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Week In Politics: Manafort, The Anti-Hate Resolution And Emergency Declaration Voting

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This week we saw the sentencing of Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman. He got almost four years in prison. It's the first case brought to trial by the office of special counsel Robert Mueller among more than 30 people charged in connection with that probe. Standing on the White House lawn earlier today, President Trump said he felt badly for Manafort, but he felt good about what the judge in the case said.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The judge, I mean, for whatever reason - I was very honored by it - also made the statement that this had nothing to do with collusion with Russia. So, you know, keep it going. Let's go.

SHAPIRO: Over on Capitol Hill, House Democrats were back on message, passing a campaign finance and ethics bill today. That's after a week consumed by debate over remarks by Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar which were widely seen as anti-Semitic. Fellow Democrat Karen Bass says she hopes that debate won't be in vain.

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KAREN BASS: We took the opportunity to make this a learning experience. And I think it was a learning experience for Representative Omar. And I think it was a learning experience for many members in the caucus.

SHAPIRO: Also this week, the administration released new figures about the number of migrants caught illegally crossing the southern border. There was a surge last month, the highest total in nearly a decade.

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KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: This is not a manufactured crisis. This is truly an emergency.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

That was Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testifying to Congress Wednesday. Well, we're going to talk about all these developments with our week in politics guests - Gayle Trotter of the Right In D.C. blog. Welcome to the studio.

GAYLE TROTTER: Great to be with you.

CORNISH: And Jason Johnson, politics editor at The Root. Welcome to the show.

JASON JOHNSON: Glad to be here.

CORNISH: So let's start with the reaction to Paul Manafort's sentencing. Judge T.S. Ellis noted Manafort was not appearing before him for any crimes related to collusion with Russia - true. President Trump says that's proof of a collusion hoax. That's not what the judge said. But still, Gayle, as a political matter, is it a good thing for the White House?

TROTTER: Oh, absolutely. The president repeated what the judge had said. The judge acknowledged that Manafort was guilty of breaking laws. He deserved punishment. But he also, through the course of the trial and through the sentencing, has indicated that this prosecution has been somewhat politically motivated. And the type of intimidation that was used against Paul Manafort was obviously part of a strategy to try and intimidate him to testify against the president or turn evidence against the president.

CORNISH: Jason.

JOHNSON: Look. I - it's a travesty. And Manafort, what particularly offended me and bothered me as an American citizen and someone who is concerned about democracy and human rights, is that the judge could actually wrap his lips around the words that Manafort was essentially blameless in most parts of his life up until this particular point. This is a man who was known as the torture lobbyist. This is a man who lied to the federal government, lied to the FBI, lied to Congress and, you know, cheated on his taxes. To say that he was blameless, to give him a sentence that is less than your average person walking around D.C. would get for stealing a car was a travesty of justice.

CORNISH: I want to turn now to the resolution in the House yesterday. This is what Democrats had to wrestle with this week. It condemns a lot of things - anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, other forms of bigotry. But it started because of the comments by Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, comments like this one she made at a Washington, D.C., coffee shop last week.

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ILHAN OMAR: I was talking about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.

CORNISH: The country she was referring to was Israel. People talked a lot and condemned these comments. Jason, I want to talk to you about what's going on in this party, specifically about what kind of criticism is politically acceptable about the U.S. relationship with Israel. Are people showing themselves to be capable of doing it without being anti-Semitic?

JOHNSON: Well, here's the thing. Part of the issue that we have here is that there is not a universally understood definition of whether this - to be anti-Semitic, just like we don't have a definition as to what racism is. So people can call someone anti-Semitic, they can call someone racist without really giving a coherent definition. What the congresswoman actually did - and perhaps inelegantly - is she has criticized the relationship between the United States and Israel. Some people think that that automatically makes you anti-Semitic. Some people see those things as being legitimate public discourse. I think, problematically, the Democratic Party needs to recognize that you have different perspectives on these issues that have to be respected, and you have to respect someone's freedom of speech.

CORNISH: Gayle, I want to turn to you. You had something like 23 Republicans actually vote against a resolution that was so broad it seems like, how could you not? What's your take on this?

TROTTER: They couldn't vote for it, those 23 Republicans, because in the words of Congresswoman Liz Cheney, this was a sham House resolution vote. It did not address the issue that was front and center - these anti-Semitic comments. And this has a long history talking about dual loyalties between America and Israel.

CORNISH: The dual loyalty thing was actually specifically addressed in one of its provisions. But did you need her named in it?

TROTTER: She was not called out. And when we had a similar situation with a Republican, Steve King, when he made offensive racist comments, he was specifically named in the House resolution.

CORNISH: I want to finally get to the emergency declaration of a national emergency to fund a border wall because we've had these figures come out this week - as we heard, Kirstjen Nielsen addressing it. There are enough Republican votes to sink this emergency declaration, Gayle, and how much of a political hit to the president could that be?

TROTTER: That would be a terrible mistake by Republicans because this situation is all about securing the border. And we saw that when the Supreme Court has ruled on this in the Visa Security Program, they understood that Congress had granted the president broad authority to make decisions like this under statutory authority when it concerns national security. President Trump has made a strong case through his campaign, through his many years in the Oval Office about how this is a national security issue. We have 60,000 people attempting to cross the border illegally every month. That's 2,000 every day.

CORNISH: But you have (inaudible) Republicans basically saying, you know, that they have constitutional issues they're concerned about.

TROTTER: And they should understand that the president has broad authority, that Congress has already granted this. And if there's any national emergency, this certainly qualifies.

CORNISH: Jason, for you?

JOHNSON: The wall is racist. It's impractical. It's expensive. And almost every single border Republican says that it's a waste of time. This will be a rebuke to the president that he so desperately needs. He'll move to something else for the next couple of months. But the problem is this is eventually going to end up in the courts, and depending on how the Supreme Court sort of determines what the president can and cannot determine, we may end up with this idiotic wall anyway. But I'm glad to see that some Republicans have enough spine to stand up to the president at this particular point. And perhaps maybe down the road, this wall can be delayed until it'll never occur.

TROTTER: But this is a similar statute to the one that the Supreme Court just issued a ruling on last summer. So I think that the Supreme Court...

CORNISH: Are you talking about the travel ban? Or what are you referring to?

TROTTER: Yeah, the Visa Security Program. And the president was recognized by the Supreme Court as having that authority. And Republicans need to stand together on this issue because if we don't have borders, then we don't have a nation.

JOHNSON: There is no border crisis. And more importantly, the president himself admitted that it wasn't crisis. He's simply doing it because he couldn't get his way in Congress. And his inability to negotiate doesn't mean you can rewrite the Constitution.

CORNISH: We have to leave it there. Gayle Trotter of the Right In D.C. blog, thanks so much.

TROTTER: Great to be with you.

CORNISH: Jason Johnson of The Root, thank you.

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