TAMARA KEITH, HOST:
Hey, before we get to the show, be sure to download NPR's new podcast, Up First, for 10 minutes of news every weekday morning, just the big stuff going on and why it matters. Listen to Up First weekday mornings, posted by 6 a.m. Eastern time on the NPR One app and wherever you listen to podcasts.
KIRSTEN SCHWARZER: Hi, this is Kirsten Schwarzer (ph) from Cape Town, South Africa. This podcast was recorded at...
KEITH: Two fifty-two p.m. on Thursday, the 20 of April.
SCHWARZER: Things may have changed by the time you hear it. Keep up with all of NPR's political coverage at npr.org, the NPR One app and on your local public radio station. OK, here's the show.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE")
KEITH: It's the NPR POLITICS podcast here with our regular roundup of political news this week. We're going to talk about the deported DREAMer and what's going on with the Department of Justice, the Republicans' close call in the Georgia special election, the election in France and the magical mystery Democratic unity tour with Bernie Sanders and Tom Perez.
I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House for NPR.
DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: I'm Daniel Kurtzleben, political reporter.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: And I'm Scott Horsley. I also covered the White House.
KEITH: And I'm really excited about today's podcast because we're going to take some time and talk about not just breaking political news but also some of the in-depth political reporting that the folks on our team have been doing, including Scott Detrow, who will join us later from the road where he's covering that Sanders-Perez Democratic unity, or possible disunity, tour. But first, here with us in this studio is Carrie Johnson.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hello, Tam.
KEITH: So Carrie is NPR's justice correspondent. Normally, you are a phone-a-friend on this podcast (laughter) when news is breaking out all around us. And right now, news is not breaking out all around us.
JOHNSON: Well, it is only 2:52 p.m. So...
JOHNSON: ...Who yet knows what the day will bring?
KEITH: So last week on the roundup, we were talking about the many ways that President Trump has reversed his positions from campaign promises - and especially on things involving foreign policy. But one area where he is absolutely plowing ahead and keeping promises are things that relate to the Justice Department and the agenda of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
JOHNSON: Yeah. Remember, Tam, that Jeff Sessions, a longtime senator for 20 years, was one of the most hard-line, anti-immigration voices in the Congress. He was also one of President Trump's earliest supporters on Capitol Hill. And he's been thinking about ways to revamp the immigration system and America's borders for a long time. Now he's in a position to do something about it, in part because in the area of immigration and at the border, the president, the executive branch has sweeping power.
KEITH: So let's talk about immigration. Sessions and Homeland Security Chief John Kelly are visiting the border today. The president, this week, tweeted about gang violence and the need for tough immigration policies. But also this week, a 23-year-old named Juan Manuel Montes was deported. He's what's known as a DREAMer, someone who had qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. He'd been in the U.S. since he was 9 years old.
The Department of Homeland Security, in a statement, said that he forfeited his DACA status because he had left the country without authorization and returned before he was deported. This is all very complicated and muddy, but DACA recipients are required to notify immigration authorities if they leave the country. Now, his lawyers deny that altogether. This case, Carrie, is getting a lot of attention.
JOHNSON: Yeah. It was featured first by USA Today, which called him one of the first, possibly the first, DREAMer to be deported. Since that time, the LA Times has pointed out that dozens of DREAMers have been deported since the start of the year. The rub seems to be this, that if, for some reason, any of these people commit a criminal offense or do something to make them ineligible for the DACA program - remember, something like 800,000 people were eligible for this program in the Obama years - then they are no longer safe. And in the words of Attorney General Sessions, if they break the law, they can be deported just like anybody else.
KEITH: And he talked about that earlier this week on Fox News.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)
JEFF SESSIONS: DACA enrollees are not being targeted. I don't know why this individual was picked up. Everybody in the country illegally is subject to being deported. So people come here and they stay here a few years, and somehow they think that they're not subject to being deported. Well, they are. So that's the reason we plead with people, don't come illegally. Wait your turn...
HORSLEY: And this is a part of a sort of a broader pattern that we've seen under this administration, which is stepped-up enforcement of immigration laws and also a change in the composition of who's being picked up. We hear the attorney general saying there, we're not targeting DACA people. And they're also not necessarily targeting people who don't have criminal records. In fact, they say that they're putting a premium on deporting immigrants who also have criminal records. But The Washington Post reported on some numbers this week that showed a larger fraction of the people who've been arrested by immigration officers are people who don't have criminal records. And they're just being kind of caught up as collateral arrestees. And what you hear from Sessions there is this line that anybody who's here in this country illegally is subject to removal.
KURTZLEBEN: Right, yeah. And, I mean, I would add - I feel like this is a phrase I end up using a lot in here - but this particular case, to me, seems like a bit of a Rorschach test. How you view this says a lot about how you view Trump's immigration policy. I mean, look, Trump sold his whole immigration policy during the campaign as being about protecting you, protecting you from these criminal immigrants. Juan Manuel Montes - he was brought to the country when he was 9. And the question is, you know, do you have more sympathy for that? Do you consider him actually dangerous and therefore that he needs to be deported, you know, quickly?
JOHNSON: There are a lot of questions, to be clear, on the circumstances surrounding his deportation and how he may have had a run-in with the law prior to his deportation. In fact, there's an ongoing lawsuit filed in federal court to get more information about his record from the Department of Homeland Security. And you will not believe this - the judge assigned to hear this case is Judge Gonzalo Curiel. He was the judge overseeing the Trump University fraud lawsuits. Donald Trump repeatedly targeted this judge on the campaign trail and said he could not be fair and unbiased because of his Mexican heritage. Of course, Judge Curiel was born right here in the United States.
KEITH: In Indiana.
HORSLEY: But when it comes to stepped-up immigration enforcement, this is definitely an area where this administration is delivering on the promises that it made during the campaign. Obviously, some people like those promises. Some people don't. But it's a case where they are carrying out the game plan that they described during the campaign.
And to your point, Danielle, you know, they did certainly emphasize protecting American citizens from criminal immigrants - that is, immigrants who commit crimes here in this country other than just entering the country illegally. But, you know, folks like Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller, his former aide who's now a policy adviser at the White House - they see immigrants crossing the country illegally in general as an economic threat to native-born Americans and, you know, driving down wages for lower-skilled workers and that sort of thing. So they have a powerful interest in getting tough on immigrants living in this country illegally, whether it's removing those who are here already or stopping those who might be coming in.
And we have seen numbers at the border suggesting that there has been a big decline in illicit border crossings in the early months of the Trump administration. And our reporters near the border certainly provide anecdotal evidence that that is very much a reaction to the tough rhetoric that would-be immigrants have heard coming from this new president.
JOHNSON: Yeah. And in fact, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, has been all over the place - in public speeches on the border, on Fox News, on talk radio - talking about the notion that their hard-nosed strategy is working. That message is being sent to people along border. I do want to add one thing, though. When we're talking about this administration and any administration and the executive branch having a lot of power when it comes to immigration, there's a limit. There's a limit beyond the federal courts.
And that limit is the immigration system is already wildly overburdened. So you only have so many border agents at the border. And you only have so many judges. Jeff Sessions says he wants to add some judges and will put 50 more judges on the bench this year and 75 more next year. That's not going to make up for this flow of new cases.
HORSLEY: The president has also called for adding new Border Patrol agents and adding new immigration enforcement officers who patrol in the interior of the country. But just to provide some more context, we've already - the United States has already added a tremendous number of Border Patrol agents over the last decade or so.
And while the numbers of would-be border crossers being apprehended in the early months of the administration is down sharply from a year ago, if you look over a longer time frame, illegal crossings were already way down, way below the peak of where they were, say, in the year 2000.
KEITH: Yeah, because of the economy and some other stuff. Danielle?
KURTZLEBEN: Well, yeah. And I want to back up to what Scott was saying about the Trump administration making this an economic issue. I mean, were you to somehow be able to deport people who are in the country illegally en masse or even, you know, a substantial portion of them, that could very well be a big problem for the U.S. economy.
You get rid of a whole bunch of workers, then, you know, you have to find people to do that work. And Scott is nodding furiously. He'll have a side view. I mean, there was a lot of reporting on this this year early on, right after Trump took office.
HORSLEY: Yeah. They may be wrong about what their thoughts are on the economic effects, but they're very clear in what their viewpoint is on what the economic effects are.
KEITH: Carrie, you did a story this week about sanctuary cities and the moves by the Justice Department following on an executive order that President Trump signed early in his administration with the goal of denying some federal funds to cities that don't follow federal immigration laws.
JOHNSON: Yeah. And in fact, many of those cities are on notice from both the president and the attorney general that they could face the loss of potentially billions of dollars in grants to police departments and other law enforcement grants. Now in court, there's lots of litigation over this, of course, because that's the story so far of the Trump presidency and the law - litigation. The Justice Department has said really not that much money is at stake. But there's an open question about that, Tam, because Jeff Sessions signed a memo to the entire Justice Department in March. It didn't get a lot of attention, but it suggested that states and cities needed to follow all federal laws - all federal laws.
So some of my sources are telling me that applies not just to immigration but also potentially to marijuana, where the drug is legal in many states but not legal under federal law. The Justice Department has a ton of leverage over some of these places, not just grants but participation in crime-fighting task forces, access to training and a whole bunch of other things that this federal government could cut off if it wanted to.
KEITH: Now, isn't there, though, sort of an irony in this, in that President Trump ran as this sort of law and order - I'm going to be the law and order guy? And the police and other local agencies - this would affect those people directly, the law enforcement?
JOHNSON: Yeah, absolutely. You know, Laurie Robinson, who ran the DOJ grant-making arm under President Obama and President Bill Clinton, told me this week Donald Trump was endorsed by the most important police union in the country, the Fraternal Order of Police. So the notion that he's threatening a cutoff of funds to police departments and other support is kind of ironic right now. We'll have to see how this plays out over time, especially in some of the major cities that are Democratic-led like Chicago, San Francisco, other places out West.
KURTZLEBEN: Right. And this week, I mean, Jeff Sessions and Trump have also made this once again about Americans' safety. This week, Trump tweeted about how Obama immigration policies helped spread the gang MS-13 throughout the U.S. Likewise, Jeff Sessions has been talking about gang activity in some of these cities. And first of all, fact check - MS-13 was around well before President Obama took office. But this is once again, I mean, he - the guy is very consistent in making their immigration message very much all about safety all of the time, like this - these gangs are out there. And the reason they are there, in the Trump administration's view, is because of immigration.
HORSLEY: And there is a divide within law enforcement, right? I mean, we - there are certainly immigration officers and Border Patrol officers who welcome the idea of being unshackled and being free to make arrests. There are some who like the idea of cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities. But there's another school of thought among law enforcement that if local police are suddenly deputized to enforce immigration laws, they'll get a lot less cooperation from immigrant communities. That'll make their job of fighting crime more difficult.
KEITH: And Carrie, we're already seeing that, right?
JOHNSON: We're already seeing that. We've had the chief judge of the California Supreme Court write to the attorney general and the head of Homeland Security. And this week, the chief judge of the New Jersey Supreme Court did the same thing, complaining about arrests of undocumented people inside their courthouses. Sometimes these are victims of crime, domestic violence victims. Sometimes they're witnesses in criminal cases. Sometimes they're people there for custody or family court proceedings.
And the argument by these judges is you're chilling the law enforcement process by busting people inside the courthouses. The federal government does not agree. Jeff Sessions and John Kelly have responded already to the chief judge of the California Supreme Court, saying we arrest people inside courthouses because they go through magnetometers and we know they're not armed. That's why we do that.
HORSLEY: And we've talked about this before - you know, Jeff Sessions in the Senate was very much sort of on the fringe of the immigration issue. When the Senate passed its bipartisan immigration overhaul back in 2013, Jeff Sessions was railing against it, but it got a majority in the Senate. Now the outlier is the guy who's making policy in this arena.
KEITH: So while immigration is something that the Justice Department shares with other agencies, something that DOJ works on almost exclusively is policing the police. And Carrie, Attorney General Sessions is moving in a vastly different direction than the Obama administration.
JOHNSON: Yeah. Tam, just this month, we had a very sad anniversary, the anniversary of the Rodney King beatings in Los Angeles and the riots in that city. That terrible tragedy gave rise to a federal law that Congress passed to give the Justice Department the power to investigate pattern or practice of discrimination by police departments.
The DOJ has had that power for about 25 years. They never used it in full force until the Obama administration, which launched investigations into something like 25 police departments across the country, resulting in something like 14 court-enforceable agreements to change behavior inside police departments to stop unconstitutional discriminatory policing.
KEITH: In some cases, the city or even the police departments asked for the Justice Department to come in, right?
JOHNSON: They have. In other cases, they resisted, but the Obama administration didn't much care.
JOHNSON: They went ahead, often with collaboration and interviews of police officers. The Obama team's argument was we can give police officers the support and equipment they need. We can make them safer.
Jeff Sessions has adopted an entirely different approach. He wants to be partners with local police, not overseers or investigators of them. He's more or less announced that he's not going to be opening any of these new investigations moving forward and that states and locals should feel free to handle these matters themselves for the most part.
KEITH: But there were some outstanding consent decrees, or these agreements. So what happens with those, or what's been happening with those?
JOHNSON: Well, Sessions made his announcement the same week Baltimore and the Justice Department were due in court over an agreement the Obama DOJ signed in its last weeks with Baltimore. Baltimore authorities, including the mayor and the police commissioner, said they want to progress full steam ahead with this agreement. The federal judge who heard the case agreed, refused to let DOJ back out of it. It's a very different situation in Chicago. In Chicago, the Obama DOJ was not able to reach an agreement with the police department in Chicago before Obama left office. In Chicago now, the Justice Department I do not expect will proceed at all.
KEITH: OK. Carrie, since we have you here and today's date is 4/20.
KEITH: Is that what this is?
KURTZLEBEN: I don't get it.
KURTZLEBEN: What are you talking about?
KEITH: The - Attorney General Jeff Sessions has had sort of a long-standing concern with marijuana.
JOHNSON: Yeah, he doesn't like it. He said last year in 2016, good people don't smoke marijuana. Now, complicating factor here - something like 28 states have marijuana legal in some form or other. It's still illegal under federal law, and there's a big question about whether Jeff Sessions is going to change the enforcement policy. He's launched a review of that. We expect more news in July, probably, about it. It would be a different kind of use of resources were the federal government to start going after low-level marijuana offenders.
In fact, this month I interviewed the former U.S. attorney in the state of Colorado, which has legalized marijuana. And he worked in the Obama administration. He said he still brought plenty of marijuana cases but against really big criminal enterprises, not against a guy on a street smoking or selling a joint. And he said that he always had to take into account - and he thinks the Sessions Justice Department will, too - the notion that in any jury pool in Colorado, maybe six to seven out of the jurors would have voted to legalize marijuana.
KEITH: And Scott, you're from Colorado.
HORSLEY: I am. And you were looking at some polling data, I think, nationally, Tam, that shows a pretty solid majority of Americans feel like recreational pot use ought to be legalized - not necessarily because they are interested in lighting up themselves but just because they feel like the cost of the long-running war on drugs were not justified by the benefits. Jeff Sessions obviously takes a very different view.
KEITH: OK, Carrie, you're out of here.
JOHNSON: I'm free to go. I can take a walk. OK.
KEITH: You're free to go...
JOHNSON: Thank you.
KEITH: ...And return to your day job.
JOHNSON: All right.
KEITH: Thank you, Carrie. We are going to take a quick break, and we will be right back with more politics from the week.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KEITH: OK. We are back. First, let's talk about that special election this week in Georgia's 6th Congressional District, also known as the most hyped special election ever.
HORSLEY: This is the district that was vacated by the new health secretary, Tom Price.
HORSLEY: It's a longtime Republican district. But in this case, we had a whole bunch of Republicans running and kind of divvying up the GOP boat, whereas Democrats generally consolidated their vote behind one young man who got very close but not quite to 50 percent of the total.
KEITH: Yes. So Democrat Jon Ossoff needed 50 percent of the vote in order to avoid a runoff. He got - Danielle, it was like just over 48 percent.
KURTZLEBEN: It was around 48 percent, yeah. And in second place was Karen Handel with just under 20 percent. That was out of 18 candidates, by the way. It was a massive field.
KEITH: And this is a Republican district.
KEITH: So the fact that the Democrat didn't win outright is not necessarily surprising, though this has been sort of presented as a loss for the Democrats.
KURTZLEBEN: Right. Well, I mean - so a couple of things here - one is that, you know, it is a red district. I mean, Tom Price had, you know, won it several times. But it's also not exactly on the far end of conservative in terms of Georgia. It's, you know, a bit less so. So it is the sort of district where, if you had to pick a red district in Georgia for a Democrat to win and this might - maybe you might have a chance there, if you know what I'm saying.
HORSLEY: It's the suburbs of Atlanta.
KURTZLEBEN: Yeah. It's on the north side of Atlanta.
KEITH: So Danielle, tell us about Karen Handel. We've heard on this podcast a bit about Jon Ossoff. But Karen Handel, we don't know that much about.
KURTZLEBEN: Right. Well - and that puts us the opposite of Georgia voters. Jon Ossoff is new to them, but Karen Handel is well-known to them. Karen Handel was the secretary of state in Georgia at one point. She also ran for governor in 2010. She ran for Senate in 2014. She did not win either of those races. So the Georgians have seen her name on the ballot for, you know, a couple of times now. Now, she...
HORSLEY: But she was also at the center of what became a national story.
KURTZLEBEN: Yes, absolutely, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, in case you've heard of it. The Susan G. Komen Foundation is the largest breast cancer organization in the country. She, back in 2010, joined the Komen Foundation and was a force behind it pulling funding from Planned Parenthood. Now that sharply divided people on what they thought of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
HORSLEY: That was...
KEITH: That was like a huge controversy.
KURTZLEBEN: Yes, very much.
HORSLEY: There was an enormous backlash. Obviously, lots of support for that push by anti-abortion forces. But lots of folks who had supported the Susan G. Komen Foundation but who were also Planned Parenthood backers...
HORSLEY: Planned Parenthood is one of the biggest providers of mammograms and other services that are important to people who care about breast cancer. A lot of folks say - well, I'm not going to give any money to the Komen Foundation anymore. I'm not going to do the walk if they're going to adopt that policy...
HORSLEY: And Handel is ultimately forced out of the Komen Foundation.
KURTZLEBEN: She actually left not long after this whole controversy. She left pretty quickly.
KEITH: And the Planned Parenthood funding was restored.
KURTZLEBEN: Right. So...
HORSLEY: She became a hero or a martyr to the anti-abortion forces. But she was very much a villain for the supporters of Planned Parenthood.
KURTZLEBEN: Right. So to the extent that the voters in Georgia's 6th district know about that - and you can bet that Jon Ossoff will bring that up - and she probably will bring up her opposition to Planned Parenthood - to the degree that they know about that and care about that controversy, then I imagine that would galvanize quite a few voters on both sides.
HORSLEY: Oh, this is not going to be just a referendum on Donald Trump now.
HORSLEY: This is going to be a referendum on Planned Parenthood, on Karen Handel. Millions more of dollars are going to flow into this than to this runoff race.
KURTZLEBEN: And one thing I do want to add here - we talked about how Jon Ossoff won 48 percent of the vote and Karen Handel won just under 20. You might think - oh, well, then he has this in the bag. That is not at all true. I mean, Jon Ossoff's best hope really was to win this outright. Now it becomes a straight-up, one-on-one Republican versus Democrat race. So this could be very close.
KEITH: And Republicans are quite happy to have Jon Ossoff as the opponent because he's relatively young. He's inexperienced. They are painting him as sort of a tool of the Democratic Party.
KEITH: Meanwhile, Democrats, for the very reasons that we just discussed, are quite happy to have Karen Handel as their one-on-one opponent and felt like before there wasn't really a target to aim at - there were so many other candidates in the race. Now Ossoff has an actual opponent.
KURTZLEBEN: Absolutely. And also, Republicans led by Donald Trump on his Twitter feed are casting Ossoff not only in a, you know, he's young and inexperienced light, but Donald Trump said that the race was - I believe he said Hollywood versus Georgia because Jon Ossoff also has some celebrities. Samuel L. Jackson endorsed him, did a commercial for him, for example. And so Donald Trump has tried to paint that as a bad thing because this race has, like you said, garnered crazy national attention.
KEITH: All right, on to more of our own reporting. Danielle, this week you worked on a story based on some polling that NPR did about taxes and what Americans think they know about them.
KURTZLEBEN: Right, yeah - and also what they believe about them as well. So it's sort of a two-pronged thing.
KEITH: Yeah. And this, of course, this week was Tax Day. It came on Tuesday.
KURTZLEBEN: Wait, it was? I got to go. Oh, gosh.
KEITH: So Danielle...
KEITH: ...Tell us about what your survey - what you found.
KURTZLEBEN: Right. So let's start with the really easy stuff. And the easy stuff - by that, I mean the stuff that Americans seem to agree on. And there is not a whole lot they do, but there are a few basic things. For one, a majority of Americans think their own personal taxes are too high. They have opinions about other people; they think their own are too high. They think the tax code is too complicated. And you guys may be happy to know that Americans believe it is wrong to underreport your income on your income taxes. So people...
KEITH: They don't like cheating.
KURTZLEBEN: Yeah. They seem to be pretty ethical. So you know, good job, America.
KEITH: OK. So you guys looked into what people know about our tax code...
KEITH: ...And our tax system. Scott Horsley and I - we like to consider ourselves to be nerds...
KURTZLEBEN: You guys...
KEITH: Tax nerds.
HORSLEY: Reasonably informed...
KURTZLEBEN: You guys know the tax...
HORSLEY: ...About the tax issues, I think. I hope.
HORSLEY: We'll see.
KEITH: So you - can you test us the same way that you tested the American people?
KURTZLEBEN: Sure. OK. So let's start with this one. This will be multiple choice. About what percent of working...
KURTZLEBEN: Let's try that again.
HORSLEY: Is this a speed thing, sort of like "Jeopardy!"?
KEITH: No, it's not like "Jeopardy!".
KURTZLEBEN: Yeah, you guys do not have to ring in (laughter), although that would be cool. All right. About what percent of working Americans have zero or negative income taxes? Four choices. - is it 11 percent, 27 percent, 45 percent or 63 percent?
HORSLEY: I think it's about 45 percent.
KEITH: Yeah, I would go with 45 'cause of...
HORSLEY: We all remember...
KEITH: ...The Mitt Romney...
HORSLEY: ...Mitt Romney's 47 percent.
KURTZLEBEN: Ding, ding, ding. Right, absolutely. We all kind of remember that. So 45 percent - this is an estimate from Tax Policy Center. It's a recent estimate. But about 45 percent of American households pay zero or negative income tax. And as we all remember, back in 2012, Mitt Romney had that famous gaffe where that recording came out of him kind of grousing about the fact that, you know, as he said, 47 percent - and he was roughly right there - 47 percent of Americans don't pay federal income tax. Now let's be clear - this does not mean that these 45-ish (ph) percent of U.S. households are not paying tax period or even not paying federal tax.
KEITH: Because there's, like, sales tax. But then there's also...
KURTZLEBEN: There's also payroll tax, for example. And they - you know, they may pay property taxes. There are other taxes that plenty of Americans pay. So you who two got this right, but most Americans did not. The plurality - 39 percent chose that smallest amount, 11 percent; 31 percent chose that second smallest amount, 27 percent. So in other words, 70 percent, the overwhelming majority of Americans, seem to think that a much smaller share of their fellow countrymen and women are paying federal income taxes than really are.
KEITH: The crazy thing about taxes and perception of taxes is that often there's a huge disconnect. Like, the thing that...
KEITH: ...I come back to is, back in 2009, there was the big stimulus bill, the $800 billion stimulus bill that the Obama administration and Congress pushed through - and Democrats in Congress pushed through. About a third of that was a tax cut, a tax cut that was pretty carefully targeted to get to working-and-middle-class and lower-income families. Polling that was done shortly thereafter found that the majority of people thought that their taxes had been raised by the stimulus bill...
KEITH: ...Not cut. Like, people just didn't know that there had been a tax cut.
KURTZLEBEN: And, you know, this poll is - it isn't just about saying, you know, Americans don't know much about taxes or alternately - oh, wow, they - you know, on a few of these questions, really do. Rather, I mean - what Americans know about taxes really could impact what tax reform might look like or, you know, how the tax code might look were Americans to have their way. For example, let's go back to that question about how much people know about how many people are paying federal income tax.
All right. So the majority of Americans underestimate how many people are paying zero income tax. But then when you ask Americans whether lower-income people pay too much income tax, two thirds of Americans say yes, that lower-income people pay too much income tax. Now this particular question doesn't exactly say what lower income means. But the point is then, OK, if you generally believe that lower-income people should pay less income tax, then perhaps you think there should be a larger earned income tax credit, for example. So your perceptions really can change how you think the tax code could be changed.
KEITH: Before we take one more quick break, this weekend, there is an election in France. By now, you've heard a lot about the context of this election. Far-right nationalist candidates are running all across Europe. We saw one defeated in the Netherlands earlier this year. In France, the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, believes France should exit the European Union. She is running against three other main candidates. We've got centrist Emmanuel Macron, conservative Francois Fillon and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon. But the election this weekend is not the final word. This is actually sort of like Georgia.
HORSLEY: It's a big field, and the top two finishers go on to a runoff.
KEITH: Yeah, exactly.
KEITH: And Le Pen - that's the name we hear so much - Marine Le Pen is this far-right candidate. Her father actually was sort of the original far-right. She has come along and is more widely marketable, has taken some of the hard edges off of the rhetoric of her father. But the nationalist views are still very, very real.
KURTZLEBEN: And just to put it here how close this is, I was looking at some poll results that just came out today. It is quite close. Emmanuel Macron has - and I'm going to butcher these names - he was at 23.5. Marine Le Pen was at 22.5. And the other two candidates were not far behind. Fillon was at 19.5. Melenchon was at 18.5. So - and there's a 1.5 percent margin on this poll. So really - I mean, while Macron and Le Pen are talked about as being the top two - and they are in this poll - there is room for a surprise or two.
HORSLEY: And we've talked about this being part of this wave of potentially kind of nationalistic elections. What would it mean for the European Union if Le Pen were to be elected? Would that be the end of the European Union? We've already seen Brexit. If you add Frexit (ph)...
HORSLEY: ...That could be curtains for the whole post-war European unification project.
KEITH: So we will talk more about this when we get some results. And hopefully, we can get somebody who can pronounce all these names properly.
KURTZLEBEN: Let's call up Eleanor.
KEITH: Let's call Eleanor Beardsley next week. So we are going to take one more break, and we will be right back with Scott Detrow, Bernie Sanders and Can't Let It Go.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KEITH: Before we get back to the show, we have a favor to ask. NPR is working with the Knight Foundation to better understand how listeners like you spend time with this podcast and others. Please help us out by completing a short, anonymous survey at npr.podcastingsurvey - all one word - .com. It takes less than 10 minutes, and we'd really appreciate it. Again, that is npr.podcastingsurvey.com. Thanks. Let's get back to the show.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KEITH: And we're back. So let's talk about what's going on with Democrats this week. Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez and Bernie Sanders were on kind of a road trip together - with Scott Detrow. Scott, where are you?
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hello. So I am in an arena just outside of Dallas, Texas. And I literally just walked out of a dressing room where I interviewed Bernie Sanders and right over to where I could plug in my computer and talk to you guys.
KEITH: Are you wearing, like, one of those backstage passes like at Coachella?
DETROW: (Laughter) No backstage passes, but I was escorted backstage. I was standing backstage watching Bernie. It felt like "Almost Famous" except with politicians and not, you know, Stillwater.
KEITH: And you're not wearing, like, knee-high boots, are you?
DETROW: No, no.
KEITH: I don't know what she wore in "Almost Famous." I actually have no idea.
KEITH: OK. So Scott, this is a unity tour. This is supposed to be a unity tour. But all I have seen are great signs of contradiction and disunity.
DETROW: Yeah, the headlines have not been great for the Democrats so far because this is a tour with Bernie Sanders, and I think there's a couple of factors going on here. First of all, the types of voters who really loved Bernie Sanders, who are going to come out to Bernie Sanders feel really, really skeptical at best of the Democratic National Committee. That dates back to all of the problems that the DNC had last year when Bernie Sanders was running against Hillary Clinton, a lot of perceptions that the DNC was rooting for Clinton.
So this is not a crowd that really wants to get excited about the DNC. And that's the exact reason why they're doing this tour, because the party is trying to rebuild itself and it needs these progressives on board, and they feel like Bernie Sanders can vouch for them.
But, you know, the interviews in the crowd were really interesting because a lot of people said, yeah, I'm here to see Bernie. I love Bernie. And I said, how do you feel about Tom Perez? How do you feel about the Democratic Party? And there was real hostility. So that's something that Perez is really trying to work on.
KURTZLEBEN: Well, so that's - that was - you actually anticipated my question. What is the case that Tom Perez is making? How is he trying to sell the Democratic Party to these people?
DETROW: Yeah, I asked him about this when we talked last night, and what he said was that he firmly believes that when they communicate, when he and other Democrats communicate with these progressive Bernie voters, there'll be a realization that hey, we're on the same page.
TOM PEREZ: On the Affordable Care Act, we had people across the political spectrum fighting together. On important issues of immigration reform, on climate change and all of the critical issues of our time our positions are in virtual lockstep. And so for me, I think the best way to make sure that we remain united is to talk about the issues that people care the most about.
DETROW: And I have to say that listening to Perez speak in Miami last night, he wasn't wrong. You know, he was going on for a while and there was - there was that thing that happens to every warm-up act speaker of people started to murmur for Sanders here and there. They were - they didn't really want to hear Perez anymore. But then Perez would make a point about climate change, about Planned Parenthood, about other Democratic issues and he would get big applause. So I don't think he's wrong there in saying that hey, when you take a step back, we're all on the same page here.
KEITH: Yeah, so how was your conversation with Bernie Sanders - I mean, here is someone who is the voice of the progressive left who does not have a D next to his name still. He is an independent.
DETROW: Yeah. And when you said that the headlines haven't been great, a lot of those headlines have been from things that Bernie Sanders has said in interviews, among them saying that he has no intention of joining the Democratic Party. I asked him about that, and he kind of dismissed it saying that's something the media is interested in. But I also asked him about a couple other things that he's said that have gotten some headlines, including the line that - which he repeated just now, the line that Donald Trump did not win the election last year, the Democrats lost it.
BERNIE SANDERS: I have said many times and I say it again, I don't think it was primarily Trump that won the election. I think it was the Democrats who lost the election despite the fact that Clinton got 3 million votes more than he did.
DETROW: How so?
SANDERS: Because I think the Democrats have not put forward an agenda that speaks to the needs of people who are in pain. There are a lot of people in this country working two or three jobs, working at very low wages, people who can't afford health care, people who can't afford to send their kids to college, who can't afford child care. Have we effectively spoken to the pain that those people are experiencing? Have we fought for legislation which will improve their lives? Not enough. Not enough.
KURTZLEBEN: So what, if anything, have you heard Bernie Sanders say that is an argument for unity if this is indeed a unity tour?
DETROW: He is really pushing the Democratic Party. There's not much love for the Democratic Party in what Bernie Sanders is saying. His basic argument is that you need to change what you're prioritizing and come onboard with what I'm saying and what my supporters want. But but I'll say that I think that Bernie Sanders' camp might have realized that these headlines are not what they were hoping for because he did change his language a little bit. You know, here's a clip from last night. This was in that MSNBC interview where he first said, yeah, I'm not joining the Democratic Party.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CHRIS HAYES: So I guess my question to you is do you - you've been talking - you're on this road trip now with the head of the DNC. You're talking about reforming, reviving, transforming the Democratic Party. Do you consider yourself a Democrat?
SANDERS: No. I'm an independent. And I think if the Democratic Party is going to succeed - and I want to see it succeed - it's going to have to open its doors to independents who are probably - there are probably more independents in this country than either Democrats or Republicans.
DETROW: So he kind of flipped that a little in his speech today in Dallas, saying - making the argument to the progressives in the audience, saying you need to join the Democratic Party and work for these things within the party. You know, but then interviewing him backstage he went back to being really critical, saying that basically the Democratic Party has ideas that the majority of the country believes in and yet it can't win elections.
SANDERS: How does it happen that a political party backed by billionaires that wants to give tax breaks to billionaires and cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, that doesn't in many cases even believe in the reality of climate change - how in God's name are they winning elections? And I think the answer to that is the failure of the Democratic Party to have a progressive agenda, to bring people into the party, to mobilize people. And that's what I'm running around this country trying to do.
KEITH: I guess that gets to the bigger question of who is the leader of the Democratic Party right now? I mean, it was clear...
DETROW: Yeah, and I...
KEITH: ...When it was President Obama, but Tom Perez is the leader of the DNC. But that's not the same thing as being the leader of the Democratic Party.
DETROW: Yeah, and I asked Perez very bluntly - why are you going on this tour with someone who won't even say he's a Democrat? And Perez's basic argument was that, well, there's a lot of symmetry between what Bernie Sanders believes in and what the Democratic Party believes in. But I think that Bernie Sanders - you know, that poll came out this week showing that he was - he was the most popular politician in the country. I think the Democrats know that there's a big chunk of voters who are really revved up by Bernie Sanders and they need to bring him into their tent to capitalize on that.
KEITH: Well, Scott, while we have you on the line as our resident congressional correspondent in the room, there has been another boomlet of discussion of the president of the White House and House Republicans potentially, maybe, sort of, possibly having a health care bill vote next week.
DETROW: Maybe, sort of, possibly I think being the key thing.
KEITH: Maybe being the operative.
DETROW: We've seen this a few times. It seems like the biggest thing that's happened - and I know we've talked about this on the pod before - is that Republicans realized, oops, wait a second. Totally dropping our number one issue over a seven-year stretch and walking away from it is not a good idea politically. So you've had, you know, two or this might be the third kind of resurfacing of no, no, no, maybe we really do have a deal.
But I think the basic dynamics remain in place where you have a big chunk of the House Republican caucus who wants to do as drastic a repeal as possible and an equal or larger chunk of moderates who do not want to blow up a system of entitlements that's gone into place or also blow up Medicaid expansion in a lot of states, both red and blue, that have taken that expansion.
So hard to see how you make both those groups happy. And if you don't make both of those groups happy you do not have a bill that passes the House of Representatives. And I have seen nothing to indicate that dynamic has changed.
KEITH: And Scott Horsley, we are coming up on the completely arbitrary but yet very significant in all minds hundred days, President Trump's 100 days. And at this moment there has not even been a vote on a repeal and replace of Obamacare. Could this possibly be part of the motivation?
HORSLEY: The 100th day mark will be at the end of next week, and so that seems to be the finish line that the White House is focused on. But, you know, Donald Trump has been saying all along - even before he went into the White House Donald Trump was saying our health care plan is almost complete. We just need to dot the I's and cross the T's. In fact, the White House never produced its own health care bill. After they pulled it after 18 days, he said we're going to return it to tax reform. He now says we're going to have a tax reform bill real soon. No sign that that's imminent either.
KEITH: Yeah. So also, though - and this may be the bigger thing is that the end of next week is also a really big deadline, that if Congress can't come to some sort of an agreement there could be a government shutdown. That is the risk and the threat. It's probably not a big risk or a big threat, but Republicans and Democrats and maybe just Republicans in Congress are going to have to vote to keep the government funded at the end of next week.
HORSLEY: It's both an opportunity and a risk because the Democrats want to see the government continue to be funded, so it's an opportunity for the president to try to wedge in some issues that Democrats don't like. But the Democrats seem pretty united that they're not going to go for, you know, say, a big boost in military spending or funding for the president's wall or a defunding of Planned Parenthood as a condition of keeping the government's lights on.
KEITH: Scott Detrow?
DETROW: Yeah, and that wall is going to be the key issue, I think, as to whether or not we're going to have a big dramatic government funding showdown. The initial push from the White House was to try and fund that border wall through the main spending bill that expires at the end of the week. Senate Republican leaders have indicated they don't want to do that. They'd rather deal with funding for the wall in a separate bill that doesn't have that kind of dramatic ticking clock dynamic or a shutdown attached to it. So depending what route Republican leaders end up going, I think that'll be the key as to whether or not this becomes a big thing or not.
KEITH: And just to be clear on the rumors of a possibly not dead health care bill or a vote, our colleagues Alison Kodjak and Sue Davis have been reporting, talking to both the House leadership and White House. And their sources are indicating that there is no new bill at this point and no timetable for taking another vote.
OK, so it is time to end the show, as we do every week, with Can't Let It Go, where we all share one thing we can't stop thinking about, politics or otherwise. Scott, we've got you here. Why can't you let go of?
DETROW: Well, this has been a very busy week in my life, and I think that I can't really let go of my weeklong itinerary. But there's a point here. I've been with Bernie Sanders and Tom Perez the last couple days, but on Tuesday I was covering President Trump, doing what you and Scott Horsley normally do and filling in as best as I could. And flying along...
KEITH: Feebly. Feebly. Feebly.
DETROW: (Laughter) And flying along on Air Force One to a visit to Wisconsin. And it was my first time on Air Force One, and that is a whole experience in itself. But the destination that we went to kind of was a really sentimental nice thing for me because I grew up - I grew up in New Jersey, but then my family moved to Milwaukee when I was in high school. And that's when I first started to really get into politics. And there were several different times when I was living in Milwaukee where George Bush flew into Milwaukee on Air Force One and I got all excited and I would get in my car and go drive to the airport to watch Air Force One land.
So the first time I was ever on it we landed right at that same airport in Milwaukee. And that was just kind of a really nice moment. And, you know, I know we have a lot of people who listen to the podcast who are in high school or college and just starting to get into politics and get excited by it. And we were all in that position, too, and sometimes it all works out in a really nice way.
KEITH: Aw, Scott, you're going to make me all misty eyed.
DETROW: It was nice. And...
KEITH: Did you steal the napkins?
DETROW: Oh, yeah, I stole all the napkins. I walked out of there, like, loaded down in napkins in my pocket.
KURTZLEBEN: Well done.
KEITH: I mean, it's not technically stealing, but, you know, you've got to load up. Danielle, what can't you let go of?
KURTZLEBEN: So I learned this week of a store here in D.C. called The Outrage. I have not yet been. I only learned about it recently. But it is in Adams Morgan, that neighborhood, in case you guys are curious. It is a store that sells T-shirts and things for protests, things to show your political outrage. Clearly this is a left-leaning store. Now, to be clear, this is a store - apparently they donate some of their proceeds to various causes of some sort. So, you know, I'm not quite saying, you know, someone is profiting off of people's, you know, sense of anger, but...
KEITH: Well, lots of people are, but we're not going to get that store.
HORSLEY: Commodify your dissent.
KURTZLEBEN: Yes, exactly. You know, I was thinking, you know, really someone did come up with a good business idea here which is capitalizing upon people's desire to have clever or unique - although if you have the same T-shirt as someone else it's not unique - but things to wear and hold up at protests because this is just me theorizing, but I'm just wondering, is - in the age of social media, which is a phrase we're all sick of hearing, is there some sort of thing where, you know, people really put a lot of work into looking a certain way at protests and having a certain - being photographable, really?
HORSLEY: Instagram-ready dissent wear.
KURTZLEBEN: Cannot let it go.
KEITH: Scott Horsley, what can't you let go of?
HORSLEY: How do you misplace an aircraft carrier?
HORSLEY: This is the week we...
KEITH: Those are big boats, aren't they?
KURTZLEBEN: It was just somewhere.
HORSLEY: This is the week that we learned that the Carl Vinson carrier group, which we were told last week was steaming to the Sea of Japan as sort of a big-stick signal to North Korea, was in fact thousands of miles away in the Indian Ocean. There was some miscommunication both at the Pentagon and maybe at the White House as well. Everyone says it's all good now because the Carl Vinson is now on its way to the Sea of Japan. And I think there's kind of a lesson here for the messaging from the Trump administration. When they say the Obamacare repeal bill is right around the corner or that the tax reform bill is right around the corner, it's kind of like the aircraft carrier. It'll get there. It just might take a little longer than you thought.
KEITH: And it might be - and it's south instead of north at the time.
DETROW: This led to a really interesting philosophical moment, though, when Sean Spicer said, well, it was going to go there eventually, so we weren't wrong in saying it was going there. And I thought, well, I guess he's not wrong. You know, like we're all just making our way to our end destination in one way or another.
KEITH: What is truth? What is reality? Where am I? Is this a studio or is this a construct in my mind?
DETROW: I think I'm still in Texas right now.
KURTZLEBEN: And it's 4:20 in the studio. That's great.
KEITH: (Laughter) It's not quite 4:20 yet.
KURTZLEBEN: No, I mean, everybody is saying very 4:20 things is my - is the humor joke I'm making.
KEITH: It's only 3:45. Did it already get to be 3:45?
HORSLEY: OK, Tam, your turn. What's your Can't Let It Go?
KEITH: So my Can't Let It Go is the Cabinet secretary who seems to be having more fun than all the other Cabinet secretaries. I am talking about Ryan Zinke, who is the secretary of the Interior. His...
HORSLEY: That doesn't seem like much fun. You just stay inside all day.
KEITH: Oh, no, no, no.
KURTZLEBEN: What a terribly named Cabinet agency.
KEITH: So his handle on Twitter, in case you want to follow him, is @SecretaryZinke. I do follow him. And he is just having so much fun. First he rode a horse to the Interior Department on his first day. This past few weeks it seems he's been on just, like, a tour of the national parks. And he keeps tweeting pictures of himself or some staffer tweeting pictures of him getting stamps in his national parks passport. He did some firefighting with some firefighters in Sequoia National Park. And...
HORSLEY: And all that counts as work when you're the Interior secretary.
KEITH: Yeah, it's amazing. I mean, like...
HORSLEY: That's actually official business for him. That's a good gig.
KEITH: He is just out promoting the parks, seeing America. And also, if you like animals, he has made it an official policy to allow people to bring their pets to work. And every day he has been tweeting about only 16 more days until Doggy Day at Interior. Meet Pax, whose dad Paul works in the Office of Communications. And it's a goldendoodle or maybe it's just a poodle, but it's a good-looking dog. He - basically, there - this...
HORSLEY: Dogs of the Interior.
KURTZLEBEN: Also, dad refers to owner, right?
KEITH: Oh, absolutely.
HORSLEY: Companion person.
DETROW: They're - my favorite picture of all of the ones that he's tweeted was - also involved a dog at the workplace, but it was actually when Zinke was in Sacramento meeting with California Governor Jerry Brown. He had a picture of him and Brown kind of walking down the hall talking. And he said, you know, look, we - even on different political parties we - there's a lot to agree on. But the best part of the picture wasn't Brown or Zinke but Brown's corgi Colusa, also known as Lucy Brown, who's just, like, in the picture bounding. All four of her limbs are off the ground and she has this big dog smile like it's, like, the greatest moment of her life. It's a great picture.
KEITH: I met the secretary of the Interior. Run, run, run, run, run.
KEITH: OK, so that is a wrap for this week. We will be back next week. And until then keep up with all of our political coverage on the NPR One app and on your local public radio station. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House for NPR.
KURTZLEBEN: I'm Danielle Kurtzleben, political reporter.
HORSLEY: I'm Scott Horsley. I also cover the White House.
DETROW: And I'm Scott Detrow traveling America.
KEITH: You should stop at a national park.
HORSLEY: You and Ryan Zinke.
KEITH: And thanks for listening to the NPR POLITICS podcast.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.