tv Washington Week PBS June 16, 2017 7:30pm-8:01pm PDT
>> a turn for the better. house majority whip steve scalise's doctors say there's a good possibility he will be able to make a full recovery after being shot during baseball practice. i'm robert costa. the high stakes and consequences of a polarized political nation. tonight, on "washington week." ♪[singing] >> bipartisanship came to play at the congressional baseball game, one day after a gunman opened fire on some republican lawmakers. >> we can all agree that we are blessed to be americans and that we are strongest when we are unified. >> louisiana congressman steve scalise remains hospitalized. two other victims, both capitol hill police officers, are being hailed as heros.
>> without those two heros, agent bailey and agent griner, many lives would have been lost. >> while investigators work to determine what led to the crime, renewed calls for solidarity. >> it's an attack. we all stand united, democrat, republican. >> we can't let our policy differences tear this country apart with polarization. it's up to us to really say enough is enough. >> plus, a bombshell development in the russia probe, as president trump confirms that he is now under investigation for possibility obstruction of justice. we'll get the latest on these stories and more, from jeff zeleny of cnn, alexis simendinger of real clear politics, geoff bennett of npr, erica werner of the associated press. and adam entous of the washington post.
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the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you! once again, live from washington, moderator, robert costa. >> good evening. washington is known for its bruising partisan bickering. but things shifted this week, in the wake of a shooting that turned an all-american ballpark into a battlefield. house majority whip steve scalise remains hospitalized after multiple surgeries. but his trauma doctors said late today that they are hopeful the 51-year-old louisiana lawmaker will make an excellent recovery. scalise was one of five victims injured when a lone gunman ambushed an early morning practice. scalise is the 17th member of congress shot while in office. let me say that again. 17th. the most recent, of course, was in 2011. democratic representative gabby
giffords of arizona, who was critically wounded when a 22-year-old man opened fire at a constituent event. he killed six people and wounded 12 others. jeff, erica -- geoff, you were on the scene. erica, you were covering capitol hill. we saw the fallout. i wonder, was it a turning point? >> i think it was certainly an inflection point for this congress, as members think about the way they talk to and about each other. but even, i think, if there's a sense of civility on the surface, when it comes to the substance of the policies that they're talking about, i don't know. i think people are really entrenched on both poles when it comes to things like health care, taxes, infrastructure. we haven't even had that debate yet. those are really ingrained. people have really ingrained, deeply felt feelings about those things. i think it remains to be scene really how this manifests itself. >> i agree. there has definitely been a lot of soul-searching on capitol hill in the past several days,
in the wake of this shooting. and i do believe it's very sincere on the part of lawmakers. i mean, you know, for all of the partisanship that we see in washington, a lot of people who participate in that and are guilty of it don't actually enjoy that it's gotten to this point, where partisanship has so overwhelmed congress that the legislating that's supposed to happen day to day on the basic issues really doesn't take place. there's no hope of a big bipartisan deal on anything. it's just grinding it out, day after day, partisan warfare. that's not enjoyable for a lot of members of congress. that said, you know, we've been here before with the giffords shooting, where there's a lot of pledges of this is going to be the turning point. let's unify. we all want to unify. that falls away very quickly. i don't know that that's going to be any different in this case. >> perhaps some of the burden extends to pennsylvania avenue in terms of how this national
moment continues. and geoff and alexis, when we think about presidents, we think about how they meet these kind of moments. national tragedies, tough moments that are political curveballs. what did president trump's response reveal? >> well, i think it was the first time really, almost six months into his presidency, where he has had to play this role. thank god, i mean, there haven't been school shootings and other things. but every president has to do that. but watching him walk into the diplomatic reception room and making that statement, it was definitely a different moment for him. he could have gone a variety of ways in his speech. but he went the way a leader goes. and he says, you know, we have our differences but we do well in times like this to remember that everyone is serving because they love our country. so i think it was a moment for him. now, again, that dissipated pretty quickly, because these things don't happen in a vacuum. there's so much else going on. at the same time, he is sending out a fundraising appeal, sort
of accusing democrats and all of his detrackers a variety of things. his language and own words are very harsh and sharp. i've been wondering whether he was going to use this as a moment to give a bigger speech. the white house said no. the way he'll bring people together is through his agenda. i'm not sure this moment is, you know, anything more than fleeting. i hope it is, but i think we've seen too many of these to think that it might be. >> one other things, having covered previous presidents, we have seen in the history of this is exactly what geoff is saying. we saw bill clinton remake his presidency after oklahoma city. we saw barack obama do this as well. it was interesting to see so quickly that the president could rise to the occasion, as geoff was suggesting. it was good staffing, good writing, it was hitting the right notes. but it didn't hold because very quickly after that, this is a president who is known for his very personal attacks that can
be quite partisan and within hours, he was back on twitter doing the same thing, talking about his enemies being democrats, you know, in addition to republicans, in the investigation. so it went by the by. >> geoff, is there going to be any legislative response in terms of gun control policy or something else emerging on capitol hill? >> not gun control policy. but members of the house in particular are giving more thought about using their own budgets. the budget they used to fund their offices, to pay for their own security. one of the reasons why the episode on wednesday wasn't as bad as it could have been was because steve scalise was there. as a member of house leadership, he had a security detail. most members of the house and senate for that matter don't have that. so there is more thought. members are thinking a lot more about their own personal security as they go about their daily lives. >> when i was down in georgia this week, i was struck by how many people just want to have a civil discussion about these kind of national moments. it's so rare to find a place where you can come together and
have a conversation about what this country is all about. you're right, jeff. the scene in washington may have taken a pause. but there are a lot of different divisions, erica, still in policy and in congress. in particular in health care, where the house legislation remains stalled. but it's being done much in secret, the republican talks. and what's the holdup as senate majority leader mitch mcconnell tries to seek consensus? >> there's any number of holdups. there are individual senators from susan collins to paul. there are policy issues on medicaid, planned parenthood, on abortion, on taxes, tax credits. the list goes on. and yet mitch mcconnell's goal apparently still is to have a bill on the floor before the 4th of july recess. as has been pointed out by democrats repeatedly and even by some republicans, this is all going on very much in secret, behind closed doors. that's said, that's how all the
big deals happen on capitol hill, so it's not like this is an unheard of breach of, you know, legislative protocol of some sort. this is how it gets done. but i don't know that they will be able to get there. there are still a lot of disagreements and it might be just a bridge too far. >> the problem with the health care bill is that it has no core constituency. democrats hate it. republicans, as you say, are split. but even groups like the aarp are against it, at least the house version, because of the tax it puts on older american. >> not only those groups, but what about the white house? the president called the bill mean in a private discussion with senators. >> so usual. this president has really not talked much about health care at all since the house passed the bill, and he had that big sort of session in the rose garden. he invited some republican senators, i think 15, the day before the shooting actually, to the white house. and in a private session, he referred to the house bill as mean, mean. mean-spirited. he said the senate bill should be more generous. that raises a whole host of
questions, as erica was talking about. what does more generous mean? more generous tax credits? it mainly means -- there is a consensus in the senate that they need to do more for senior citizens and lower-income residents. you never know if the president has a full grasp of the policy, but he does have a grasp of public opinion and sentiment. but i was in milwaukee with him. and he had four victims of obamacare standing with him as he walked off air force one. and he said, hopefully we can get this done. but he did not mention a timeline for this. that's a lesson, i think, he learned from the house bill. >> the president was in the rose garden talking about the health bill and celebrating it. but he also, during that event, said and we can make it better. so he was celebrating a house bill he knew was going to change in the senate. and the theory of the case in the white house always was that the senate was going to do something quite dramatically different than the white house had accomplished with the freedom caucus to get the house
bill. but the president is not steeped in all the details of the health care. what he really -- what really made an impression on him was that the house version got really negative publicity and he was very aware of it. >> especially for the medicaid, the rollback of the medicaid expansion. will majority leader mcconnell roll back some of the house proposals on the medicaid expansion? because senator portman and others are talking about issues that matter to them. it's that issue. >> he's gonna have to if he's gonna get votes -- i mean, senator portman is not one who is going to leave mitch mcconnell in the lurch. but other senators, senator collins, murr could you sci, you have to have a more generous bill to get these senators. but the idea that the president is calling this bill mean, that did not sit well with a lot of house members who walked the plank on it. >> but they still all have to work together. the shooting overshadowed some major developments in the russia investigation. president trump confirmed via tweet that the federal special
counsel is looking at him for possible obstruction of justice. the president tweeted, i am being investigated for firing the f.b.i. director, by the man who told me to fire the f.b.i. director. witch hunt. adam entous, one of the washington post reporters who broke the story, joins us. adam, great to have you. former f.b.i. director james comey, adam, testified earlier this month that mr. trump was not personally under investigation. what has changed? >> really what changed was the encounters that comey had with the president, following that notification. so he tells him this for the first time in january, when he's still a president-elect. and then basically there are other encounters that comey has with the president that basically are going to be at the center of this investigation into possible obstruction. and comey, of course, being a prosecutor, investigator, you know, he has a very good memory. he took notes of all these encounters. and those notes have now been
shared with the special counsel, and the special counsel will start interviewing other officials. he was supposed to start this week with some senior intelligence officials. and basically, he will do these interviews, you know, evaluate these documents that he's collected from comey and others, and decide whether or not he has a case for obstruction. >> adam, it's not just the special counsel who is busy. the department of justice seems to be fighting back against some of these stories. deputy attorney general rod rosenstein released an unusual message about the russia investigation. he warned americans to exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous officials. what do you make of this, adam? >> it was a really bizarre statement, frankly. and sources have told us, you know, that there was quite a bit of, you know, consternation within the justice department over the decision to issue this memo. which apparently rod does without coming under any pressure from the white house. he decides on his own to do it.
so is that designed to show solidarity with the president at a moment when obviously the president is looking at the f.b.i. and the justice department as a threat? is he -- was that the goal of issuing that statement? it was very strangely worded, particularly the first sentence, because he refers to stories in particular that don't say the origin of the officials, whether they're u.s. officials or foreign officials. we don't have any idea what he's referring to with that. the sources that we're dealing with are american officials. we're not getting information from foreign officials so educate our stories, inform our stories about the f.b.i.'s investigation. so we're really not clear what the intention was there with that statement. clearly, he's -- you know, rod is in an incredibly difficult position right now. maybe he is kind of doing -- making these -- some people would call them mistakes, under
that pressure, because he's feeling the pressure. >> seems to be scoop after scoop, then anger and more anger from the administration. and that's reflected in a lot of the response around the president, in the west wing. stay with us, adam, because the week began with a close friend of president trump, chris ruddy, the c.e.o. of news maximum, telling judy woodruff that the president was considering perhaps terminating special counsel robert costa. the white house -- robert mueller. but they didn't rule out firing him. among republicans, there was overwhelming support from mueller when he was named, which for the most part continues today. jeff, is the president considering firing bob mueller? >> i think he would like to, in a perfect world. he's certainly being advised to. roger stone told a colleague of mine that he should fire mueller and fire rosenstein as well. he said it's a witch hunt. that sounds familiar, doesn't it? you know the president is having a lot of these same conversations. but look, it's very difficult to
do. and the white house said, just a couple days ago, that he has no plans of doing so. he knows, i think, just the reaction to the firing of the f.b.i. director -- i mean, that was a firestorm. this would be a full-on inferno if he were to do that. republicans would follow through on capitol hill. this has been a trial of epic proportions and it didn't go very well. it crashed. i do not believe he'll be able to fire him. sure, he wants to, but he's not king. he's president. >> what's your insight into the advice given to this furious president? >> it's interesting, because they have a relationship together as client and attorney. in the past, previous business experiences, the lesson they have together is always counterpunch, fight back, defend yourself. but in this particular case, the attorney, while he might not be a constitutional lawyer or known in washington, i think there's lots of evidence that the combination of legal advice that the president is getting is to
be very careful about what it is that he may act on. the president, although he is getting advice to stay off twitter and not inject himself into this, he's ignored that, definitely ignoring that. there was also a theory that the president might be trying to pressure mueller by basically saying i could fire you, to dangle in front of him a threat that would supposedly have a chilling effect on him. burr we're also -- but we're also seeing that there's no evidence that the special counsel is even responding to any of this, that he's going ahead. he's hiring. he's building his team and moving ahead. >> then the administration, erica, is battling back on capitol hill. attorney general jeff sessions was in the hot seat on tuesday. he testified in front of the senate judiciary committee and defended his role and his actions at the justice department. erica, you gotta wonder, is sessions, who has an uneasy relationship at times with the president, is he reflective of
where the administration is, and what's the mood on capitol hill as the administration fights back? >> well, as for sessions, he did seem to be trying to give testimony that, if the president were watching, as perhaps is like lilikely that he was, thate president would like to hear. he was quite combative, defensive of himself, of the administration. he would not reveal anything about conversations that he'd had with president trump, which did not go over well with senators of either party really. particularly because he didn't seem to have much of a rational for why he was not able to disclose those conversations. he said that trump had not claimed executive privilege but perhaps at some later date, he would. which -- okay. as for the broader situation on capitol hill regarding the special counsel, paul ryan, mitch mcconnell are backing mueller.
they were both asked in this past week, and firmly behind mueller. so were it to come to pass that the president would listen to these other people, roger stone or someone else, and go down that road, one can only imagine what would happen on capitol hill. i can't believe it would go over very well. >> and the head of the senate intelligence committee said the same thing. he said mueller is a man of integrity. setting aside the merits of what the president has tweeted, i think it's effective messaging to his core of supporters. and that's because, if you go to trump country, the western part of north carolina, certain parts of ohio, florida, people say the exact same thing he's saying in those tweets, that he is the subject of a witch hunt, that the washington establishment doesn't want to work with him because he's an outsider. you take it to another level and you have folks like newt gingrich who said mueller is the tip of the deep state. so even though you have people say they don't necessarily like that the president tweets so
much p in talking to people across the country, they say a lot of the things he is saying about himself. if they're looking for him to fight, what they perceive to be the establishment, i think he's doing that in some of his message. >> the flip side is that the president has promised those supporters and that base a lot in terms of an agenda. the president in every tweet now, where he is distracted and talking about this investigation, he is taking his party's eyes off of the agenda that was -- it was already a very substantially ambitious agenda. and it has made republicans on capitol hill extremely nervous. and the president's allies in the cabinet and administration, also very nervous, because they don't want to go into 2018 without delivering on some of these agenda items. >> he says it's a political fight, though. i talked to one of his top advisors. he said, look, the legal stuff will come later. but you're right. he can blame a lot of it on democrats. he says they even call themselves resist.
that could be effective, actually, because there is some level of that. the reality is republicans control the government for the first time in 10 years. the burden is on them. >> what about the policy fight among republicans? they passed a sanctions bill this week that really goes against the administration's softer line, erica, on russia. >> that was very interesting. going back quickly to what jeff just said, you know, the president is not running in 2018. republicans are, and they have to have something to run on. and he's not really helping with that. but the sanctions bill was fascinating, because you could only see it as a rebuke of trump in that it gives congress the authority to review any change, any weakening or change of sanctions on russia. of course, there was a lot of concern coming into the administration that trump would try to weaken sanctions on russia. and now congress has said you can't do that without our say-so. >> jeff, everybody in the white house seems to be getting a lawyer. the vice president got outside
counsel. you have the president's personal lawyer now getting an attorney. there seems to be real unease in the west wing. >> there does. and those lawyers, by the way, don't come cheap. you have to imagine for president trump, one who values loyalty, by the actions, some of his tweets, the way he's handled this investigation, you have to wonder the people that work for him, having to deal with the blowback from that. >> adam, glad you're still with us. we also learned not only did the vice president hire outside counsel, but the outside counsel is continuing to review jared kushner, the president's son-in-law, and his senior advisor, and his dealings with russia. what have we learned about any kind of progress that investigation has made on the kushner front? >> a few weeks back, we reported that the f.b.i. was investigating kushner in connection to meetings he had with russian officials, particularly in december of 2016. what we reported this week, to update that information, is that
investigation, in addition to looking to those contacts, is looking at potentially his financial dealings. so this obviously opens up a new avenue for investigators, which could be potentially very troubling for trump and for his family obviously. we're talking about his closest advisor really at the white house, somebody who is playing a key role in particularly dealing with foreign governments in these meetings that they had, in the run-up to the election, after the election and in the early part of the administration. >> when are we gonna hear from jared kushner, adam? >> you know, frankly, i don't know. there was talk he would be speaking to investigators on the hill from the senate intelligence committee. they talked about doing that this month. i've heard that's now been put off. there's an issue of decon fliks, they call it -- deconfliction.
he wants to make sure that anything he says to the senate investigators, which could be shared with the f.b.i., with the special counsel, that he's not putting himself in jeopardy. that prompted mike flynn to seek effectively immunity, that what he says to one isn't going to be used against him in the other. >> thanks so much, adam. tough week in washington. a lot of questions continue. thanks, everybody, for being here. and welcome to "washington week," geoff. our conversation will continue online on the "washington week" extra, where we'll talk about the trump administration's new cuba policy and the surprise decision to reverse a campaign pledge to deport dreamers, undocumented immigrants who arrived in the u.s. as children. you can find that at pbs.org/newshour. to all the dads out there, happy father's day! i'm robert costa. have a great weekend!
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