tv Washington Week PBS November 24, 2017 11:30pm-12:01am PST
robert:hello, i'm robert costa. this is a special edition of the "washington week" extra, a conversation among veteran reporters about the presidency and the country, next. >> celebrating 50 years, this is "washington week." funding is 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 funding is provided by newman's own foundation, donating all profits from newman's own food products to charity and nourishing the common good. the ethics and excellence in journalism foundation. koo and patricia yuen through the yuen 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. thank you. once again, from washington, moderator, robert costa. robert:welcome to a special thanksgiving week edition of the "washington week" extra. tonight, we have a stellar roundtable of journalists to discuss first year of the trump administration. joining me around the table, peter baker of the "new york times," andrea mitchell of nbc news, michael duffy of "time" magazine and ann compton, veteran of abc news.
michael, starting with you, i was peeling open your book the other day "the president's club" and what a book it is because it tells about the chummy relationship many presidents have had over the years and it makes me wonder, where does president trump fit in this club? michael: he doesn't fit in yet. this is a great tradition where presidents like truman relied on president hoover. johnson and kennedy relied on ike and bill clinton relied on dick nixon but donald trump has trashed president obama at every turn, with all the mistakes trump feels he made and decisions he feels need to be overturned so to have a conversation between presidents current and past, you need some basic respect for the office and the experience that people who have sat in the chair have had and lessons they've learned and bruises picked up along the way
because they can maybe save you. he doesn't have that. i'm guessing that probably never has but we have conversations from other past presidents who are trying to push the conversation politically in a more moderate direction. robert: if he's not talking to former presidents, who's he talking to inside the white house or inside the oval office? >> he has a small circle of advisers he really trusts and there are interesting layers of people who have been part of his world for a while, who have bees in his world, out of his world, back in his world. there's never a complete excommunication of trump world. people who were fired can work their way back into his trust. and it's not a conventional group. he's not talking to senators or congressmen or former presidents or governors. he's talking to people he feels comfortable with who ratify his
world view to some extent. they don't always agree. you do have the bannon types versus his own son-in-law, jared kushner, with different points of view but it's not a conventional washington point of view which is why there's such reaction to him from the professional class, republican and democrat. robert: you covered secretary clinton closely, andrea. sometimes with president trump it seems not so much about who's in his ear but what's driving him. he still seems haunted at times by secretary clinton and the 2016 campaign. andrea: i think he plays that to effect because he knows it works with the base. it really energizes the trump base, different from the traditional republican establishment base but they get so angry about hillary clinton -- she's been demonized through the campaign and since the campaign and this continues to be his best play in terms of getting people to rally around him against her because a lot of people who voted for him say they weren't so much voting for
him as against her. >> that became transparent last week when he actually said i wish she would run again so he could kick her around more. robert: part of it is the investigation that says you didn't win fair and square and he's trying to say, yeah, i beat her fair and share, stop questioning my win. >> bringing up this fraud commission, which itself is a fraud -- to say there was so much voter fraud, he can't get over the fact that he got more popular votes than he did. robert: how much of a burden has this russia probe done on the presidency compared to past presidents? >> i think the president in this case -- most presidents are haunted by them and their staff around them but president trump has so many opportunities to go talking about other things, where you really see his vulnerability, the raw spot for
him, is when he begins to tweet or attack. this is a guy who always needs an enemy out there, not only demonizing hillary clinton and some of -- demonizing the enemies of the american people. he says that's the mainstream white house press. but he needs to have an enemy out there, he pushes back against an enemy, but this thing -- it has taken on a life of its own and it's impossible for him to push back on it. robert: michael, when we step back -- we're covering it up close in washington. it's really the voters who have to decide whether or not they like what's happened. when you look at the recent elections in virginia, the gubernatorial race there -- a democrat won -- same in new jersey. also in local elections in pennsylvania and other states -- suburban voters, some who may have voted for president trump last year, they seem to be turning. there's a turn towards the democrats. maybe an uneasiness about either the agenda or the temperament of the president. michael: possibly.
i think it's best measured if you were to take a poll of republicans in terms of how they feel next year's elections will go. they've gone from being fairly optimistic in the first half of the year to being fairly pessimistic now. they're concerned about losing one if not two houses in the congress. a year off, a lot can change but we shouldn't extrapolate from some democratic wins in the first year of the trump administration, anything about next year or beyond that. it's not entirely clear to me that if the election weren't held again today, the results might be too different. robert: why do you say that? michael: if you actually put donald trump against hillary clinton, are we sure the election would be different? i'm not so sure, partly because of the reason you mentioned. this remains a very unpopular candidate on both sides so i don't think we know by looking back what could happen in the future. i think what's interesting is that the democrats have gotten themselves together organizationally and they've gotten themselves together at the grass roots level but
they're not ideologically any more cogent than the republicans. peter: i think the best thing that's happened for the democrats in their own civil war is there's a republican civil war at the same time. the democrats have a real issue finding a coherent message that they all can wrap themselves around and a leadership. they don't really -- they have a leadership in congress and in terms of joe biden and hillary clinton and bernie sanders, all of whom are in their 70's, basically, and they don't have a next generation who has come along and captivated them the way barack obama did in 2006, 2007. robert: speaking of the democrats, who stepped up this year in terms of the democratic side to be a counter to president trump? or is that yet to be seen? >> i don't think it's been seen yet. you can look at state houses or mayors. the idea that some mayors have big city backing and they've got a solid -- >> eric garcetti of los angeles, rahm emanuel in chicago. >> any of them could put out
their credentials as having governed a large city but you're absolutely right, the democrats, for many years, had kind of all these possible horses and it's become an old crowd. republicans had all the howard baker, bob dole era and they kind of ran out of steam. and by the fact that you had so many voters who, anecdotally would say, in virginia and new jersey, i'm voting for this candidate because i want to send donald trump -- what does that say to the idea that the overall american populace is looking for something, the party value, the value of that party affiliation has really, really crumbled. andrea: i think the value of both party affiliations visit crumbled. you have some people who have stepped up at these hearings,
the investigating committees, ironically, al franken, but at the same time, no one has punched through. that's why a lot of people are talking about joe biden -- joe biden is talking about joe biden. >> which isn't a change. andrea: i think one of the potential hopefuls said to me, democratic senator who's been talked about in this realm -- said, you know, none of us have a message. we can't -- we tried to articulate. hillary clinton tried to talk about the economy and tried to appeal to red state democrats and none of us can really do this because he is a reality television president and we can't compete on that stage. robert: michael, that's such an important point. a lot of democrats i talk to say they'd like to run against president trump as a tax cutting, wall street friendly republican but often he's consumed by grievance politics and plays to the country, whether it's criticizing nfl players over kneeling during the national anthem or other issues. he's a different opponent for a
democrat. michael: he's clever about sparking people's grievances and democrats who think they can talk about policy against donald trump need to watch the 2016 movie again because he was playing a different game. they were playing football, he was playing basketball so that's the game that will be played next time and regardless of who it is, they have to play on that field to win. robert: next time, though, it's a different culture, as well, ann. you know about the sexual harassment debate we're having in this country. it is tragic to hear the stories of all these women and what they've gone through. last year, when president trump was running, he was able to escape the "access hollywood" controversy and numerous accusations from different women. it seems perhaps we're in a different time. ann: there has been a watershed moment and 2016 -- this is 2017. but there's also something about timing. the accusations, the "access
hollywood" tape came very, very late. what if it had been early in the primaries. when you look at presidents and there have been presidents in our history who have had everything from illegitimate children to war hero records but mistress on the side. there are any number who have faced accusations and bill clinton faced impeachment over the tangle of his second term. so there's something special that protects a president and i'm not sure what it is but it's not a level playing field. andrea: i would also point out that the "access hollywood" tape happened and an hour later wikileaks dropped so those people in the clinton camp would say that they could not get past that because all of those emails were released and they believe it was deliberate after the "access hollywood" tape and then a couple days later, donald trump brought all of bill
clinton's former accusers to the debate. robert: what do you think of the culture change, andrea? on one hand, the president is playing to his base and grievance politics is at the fore of the national discussion but there's more accountability with sexual harassment, both happening at the same time. andrea: i think the president's past, the "access hollywood" tape is already discounted, his supporters. if he can get past 37%, 38% and if it's a three-way race again where there were other independent candidates who took enough away from hillary clinton, you don't know what the mix will be in 2020. i just believe that his behaviors were all discounted -- it was when he was a celebrity, not in the oval office -- and i don't think he'll have to pay a price for that. >> do you think his behavior is driving some of the reaction now?
not entirely but i think it's a piece of the culture. a lot of people having missed the chance to get that one -- to make him accountable in way they think he should have been and the context changes constantly. i think there is some of the reaction going on now that is directly tied to remorse over having not held trump more accountable. andrea: and not held bill clinton more accountable. >> that's true, too. >> the debate about bill clinton is why is he keeping his head low? he doesn't want to be part of the conversation. you see aeneida broderick coming back and having their day and saying, why didn't you believe us? and you see not just conservatives cackling over that but liberals saying maybe we should rethink what we thought in the 1990's, maybe we shouldn't have been so quick to defend him simply because he's from our party and agrees with the things we agree with, most prominently, kristen gillibrand,
campaigned with the help of bill and hillary clinton say that she thinks now, in the light of hindsight, that bill clinton should have resigned in 1998 when the monica lewinski scandal happened. >> when i was talking with white house officials about our discussion, they said the markets are up and gorsuch's on the supreme court and we've filled lower courts with many conservative nominations, we're so frustrated that they're not getting enough credit for that and i said most presidents struggle to get their achievements to be at the front and center of national politics because there's controversy and scandal and other political drama. it's not unusual for a white house to be frustrated like that. >> and every white house is frustrated with a press corps which always goes for the negative and we really are the only smoke alarm out there that's going to tell you when the smoke is smoldering and it's going to turn into a bonfire and presidents are frustrated by that and we do report the economic news. we did report on neil gorsuch. we did -- when things -- when
some of the relief began flowing for hurricanes, i think the administration got some credit for that. but let's face it, any president is going to have to answer for what doesn't work. robert: how do we look at the staff shakeups? reince priebus, gone, steve bannon, gone. sean spicer, press secretary, has left the white house. john kelly, the general, is in there at the president's side as a confidante but a lot of tumult in this first year. >> unprecedented. there have been staff changes. i covered the clinton white house in the first years and it was one thing after another but you've not had so many gone and it shows a lack of both respect and and understanding of the process and we sound like washington insiders which we are but there is a certain knowledge base that you need to come in and be the chief of staff. robert: has kelly studied the
scene inside the white house? >> you would know this better than any of us. >> what's your take? >> i think he's had missteps. certainly his performance in the briefing room and his refusal to apologize for misunderstanding the relationship between that florida congresswoman and that gold star family which was a long-standing relationship, she was part of the family and they were on their way to the burial and he should have understood that. >> i thought it was striking that he did that, stepping out of the normal chief of staff role, not to be a political actor and he seems like a political actor. having said that, i think the operation below the level of the president is running more, you know, professionally than it did. this is small stuff but they're just getting -- they're getting fact sheets out and rolling out policies in a better way, bringing people in for briefings. there's less of a fight in the briefing room every day. people are not able to walk into the oval office any time they want. >> that may be the biggest change.
>> and there's a structure to it. that doesn't mean it's working perfectly but it's different than the first few months. >> i was curious, is bannon stronger on the outside or stronger when inside? >> no less strong and probably stronger. he has a freer hand because he doesn't have half the white house staff trying to hem him in so i would say stronger and the republican party civil war about the establishment versus -- establishment is going every bit as strong as when he left. i think the overhang of the staff churn goes, you can't leave out the departure of the n.f.c. adviser, general flynn, which will have legal implications, from every estimation, for the president going forward so there were questions of the confusion and the tumult but then there are legal implications of some of the original choices the president made that now seem unwise. >> and in fact, the fact that they were warned against michael flynn. they had plenty of warning from the intelligence pros. >> obama fired him.
>> there was all sorts of information about michael flynn. bringing him into the national security council, into the white house with the top clearance that he had is perhaps, looking back, in addition to the comey firing, the biggest single mistake because he potentially compromised national security in profound ways, unethical ways. he was representing turkey at the time and taking money he had not disclosed and who knows what other secrets, being given to foreign agents. >> that looks like an original sin even more formidable -- robert: what about the choice of general mattis to run the defense department? general kelly, national security adviser, h.r. mcmaster -- there seems to be a strong military contingent inside the white house? >> which brings order and structure but not their own policy history. they don't come out of the political field. and the people i've spoken to said they kind of like the fact that there's a stability and at
least men in those positions who believe in the effectiveness and the positive nature of governing and that's been a stabilizing -- >> probably also something of a relief given the uncertainty of president trump's foreign policy to have a handful of three, four-star generals who actually have been around the world and know the territory. it's interesting that trump, who went to military academy as a kid, is so enamored of generals. typically we like our civilians to be in charge of the government and we have a lot of retired and active duty guys at the front lines. robert: we think about the president at the inaugural address, the outsider, defiant, populace -- now it's the end of the year pushing for a traditional republican tax cut. ann brought up the political point. is he more conventional than we may think? peter: he tried disruption and i don't think he's done with disruption. disruption is integral to his
political identity but you're right, this is a more conventional thing. tax uts -- cuts is a bread and butter republican issue and if you can't get tax cuts passed as a republican president, that's a difficult thing. there are obviously challenges and pitfalls but i think it's very possible they get that through. if that goes into the new year with the economy doing pretty well, he might take that as not a bad first year despite everything if he could then translate that momentum into something more. the question is whether he can do that. >> and what it would be? peter: could it be infrastructure? could he work with democrats on something more meaningful on healthcare? could they solve the immigration issue, at least the the program that allows younger immigrants to stay. >> does he have a plan to do it? >> and will he have an opportunity or will north korea or another adversary change the dynamic?
robert: wonderful to have you here. we appreciate the conversation. thanks for joining us tonight. if you missed the regular show, you can find that on the "washington week" website, fridays after 10:00 p.m. and all weekend long. i'm robert costa, enjoy the rest of your weekend. we'll see you on the next edition of "washington week" extra.
>> funding for "washington week" is 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 funding is provided by newman's own foundation, donating all profits from newman's own food products to charity and nourishing the common good. the ethics and excellence in journalism foundation. koo and patricia yuen through the yuen foundation, committed to bridging cultural differences in our communities.
steves: padova's scrovegni chapel, with its precious 14th-century giotto frescoes, is one of italy's most beloved art treasures. considered too fragile to be seen by huge numbers of people, sites like this are open only to a limited number of visitors who make a reservation in advance. wallpapered with giotto's beautifully preserved cycle of frescoes, the glorious chapel,
painted in about the year 1300, depicts the lives of jesus and mary. giotto, considered the first modern painter, painted scenes that were more realistic and human than anything that had been done for a thousand years. moving beyond medieval 2d and gold-leaf backgrounds, with these realistic, groundbreaking frescoes, giotto introduces nature -- rocks, trees, animals -- as a backdrop for religious scenes. his people, with their voluminous, deeply creased robes, are as sturdy and massive as greek statues. their gestures are simple but expressive. arm raised shows anger. head titled down says dejection. arms flung out indicate anguish, and a tender kiss, caring love. giotto's storytelling style is straightforward, and anyone with a knowledge of the bible
can read the chapel like a picture book. in "the betrayal of christ," amid the crowded chaos of jesus' arrest, giotto skillfully creates a focus upon the central action -- judas embraces jesus, looks him straight in the eyes, and kisses him. in "the deposition," jesus has been taken down off the cross, and his followers weep and wail over his lifeless body. john the evangelist spreads his arms wide and shrieks, his cries echoed by anguished angels above. each face is a study in grief. giotto emphasizes the human vulnerability of these figures. and like a centerpiece on the far wall is "the last judgment." christ oversees the action
as the saved on his right emerge, grateful, from their graves, and the damned, on his left, are just kicking off a hellish eternity. satan is a grotesque ogre munching on sinners. around him, demons torture the damned in a scene right out of "the inferno" by dante, who happened to be giotto's friend. calmly isolated from the action is enrico scrovegni, who paid for all this art in an attempt to gain forgiveness for the sins of his wealthy and greedy father. these frescoes are considered by many to be a precursor of the renaissance to come. with this masterpiece, created 200 years before leonardo and michelangelo, giotto seems to be making it clear -- europe was breaking out of the middle ages.
>> narrator: tonight on frontlinin yemen, rival militants are fighting for control of the country-- al qaeda in the arabian peninsula, and now the houthis, with their hostile message to america and its allies: >> narrator: journalist safa al ahmad spent months reporting from the middle of the conflict. >> narrator: she negotiated rare access to the houthi rebels as they advanced. >> narrator: and she traveled into the heartland of al qaeda