Saturday Politics: Kavanaugh, The Mysterious Op-Ed
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
No, we don't know who anonymous is. We do know Brett Kavanaugh spent hours before the Senate judiciary committee this week saying as little as he could and at length to avoid controversy in confirmation hearings, while at the White House, madness and/or anger as the president and his staff reeled from the publication of two unflattering and alarming looks inside the Trump administration. Our Scott Horsley said...
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SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: They describe a president who's ill-informed, erratic and barely kept in check by members of his own staff.
SIMON: Ah. You know who's not ill-informed? NPR senior editor and correspondent, Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott. Good to be with you.
SIMON: Let's begin with Judge Kavanaugh. A number of Democratic senators suggested he wasn't candid about his views and his record. And several questioned whether they ought to vote for the confirmation of someone who might have to vote unconstitutional, maybe even criminal issues concerning the president who nominated him. But did you hear anything this week that could derail his nomination?
ELVING: Derail his nomination? No, because the Senate has a majority of 51 Republicans, and they appear to be all on board. Now, if that were not the case, there would've been plenty of problems in what Kavanaugh said this week or, more to the point, what he has said and written in the past on issues such as abortion and affirmative action and guns and presidential powers. But none of that seems to be jeopardizing his confirmation, given the simple majority required.
SIMON: Ron, I understand the publisher sent someone with a copy of Bob Woodward's book over to you, and they brought it into NPR headquarters in a velvet pillow. And...
SIMON: ...'Cause it was so important to them that you read it. What are the good parts?
ELVING: We did get a review copy I was allowed to read. And it is a compelling read on the last three years of Donald Trump's life - extraordinary details and recollections gleaned from people who have been in the president's inner circle. Some still are. And it's a harrowing journey inside what Woodward tells us that chief of staff John Kelly himself calls Crazytown (ph).
SIMON: It's the third of these books so far - Michael Wolff's, then Omarosa Manigault Newman's. You see some common themes.
ELVING: Yes. There's an overall sense of disarray and dysfunction. And that's going to be familiar to readers of the earlier books, as will the depiction of the president and his personality, his self-absorption, his volatility, also the battles between the personalities in his family and on his staff. And, you know, it's all told in a much, much more serious manner here by the very serious Bob Woodward with grinding attention to detail. Much of it is hearsay, of course. You could call it high-class gossip, perhaps, but with the credibility that Woodward has built up over 18 books, 45 years of reporting on eight presidents.
SIMON: What about impact? Does it have some discernible effect in politics or public opinion?
ELVING: You know, most people won't read it. But we'll hear things about it in the media. So their impression may depend on which media they pay attention to. For hardcore Trump supporters, it may not make much difference at all. But there is a pattern emerging here of a troubled presidency and a troubled president. And we saw more of that pattern in the anonymous op-ed that ran in The New York Times this week.
SIMON: OK. Who wrote it? What do you make of it?
ELVING: It's supposedly written by a senior administration official. It's a cry for help, perhaps, from inside, talking about thwarting the president. It may be a watershed, or it may be more water under the bridge. It depends on who the author turns out to be. If it isn't a senior admission - administration official, someone of real importance, that could be problematic for The Times. But those people who are denying they wrote it, we should remember that Deep Throat - Mark Felt denied for 30 years that he was Deep Throat. That was the source for Bob Woodward's first book - big book - first big revelation in the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon.
SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.