Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Party Strategists On The Week In Politics


Republicans and Democrats hammered out a budget deal together last week, but you won't be surprised to hear it's not all sunshine and rainbows in Washington. President Trump has blocked the release of a Democratic memo rebutting claims made in a Republican one from the House intelligence committee. And two senior White House staffers have had to resign amid allegations that they physically abused their partners. Plus, the fight over immigration is looming on the horizon. Joining us now is Celinda Lake. She's a pollster and political strategist for the Democrats. Welcome to the program.

CELINDA LAKE: Thank you so much for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Alex Vogel is an adviser for several Republicans in Congress, including former chief counsel to the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Thank you for being here.

ALEX VOGEL: Thanks. Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, Alex. I'm going to start with you and the Democratic memo. President Trump is blocking its release. We've heard Republicans elsewhere on the show say this is a bad look for the president. It looks nakedly partisan.

VOGEL: You know it's tough, given the dynamic of the memo last week and the back and forth, especially in light of the budget deal and a number of other things that should've allowed a little window for this White House to get some traction. It's tough when, for most people, they will not understand any distinction between one memo and the other. And I think you're going to have some pushback from institutionalists at the FBI, arguing pretty strenuously to release this, as well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And so why hasn't he?

VOGEL: Because (laughter) I think from his perspective, the relatively tightly crafted Republican memo serves that - their narrative pretty well. And look. The Democrats have a partisan reason for coming out with a more open-ended document. In many ways, their best case was exactly how this has played out, where, no matter what comes out in the ultimate Democratic memo, the president will have been seen as trying to shape that from a partisan perspective.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Celinda, Democrats say the Nunes memo was intended to discredit Mueller and his investigation, give cover to the president. What's your view.

LAKE: I completely agree with that. And let's remember that the FBI right now is significantly more popular than the president and also believed to be significantly more honest and more transparent than the president. And so I think that this is a long-term institution that hasn't been partisan in its perspective. You know, Democrats have had some critiques of what the FBI was doing, like, in the fall of 2016.

But this is a point where our national democracy is at stake. And you're playing partisan politics with memos and destroying a fundamental institution that is investigating what many Democrats think is a very, very important issue, which is the running of our elections, the foundation of our democracy. So we should not be playing partisan politics with this. And both memos should be released. And the president should not be attacking the FBI for his own purposes.

VOGEL: One of the ways that I think this is interesting is the Republicans have a great opportunity from an oversight perspective. If they want to get at these issues, I think Speaker Ryan did a good job framing this as, no, no, this is not a partisan exercise. This is pure, unadulterated oversight. It's what we're supposed to be doing. They have the opportunity for now to have the House, to have those gavels, to do oversight. Why not use that as the opportunity, instead of the back and forth about the memos, which, again, I don't think will play terribly well?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. But the president has inserted himself into this now.

LAKE: Well - and this is such a common - this is really the definition of this period - right? - that the president is inserting himself and creating all this noise around things that would be much, much better message for him. He stepped on the tax bill. There is a budget deal. And yet what are we talking about? Memos and staffers who beat up their wives.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I'd like to talk about the budget. And I bring it to you, Celinda. It seems the Democrats decided they lost the last budget fight when the government shut down over immigration. This time, they cut a deal, and the immigration issue is still in limbo. Is immigration being sidelined because it's seen by some Democrats as not a winning issue now?

LAKE: No, not at all. I think the Democrats are very committed to immigration. And I think that - but the point is that Democrats are also very committed to getting things done for the American people. And I think in this case, both the Democrats and the Republicans realized that another shutdown would have been a disaster for them. And the public would not forgive that. We - the republic - the public believes that any three people in America can get more done than Congress does. I think we also realize that there are a lot of things we can agree on. And it may not be what either side wants, but let's move this forward, and then we can fight on the specifics.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Alex, Republicans supposedly want a deal on DACA. The president has said he wants a deal on DACA. But the clock is ticking, and the party is divided on this issue, particularly in the House. Is there any political impact if they don't get a deal done - for Republicans?

VOGEL: Well, it's interesting. And you mentioned the budget and kind of the winners and losers out of that. One of the people I think who doesn't win because of the DACA overlay on this is actually Pelosi. While Schumer and McConnell can make a compelling argument that, for the first time in a long time, there's a long-term budget deal Pelosi came out, had the DACA buster and still has on her left a bunch of people saying, you didn't get anything done. You now have no leverage. We don't have the shutdown. In many ways...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sure. But is that a problem for the Republicans if this doesn't get done? Because they're saying they want a deal.

VOGEL: They can continue to say they want a deal. And as long as that doesn't materialize, they, I think, will be able to hold their argument pretty well. And all the pressure is actually on the other side.

LAKE: I think there is a problem for the Republicans. And, honestly, it's a problem that will haunt them, I think, for the next generation, 20 to 30 years of politics. And that is they are permanently realigning and aligning the Latino population and many other voters, as well, in favor of the Democrats. So there's a big long-term political problem here if there isn't some kind of compromise reached.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Very briefly - we don't have a lot of time. I want to talk about the recent scandals engulfing the White House - two staffers resigning over spousal abuse, the president tweeting in support of them. Just briefly - however, we're seeing the president's numbers up. We're seeing the Republican numbers up. What's the impact of this? Celinda - briefly.

LAKE: I think the long-term impact is going to be we have right now the biggest gender gap in history, the biggest difference between men and women voting. I think the president seems completely out of touch. I also think it just demonstrates chaos and incompetence. How did these people even get into these positions with this background?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. I'm going to give the last word to you. I mean, chaos and incompetence. But the numbers are up.

VOGEL: The numbers are up because people like the tax bill. They like what's happening with the economy. I think as long as the White House can stay on that message and avoid both self-inflicted wounds and also try and shift the narrative, we should not be talking about internal partisan personnel matters when people are focusing on their paychecks.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. That was Celinda Lake, Democratic pollster and political strategist, and Republican adviser Alex Vogel. Thanks to you both for coming onto the program.

LAKE: Thank you.

VOGEL: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.