Politics In The News: The Week Ahead In Washington
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Trump has no plan to replace his chief of staff. At least, that's what presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway tells ABC.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")
KELLYANNE CONWAY: I spoke with the president last night about this very issue, and he wanted me to re-emphasize to everyone, including this morning, that he has full confidence in his current chief of staff, General John Kelly, and that he is not actively searching for replacements.
INSKEEP: Not actively searching - parse the words all you like. The retired general who brought some stability to the White House was caught up this past week in the chaos. Among other things, John Kelly issued a glowing statement defending the character of presidential aide Rob Porter shortly after two ex-wives said he had physically abused them. Jonah Goldberg is senior editor at National Review. He's here in our studios once again. Jonah, good morning.
JONAH GOLDBERG: Good morning. Great to be here.
INSKEEP: What do you think you've learned about John Kelly in recent days?
GOLDBERG: Well, you know, John Kelly came in as one of this troika of generals who were as much a reassurance to skeptics and worriers about this administration as they were competent managers. And I think going back to statements he made last summer, we've seen more and more that John Kelly is much more ideologically simpatico with the Trump administration than a lot of people anticipated or knew. And I think the most generous reading of what's going on here with General Kelly this week, or Chief of Staff Kelly, is that - I think the best reading you can come up with is that the place is a bit - has a bit of a bunker mentality at this point, that they're besieged - they feel besieged at all sides. They feel like there's a lot of false accusations. I think there are also a lot of accurate accusations.
And this guy basically saw someone in his foxhole getting attacked, he took his word for things and he got his back when he probably shouldn't have. And it exposed a bad vetting process there. It exposed that there are a lot of people who don't have security clearance who are - don't have the full security clearance that they need. And when I hear Kellyanne Conway, who I've known for years and years, say that the president has full faith and confidence in John Kelly, it feels like they're queuing up a scene where another drummer in Spinal Tap goes away, right?
GOLDBERG: Because, I mean, whenever you hear the White House saying something like that, that person is in trouble.
INSKEEP: Yeah. The people have been making lists of the number of aides who've been fired or who've gone away, and it's a really, really long list. This raises another question as well. You would - we pay so much attention to White House staff moves and who's up and who's down. In the case of this president, does it really matter? Has the staff improved his performance or changed his performance particularly?
GOLDBERG: Well, you never know what you don't know, right? And who knows what he's been - what instincts he's been talked out of? I mean, there were lots of reports that he wanted to fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller. You know, if those accounts are true, then his staff has actually had a very important influence on him. I think, you know, part of the problem is every White House has palace intrigue. This is nothing new. The problem is is that from the beginning, this administration has seemed to have been written by reality show writers. And so there is just much more of - it's sort of, you know, real presidents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue kind of thing, and it should be on Bravo.
And this chapter is particularly dark with the spousal abuse allegations and whatnot. But it's also interesting to see how many of the sort of people who have been fired from the White House, the sort of refugees from Bannon land, are the ones who seem to have the longest knives out for John Kelly. And it makes criminology - it takes it to a whole new level for watching a White House.
INSKEEP: I guess we should remember that the head writer here is in fact a former reality show star. He knows how to do reality TV, and he's been doing reality TV. But John Kelly's job - any chief of staff's job - is essentially to protect the president from trouble. Is he still able to do that?
GOLDBERG: I think he might be, but he's also - the chief of staff's job is also to not be part of the story. And I think that gets him into some trouble here. And I can see how - you know, it's very difficult not - to not to expect more shakeups to come with these kinds of stories.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about a bit of substance here because the United States Senate, as you know, Jonah, is beginning today to debate an immigration measure. The essential elements that are on the table are a compromise that the president has seemed to sign up for previously. The Democrats seem ready to do. Do you believe that conservative Republicans in the Senate, and were it to pass the Senate and the House, are actually ready to go forward with an immigration deal that would provide legal status for a great many people who were brought to the United States as children and don't have legal status and also has some other elements to it?
GOLDBERG: I definitely think you'll see some dissenters. I think you'll see some sort of Freedom Caucus types, some Ted Cruz types making a lot of noise. But I think it's the president's party now. And if the White House gets onboard for this kind of thing - I mean, the ironic thing here is that on the merits, this is a very good offer for the Democrats, but the Democrats have their own struggles in that they don't want to be seen as cooperating with or being complicit with the Trump administration. But this could be a Nixon to China type thing for Trump.
INSKEEP: I'm remembering in 1996, President Bill Clinton, who looked like he was going to have a tough re-election, signed a welfare reform bill, which was something that he purportedly wanted but that was also seen as a priority of Republicans. And Democrats - Democrats hated it. Many Democrats hated it, I should say.
GOLDBERG: There were a couple resignations from the Clinton administration over it.
INSKEEP: Yeah, but nevertheless, it turned out to be politically good for Bill Clinton. This could be politically good for Donald Trump, which would be a reason for some Democrats to be skeptical, I suppose.
GOLDBERG: I think that's right. I mean, that is a tension I think among Democrats is, do you give this president political wins even if their policy wins for your side?
INSKEEP: Jonah, always a pleasure. Thanks very much.
GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thank you.
INSKEEP: Jonah Goldberg of National Review and the LA Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.