tv Washington Week PBS August 18, 2017 7:30pm-8:01pm PDT
robert: he's out. under pressure the president's chief strategist, steve bannon, exits the white house. i'm robert costa. we discuss bannon and the political turbulence sparked by the tragedy in virginia. tonight on "washington week." president trump: you had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on other side that was also very violent. and nobody wants to say that. but i'll say it right now. robert: dea fining moment -- a defining moment. president trump: i think there's blame on both sides. you had some very bad people in that group. but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. what about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, alt-right? do they have any semblance of guilty? robert: another national inflexion point.
a new test of leadership. did president trump meet the moment? and where does america go from here? plus, inside the white house. chief strategist steve bannon is pushed out. we cover it all with jeff bennett of -- geoff bennett of npr. shawna thomas of "vice" news. michael scherer of "time" magazine. and molly ball of "the atlantic." announcer: celebrating 50 years, this is "washington week." fund something provided by -- >> their leadership is instinctive. they understand the challenges of today. and research the technologies of tomorrow. some call them veterans.
we call them part of our team. >> additional fund something provided by dana farber cancer institute. more and discovercarebelieve.org. newman's own foundation. donating all profitses from newman's own food products to charity and nourishing the common good. the ethics and excellence in journalism foundation. the ewe win foundation. committed to bridging cultural differents in our communities. the cormings for -- the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. once again, live from washington, moderator robert costa. robert: good evening. after weeks and months of speculation, steve bannon has been relievinged of his duties
as the president's chief strategist. bannon, the former head of breitbart news, championed mr. trump's populous campaign message to help him get elected last year. but his world view and all those clashes with other trump administration officials, including son-in-law jared kushner, it left him with few allies inside the west wing. the white house today released this statement. white house chief of staff john kelly and steve bannon have mutually agreed today would be steve's last day. we are grateful for his service and we wish him the best. michael, coming to you. general kelly made this decision , the 45-year marine. you have to ask, is he cleaning house? geoff: he is, but i don't think kelly is the reason bannon's leaving. i think this has been coming for months now. shoot which has been building from early in the administration, when bannon, remember when president trump gets there, has enormous power. was basically writing the talking points, pushing through the executive orders. had put similar self on the national security down -- put
himself on the national security council. it became a problem, though, baups been aing at his core is someone who wants to wreck the current establishment order. it's hard to build a government that works if you're wrecking the government that you're trying to run. over time, these this problem continued to build. it reached a point i think, once you saw reince priebus leave, they bonded together and made a deal that they weren't going to undercut each other. once reince priebus left, bannon was there all alone. and i think it was just a matter of time. robert: he is someone who likes to wreck institutions. is he going to wreck the white house without him in it? tonight gannon -- bannon gave an interview. he said the trump presidency that we fought for and won is over. he said, the time to go to war against his rivals in the administration and the republican party. but here's the thing, molly, does ban actually represent the trump base? is he as big of a presence in american politics as a lot of people are saying tonight? molly: i think you have to remember that it was only a year ago that steve bannon joined the trump campaign.
he did not win the primary for donald trump. he didn't make donald trump who he was as a politician. he was on the outside and he was serving as a sort of propagandist from his perch at breitbart and he seems to have always been a better propagandist than an administrator. but to the he can tent that trump was getting some of his script from bannon, perhaps he can do that effectively from the outside. i don't think there's any doubt that the populous nationalist agenda of breitbart helped to shape the politician trump became but it's only one aspect of his political leanings and you have bannon saying, going to war against the establishment, not going to war against trump. he sees himself, i think, as wanting to hold trump accountable for the ideology that he sort of projected onto trump. robert: one of the things he says he's going to do now back at his post at breitbart is continue with that strategy of flaming the emotions of the white nationalist far right, which really helped form part of
donald trump's base. what i think is really interesting now is what is left at the white house? who fills that vacuum? frankly, it's a lot of former democrats. it's gary cohen, steve mnuchin. it's jared kushner. who i would imagine have a hard time coming up with a policy proposal that's going to work its way through a republican-led congress. molly: as of this air time, steven miller is still there and very influential. he's very much of the same mind, i think. robert: the head speech writer for president trump. >> but if president trump goes too far to the center, if some of those people that you talked about, the gary cohens, affect him too much, he doesn't exactly know how steve bannon is going to use the power that he has with breitbart. how he has a huge, huge voice. and much larger voice that breitbart is since he was in the white house and now outside of the white house. that could be trouble for the president of the united states. >> republicans say that in fact it's not about him going to the center, they just wanted him to be less bannon and more republican. get something done on taxes. >> i think trump really does want to start getting something done.
i think that will be the moderating pressure on trump. i think trump's instincts are not that far from bannon. there are important differences, though, between bannonism or breitbartism and trumpism. there's a sort of apocalyptic historical darkness to the bannon vision. which is that we're going to clear the establishment out. we're going to totally remake the world order into something new. i think trump is not -- has at gut a sort of similar demagoguic instinct. he wants to rile people up much we saw it this week. but he doesn't have that sort of -- that grand ambition that bannon has. i think early on in the administration, there were conflicts there. and i think on top of that, trump has resented and i think he's going to probably resent some of these quotes that bannon's giving today, the idea that bannon was the driving force behind trump's ideas. because it is in point of fact not true. trump won the primary pretty much without it. trump decided on immigration without bannon.
trump decided on muslim extremism. robert: he's raising an interest point. maybe it wasn't an ideological clash that made steve bannon depart the white house tonight. it was about credit for the election. it was personal. molly: everything is personal. for donald trump. yeah. i think absolutely. as michael was saying, trump just wants to win. he doesn't really care what the substance of the win is. as with health care, he didn't care what was in that bill. he just wanted it to pass. and that's the same with his administration. he feels like they're not winning. breitbart was a vehicle for him to win in the primary. he started courting them, as you reported, years before he decided to run for president. it was a vehicle for a win. it was sort of a mutual thing. because bannon saw trump as a vehicle for his agenda. for trump it wasn't about the agenda. you did have this sort of clash of ideologies going on around trump. but trump wasn't really preoccupied with it. robert: this is something we're all going to have to watch. was bannon the whisperer pushing
trump in a certain direction or an echo of a president who governed by his own stints? the issue that tells us a lot about that, that reveals something about president trump, is charlottesville and the tragedy that happened there last weekend. president trump this week continues to insist that the protests were about preserving history and culture and a confederate statue. despite widespread criticism, it came after that tuesday news conference, he stands by his assertion that both white supremacists and counterprotesters were to blame for the deadly violence. president trump: i've condemned neo-nazis. i've condemned many different groups. but not all of those people were neo-nazis. believe me. not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. i think there's blame on both sides. and i have no doubt about it and you don't have any doubt about it either. robert: now let's take a look at a clip from this vivid documentary by hboo's "vice news
tonight" that captured last week's demonstrations. >> jews will not replace us! jews will not replace us! >> whose streets? our streets! whose streets? our streets! >> i'm here to spread my ideas, talk in the hopes that somebody more capable will come along and do that. somebody like donald trump who does not give his daughter to a jew. >> so trump but more racist. >> a lot more racist than donald trump. don't think you could feel about race the way i do and watch that kushner [beep] walk around with that beautiful girl. robert: i wanted to show that. it's shocking video. it's chilling video. but it tells us a lot. your organization has done some amazing reporting on this. the thing at that struck me and i think so many other people after they watched that kind of footage, inside the protests, is that these protesters weren't wearing masks.
they were clean cut. they were proud to be there. shawna: they wanted to talk to our correspondent. robert: why was that? who are these people? shawna: so, one of the things that ely said was, one, they were incredibly organized but a lot of them are college educated white males. and what they found via the internet is a community. a community that says, these fought thauths are ok. and -- these thoughts are ok. and there are more people who think like you. and this was an opportunity to all come together and see what that power was. they wanted to see, like, what kind of power they had and what they could organize and what they could do. robert: michael, president trump has -- he really made this story more than just about a tragedy. with that tuesday news conference. we talked about both sides being to blame here. i didn't see many sides in that video. what does it tell us about the president? and was it a breaking point for him to go in this direction in response? michael: i think it very much fits a pattern with trump.
that we saw through the campaign. it's hard to remember all the times he said something racially inflammatory over the last couple of years that shocked everybody and then we kind of forgot about it. this is a president who as candidate said, american-born judge with hispanic -- with mexican parents couldn't adjudicate a case because his parents happen to be mexican. which paul ryan said was, you know, a textbook example of a racist comment. this is a president who retweeted false statistics about black on white crime and then never corrected it. this is a president who, while he has not ever argued for racial superiority or said something explicitly racist, has through his career and definitely his candidacy constantly taken racial tensions and used them as opportunities to further his own career, agenda, and to rally his base. and i think when he sees a situation like that, that's just
his instinct. robert: speaking of the instinct, geoff, you were there. you were at trump tower for that news conference. impressions? geoff: what struck me initially was that all it took was one reporter question for the president to launch into that, what, half hour or so of really combative back and forth in which he made clear that his original statements were the ones that he intended to stand by. that he saw no distinction between the white supremacists and the people who were there protesting in opposition to the messages that they were trying to propagate. shawna: i think to your point, we can go back further than that. we can go back to the point that he saw that the argument worked when it came to president obama and he was considering running for something at that point. and that he got great feedback from certain parts of the country because he was trying to look for president obama's birth certificate. this is -- i mean, the pattern can go back to the central park five. robert: molly, you've been a student of the right your entire
career. i was reading a book that came out in 1964, the year barry gold water was a republican nominee, and it chalked -- talked about the john burke society and these anti-communist and anti-globalist groups on the right. it goes back to central park five. it goes back to birtherism. but the beyond president trump. we've seen the right and the republican party grapple with this element for a long time. molly: we have but the really empowered right now for a couple of reasons. i think michael's point is really important. that these people may be a tiny fringe in any one particular community, but the internet gives them a way to find each other and come together and existing institutionses don't have any power to be gate keepers. this is the sort of larger phenomenon of political organizing in the internet age. people can find each other and institutionses that once could serve as a break on that, like political parties, like the media, they're not able to get in the way of these kind of things, for better and worse.
then do you have this strain that's always existed, this radical strain. but politicians have the power to embolden or to quash this type of sentiment. and for a long time most of the leaders of the republican party have seen fit to try to quash it or at least to quash the overt he can specials of it. you might argue that they cynically used some of these sentiments as sort of dog whistles but trump is not using a dog whistle. he's using a people whistle. everyone can hear it. he's saying it out loud. and that really does embolden people and bring them out. as opposed to the society which william f. buckly famously excommunicated from the republican party. said, we don't want your votes. trump will not say to these people, we don't want your votes. robert: let's talk about this. republicans mostly denounce the groups behind the violence. but they were reluctant to criticize the president's remarks. the sharpest criticism, it came
from two southern senators. tim scott of south carolina. and bob corker of tennessee. >> what we want to see from our president is clarity and moral authority. and that moral authority's compromised when tuesday happens. there's no question about that. >> i think our president needs to take stock of the role that he plays in our nation and move beyond himself. he also recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation. robert: shawna, you were the reporter sitting down with senator tim scott, the lone african-american republican in the united states senate. and he's talking about the moral authority of a republican president. shawna: yeah. he brought that up himself. i had a question ready to go about moral authority. and he's the one who was questioning president trump's moral authority. i think it is important to note that he did not say the president has fully lost his moral authority. but that he's waiting to see what else the president does,
that he thought monday's comments were something that helped after saturday. tuesday took him down a different path, a wrong path. and one of the points he made was, we'll see if he has enough moral authority when we get to the debt ceiling conversation. we'll see how can he help the republicans actually achieve some of their goals. because the thing is, and senator scott said this, they are going to have to work with the president to get some of these things done. he has to sign the paper. robert: one wonders whether republicans an certainly democrats are willing to paper over sort of the political chasm. there's another issue here. on wednesday he tweeted about the confederate statues and said it was a sad thing to see our -- the culture and the history of the u.s. being ripped apart by the pulling down of these confederate statues. that also is a signal that he's sending not only to the base but to the wider country about what he perceives this country to be and what it should be. >> i think the one thing if a
candidate does this. the one thing if a pundit does this on tv. it's something else when a president does this. i think the backlash that trump is now experiencing, he lost his corporate boards, all the corporate advisors. there's clear discomfort among his inner circle with the comments he's made and that's been leaking out. which is sort of embarrassingo the president. i think the threat that his legislative dreams die on the vine in part of because of this. the question i've had all year about trump is, can he put who he is in the box of the presidency, can he find a way to fit what he thinks of himself in his new role? and he hasn't yet been able to do it. he still thinks his own gut is the way to go. robert: maybe he doesn't want to put himself in that box. he's destroyed so many norms that surround american politics. and this is why bannon matters in some respect. bannon was the one cheering on the president on tuesday for rallying behind confederate statues and monuments.
perhaps because -- does president trump and some of his advisors believe there's a political potency to that kind of argument? molly: yes. and it is also a way to distract from the other argument about nazis. but i would put michael's statement a different way. he has not shown that he has the ability to put anybody's interest above his own. including the national interest. and that's literally your job, when you're the president. as you say, he doesn't seem to want to. say what you will about steve bannon's ideology. he does have one. he was working to achieve a goal larger than himself. and what you heard senator corker expressing was that donald trump has yet to show that he has any goal other than himself and his advancement and his victory on a personal level. that's why so many people are now walking away from him. they've waited and they've waited and they've watched, to see him finally get it in their
view and at some point -- and i think it's a gradual process, there's not one clean breaking point and i think we all predicted various breaking points for trump over the course of the campaign. they weren't really breaking points. but there is a gradual process of people turning their backs on him. and he's finding himself increasingly isolated. robert: in talking with republicans on the hill this week, there was a real fear that what the president is doing risks stamping the entire g.o.p. as the party of white grievance and racial intolerance. >> i think there is a trap here. president trump has said it directly. he said, they're focusing too much on russia right now. that's what hillary clinton did in the last campaign. she focused on all these issues about how terrible i was and i ended up winning because the issue people cared about were the economic populous message i had. bannon said something similar this week in an interview with the american prospect about, if democrats want to run on race, that's great for us. we'll take it. democrats need to find a way of
getting -- obviously focusing on it but getting beyond it. >> the political chess game i'm certainly interested in it. robert: but pull back for a second. we have a president who's saying what he's saying, both sites when it comes to charlottesville. we have people marching in all these different towns. and there are moralies planned. you look at the schedule, there are more in boston and other cities about confederate statues and history. so we can expect more of this. where is race in america right now in the trump era? sheryl: i think -- shawna: i think it is as confused as it was before. i think it is actually as confused as it was under president obama. i think president obama's presidency brought a lot of resentment up sort of from the depths an bottom. some things i think had been stamped down but hadn't been dealt with. and president trump seemed to, especially during the campaign, give rise to people who had some of those resentments and some of those are economic, but they're also racial and it all get tied together. and say, i feel your pain.
in his own way. it's ok to have that pain. and now what we're faced with is we are seeing it in the streets and we're going to have to have an actual real conversation with it, including the senators, like senator scott, like senator lankford, all these people. they have to rise to this occasion. >> i spent the past week just in disbelief that we're sort of relitigating the civil war in so many different ways. i will say this, though. i think it actually is a gift in some ways to have a very explicit conversation about race out loud, free from all sort of the passive aggressive proxy wars that we had during the obama years. shawna: if we actually have that conversation. >> that's right. robert: you think this is an actual conversation we're having right now in our country? >> i think it can be. particularly as lines are drawn in the sand and republican office holders, democratic lawmakers have to say on which side of the sand -- >> but the conversation president trump is going to want to have is the antifa and the alt-left. he'll be pushing in these other directions.
it will happen if it happens despite the president, i think. shawna: i think that's why senator scott agreed to talk to "vice" news and he's going to talk to "face the nation." he knows he has a unique role in this country right now as the only black republican senator, that he can try to focus that conversation a little bit. i think he knows he has to do that. robert: moly, the democratic point that was made -- molly, the democratic point that was made. democrats are trying to bring down now the confederate statues united states of the united states capitol. they seem to be moving pretty aggressively against the president. how does that end? molly: i think that's basically a political trick to get the republicans to comment on that issue. bring them into it. because the real political problem for the democratic party is that donald trump is not on the ballot in 2018. the republican party is. people largely see a separation, accurately, between donald trump and the republican party. just because voters disapproving of the president doesn't necessarily mean they're going
to vote against their local republican senator or member of congress. and so you have the democrats repeatedly, and they faulted hillary for not doing enough of this during the campaign, repeatedly trying to tie the republican party to what they see as the sins of trump. repeat lid trying to implicate the republican party -- repeatedly trying toism kate the republican party. they realize the not going to be enough for them to just put the congressman neck to trump in an ad or to decry him, not denouncing. you've got to have more than that. robert: unfortunately we have to leave you at home and thanks, everybody, tonight for watching. our conversation will continue online on the washington week extra. where we'll talk about a senate race that's testing red state republican loyalties in the age of president trump. you can find that later tonight at pbs.org/washingtonweek. i'm robert costa. see you next time.
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tomorrow. some call them veterans. we call them part of our team. announcer: additional funding is provided by newman's own foundation. donating all profits from newman's on you one food products to charity and nourishing the common good. the ethics and excellence in journalism foundation. the ewin foundation. committed to bridging cultural differences in our communities. the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. station from viewers like you. thank you.
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