in this case, in a sexual way, that’s a very positive thing. I’ve been talking about it for years. I’ve been treated that way myself. I tried to talk about it on live TV on October 9th, 2016, but nobody really cared because of who my candidate was. But I’ve been treated that way.
I do want to say something. Anytime somebody can speak up, male or female, about the way they’ve been treated, I think that’s very positive. I believe in due process. I believe in people feeling that they have a voice, and not being powerless. But let me just correct because I think you’re conflating a few things there.
The Me Too Movement started after you had this just slew of allegations, revelations about Harvey Weinstein, for example. I’d have to say that it seemed to me that was the centerpiece of it, at the beginning. And so I don’t want to conflate two, three, five different things into one question and one answer. At the same time, I think we have to have a larger conversation about the workplace environment. And it does seem to me that the Me Too Movement cannot be based on a woman’s political beliefs, or where she works, or who she is, or whether she’s in media, or Hollywood, or professional sports, or she’s a conservative. It simply can’t happen.
I don’t feel comfortable explaining to my three daughters, and my son, frankly, that it all depends on who the victim is, and where she works, or what she wears, or what her politics are. That would really be a terrible, terrible message to send, particularly to our youth. And so I hope we just have a larger conversation about respect in the workplace and the workforce. But so far, I don’t see that. So far, I see—I mean, if the women in this room want to tell me that they want their daughters and they themselves want to be treated the way some of the women at the White House are treated, I’m listening, but I highly doubt it.
Rucker: Okay. Well said. We’re out of time.
Conway: May I say one more thing to women who have ever been on the receiving end of that, as I have? I’m 51 years old, so I’ve definitely been on the receiving. When I was younger and prettier, as I like to say, maybe that happened to me. [LAUGHTER] But I want to tell you in a very serious note is, ladies, if you’re listening, every single time that happened to me, I was afraid. I was ashamed like it was my fault, even though it clearly wasn’t. But I never ever looked at those men—I don’t want you to look at those men as powerful and intimidating. I want you to see them for who they are. They are weak and pathetic.
So don’t say you can’t report it, nobody will listen because they are powerful and intimidating. They are weak and pathetic to do that; to prey upon someone who’s in a position where that person feels they can’t speak up or defend themselves. And that is a message I’d like to send to everyone. [APPLAUSE]
Rucker: Well, thank you, Kellyanne.
Conway: Not weak or pathetic—
Conway: To the powerful and intimidating Phil Rucker, thank you for having me.
Rucker: Thank you. And I just want to get one thing on the record as we walk out, which is the Super Bowl is this Sunday. Your Philadelphia Eagles are—[OVERLAPPING]
Conway: E-A-G-L-E-S. You know me, I love an underdog.
Rucker: Yeah. So the Eagles are up against the New England Patriots. President Trump, a big Patriots fan. Are you going to watch the game with him? And what do you predict?
Conway: Well, President Trump, like me, has a great deal of respect for Mr. Bob Kraft, who owns the Patriots. He’s a wonder human being, a great American success story. But we’re very happy to have the Patriots at the White House in 2017, but there’s no reason they need to come back again. [LAUGHTER] It’s the people’s house, and the more Americans who can visit, the better, especially if they’re wearing green and white. Now I’m being a partisan. Now you’ve got me getting an ethics violation for—I don’t know—for say, promoting the Philadelphia Eagles.
Rucker: We’ll ignore that one.
Conway: Lifelong Eagles fan, very excited, and I just feel whoever wrote the story, that Nick Foles is all of us now, is right. [LAUGHTER] Just when you think your career is over and you’re going to try something new, you get called back up, and then great things happen. But I think the Super Bowl as a really great night, and I have to say that it’s one that bring America together. We all eat a little too much. We stay up a little too late. And it’s one of those fun times. And go big green. Go Eagles.
Rucker: Well, counselor Kellyanne Conway, thank you very much for being here.
Conway: Thank you. [APPLAUSE]
Rucker: And we’re going to hand things off. Karen Tumulty, our national political correspondent, is going to be interviewing Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House leader. So thank you. [APPLAUSE]
Conway: Thank you very much. Thank you.
One-on-One with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
Tumulty: Good afternoon, and thank you all for joining us today. We are so thrilled to have here as our guest House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is also the one and only woman ever to have served as the Speaker of the House, which makes her quite literally the most powerful woman in American history, and in politics. [APPLAUSE] And she’d like that job back again this year.
So, before we get started, I want to remind you guys, our audience in the room and those of you who are watching online, that if you have any questions or comments, the hashtag is #postlive, and I’m going to try to get a few into the interview.
But, first of all, I would like to you about our topic today, which is the State of the Union Address. We know the president is going to be talking a lot about immigration. He put out a framework of a deal that he’d like to see last Friday. It involves expanding the number of Dreamers who would get protection; it also includes some money for his wall, and some pretty radical restrictions on legal immigration. So, he’s got sweeteners in there for the left, he’s got sweeteners for the right—is there a deal to be had, and especially a deal to be had in time to protect these 700,000 to 800,000 young immigrants who are looking at essentially a pretty steep deadline in February?
Pelosi: Well, of course there has to be a deal to be had, an agreement to be reached. One of the Republican members who has a bill, Mr. Hurd, described it this morning: Let’s discreetly deal with the Dreamers and some security, and then if we want to go to the other subject of a fuller comprehensive immigration reform and all that that entails, that’s a bigger subject that takes more time. But for right now, if you really do care about the Dreamers, there is an agreement to be reached.
And it has been presented and seems like the president is right there, and then, then he’s not. And it’s really discouraging because what he has put forth in this framework is really not in keeping with what immigration has meant to America. We are a country of immigrants—unless we were blessed to be born as Native Americans—and God bless our country for their contribution to our success—but immigration has been the constant reinvigoration of America. Every immigrant who comes here with hopes and aspirations to make a future better for their children and their families ascribe to what our founders had in mind, that every generation would take the opportunity to make the future better for their families, and, therefore, for our country.
So, when they come with that hope, determination, courage and optimism to make the future better, this immigration makes America more American. And that’s not what happens in the president’s bill, or suggestions.
Tumulty: But you mentioned that Democrats are open to resources for border security.
Tumulty: Does that mean that Democrats have come around to the idea that the president can get some money for his wall?
Pelosi: Well, in other words, we’re talking about border security, and what is that? In other words, we all have a responsibility, and we recognize it, to protect our borders. Every country must do that, and that means north and south in our case; and others come in other ways, but especially the two physical borders. And so we have been receptive to saying what is it that the border patrol has as their—I won’t say wish list—but what they’re suggesting to meet their needs? And that actually is what we have in some of our legislation, and that is [SNEEZE] commensurate—God bless you—and appropriate to the number of people we’re trying to protect.
Another bill—when there was bipartisan bill in the Senate that was agreed to, and it had more money for border, but also gave a path to citizenship for 11 million people in our country. This is a much smaller number. The commensurate border protection—in keeping with what the border patrol has said they need—
Tumulty: So, wall money is not a deal-breaker for you?
Pelosi: Well, when you say wall money, what do you mean? Do you mean levies? Do you mean fences? Do you mean mowing the grass where a lot of people have kind of come through unsuspected? There are many things about border protection, and if there’s some physical structure, so be it. But a 2,000 mile wall that costs $25 billion—which by the way, the Mexicans are not paying for—and by the way, if you know anything about the region, it’s a community with a border going through it. Families go back and forth; children go to school; people buy their groceries; they visit family and friends. It is—to put a wall there is to—in my view—ineffective, too expensive, almost immoral.
Tumulty: And, one area that a lot of people think there is potential for bipartisan agreement is on infrastructure.
Tumulty: The president has talked about sums of money. He really hasn’t put a lot of details into what he would like to see. What are you going to be listening for tomorrow night on that?
Pelosi: Well, the president has always talked about infrastructure, but it’s also—just as with immigration—been a moving kind of target. We had thought that when he talked about infrastructure, and the first meeting we had in a bipartisan way with the President of the United States a few days after his inauguration last year, was that a trillion dollars to be invested into infrastructure. What they’ve come up with now is this mini plan, which is like $200 billion—that’s over 10 years–$20 billion a year. I mean, it doesn’t even come close to what we need.
We have trillions of dollars—according to the Society of Civil Engineers—trillions of dollars of deficit. Just think of what it could mean for America if we made a real commitment. That trillion dollars put forth building roads, bridges, mass transit, high speed rail, broadband, water systems—some of our water systems are a hundred years old, made of brick and wood—I mean, they really need to be replaced. It’s a health issue.
And so, with all of that—school construction—it could help to grow the economy all over the country, create good-paying jobs, and again, the care and feeding goes with the jobs that are out there, so it would also stimulate the economy in many other ways. Create jobs in the building, sustain commerce in the process, improve the quality of life in terms of the investments in infrastructure, which take cars off the road, et cetera, done in an environmentally-sound way.
The president’s proposal meets none of those standards. In fact, it puts some of the burden on states and cities—municipalities—state and local governments, which he has just slapped in the face with this state and local tax reduction in that tax deduction. So, he’s saying to them, “You’re going to get less resources—and by the way, you’re going to have to raise taxes if you think you’re going to have some collaboration. And by the way, some of the money that you’ve already put up for infrastructure—that’s not any longer going to be counted in all of this.
So, it’s a really bad deal for state and local government. Instead of doing Build America Bonds, where the states and local government take over—now, one other part of it that is a problem, and I pointed this out to the president a year ago, is, you cannot expect to put forth some mini program that subsidizes the private sector to build the infrastructure. Now, we’ve guaranteed their loan, and now they’re going to build it, own it, and charge tolls. So, the taxpayer’s paying twice.
So, getting back to your question, yeah, there is a way to do this. Infrastructure has really never been a source of partisan disagree—we have always found our way, because everybody knows that this is important to our country, again, in itself, to create jobs immediately. But really, to promote commerce, to improve the quality of life, to move product to and from market, especially where time is important in terms of perishability. I mean, we really need to do this, and we’ve always understood it, and now they’re coming out with some—
This is another example, whether the immigration bill and this bill as a tax bill. Let us give you this little thing while we do this other problematic stuff, but you’ll be attracted to the fact that we have this little goody in there for you—a little goody in the tax bill, while it gives a banquet to the 83% of it going to the top 1%. A little statement about infrastructure, while most of it is really—this isn’t what the role of federal government is, in terms of infrastructure in our country. President Eisenhower recognized it as a national security issue, the interstate highway system as a national security initiative, connecting us.
And then again, on immigration: Well, we’re going to give them citizenship in 10, 12 years, but at the same time we’re going to upset the rest of our immigration, so it’s a little teaser and a big problem, in all cases. The three I’s: immigration, infrastructure, intelligence would be the third one. In California on St. Patrick’s Day we always had the three I’s: the Italians, the Irish, and the Israelis—just for the sake of alliteration—and I think that we’re going through that right now with infrastructure, the problem with intelligence—I don’t know if you’ll get to that, but this is seriously undermining our country.
Tumulty: Well, actually, I would like to ask you about that, because you—between your time on the Intelligence Committee and your years as Leader, where you have been read into every crucial intelligence question there is. I don’t think there’s anybody in Congress who has had as many years of dealing with highly sensitive intelligence issues as you have.
What are the implications and the ramifications going forward of this fraying that we have seen between the executive and the intelligence communities?
Pelosi: Well, it’s not between the intelli—what is happening now is a massive politicization of in intelligence, and we have to protect the intelligence community from that. What is happening right now is that the chairman—let me put this in context. Yes, I have served longer than anybody in history, and I don’t know if anybody will ever catch up to me, because I started in the early ‘90s as a member, then I had the ranking position that—I’m so proud of Adam Schiff, and isn’t he doing a beautiful job in his role? [APPLAUSE] Eric Swalwell is here, another member of our committee, and I’m very proud of all of the members.
The Speaker and the Leader have the privilege and the responsibility to deputize, to name who is on the Intelligence Committee; it’s not a question of the Steering and Policy Committee making proposals to the caucus, and people run and vote. It is a personal appointment. The chairman, the ranking member, the speaker, the leader, as well as the members of the committee. And I think we have tried over the years to honor the fact that this is about our security. In the old days, when I was there at first, it was mostly about force protection; it still is. How to protect our forces, to avoid conflict, but when we go in, to make sure they’re—
Then all kinds of multi-national issues emerge, and of course, terrorism. But this is really a serious responsibility, and the Speaker has appointed somebody who is totally irresponsible, politicizing the process, and really it should not be happening. For example, right now, he’s talking about releasing a document that is predicated on another document that was put together on the basis of total misrepresentations. It’s like the wrap-up smear—let me do a terrible document. Now, let me write a report on it, and release it, feathers to the wind that people see it.
Now, as you said, I have seen most of the underlying documents of all this. I can tell you that the memo that they reference is a misrepresentation.
Tumulty: This is the Steele dossier?
Pelosi: It’s not the Steele—I can’t talk about what’s in it. I’m just saying that underlying documents that I have seen of these document that their staff, the Republican staff alone—and you usually do things in a bipartisan way—they put together is false, misleading, misrepresenting. And now, they’re doing a memo on top of it, and so it’s like the wrap-up smear: This is bad; now we’re going tell you about it; and now, we’re going to release it—which is highly unusual.
I hope that tonight they don’t vote to release it, but if they do, then we will have—the ranking member has said—Adam Schiff—that there will be an attempt to mitigate for the damage that they’re doing, putting out there. We’d rather not any of it go out. But the president has said—do you think he’s read the underlying documents, or even the memo, or the memo on the memo?—that they’re going to put that out.
I mean, really, this is about our national security. This is about protecting sources and methods. This is about the integrity of our intelligence. It should never be politicized, and that’s what they’re doing, and Nunes is really stooge for the White House to do all of this. Since we’re spending time together, I thought we wouldn’t waste it with any niceties. [LAUGHTER—APPLAUSE]
Tumulty: You mentioned the vote that’s coming up in the House today. There’s also a vote coming up in the Senate on an abortion bill, one specifically that would outlaw abortion after 20 weeks. What is Mitch McConnell trying to do? It’s a procedural vote; it’s not a vote on the underlying bill. What do you think Mitch McConnell is up to here?
Pelosi: I think he’s up to practicing medicine, which, as far as I know, he has no credentials for. However, this is saying to doctors what they can or cannot do and what is legal if they do. This is about the health and well-being of the mother. We shouldn’t be going down this path. But, it’s a bone that they throw to their base. And it’s sad because, you know, I grant people their position on where they are on these issues; I come from an Italian American Catholic family a little more conservative in their views than I am on some of this—I think they’re coming around, but nonetheless, to go into something like this, such—again, if somebody is doing something wrong right now—a doctor—they go to jail. So, this bill in effect really has no effect, except it’s a showboat.
Tumulty: I’d like to turn to my favorite subject, and I suspect one of y our favorite subjects, which is the midterms, which are looking pretty good right now for Democrats. You have—it’s always difficult for the White House the first go-round in the midterms. You’ve got a historically unpopular president.
Tumulty: And right now [LAUGHTER], right now the generic ballot of just—would you rather see a Democrat or a Republican in your seat, the RealClearPolitics average on that polling has the Democrats up by eight in the House. So that looks like you guys are in pretty good shape. So, my question is, what keeps Nancy Pelosi up at night?
Pelosi: Oh. Eating too much chocolate during the day—actually, the tax bill is really the dark cloud that hangs over the Capitol. The fact that the Republicans rushed through this tax bill, trillions of dollars of impact on our economy, with no hearings, no expert advice as to what the impact will be on our future. A bill that 83% of it goes to the top—the benefits go to the top 1%. They sell it as a middle class cut—86 million Americans, middle class families, will be paying more in taxes as a result of this bill, or nearly a trillion-and-a-half-dollar tax break for corporate America, unpaid for and permanent, adding nearly $2 trillion to the national debt, as when you put in interest on the debt, the debt service there.
And again, robbing from our children’s future. And then—this is why it keeps me awake—using it as an excuse to then say, “Well, we can’t really spend too much money on the domestic budget because we have this deficit.” A deficit they created, and by the way, which they said, “Oh, it’s going to pay for itself with all the growth.” Well, if it is, then we have money for the domestic budget; if it isn’t, you shouldn’t have done it in the first place.
So, that is coloring our negotiations on the caps. But for that, we could—I thought we were close to a solution. The tax bill has put a little fear of the Lord into some members, because they know that if we have a tax cap agreement, it will increase the deficit—the debt, the national debt.
Tumulty: It’s gotten to be pretty predictable that in these midterm election seasons you’re going to see a lot of yourself on television in Republican campaign ads. We’ve already seen one in Pennsylvania, quite recently, and one of the arguments that they are making in the ads is taking issue with your use of the word crumbs to describe the average thousand dollars that people are going to—the average household gets in their pocket from this bill. I noticed that you just used the word goodies rather than crumbs. Was a crumb a goody?
Pelosi: Either way. Either one, because it’s not a question of a thousand dollars; it’s a question of the billions of dollars, the banquet, that they have put for the top 1%. Now, I don’t begrudge anybody their success, their wealth, their achievement—God bless you for that—but, to—I saw a cartoon. The cartoonists always sort of have it. It’s the middle class—like a little mouse—a piece of cheese on a mousetrap, and then the fat cat’s just waiting for that little person to take that—this is unconscionable that they would have 83% of the benefits going to the top 1%. So, that’s my point.
It’s not what it is; it’s what it isn’t. And what it is—the banquet of money at the top and extraction of money, but trying to sell it as something that you should be just so glad to get. No. Our people deserve better. And we could have had a bipartisan discussion on tax—yes, you want to lower the corporate rate? What makes sense? But they didn’t want to engage in that because they were afraid of it, because it would give more benefits to many more people, and that was not their goal. Their goal was trickle-down economics. If it trickles down, that would be good. If it creates jobs, that would be good. If it doesn’t, so be it. That’s the free market. That’s what they tell us.
Tumulty: So, what’s going to be critical for you guys I this election? Are having the right kind of candidates and the right kind of districts?
Pelosi: Yeah, right.
Tumulty: And you’ve got—what is it, 23 districts out there where you have a Republican incumbent member of Congress in a district that Hillary Clinton won in the presi—
Pelosi: So, you want to talk politics? You want to talk politics? Okay. Well, first, let me get to your first point. Yes, they always like to—I’m so proud to come from San Francisco, and I’m so proud of our San Francisco values, but that seems to be what they like to do—a cable car, LGBT—and that’s how they put this all forth. And I saw Come from a Way—the play—and in it they sing Make Me a Channel of Thy Peace—do you know that song? It’s one of those—darkness, light, hatred, love, despair, hope—and that’s the anthem of our city, of San Francisco. It’s the song of St. Francis, our patron saint. And yet, they want to characterize my city in a certain way and identify a candidate with me and that, and you know, we’re really proud of who we are.
Now, some of these candidates I’ve never met. It’s really important for these candidates that come from their communities as this candidate did in Pennsylvania that you referenced—but it is important, because your title and your job description are the same: representative. You’re not representing my district and I’m not representing yours. Job description: representative. Title: representative.
So, your point, Karen, was exactly right. There has to be a connection between the candidates and the districts, and the districts make those decisions. History is on our side in terms of, if the president’s numbers go below 50, it’s a bad year; the next year will be bad. I would say, tell me where the president is the November before the election, and I’ll tell you if the door is open for us. If the president’s under 50 of, well, let’s say the Republicans—but when Clinton was president and his numbers went down, they won. Bush, his numbers went down—we won. Obama, his numbers went down—they won.
It’s not dispositive of the election and many other things going on, and you have to be strategic, cold-blooded, in terms of your decisions as to where you allocate your resources. But you never under-estimate your opponent, never. But you don’t over-estimate them, either. And right now, I have never seen in all of my years in politics more enthusiasm at the grassroots level, wanting to take responsibility, to run for office, to support friends—that taking responsibility gets us opportunity. So, again, it’s—what? Nine and a half months until the election? What is it, ten and a half months until—whatever it is. It’s not today; if it were today, I think that overwhelmingly we would win; it’s not today.
But we do have to make sure that we have truth. And we say to each other, this is about authenticity. Do the candidates go out—they’re not running against Donald Trump, they’re presenting themselves, what their hopes, dreams, what their purpose is for being a candidate, and why they would want to go to Congress, and what they know about the subjects, and judgment they have, and how they think strategically to get the job done, and how that attracts people to them. So, this is personal, between the members, candidates, and their districts. It has nothing to do with somebody who’s not from their area.
Tumulty: And you’re not a big fan of—as much as you have this reputation as an ardent liberal—you’re not a big fan of litmus tests, whether it’s for Democratic candidates, whether it’s on issues like abortion, whether it’s for getting people to declare whether they would vote for impeachment of President Trump. Are you concerned, though—you have all these potential 2020 presidential candidates out there, and they do seem to be sort of speaking up on these—single-payer is another issue that looks like it could be becoming a litmus test. Is that a problem? Is 2020, and where the party is on some of those issues a problem for some of your 2018 candidates?
Pelosi: No. But I appreciate you—it’s certainly something that should be reviewed. But here’s the thing. Our party is a democratic party; it has a lot of vitality, diversity, and the rest. And as I said earlier, it’s not for us to go in and say, “You should be the candidate and this is how you should do.” It’s about what they can attract to what they’re talking about. So, I get credit for, “Oh, you’ve kept the party so unified.” I don’t. I shouldn’t deserve that credit. What unifies the House Democrats and the Senate—we’re together on our better deal, better jobs, better pay, better future—is our unity about the economic security of America’s working families. Whatever differences we may have on some of the other issues you mentioned, or tactics that people may want to take, we are unified about that. That is our value system. About respecting our responsibility to meet the needs of the American people, America’s working families. And to do so in a way that makes sure that people all participate in the prosperity and growth of our country.
And also, I think my responsibility as the Leader is to be unifying, but not just in my caucus, but in the country. And to be transparent—have transparency and openness. Let’s do a tax bill. Let’s do an immigration bill. Let’s do an infrastructure bill. Let’s do it openly, so people can see what the choices are.
And then, also, again, issues like impeachment and the rest—that will take its course. But it’s not a unifying thing for the country to go down a path at this point, in my view. But overwhelmingly, I think the American—I mean, a lot of people in the public have a different view on that, and if I were out there, I might, too. But I have a different responsibility here. Transparency. Unity. Bipartisanship. That’s why we come here.
We don’t come here to be doing party work. We come here to honor the values of our country. And again, that is to try to—and the solutions you choose, when you have some options—to bring people together.
Tumulty: So, Jack on Twitter asks: If you get that gavel back next January, what’s your top priority?
Pelosi: Well, first of all, it’s not about me getting the gavel back; I just want the Democrats to have the gavel back, and really, the American people to have the gavel back, instead of what motivates people to do a tax cut—who motivated that, right? They shouldn’t have this gavel. So, it’s not about me.
But, I think right away we would do something to, again, lift up the American people in terms of their financial stability and financial security, and part of that financial security is their access to quality affordable healthcare as a right, not a privilege. Some of it is to have a fair tax agenda so that they can, again, participate in creating growth. Because you’re not going to have growth in the economy unless you have consumer confidence across the board, and the great middle class and those who aspire to it.
So, it would be an agenda that we are putting together in our better deal, better jobs—a job initiative that creates growth that generates good-paying jobs, that increases the paycheck, that lowers the costs—lowers the costs of prescription drugs, lowers the cost of your communications each month, and the rest. So it would be about jobs and it would be about growth.
Tumulty: We have time for one last question, and I want to ask you, one thing we are seeing this year is just extraordinary numbers of women stepping up to run for office.
Pelosi: Isn’t that exciting?
Tumulty: At every level. I think there were, the last I looked, something like 75 women whose names are in the mix running for governor. Women, when they run for office, have a different set of challenges than men do. So, what would your advice to be to women candidates, as they step into this arena?
Pelosi: What my advice would be is what it has always been, because when I came to Congress there were 20—20 Democrats—23 women; 435 members in the House—23 women. And I was determined right from that date that we should have it as a priority to more. We are now on the Democratic side up to 65; the Republicans, I think, are up to maybe 20. But, we made a decision to do that. A third of our caucus is women; half of our caucus are women, minorities, and LGBT. I’m very proud of that.
But here’s the thing. The best advice I got when I ran for office—and I say this to women all the time: be yourself. Know your power. Be who you are. You may see other people that you think, “Oh, I’d like to be that.” Forget that. Authenticity is what matters. Who you are, your sincerity as to why. Share your purpose. What is your vision? Why are you running? What do you know? Know something about your subject. Know if it’s about climate, or if it’s about education, or if it’s about a woman’s right to choose, or health issues—whatever it happens to be—the economy—know your subject.
Show your vision. Know your subject, so your subject, so your judgment is respected. Think strategically. This is how I think I can get something done. And if you show your vision, your knowledge, and your plan, you will attract—you have to connect, and that’s why I say show them what is in your heart. And it’s hard. This is not for the faint of heart. But, women are so needed. And so, like I say, when you’re making the decision, weighing the equities—weigh how important it is that you make this decision to run, because nothing is more wholesome for our political process, for our government, or actually for any aspect of our economic and social life, than increased participation in leadership of women. [APPLAUSE]
Tumulty: Wow. Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have today, but that’s a great note on which to end. Leader Pelosi, thank you so much for being with us today.
Pelosi: Thank you. [APPLAUSE]
Tumulty: I’m going to hand things off to my colleague, Libby Casey, who is going to lead the next discussion.
Pelosi: Thank you. Bye-bye. [APPLAUSE]
State of the Union 2018 predictions from Donna Brazile, Ari Fleischer, Eric Swalwell and David Urban
Brazile: I hope you know, I got the questions in advance. I made sure that I shared them.
M: She did.
Brazile: I shared them.
M: I asked for them. She wouldn’t give them to me.
Brazile: I shared them, and it’s going to be really fun.
Casey: Good afternoon. Thank you so much all of you for being here. Fireworks are starting already. I’m Libby Casey; I’m our on-air politics reporter here at The Washington Post, and we’re thrilled to have this panel today to talk about communications in the Trump era. Great moment to do it in advance of tomorrow night’s speech, so let me introduce my guests. Congressman Eric Swalwell, Democrat who’s represented California’s 15th district in the Bay area since 2013. Thanks for being here. Ari Fleischer served as the White House press secretary from 2001 to 2003, under President George W. Bush, and he now runs his own strategic communications firm. Hi, Ari. Donna Brazile, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
M: Get a nice round of applause, Donna. Come on.
Brazile: I’m a local girl.
Casey: You are a local girl. She also, of course, managed former vice president Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.
M: How’d that turn out for you?
Casey: And David Urban—thank you, Donna.
Brazile: Hanging chads, swinging chads, and my favorite, those pregnant chads.
Casey: Hey, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. We’ll see what happens next. And David Urban is a former senior advisor to the Trump presidential campaign and currently serves as president of the American Continental Group here in Washington. Thanks, David, for being here. Before I get started, let me remind the audience both here in the room as well as watching online that you can send us questions. You that hashtag #PostLive, and we’ll get to some of those later on. So, we have some talkers here, so we’ll try to keep this answer a little bit brief. What do you want to hear tonight from the president, versus what you expect to hear tomorrow night? Congressman, let’s start with you, and we’ll go down the aisle.
Swalwell: Well, I hope he speaks to the millions of Americans who are not yet feeling the thrust of this economy. There’s no denying that the stock market is up, unemployment is at near full employment, and the GDP hovers around 3%. But there’s so many people that I talk to who I grew up with, or who live in my district who couldn’t weather a $500 emergency, a car tire going flat, a washing machine going out, a kid going to the emergency room. People are not saving more; they’re going deeper and deeper into debt, so how does this tax bill reach them and help lift their hopes and dreams?
Casey: Do you expect to hear that message?
Swalwell: I hope so, yeah. That’s who he needs to talk to because we know who is benefitting from his tax plan, but I think a lot of Americans still want to know how is this going to help them.
Fleischer: I want to hear normal. I want to hear—yeah.
Casey: What does that mean to you?
Fleischer: I want to hear a president who does what presidents do: unifies us, talks about bigger things that unite a country. The Trump presidency has just been such a fascinating one to watch on so many levels. He has so many accomplishments, and so many good things that he has done, has the potential to do, but it seems like every time he moves the ball down the field, he gets a penalty flag for unnecessary roughness. And it’s the spontaneous moments that get him, so at a moment like this, when you’re talking to 30-, 40-, 50 million Americans, unify.
And the other reason I say that is I’m convinced now that the American people, in electing Donald Trump, knew they were electing somebody with warts and all; Mexicans are rapists. It doesn’t surprise anybody there’s a settlement with a porn star. The reason is the American people hate Washington so much, think this place is so broken, they didn’t care, and they wanted to send somebody who would get things done, so they sent a disrupter. Now, he’s entering the phase of his presidency where he needs less disruption and more getting things done, because they didn’t elect disruption for disruption’s sake. They elected for disruption to get things done sake. That’s what he has to deliver on.
Brazile: Along those same lines, the president promised to come to Washington, D.C., drain the swamps, and to end politics as usual. He has been an unusual president. I totally agree with my colleague here. I think tomorrow night the president gets an opportunity to tell the American people what he’s accomplished over the last year. Of course, he’s going to tout his tax plan, which is not very, very popular, but I also believe the president is going to try to recast himself as a different reality TV star, someone who has knowledge about the world, he’s going to brag about his trip to Davos, he’s going to give us a lot of dazzling numbers to show that he has made a lot of progress in jobs, stock market. He’s going to take credit for a lot of things.
The question tomorrow, when he finished his speech, and get back to the White House and start tweeting, what is the president—what is the lasting impression we will have of this president? Is he still going to be the divider in chief, or will he come across to most Americans as a commander in chief? I don’t have a lot of expectations for this president, because every time I think the president has hit a new milestone to reset—sort of reset his presidency, he’s gone back into form, and the question is, will he return to the Donald Trump, the populist firebrand on the campaign trail in 2016? Or the new president that wishes to unite the country?
Urban: So, I get the easy part, right? I get to clean up after Ari, Donna, and the congressman. I think you’re going to see an aspirational Donald Trump tomorrow. I think it’s going to be a shining city on the hill kind of speech. I think the president does very well. If you recall, last year when he went up to the Hill and spoke to the Congress, he had that kind of speech. It wasn’t a state of the union; it was an aspirational speech. I think that after the speech was done, everybody—most pundits said, “Wow, what a great speech,” and people wanted to see him govern like that.
And as Ari said, and it’s been said that the president was elected to come to D.C. to break some china and shake things up, because I can tell you, the folks out of the campaign trail are not too happy with the current state of play. And so, it’s tough to be a disruptor and a uniter at the same time. It’s a very difficult fine line to walk. The president is entering a phase, I think, and the presidency now, as most people acknowledge, if you’re going to get anything done on DACA, this is an incredible offer; path to citizenship for close to two million folks, something that I’ll point out that neither President Bush, President Obama, or President Clinton even offered to do because they couldn’t get it done on their own caucuses.
I know—and the Republican caucus is not popular. It’s not popular amongst a great deal of Democrats. I think that must be a pretty good bill, right, if both parties don’t like it, so we’ll see where it ends up, but I think at the end of the day, they’re going to have an aspirational speech, something that I think everyone will say, “Wow, that was a great job. Now, let’s see what happens on Wednesday.”
Swalwell: David, to your point, I thought Tuesday, during that—about three weeks ago, was the best day in his presidency. He let the cameras in, I think a lot of people thought that is who they were electing, the guy sitting with Republicans and Democrats, and wheeling and dealing and saying, “You come up with someone on immigration; I’ll sign it.” But as Ari had said, he can’t put two good days together, because about two days later, we saw what he said and felt about these African countries, and the deal that they brought to him blew up.
And so, I still think Congress can collaborate, but we need somebody at the White House who is going to take the deals that we come up with.
Urban: Would you vote for the plan as it stands now?
Swalwell: I’d vote for the Aguilar-Hurd plan, which—
Urban: That’s not my question. My question would you vote for—would you support path to citizenship for close to two million folks, solving the DACA problem for a wall?
Swalwell: Yeah. I would vote for increased border security, which you’ve said would include a wall, but not to cut legal immigration. That was never on the table, and now the president wants to end—
Casey: So, you want a more narrow—
Urban: What do you say to the DACA folks, the DACA beneficiaries, those two million folks that stand to become citizens? What would you say to those folks?
Swalwell: That we’re not going to bring you in and then kick out your family members who have already—
Urban: And so, when they show up at your town hall—
Casey: So, let me just ask you, David, does this come up in the speech tomorrow? Does the president address this head-on? Does he pitch his immigration proposal? And does he [OVERLAPPING] starting point for negotiations.
Brazile: There’s a big clog. The government shutdown is likely to occur again.
Urban: So, that’s why he has to pitch—
Casey: We’re looking at February 8th, and then also a deadline in March for the Dreamers. So, we have two big deadlines coming up.
Urban: And so, I’ll acknowledge, like the congressman, that your colleagues on the right are just as upset about this proposal, as well.
Swalwell: That’s right. Again, Graham and Durbin took him a deal, and he said, “You make the deal, I’ll sign it.” And we saw—
Urban: But the great—
Casey: I want to just swing us back to the communications perspective here, because as you mentioned, the president last year, during his joint address, had a lot of successes by the metrics of a presidential speech, staying on message, staying on the teleprompter, and then within that same week, big news broke about his attorney general during the campaign meeting with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., the attorney general end up recusing himself from the Russia investigation, so how long-lasting is the state of the union bump? And can it all be destroyed Wednesday morning with the wrong tweet? Tuesday night?
Brazile: Tuesday night.
Fleischer: No, it won’t be that fast.
Casey: He seems to be more of a morning tweeter.
Fleischer: It’s always a challenge for presidents to corral the message and get everything going their way, as opposed to all the various inputs you have when you’re at the White House. International—something goes wrong, something happens in a domestic agency, it’s uncontrollable often. The problem, though, with President Trump is—and it’s of his own making. He too often creates his own problem going forward. He doesn’t stay on that role, and this is where I agree with it, and I say this as somebody—out of frustration, because I want him to be successful, and on policy, there’s a lot about Donald Trump I like.
In terms of the nature and the way he has conducted his presidency, there’s a lot that I do not like. And this is a big part of it; presidents have to have that discipline to stay on message. If he had more of it, he’d have a much more successful presidency, and if he did—last point, the ten Democrats in the ten Trump states who are up for reelection would be under massive pressure to vote with Trump. The reason they’re not voting with Trump all the time right now is because he’s not very popular. If he can get his popularity up to about 50% nationally, it’ll be a sea change in Washington, because those ten Democrats will have to vote for him, and a lot more—
Casey: We do anticipate infrastructure coming up as an issue that a lot of those red state Democrats would love to get behind.
Brazile: But there are also 23 members of Congress that won in districts where Hillary carried, so we also know that there is a lot of politics in 2018. I want to talk about the weather. The forecast tomorrow is light winds, with the possibility of snow. I’m a weather wimp so I should talk about weather, but there’s another cloud that continues to hover around this presidency, and that is the Trump-Russia investigation, and the question is will he talk about that?
Urban: Come on. Of course not, why should he?
Brazile: Well, look—
Urban: This is about government, not nonsense.
Brazile: This is not nonsense.
Urban: Yes, it is.
Urban: Donna, the election is over—
Brazile: Foreign interference—no, it’s—
Urban: This has been the Democratic excuse since the day after the election [OVERLAPPING]
Casey: Let’s let Donna get her—
Brazile: This is not an excuse. When our democracy, where we have a foreign—once upon a time, Ari, you and I would agree, that if a foreign government interfered in our election, we would both complain about it.
Brazile: Okay, so it is important for us to understand with an election coming up in less than 280-some odd days, that we understand what issues we need to resolve. If you look at what has happened in Europe, they have built a firewall against foreign aggression or interference. What have we done? What have we done on Capitol Hill? So, yes, this is something the president of the United States should be concerned about, because he should be concerned about the democracy—the health of our democracy.
Casey: I would like to hear from the congressman. Do you want to hear Democrats talk about Russia tomorrow? You’re on the intel committee; you’ve been very involved in some of these behind the scenes issues that the rest of us aren’t privy to. Does Congressman Joe Kennedy tomorrow night talk about it?
Swalwell: What I think the president could say, which would be unifying, is that we are going to put together an independent commission, just as we did after Pearl Harbor, just as we did after weapons of mass destruction, just as we did after September 11th. And I wrote the bill with Republican support that would do that, to look at not the issues that Bob Mueller is looking at, but what do we do to secure the ballot box in 2018, and 2020? Most Americans believe that Russia interfered and that we ought to do something to make sure they don’t do it again, and that would have bipartisan support, but he hasn’t acknowledged that.
Urban: So, I’m just extremely hopeful that our national security apparatus isn’t waiting for the Congress to tell them what to do. I’m hopeful that FBI counter-terrorism, the FBI folks have been out on their toes, and I’m sure that they’ve done this, I’m sure the NSA has been leaning forward; I’m sure the CIA has been leaning forward. If our—the United States of America, if Americans are sitting home waiting for the Congress to act on this, they’re going to wait a long time.
Swalwell: But I don’t know if you saw Attorney General Sessions—he testified.
Urban: No, I would not—
Brazile: But we need presidential leadership.
Urban: I think a commission is a nice way to kick the can down the road on things [OVERLAPPING]
Casey: Let me throw the news of the day—of course—
Brazile: We could use presidential leadership.
Casey: We saw the FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe that is stepping down. That news came out today. We heard Phil Rucker talk about that earlier. What do you do from a communications standpoint with that news? Is that going to really overshadow tomorrow night, Ari?
Fleischer: Oh, goodness, no. This is such a Washington story, the number of people in America who know who the FBI director is, is nobody. The number who run the deputy director, this is Washington news. Now, look, I think what is important is we all have an FBI we can have faith in, trust in. I do think the investigation of Hillary has raised a whole lot of issues that had not been adequately addressed, including the fact now we learned that Hillary was sending emails to Barack Obama as president, and when the Comey report came out, they cleaned up the name, took Obama out, and just—
Casey: I just want to pause this here because this sounds to be like your communication strategy of pivoting the news, which is certainly a fair perspective [OVERLAPPING]
Fleischer: I’m allowed to have my opinion. I don’t have to just go with anybody else’s.
Casey: But in terms of the communication strategy, is that something that Republicans need to do this week? Did you bring it back to that, to Hillary Clinton, or are you trying to move on and talk infrastructure, immigration, jobs?
Fleischer: Here’s why I objected to what Donna said: I am all for fortifying America and you are 100% right, it should already be underway. Outside Russian election interference—an attack on one party is an attack on all parties. But face it, the whole issue of a Russia-Trump collusion is about whether or not Donald Trump and his campaign cooperated with Russia to hack the DNC and Podesta’s emails or disseminate them. That’s what collusion is about, and there’s no evidence that that’s the case.
Casey: Congressman, do you bring this up, if you’re Congressman Joe Kennedy tomorrow night, giving the Democratic response? Or do you just steer clear of it?
Swalwell: I wouldn’t look backward. I would look forward, and say that we have a responsibility to protect our democracy, and that’s something both parties should be interested in.
Casey: How important is the state of the union, at this point? How important is the state of the union, and we can certainly bring your next point in, but I just want to know, is that going to make news this week? Are Americans going to tune in and focus on that? Or are they going to be thinking about these issues that you’re all bringing up?
Brazile: They’re thinking about their recipes for the Super Bowl.
Urban: Right, I was going to say. I think what most Americans want to know how your roads are going to get fixed, how bridges that are collapsing are going to get fixed, schools that are failing are going to be repaired; that’s what people want to hear about. A secure border, path to citizenship for these DACA kids, and I believe that the Congress can get this done. You can sit down, as the congressman said, the president in the room, and negotiate it outside of politics. Unfortunately, as Donna and everyone here knows, you heard Minority Leader Pelosi up here talking about it, 23 seats to pick up to impeach the president. That’s kind of the buzz is, right? And a lot of bipartisanship may not get done.
I think the president—it’s in his best interest to be aspirational, talk about the shining city on the hill, how we can make America better for all Americans, the rising tide, all those things; the standard deduction—the $24,000—
Casey: How do you sell that? So, I’d love to hear from you how do you sell that? It does not sound like, from the indications we’re getting from the White House, that the president plans to do a road tour, take the message out there, like we’ve seen past presidents do, although Sarah Sanders sort of punted on that today and said, “We’ll let you know of our travel plans.” Is that a missed opportunity, Ari?
Fleischer: Yes, it is. Yeah, that part of the presidency has always perplexed me on why, and again, when I said be normal, there are certain normal things that people in this town because it’s effective; it’s an effective way to connect with the constituents who are the bosses. The president’s style is so much more through Twitter, and through other means that I think it only goes skin deep and often hurt himself.
So, yeah, I would love to see him go out and meet with the people who are getting these bonuses, getting the pay raises, getting a $15 minimum wage now through the actual natural economy instead of a government dictated mandate. These are the way the president can connect with people and broaden his base.
Casey: So, why not do this road tour, from a political perspective?
Brazile: Because it’s called message discipline, and once upon a time, when you laid out the three or four pillars of your state of the union, what happened next was you go out there and you start selling your program. You sell your vision. This president has a hard time keeping his—what I call his eyes on the prize, and part of the problem, I think, is that if he goes out there, he likes to rally his base, he likes red meat, he likes to return to that fiery populist who ran in 2016.
And that’s not a unifying president. That’s a president who’s going to constantly campaign, and when he campaigns, he divides.
Fleischer: But also, not enough. No president can run just on their base alone.
Brazile: That’s correct.
Urban: That’s why I think you’ll see a pivot. I think you’ll see a pivot here with immigration, trying to strike a deal. I think the president does want to sign a deal. I think he wants to protect the DACA kids, so I think you’ll see a coming together on that. I think—
Casey: Does his team want to see that?
Urban: Yeah, I think they do. I think you’re going to see that happen.
Casey: There do seem to be differing opinions in the White House.
Urban: I think that’s the perception. I think that’s the perception, but I believe that no one’s sending anybody home. And so, I think that you’re going to see everybody wants a deal to get done. I think the same thing on infrastructure, and these are great issues, not just for America, but they’re great political issues because they require those ten Senate Democrats as Ari talked about. Senator Manchin was on Sunday talking about—he sounded pretty Republican to me.
Brazile: He sounded like that last year, too. [OVERLAPPING]
Swalwell: On infrastructure, to support this innovation economy, we have to move people around and have a 21st century roads, bridges, tunnels, green energy solutions. When the president came to Congress last year and said that, he said, “I’m going to invest a trillion dollars in infrastructure.” You know who stood up? The Democrats. You know who stayed seated? The Republicans. And so, he has a problem in his own base that they don’t support that, but the second problem is that it’s a lesson my parents taught me: don’t burn a hole in your pocket with your first paycheck.
The Republicans have spent nearly $2 trillion on this tax cut that now we are almost unable to fund any infrastructure spending, and that’s going to be a real problem.
Casey: I want to hear from you all about accountability, because when the president goes out tomorrow night, and talks about accomplishments, but also looks forward, here are my goals, here’s what I aspire to do, how important is it that there’s follow through? Last year, we heard him talk about building a wall; it hasn’t happened yet. Repealing Obamacare; hasn’t really happened. Tax cuts, big tax package; that did happen. But is the American populace watching what the president does? Or are they listening to news reports or really commentary reports in places like Fox News who are giving him A-pluses when some of the follow through isn’t there? What do we look at six months from now?
Swalwell: I think this will be a check and balance election, which seems quite simple, but I think what Americans will be looking for is whether they have a Congress that can collaborate with the president where it helps them and lifts them. I think infrastructure, immigration are two areas where you can find cohesion, but whether they’re willing to stand up and be a check on the president, when he tries to fall through on the wall, or the Muslim ban, or some of the other policies. I think it’s going to be a check and balance election. I don’t mind that he hasn’t followed through on the wall. Quite frankly, I don’t mind that he hasn’t followed through on some of these other hurtful policies, so I don’t think we should hit him over the head for that, because that would hurt people if you actually forced him into following through.
Brazile: His best numbers came as a result of meeting with Leader Pelosi and Leader Schumer. And everybody—the American people, his numbers finally came out of the weeds a little bit, and you saw the American people say, “Wow, he can work with the Democrats. He can work with other people.” I think it would—I think the president needs to spend at least a third of his speech tomorrow night, not talking to his base, but talking to that mom and dad out there in America whose concerned still about their job security, who want to know if this tax package will trickle down to them, and if so, will it help improve their job status, their wages, etc.
If the president can reach that milestone, maybe and perhaps we’ll see an improvement in his numbers.
Casey: Let me just ask Ari real quick, how important was follow through for President Bush? And do you see it—has it changed? Is there not that level of accountability right now?
Fleischer: It’s always important. It was important for President Obama, too, but support from the American people for a president is always driven by two factors; one, I like and I believe in the president. There is a personal element. It’s a trust, a connection element, even if they have no accomplishments, they’re fighting for you. You believe in them. That’s important. And Trump has that with his base.
The second area that could broaden his base is actual accomplishment. Tax reform, I present to you as one, and I think as the year goes along, it’s going to continue to really resonate positively as economic growth picks up, and wages are likely to rise. And Trump is in a position to get substantial credit for it. Secondly, though, comes with that is if he can get infrastructure and immigration done, that’s a powerful three; tax reform, infrastructure, and immigration, way more than either of his predecessors got done. So, that is a potential for a lot of trust, and base expansion through accomplishment. We’ll see what happens. We’ll see how the year goes.
Urban: And I would just say that the thing that looms large, to use Donna’s metaphor of the cloud, is that the government—we still have to keep the government open in a week, we have to raise the debt ceiling, there are two supplementals for emergency spending for disasters, and then you’re going to get to DACA, and then you’re going to get to infrastructure. There could be a great deal of fatigue in the Congress, in this town, about spending money, about cooperating. There’s going to be a lot fighting going back and forth to get those things that they need to do, done.
I mean, when I worked back here—I used to work on the Hill many years ago, and we passed 13 spending bills every year. Subcommittee mark up, full committee mark up, and there was—
Swalwell: I remember those days.
Fleischer: And there were no filibusters—never filibuster.
Urban: There was a Schoolhouse Rock.
Casey: So boring. What are you thinking? [OVERLAPPING]
Urban: The government used to work, and I think—I believe that this government can work again like that, and people tend—we go from crisis to crisis here, and it’s become normal. That’s just not—and it’s—
Casey: But what gives you faith that it can return to that?
Urban: I’m not certain—I would hope it can, but that’s a part of the Congress’ responsibility to go though normal order, take bills up, have hearings and markups. It’s not very sexy; it’s pretty run-of-the-mill boring—
Casey: But can the president have a strong voice in that process, in encouraging it?
Urban: That’s a lot of the Congress, and that’s why the president was sent here, to break some china, to shake things up, and quite frankly, the Congress needs to get moving.
Fleischer: And you know, in fairness—and I’ve been very critical of President Trump when he has said things like the s-hole statements that he made; I was very vociferous criticizing him for that, and I always will be. But it works in both directions. When Democrats initially refused to show up at a state of the union, at his inaugural event, and tomorrow, we’re hearing about Democrats are going to boycott his state of the union. This is part of the destructive atmosphere of Washington that everybody needs to stop.
Casey: Let’s hear from the congressman on that. Congressman plans to attend tomorrow night.
Swalwell: I was at the inauguration, and afterwards, I sat at a lunch next to Kellyanne Conway and Sheldon Adelson, and it was a tough day. I took the first flight home.
Fleischer: It was a tough day to be a Democrat that day.
Urban: Sheldon took your money probably, too.
Brazile: After the treatment by many Republicans—after I call the treatment of President Barack Obama at the state of the union, I don’t have a lot of faith and confidence in any member of Congress, with regard to the state of the union, so I’m just going to let that go by me.
Urban: But the boycott has to stop.
Brazile: Look, I am a former Hill staffer. I respect the office of the presidency, but I also believe it goes two ways when it comes to respect, and you cannot expect Democrats to hold all of these high standards—moral standards, every other standard, and then when it comes to expressing one’s views. There are a lot of members who are quite offended. There are a lot of Americans who are quite offended by the president’s remarks regarding those countries. The continent of Africa, Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, etc., and I think many of those members—some of the members I know, I’ve talked to a few of them personally, have decided that they will not show up.
There are some who will show up tomorrow, and they will show up with kente cloth and other symbols to show that these countries, especially the continent of Africa, we respect the continent. We love the people of Africa. We love the people of Haiti. We love the people of El Salvador, and they are going to show that, as well, tomorrow.
Casey: Congressman, what does this do for tone? How do you think Democrats need to comport themselves tomorrow and this week, as we have this tradition?
Swalwell: We can—so, I’m showing up. I think it’s a personal decision for each member. I’m showing up because I want to be a check on the president. I think that’s the role of Congress. I want him to see that I and my colleagues are there, and that we’re going to work with them where we can and hold them accountable where we need to. But I think you can also make a statement, as Donna pointed out. I know women will also be wearing black in support of the Time’s Up, #metoo movement.
So, I think those statements are important. I also don’t think we want to make news; we want to let his policy be heard, and then we should respond as vigorously as we can with public sentiment afterwards.
Casey: I hear a desire from all of you that the president stick to the script, that he stick to the teleprompter. Does it benefit him, though, with his base or otherwise, to go rouge? To throw in some off the cuff remarks? Do you see room there? I mean, it certainly makes for conversation, but what does it say about the presidency and what does it do to his political capital?
Fleischer: Yeah, not tomorrow night.
Brazile: Nope, I agree,
Fleischer: And much less so going forward. Again, Trump’s success, if it will be successful down the road, meaning he won’t lose the Congress in ’18, and who knows about reelection in ’20. It’s too soon to say. It’s going to be based on him getting things done, not just disruption. The American people took that chance electing him, because they thought he could. They thought a businessman going to Washington, the place of the politicians, the businessman could get things done.
He’s got to fulfill that end of the promise to be a successful president. Less of that unnecessary roughness rhetoric, and more normalcy is the future for Trump.
Casey: David, do you see any—
Urban: When that teleprompter went out one year—god forbid.
Brazile: Yes, I recall.
Swalwell: Bill Clinton gave it by memory. ’93.
Casey: Okay, so note to the White House. Big, big print on the paper, bring it in there.
Swalwell: Two teleprompters.
Brazile: And hydrate; hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Abandon those Diet Cokes, hydrate so that he also looked the part as he reads the script. But tomorrow night, the president is bringing in several American heroes, people that we all applaud, like he did last year, and we owe it to them, because many of the people that he will honor tomorrow night, and pay tribute to, are people that we admire, that have inspired us with their bravery, and so I would hope that again, this is a night for all Americans to tune in.
He is the president of the United States. And give him an opportunity to make his case to the American people, and the next day, as many of us know, we will dissect the speech, and point out his shortcomings. I want to say one thing.
Brazile: The resistance is growing, in large part because of Donald Trump. And tomorrow night, for those who are still appalled at the election of President Trump, they got an opportunity to also go out there and speak out. And I want to make sure that people understand there are millions of our fellow citizens who did not vote for the president, who have been waiting for the president to pivot, and they have grown increasingly frustrated with this president, and his policies, and I expect that they will also have a say when his speech is over with.
Casey: So, Donna, with the Democratic strategist hat on, is there a benefit to the president tweeting something controversial the next day? Going off message?
Brazile: I look forward to it. Now, I know you said that he’s not a midnight tweeter; maybe it’s the time of the morning I wake up, but it looks as though he puts his ideas together the night before and in the morning, he goes boop. So, I’m looking forward to those tweets.
Casey: Congressman, do you look forward to them? Or is there a difference between the political strategy versus what it means to be a functioning Congress, and a functioning government?
Swalwell: Well, they bring anxiety for every day working people. I represent a district on the west coast, and we don’t think it’s funny or something you should be loose with to just poke somebody who has nuclear weapons in the eye, unless you have a strategy behind it. If there was a strategy to dealing with North Korea, and this was a tactic of that, I may be able to go along with it, but no one believes that this is part of an overall strategy, and that this is just bringing us closer to being attacked unnecessarily.
Urban: Although I will say, for the first time, the North Koreans and the South Koreans are talking at the table, going to the Olympics, and this president has the luxury of kicking the can down the road as many presidents have.
Fleischer: And we should welcome that. That’s a good thing.
Urban: You might want to give him a pass on North Korea.
Swalwell: That’s a good thing.
Brazile: I’ll tell you one area we’ll all be talking about by the end of the week, and that is how many people viewed the state of the union.
Brazile: And I’m sure the president is going to tout his numbers. So, I’m looking—George W. Bush has the record at 60 million, I think, followed by Barack Obama. 60 million following the tragedy of 9/11, and President Obama, his first year in office, so we’ll see what the president will line up with the numbers game, as well, but since we’re going into Super Bowl week, we just have to bring out the—
Casey: But will that be a reflection of—
Fleischer: It might be a tough briefing for Sarah.
Casey: For Sarah Sanders?
Fleischer: Well, remember the last time there was a press briefing about numbers?
Brazile: Crowd sizes, anything to do with sizes.
Casey: Is that a reflection of the current presidency, or is that a reflection of state of the union, and the media environment right now? If the numbers are low, if Americans don’t tune in, is that—has a state of the union diminished in its importance with this modern era of constant communication?
Fleischer: No, the state of the union remains paramount. It remains an essential feature of our democracy, and it really is a time for people to tune in and see with their own eyes what a president does and says, even though it’s scripted. It’s on a teleprompter, and always has been, for both parties since teleprompters were invented. But the stagecraft of government remains important. These national rituals remain important. They are one of the few things that unite us, and should unite us, and we should watch. I always watched Barack Obama’s and I hope people will watch Donald Trump’s.
Swalwell: It just might be Instagram storied and Snapchatted, and other forms that—
Casey: Periscoped and everything.
Swalwell: Young people receive their news these days.
Brazile: I’ll never forget, back in 1981, I’m aging myself but that’s okay. Sitting next to you, I look young. But I’ll never forget when I was a college intern—
Urban: We’re actually friends.
Brazile: We’re friends. That’s why I’ve been messing with—
Urban: Who isn’t friends with Donna?
Brazile: But Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States. I was so happy. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, I was there. During George W. Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush; it is so American. It’s quintessential American. I look forward to seeing the president; I continue to pray for this president, as I have prayed for every president. My grandmother told us that when we were kids growing up, praying for John F. Kennedy and then all the presidents. So, I look forward to it, and then the next day, I’ll look forward to commenting.
Casey: All right, well, we’ll have to leave it there. So, thank you so much to the panelists. Really appreciate your time.
Brazile: Thank you.
M: Thank you.
Senators discuss the outlook for bipartisanship on Capitol Hill
O’Keefe: Good afternoon, everybody. This is a great crowd. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post. I cover Congress so I spend a lot of time with these two, our next guests: Senator Shelley Moore Capito—
King: I’ve never seen you so spiffy, Ed.
O’Keefe: Well, yeah. We don’t normally get pancaked in the halls of Congress, but we will here today. [LAUGHTER] So thank you both for being here. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia.
Capito: Thank you.
O’Keefe: And Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats. Both of you, great to join us here ahead of votes that you have this evening. We wanted to talk about the State of the Union, and one thing I learned while we were waiting backstage, they may have to return the tickets because they’ve been—
King: It was a misprint.
O’Keefe: They have been misspelled. Oh, it says that the president is delivering “the State of the Uniom”. [LAUGHTER]
Capito: Oh, my gosh.
King: U-N-I-O-M, and so they may have to order a reprint tonight. [LAUGHTER]
O’Keefe: Further proof that—
Capito: Those could become very valuable someday.
O’Keefe: Yes, they could. Further proof that everybody needs an editor. [LAUGHTER] And we know that here at The Washington Post for sure and certainly, they have learned that now at the government printing office. So anyways, I’m pleased to wrap up our State of the Union preview with Senator Capito and Senator King. Before we get started, a reminder: you can join the conversation. If you’re watching beyond the room here or here in the room, send us your questions with #PostLive. We’ll try to get some of those in a little later. I wanted to start, Senator King, with something you said in of all places, Instagram last week. There was this great photo of you and Senator Jones sitting at the airport—
King: Sitting at the airport, looking tired.
O’Keefe: And you said that, “Last week marked as much bipartisan energy and concentration as I’ve seen in the past five years.” Why is that and why is it happening now?
King: I think in part because the DACA issue has important aspects for both sides and there’s a genuine energy toward getting something done. It started during the brief shutdown with this “Common Sense Caucus” at Susan Collins’ office, of which started back in ’13. There were about a dozen of us. This time, there were 15 or 20. The last meeting we have, and by the way, there’s another one tonight at six—there were 35 senators. Everybody wants to be a moderate all of a sudden, which is kind of cool and I think there’s—
O’Keefe: Or it’s an election year.
King: Well, and a lot of the work that we did ended up pressuring the leaders to get the shutdown over with and now, we’re trying to carry that over into the immigration debate.
O’Keefe: I want to ask you about those meetings in a little bit. I’m curious if you agree that this seems to be a moment of cooperation that perhaps we haven’t seen in the last few years.
Capito: I think so. I think that also, in addition to wanting to get things done, there’s a realization rather quickly over the last week or so that a government shutdown is a misery journey on any side. It doesn’t serve the public. It doesn’t serve us as policymakers and so I think that there was a realization that on both sides, that this is a miserable exercise we’re in and let’s try to figure out how to get out of it.
O’Keefe: And it has been rather partisan, certainly over the past year and in years past. I know everyone—the leader; your leader, McConnell. I know this was said that there’s going to be attempts this year at trying to bridge the divide and find ways to work together. Beyond immigration, which is a more immediate concern, where do you think there are possibilities or potential for cooperation across the aisle?
Capito: Well, I personally think infrastructure has great promise. I mean, we don’t know the pay for and the detailed structures of it. But all of our states have a huge interest in modernizing our transportation systems. We have, in my state, thousands of bridges that we need repairs. Also, Angus and I have worked on rural broadband issues together.
King: That’s a huge one.
Capito: And it’s a huge one for a lot of us, even states that have—like New York, for instance. I’ve worked with Senator Gillibrand on a rural broadband issue. So you don’t assume just because she’s in New York that she doesn’t have the same kind of issues. So with that as a sort of a rallying cry, I think we could possibly do that. Infrastructure has traditionally been bipartisan and I think we could carry that off.
King: And I think opioids is another one.
Capito: Yeah, I agree.
King: It’s the greatest public health crisis in my state in our history that I have ever heard of. Your state is one of the toughest in the country.
Capito: It’s the worst.
King: This cuts across parties. This isn’t really a partisan issue. Rural states seem to be affected more by it, but that’s an area where it doesn’t seem to be one of the major points of the president’s speech tomorrow night, but I hope he at least touches on it because this is a place where we need presidential leadership.
O’Keefe: You’re anticipating my next question. What else would you guys like to hear from him tomorrow night?
Capito: Well, personally, I’d like to hear, obviously, a strong speech that is a uniting speech that with the realizations and I’m sure he will talk about the accomplishment, principally, on the economy.
King: You think?
Capito: You think? Yeah. That’s my great prediction.
King: Are we going to hear about the tax bill, do you think?
Capito: I think we might. That might be one I stand on, Angus.
King: Yeah, okay. There you go.
Capito: We were talking about deciding when you stand and when you don’t stand and clap and all that and you look around and you realize you’re the only one standing. [LAUGHTER] And this is a, “Woah, what am I doing here?”
O’Keefe: Has that happened to you? That has happened to you, right?
Capito: Or the only one not standing.
King: One of my favorite pictures in my office is I sat with a whole group of Republicans one year and President Obama said something about healthcare and I stood up and applauded. I was literally the only person and it’s one of my favorite pictures. [LAUGHTER] But I can tell you, State of the Unions are hard because of all of this when to stand and not to stand. One time, I was sitting next to a very conservative Republican and President Obama was going through and the guy, he was like this and Obama finally said, “And we need to cut corporate tax rates.” The guy was still like this. I said, “Stand up, man. He’s singing your tune.” [LAUGHTER] And then I realized, though, this is a 30-second ad waiting to be made. For a conservative to be standing up in the State of the Union. You can, “He stood for Obama.” [LAUGHTER]
And it’s going to be the reverse tomorrow night. It’s a very awkward sort of moment.
O’Keefe: They did it to Joe Liebermann years ago when he gave George W. Bush a hug when he was walking down the aisle. So it’s a real thing, absolutely.
King: Yeah, absolutely.
O’Keefe: But you guys don’t see the text until just about everybody else does. Do you guys have a whisper where you go like, “Is it now?”
Capito: No, no, no.
O’Keefe: Do you look for McConnell and John Cornyn and go, “Is this okay?”
King: No, generally, you just go with your gut.
O’Keefe: Well, you can. You’re an Independent. I know it’s a little different for the other guys. [LAUGHTER]
Capito: He’ll be standing up all the time.
King: That’s the luxury, man. That’s the luxury.
O’Keefe: All right, so we’re going to hear accomplishments, clearly. But is there anything else that he should spend this huge primetime audience or tell them?
Capito: You know, another thing I think that’s uniting, there are some non-uniting parts of it, is energy. We have a natural gas revolution in our country that could really, I think, transform it. It does go into the economic issues as well. But for certain parts of the country, like mine, in Appalachia, this is a big thing for us and so I think if he talks about energy, we have questions about energy shortages and all of these things. So I think that’s a uniting—like I said, there are some parts of that aren’t so much, obviously, but I think energy dominance is something that he could talk about.
King: I think a lot of it is going to be toned and for his first year, he’s played pretty much to his base. And this is an opportunity to turn the corner, as is this immigration debate. He could be Nixon to China on immigration. He has an opportunity to do something that other presidents have failed to do and if he seizes that opportunity, I think it will be very good for him politically and will solve some problems that have been nagging us for years. So I’m hoping that he sort of—what’s the term? Widens the aperture in terms of who he’s talking to and if he does that, I think it will be effective. People go into these things wanting to feel uplifted and feel positive.
King: And if he can do that and resist the urge to jab people, I think it will be successful.
O’Keefe: You’ve been in those meetings regarding immigration. You will be later today again. Given what’s the conversations and the people who are in that room, is there something he definitely should not say or should say that would either help or hurt those conversations and perhaps affect what may play out over in the House?
King: I think the challenge is to keep the focus narrow. This is not comprehensive immigration reform. This is DACA and border security and I think you can deal with those. If you start to expand and talk about chain migration, which the Democrats called “family reunification”. It’s an interesting—
O’Keefe: All sorts of ways to call it, absolutely.
King: If the Republicans get greedy and try to do all of their agenda on immigration in this bill, I think it’s going to make it very, very difficult and it could be very harmful to the country and to a lot of people. If they keep it narrow, I think we can get a bill.
O’Keefe: And yet, what he put out today is not narrow.
King: That’s right.
O’Keefe: And so it’s a question of whether he is willing to give or whether you guys only [OVERLAPPING]—
King: I hear he likes to negotiate.
O’Keefe: You’re not involved in these partisan conversations?
Capito: No, and I’m involved in a lot of different conversations on this issue. I haven’t been in the meeting. Not because I am not a part of a common-sense coalition. On immigration is an issue that’s a little bit of a tough one in a state like mine because we’re not deeply affected by it. Certainly, we are as a nation, but I’m very supportive of what they’re doing and also, I’d anticipate that the next issue that comes up where I am more passionate or more deeply involved, I’m sure I’ll be right there with you.
King: Well, the biggest problem we’ve got, Ed, in this is we want a wall around Maine with Canada. [LAUGHTER] Because we’ve got these Canadians coming across being nice to us and offering free healthcare. I mean, it’s got to stop. [LAUGHTER]
O’Keefe: He’s one night only, folks. Get him while you can.
Capito: I would say to that while I think Angus and I would like to have it all be very inclusive; I mean, let’s be real here: if he doesn’t say, “I’m going to build a wall”, I will bet practically my four grandchildren. Don’t tell them that, but I don’t know how he resists that temptation. But I would hope that he does it in a way that sort of riles up the base enough but doesn’t so disenchant everybody else that they just turn out.
O’Keefe: But isn’t the wall kind of a settled issue at this point? Given that Leader Schumer put it on the table last week in their conversation?
King: In some way, shape, or form. I prefer the term “wall system”.
Capito: Right, and that’s what they’re saying now.
King: That gives you a little—because nobody—well, not nobody, but very few people want a 2,000-mile-long 30-foot wall. It just doesn’t make sense in a lot of places. I’ve spent time in Big Ben National Park down in Southern Texas right on the Rio Grande. If you put a wall there, you would be denying Americans an access to a wonderful resource, the river. If you put it in the middle of a river, it’s an environmental disaster. If you put it on the other side, that’s called an invasion. [LAUGHTER] So there are some real practical problems and I hope that we can do something that makes sense; economic sense and I think you agree.
Capito: I do.
King: Fence laid some places, sensors in other places, border patrol in other places, but the idea of a wall from sea to shining sea just doesn’t make sense.
O’Keefe: You, senator, are involved in another sort of lower-level, but important and bipartisan conversation right now regarding the rules of the Senate and whether or not or how to revamp exactly how senators and how their staffs deal with the issue of sexual harassment. This was sort of unanimously approved that all of you would have to undergo mandatory training and then you guys are considering exactly how to proceed otherwise. There’s some debate over whether you have to do this in law or whether you do it in internal rules and you’re working with Democrats and Republicans. I don’t know, what’re the status—
Capito: We are. Well, I’m working with Senator Klobuchar, Senator Blunt, Senator Fischer, Senator Feinstein, mostly Rules Committee members and we’re trying to figure out what we have to put actually in the law. But what we found when all of this sort of broke out is that the system that was put into place in the ‘70s to file a complaint, to have to go to counseling for 30 days before you could move to step two and all of this kind of antiquated and really negative towards the person who feels like they’ve been violated and have a cause was something we needed to change.
And so we did change the mandatory training. We did that in December. Everybody’s taken it by now. Our staff, us. If you’re a supervisor, you take a higher level and then we’ll get into the process so that everybody has a transparent—this whole thing about whether you’re paying for it with your congressional account or who pays for these things, what do you have to report. We need to settle this because I think when the rug came back, we realized and maybe many of us were unaware. I certainly was that we had a system that does not work and needs to be modernized.
O’Keefe: You both have taken your training?
King: Absolutely. You’ve got to go through and it’s an hour-plus.
Capito: Yeah, two-and-a-half, yeah.
O’Keefe: Is it online or are you meeting with somebody?
O’Keefe: Okay. So it’s just like most workplaces where you have to click through and deal with it.
Capito: Many of our offices already had policies to take that. My office did. I’m sure yours probably did.
O’Keefe: Resolution, though, likely soon or is it—
Capito: I would say likely soon. It may be on the spending bill. The House is moving right now forward. They have a pretty aggressive agenda on it in terms of reporting, in terms of transparency. So we’re going to look at that when they pass and see what we do.
O’Keefe: The president won West Virginia by 42 points, the largest margin of any state in the country. Is he still as popular now as he was then? What’s the feedback back home?
Capito: Yes, he is very popular at home and part of the reason is we’re a big coal state and we really took it on the chin over the last eight years so it was a real guttural feeling for a long of West Virginians. It’s, “Nobody cares about me, nobody cares that I can’t get a job, and nobody cares that I’ve worked for decades and my family has worked for decades to power this nation.”
King: And didn’t Hillary say something like, “Old miners are going to have to find other things to do.”
Capito: Right, she did. And so I wasn’t surprised that he won is such large numbers. I’ll give you an example: it was just announced before we came out today that the president is going to come to West Virginia for the—we’re doing the Republican retreat in West Virginia and the president is coming, I believe, on Thursday to address the lunch. Well, that’s no surprise. Whatever party you’re in, the president would come. I immediately got a text from one of my mayors of a small town, “Can I be your waiter at the luncheon so I can see the president?” [LAUGHS] There’s still a lot of enthusiasm for him. Our economy has picked up, optimism has picked up, and for people who struggle to find a job every day and feed their families, this is really the—the popularity of president’s economic policies are going to carry the day.
O’Keefe: Hillary Clinton, though, won your state by three points.
King: She won by three, but Barack Obama four years earlier won by 12. And the president carried the 2nd district. Maine is one of two states that divides its electoral votes and he carried the 2nd district. So he has a lot of strength in the state and I don’t see it diminishing much. Maybe the truest thing he ever said during the campaign was, “I could shoot somebody on 5th Avenue and it wouldn’t affect my poll numbers.” And I think there’s a lot to that. He’s still very popular.
O’Keefe: What is it specifically that maintains that popularity in your state? At least in the parts where he’s popular?
King: I think it’s a perception that he speaks for the average American, which is sort of odd that a billionaire from New York speaks for the average American, but he’s managed to capture that voice and we could get into a long, deep conversation about this phenomenon. But a lot of it is rural people have been, in many ways, left behind, in a whole host of ways. Our rural areas are aging. The economies have been really hard-hit by globalization and I think he really touched on that and that’s one of the reasons Shelley and I, we started the Rural Broadband Caucus in the Senate. It’s very bipartisan. John Boozman from Arkansas and Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota. A lot of people out west because broadband is one of the ways rural Americans have been left behind. And in Maine, if you don’t have broadband in a community, you’re not going to have businesses. Young people aren’t going to move. Can you imagine you’re looking at a house and the realtor says, “Well, this is a nice house, but you’ll never have broadband?” Nobody’s going to buy that house and so this is an urgent infrastructure and that’s why I hope that the infrastructure plan, whatever it is, has a carve-out—
King: And identifies broadband, just like airports and railroads and—
O’Keefe: But does that literally mean you have to dig for wires or you just—
Capito: It can mean a variety.
O’Keefe: Pump those areas of the country with a lot of Wi-Fi. What is it that actually has to be done to get it?
King: There’s no simple answer. It depends on the topography. In some places, out west, you can have a tall Wi-Fi tower and cover a large—
O’Keefe: You just need a cell tower, right.
King: Territory in Maine because of our—and in West Virginia, you need sometimes a wired solution or a fiber solution. And in Maine, we have a terrific broadband network, but it’s the middle and the last mile that are the problem. It’s like having an interstate highway with no exit ramps. You can look at it, but you can’t get on and off it and that’s where we need some support.
Capito: Satellite, too, is another technology that’s really coming on and—
King: And the whole 5G.
Capito: Yeah, and holds good promise for rural America.
O’Keefe: I wanted to ask you a few things kind of related to the news. We’ve hit that point in an election year where we’re going to start seeing votes held on issues that are designed to put some of your colleagues on the spot. One of those happens tonight in the Senate where you’re voting on a bill that would essentially ban abortions after 20 weeks. This passed the House overwhelmingly in October. Leader McConnell has vowed that he will bring it up as long as he has control of the Senate but it’s unlikely to proceed to final passage.
King: It would need 60 votes.
O’Keefe: Right and it doesn’t look like it will get that. We’re here under the auspice of bipartisanship and you’ve discussed all of these incredibly pressing important issues. I’m just curious: whatever foot the shoe is on, is that a good use of the Senate’s time to be holding these kinds of votes when you know that 60 votes aren’t there for something and yet, you’re trying to put colleagues on the spot?
Capito: Well, I’ll defend the leader on this. I think that every leader, no matter if it’s a Republican or a Democrat is going to have these kinds of votes. We know this.
Capito: We’ve been there long enough to know and expect it. I may be going out on a limb here; I don’t think that there’s any surprise here from Chuck Schumer that this is what Mitch McConnell, he’s only bringing it up one night. We’re not having a big debate on it. It will not pass. I will vote for it, but it will not pass but it has a lot of meaning and we have some great members of my Republican Caucus, James Lankford in particular, who is well-liked across the board and works across the board very well and this is a big issue for him; not just legislatively, but personally as well. So these things are going to happen.
King: One of the things that has surprised me since I’ve been there is there’s a lack of appreciation or whatever it is that what you do to them, they’re going to do to you. I caucused with the Democrats when they were in the majority and they took some steps and then the Republicans have done it. And that’s one of the problems with the Senate is the kind of downward spiral where, “Well, they did it five years ago and therefore, we can do it.” And then you dream up something new and ugly and that’s going to happen. For example, we’re about to lose the blue slip process in judges.
O’Keefe: I was going to get to that next.
King: That’s a process that requires some level of bipartisanship and you’ve got the home state senators and they both have to go along and it tended to moderate whichever direction. If that goes away, I guarantee you in four, five, six years, the Republicans are going to be really upset that they don’t have it anymore and that’s what I don’t understand when they make these changes that ultimately will be used against you.
Capito: Well, Neil Gorsuch is a good example. When the Democrats were in charge, they moved the threshold down—
King: Not for Supreme Court judges. It was only for district and—
Capito: But didn’t we do it—
King: You did it for Gorsuch.
Capito: We did it for Gorsuch, yeah.
King: That’s sort of my point.
O’Keefe: They held the seat open for a year.
Capito: But we haven’t done it—oh, yeah. We have done it for district judges. Yeah, we did.
King: I say “we”. I’m a member of the Democratic Caucus, but I didn’t sign any oaths, okay?
O’Keefe: You’re a yes or no tonight on that bill?
King: On the abortion bill?
King: I’m a no because I’ve done some homework. [APPLAUSE] I’ve learned that 99% of abortions take place before 20 weeks so this is a solution in search of a problem and the abortions that do take place at 20 weeks or later usually involve some real serious complications and medical issues and I’ve always thought that the last place the government ought to be is between a doctor and a woman. [APPLAUSE]
O’Keefe: And there are exceptions to this. The proposal has exceptions.
Capito: There are exceptions and we’re one of only four countries in the world.
King: That allow?
O’Keefe: Yeah, one other thing that caught my attention today; Senator Capito, you gave an interview to a radio station in West Virginia and you were asked, “If the Democrats try to play hardball again on keeping the government open, should Senate Majority Leader McConnell change the rules to reduce the procedural hurdle on legislation from 60 votes down to 50?” Your answer was, I thought, interesting. “That talk is getting really, really more frequent and louder”, you said, “To be honest with you, I think the leader is considering what his options are here because the frustration is we can’t get the president’s appointments through.” You said later, “We can’t get judges through. It’s all intentional, meaning it takes a little while for it to happen. I think we’re going to look into it and see what those possibilities are. McConnell is an institutionalist and he doesn’t want to go in this direction, but he’s getting pushed pretty hard.” Are you saying that he is more than ever, seriously considering making this change in the rules regarding legislation?
Capito: No. No, and I don’t want to speak for Senator McConnell. He can certainly speak a lot better for himself than I could but not for legislation. Appropriations; we’re stuck on appropriations. We can’t get anything done. We can’t get any bills—
King: I’ve got an answer for that, by the way.
Capito: Good, good.
King: A bill comes out of the Appropriations Committee with a super majority, it goes straight to the floor.
Capito: I mean, we passed them bipartisan.
King: And they ought to go to the floor and be voted.
Capito: Yeah, we passed these. I’m on Appropriations. What I think he’s looking and what I think the main talk now is compressing the amount of time that you have to consider certain district judges and circuit judges instead of it having to be 30 hours, which doesn’t sound like a long time. But when you put it, oh, through the week—
O’Keefe: It can be three days.
Capito: It can be three days. And there is a lot of pressure on Senator McConnell to be more welcoming to this. As you can see, he’s resisted. And I think he’ll continue to do that for just the exact same reason that Angus just said. When the shoe goes on the other foot and who knows what’s going to happen with this majority, 51-49, you don’t know. But I know the pressure is building because I’m in the room when we’re talking about it.
O’Keefe: And it still comes up quite frequently here in your lunches—
O’Keefe: —and other private meetings.
King: It would be a grave mistake.
O’Keefe: And why would it be a grave mistake?
King: Well, for one thing, it would turn around and work the other way in some measurable number of years. By the way, I came to the Senate, “We’ve got to get rid of the filibuster. It’s undemocratic and it’s not in the Constitution,” and all that.
Capito: I didn’t know that.
King: Oh yeah. But I’ve learned and observed a couple of things. One, it really does require some level of bipartisanship. It requires some negotiation. The majority can’t just run over the minority and in the long run, legislation is better if it’s formed that way. The Affordable Care Act was never fully accepted because it got no Republican votes and I think the tax bill, it got no Democratic votes. You get better results and it forces it and it does sort of cool the discussion down somewhat. And one of the people that really influenced me on this was Carl Levin, the great senator from Michigan. I remember him standing up and there was a moment in the Democratic Caucus in 2013 when they were really fired up to get Obama’s agenda through. “We can only do it if we make this change.” And you know how in a meeting the momentum sort of builds under one person? Carl Levin stood up and just stopped it cold and he said, “This is not something we want to do because five years from now, somebody could want to privatize Social Security or privatize Medicare and you’re not going to like it and you’re not going to have any weapons left.”
It’s Sir Thomas More when they went, “Richard, when the devil turns upon you and you don’t have the laws of England to protect you, what do you have left?” And I think that’s what we’re talking about.
O’Keefe: So a lot of pressure, but certainly, a reminder that everything is cyclical in Congress and it could go the other way.
O’Keefe: Real quick as we wrap up here, you’re from a state that voted overwhelmingly for the president; you’re from a state that didn’t, but let’s flip it around. What is the thing that you most strongly disagree with the president on? Senator Capito?
King: This is going to be easier for me than for her.
O’Keefe: And Senator King, what is the thing you strongly agree with the president on? Senator King? Whoever would like to go first.
King: I’ll go first. I most strongly agree with him on trade. I think we’ve not really advocated adequately in favor of our country. I’ve seen the effects of some of the trade bills in my state and we’re asking—it’s hard for me to go to a small company in Maine and say, “You have to compete head-to-head with a company in Vietnam that doesn’t have OSHA, Fair Labor Standards Act, EPA; any of those protections. Labor protections, but you’ve got to compete with them. I just don’t think that makes sense and I think the president is right on singling out those what he calls one-sided trade agreements and I think that’s a place where I do agree with him.
Capito: I think the thing I disagree with the president the most on is his tone. I don’t mind the use of Twitter. I guess we’ve all kind of gotten used to that. But seriously, when I read some of them, I go, “Are you kidding me? I mean, are you really saying that?” And it’s discouraging as a policymaker who is serious about wanting to get these things done and working with Angus that it’s such a distraction because we’re not talking about how we’re going to build bridges and get Wi-Fi and all of these great things that we’ve talked about. We’re talking about rocket boy and all of these sorts of terminologies that just distract from the real seriousness of what we’re doing. Now, I love to laugh and you can tell both of us love to laugh and I like a good sense of humor every now and then, but sometimes, it edges beyond a sense of humor in my book and I don’t think that serves him well and I don’t think it serves us well. And I don’t think it serves you all well.
O’Keefe: Do you know of any Republicans, because a lot of your colleagues say this to him— [APPLAUSE] that have raised the issue with him face-to-face and not through a television interview or in public comments?
Capito: I tried to convince him before the election, the first time I ever met him. And I’m going to say one thing about the president that a lot of people probably don’t realize and won’t believe me when I tell you, but he is one of the listeners I’ve ever been to in a meeting. Yes, he really listens to what you say. Now, what he does with it is another story, maybe. But he does listen in meetings very, very intently and he gives everybody a chance to talk. So he was talking about somebody—this was during the campaign. Somebody that he was in a Twitter battle with and I tried to tell him—and this is what they tell us, a campaign consultant would tell you: if somebody’s really nipping at you, unless it’s something you really have to beat down, just ignore it.
King: Ignore it. Don’t make it into a two-day story.
Capito: And I said, “All you’re doing is upping his Twitter feed. So you’re making him more important than he might be or getting more of an audience.” So yes, I tried there. It didn’t work, but I tried there and I’m certain that his staff—it would be interesting to see a book of all of the tweets that were never sent. [LAUGHTER]
O’Keefe: They’re all saved in drafts.
King: Ed, I’ve only met him once, but it’s kind of a fun story. There was a briefing where they took all of the senators to the White House for a briefing on North Korea and I guess I can say this in public; I had to use the restroom and I said to the Secret Service guy, “Where’s the restroom?” And he said, “Over there in that little room.” So I went in and came out; there was the president of the United States. I had never met him before and Mike Pence was there. I shook hands with Mike Pence and I shook hands with the president. His one comment was, “Central Casting. You look just like a senator.” [LAUGHTER] And I went back to my office feeling pretty cool until my communication’s director gave me a column, the title of which was “Central Casting.” Apparently, he says that to everybody. [LAUGHTER]
O’Keefe: The guy was in TV. He knows. Well, it will be interesting to see what we see tomorrow night and we appreciate both of you spending some time talking about it here.
King: Watch us whether we stand or—
O’Keefe: I’m going to now. [LAUGHTER] That is all of the time we have. We thank you for tuning in. We thank the senators for joining us. [APPLAUSE]
Capito: Go, Ed.
King: Thank you.
O’Keefe: If you’d like to view the clips of any of today’s discussion or find out about upcoming programming, please visit Washingtonpostlive.com. A reminder to make The Post your destination of complete coverage of tomorrow’s big speech. We’ll have live special video coverage streaming at Washingtonpost.com and on YouTube and, of course, we’ll be live blogging and fact-checking it online and in print. Thank you, everybody. Good afternoon. We’ll see you soon. [APPLAUSE]