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Clinton Reaches Milestone While Sanders Continues The Fight

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Last night, Hillary Clinton became the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and the first woman to lead a major party into a general election.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

HILLARY CLINTON: Tonight's victory is not about one person. It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

That victory came after securing decisive wins on the last big night of voting in the primary season.

GREENE: And to talk about this moment and to talk about where we go from here, we're joined in our Washington, D.C., studios by Democratic analyst Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown's Institute of Politics and Public Service. Hey, Mo.

MO ELLEITHEE: Hey.

GREENE: And also with you there in the studio is Republican strategist John Feehery. Hello to you.

JOHN FEEHERY: Good morning.

GREENE: So let's start. I know we've done this before with you guys. But just in a sentence or so, capture this moment in this election year. John Feehery, let me start with you.

FEEHERY: The big question of this election is - who offers the most change - Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? And does Trump offer too much change?

MONTAGNE: And Mo Elleithee there - one sentence?

ELLEITHEE: It is worth pausing to reflect that last night, we bent the arc of history.

MONTAGNE: All right. OK. One sentence - good for both of you. We'll be back to both of you in a moment. But first here's NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, on last night's events.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Almost exactly eight years to the day after Hillary Clinton claimed that she'd put 18 million cracks in the ultimate glass ceiling, she finally busted right through.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

CLINTON: Thanks to you, we've reached a milestone.

(CHEERING)

CLINTON: The first time in our nation's history that a woman will be a major party's nominee.

(CHEERING)

LIASSON: There's still one more primary in the District of Columbia next week. But Clinton is already running a general election campaign. Her first job - to unite the Democratic Party after a longer and tougher than expected primary battle. Last night, she congratulated Bernie Sanders and praised him for running an extraordinary campaign that excited millions of voters, especially young people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

CLINTON: And let there be no mistake. Senator Sanders, his campaign and the vigorous debate that we've had about how to raise incomes, reduce inequality, increase upward mobility have been very good for the Democratic Party and for America.

(APPLAUSE)

LIASSON: In the next breath, she was attacking Donald Trump, repeating her charge that he is temperamentally unfit to be president and that his vision is about the past, not the future.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

CLINTON: When he says, let's make America great again, that is code for, let's take America backwards.

(CHEERING)

CLINTON: Back to a time when opportunity and dignity were reserved for some, not all - promising his supporters an economy he cannot re-create.

LIASSON: Donald Trump's victory speech represented his long delayed but much promised pivot to being more presidential. It occurred after he had horrified the leaders of his own party with his racially charged remarks about the judge trying the Trump University case.

Earlier in the day, House Speaker Paul Ryan had called Trump's comments the textbook definition of racism. Last night, Trump was relatively restrained, and he was scripted. He read from a teleprompter, a practice he'd previously mocked with contempt.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

DONALD TRUMP: You've given me the honor to lead the Republican Party to victory this fall.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: We're going to do it. We're going to do it, folks. We're going to do it. I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle. And I will never, ever let you down - too much work, too many people, blood, sweat and tears. Never going to let you down.

(APPLAUSE)

LIASSON: It sounded as though Trump had finally gotten the message from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who, earlier in the day, had begged him to stop attacking his enemies and minorities and get back on message. Last night, Trump did, blasting the establishment and Hillary Clinton, who he said had turned the State Department into her private hedge fund.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

TRUMP: The Clintons have turned the politics of personal enrichment into an art form for themselves.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: They've made hundreds of millions of dollars selling access, selling favors, selling government contracts. And I mean hundreds of millions of dollars.

LIASSON: Trump said he would give a major speech next week discussing, quote, "all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons over the years." Last night, he never mentioned immigration or the wall. But he did explain his slogan - America first.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

TRUMP: It means on foreign policy, we will never enter into any conflict unless it makes us safer as a nation. It has to make us safer as a nation.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: This is the opposite of Hillary's foreign policy, which invaded Libya, destabilized Iraq, unleashed ISIS, and threw Syria into chaos and created the mass migration which is wreaking havoc all over the world.

LIASSON: At this point, Trump couldn't resist an unscripted aside.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

TRUMP: Better hope I'm president.

(LAUGHTER)

LIASSON: Last night gave voters a good look at the contrast between the two candidates, who are beginning what will be a brutal five-month campaign. But there are still two candidates in the Democratic race. And last night, Bernie Sanders said he would take his fight all the way to the convention in Philadelphia.

And the White House announced that at Senator Sanders's request, he and President Obama will meet on Thursday at the White House.

GREENE: All right. That was NPR National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson. And let's bring back our guests now, who are in our studio in Washington, D.C. Mo Elleithee from Georgetown University is a Democratic strategist who worked for Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2008. And with him there in the studio is Republican strategist John Feehery.

MONTAGNE: And Mo Elleithee, let's start with you. Hillary Clinton - first woman to win the nomination of a major party. How important is that distinction going into this general election?

ELLEITHEE: Look, I think it's an important moment for the nation. As I said earlier, we did bend the arc of history last night. Love her or hate her, I think everyone needs to pause and reflect on that. It's a big moment for the country. Politically speaking, I think there are a lot of women out there who are excited about this.

And when you compare just the fact that she is one of the most accomplished candidates in recent history, the first woman nominee in American history, and juxtapose that with some of the things Donald Trump has been saying about women throughout this campaign and throughout his life, a pretty stark contrast is painted that I think could impact the way women approach this election in the fall.

GREENE: Mo, Democrats supporting Hillary Clinton have been saying that they respect what Bernie Sanders has done - I mean, brought vitality to this campaign, brought energy, brought a message...

ELLEITHEE: Yeah.

GREENE: ...Started a movement. Has he potentially damaged her, though, as she goes into this fight against Donald Trump?

ELLEITHEE: I don't think so - not yet. The next few weeks, though, are going to be critical. You know, I was with Hillary Clinton in 2008. We went until the very last votes were cast. Remember, the last votes haven't been cast yet. D.C. still votes next Tuesday.

GREENE: Yeah, it was like role reversal from 2008.

ELLEITHEE: Yeah. No, that's exactly right. And so we waited until the very last votes were cast before then beginning the process of coming together. Bernie, I think, has earned the right to do that - has earned the right to give his voters a chance to vote for him. But he's going to have to step up very quickly to do his part to bring the party together.

MONTAGNE: And John Feehery, let's bring you in here. You are backing Donald Trump. We just heard a much more disciplined Donald Trump in his speech in Westchester, N.Y., reading from a teleprompter. I mean, what's going on here? Is this it now - this new, more presidential Trump?

FEEHERY: Well, let's hope so. I mean, there's a fine line between clever and stupid.

GREENE: (Laughter).

FEEHERY: And (laughter) Donald Trump has kind of veered off into the stupid land here in the last couple of weeks since it became clear that he's going to be the nominee.

MONTAGNE: And this from a backer. Let me say it again. You're backing him.

FEEHERY: I'm backing the Republican nominee, whoever it is.

MONTAGNE: Oh, OK.

FEEHERY: And it's going to be Trump. But Trump has not really distinguished himself in the last couple weeks. And, you know, I think a lot people are wondering, including Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, you know, can this guy handle not just the job of president but also the campaign? 'Cause the last thing we need is a complete meltdown at the top of the ticket.

GREENE: John, he - I mean, while Trump seemed to back down a little bit from what some in his party are even calling racism, I mean, he did last night seem to also double down on the issue of immigration. Let's listen to a little of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

TRUMP: I've embraced the victims of illegal immigration, moms and dads who have had to bury their own children because of people that shouldn't have been in the country.

GREENE: Not exactly an olive branch to immigrant communities there.

FEEHERY: Not exactly. I've been a proponent of immigration reform because I think it's important. I think it's important for the security of the country. And I think that Trump has got to understand that this is something that - we have to expand the base of the party.

You can't just kind of hope that, you know, old white guys are going to win it for you, because you got to expand that base if - it's just basic math.

MONTAGNE: Well, Mo, just in a few seconds here, let's just give you - how is Hillary Clinton going to handle Donald Trump?

ELLEITHEE: Look, I think this election is about a simple question. Who's got my back? Who's going to level the playing field to give everyday Americans a level playing field to step out onto? More that she can focus on that contrast - that she's in it to level the playing field. He's in it for himself. Everything - he'll take care of the rest.

MONTAGNE: All right. Well, thank you both for joining us. That's Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown's Institute of Politics and Public Service, and Republican strategist John Feehery. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.