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Sunday Politics: Obama Campaigns, The Op-Ed


The unofficial end of summer has come and gone, but it was still plenty hot in Washington this past week. There's the anonymous op-ed that's burning up the Beltway and President Trump. Brett Kavanaugh got grilled in his Senate confirmation hearings. And in Chicago, President Obama brought the heat with a fiery speech calling out Trump by name. Joining me now to talk about it all is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Let's start with this anonymous op-ed that is still getting so much attention. President Trump has called on the Justice Department to help find the writer.

LIASSON: That's right. Once again, President Trump seems to confuse rule of law with rule of man when he's asking the Department of Justice to find this writer. There actually is no law against criticizing your boss anonymously in the newspaper. But the other effect of Trump talking about this so much is to take attention away from that good economic news that we heard last week, with wage growth finally ticking up. President Trump seemed to step over - all over that story by keeping the hunt for Deep State Throat alive. On the other hand, he might understand that economic issues like tax cuts don't really work with his base. It's better to focus on culture war issues like attacks on the press, attacks on the deep state, attacks on immigrants or kneeling athletes. Those things, he thinks, will work better with his base in this election.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what are we seeing? Is President Trump's sort of relentless focus on his base working?

LIASSON: Right now the polls, at least for now, show the outlook for the House elections bad for Republicans, good for Democrats. They could change. In the Senate, where Republicans should be on the verge of picking up seats, polls showed, at least for now, Democratic Senate incumbents in red states are holding their own, even in places like Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, Florida - all states Trump won, some by double digits. These should be prime pickup opportunities for Republicans. But polls show, at least for this week, they are dead heats.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. And coming into the fray is President Obama, who is out campaigning for Democrats. How is this playing? How could this affect the midterms?

LIASSON: Democrats certainly hope that President Obama's star power will engage Democrats, energize them, get them to turnout in a midterm year. On the other hand, Republicans hope that having Obama out on the trail will backfire and motivate Republicans. President Trump certainly hopes that. He said that - he talked about Obama's return to politics. He said, well, if that doesn't get you out to vote for the midterms, nothing will.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's talk about Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court. His confirmation hearing started on such a chaotic note, but he, I think, managed to sidestep some of the tough questions from Democrats. And next, there's the committee vote and then the vote before the full Senate. How do you think that's going to play out?

LIASSON: I think that Brett Kavanaugh is still on track to be confirmed. Nothing that happened in the hearing seemed to have shaken any Republican votes loose - in other words, gotten any Republicans to vote against him. And don't forget it's not easy to sort through the truly consequential from the merely outrageous in the Trump era. But something really consequential happened on Capitol Hill this week. And that is that Donald Trump is cementing his legacy, regardless of what happens with the hunt for the mole or the op-ed writer. He is solidifying a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, as he also is in the lower courts, that will have an impact on American life for at least a generation. And that is much more important, longer-lasting than figuring out who wrote that op-ed piece in The New York Times.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed. That's NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Thank you so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.