MIKE: Hey this is Mike (ph) recording from my polling station in Centreville, Va. This podcast was recorded at...
TAMARA KEITH, HOST:
11:36 a.m. on Thursday, November 9.
MIKE: Things may have changed by the time you hear this. To keep up with all of NPR's political coverage, check out npr.org, download the NPR One app or listen on your local public radio station. OK. Here's the show.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")
KEITH: Hey, there. It's the NPR POLITICS podcast here with our weekly roundup of political news. Election night was a good one for Democrats this year in Virginia and New Jersey and beyond, almost a year to the day after Donald Trump and Republicans won big. Now both parties are looking ahead to 2018 - and still fighting about 2016.
President Trump is about halfway through his trip to Asia, where much of the focus has been on North Korea and, of course, trade. And as sexual harassment and assault allegations roil Hollywood and the media and other industries, Capitol Hill is not immune.
I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House for NPR.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: I'm Scott Detrow, congressional reporter.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: I'm Susan Davis. I also cover Congress.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.
KEITH: And we've got a phone-a-friend.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: (Laughter) Hello.
KEITH: Hi, Scott Horsley.
HORSLEY: (Laughter) I'm Scott Horsley, White House correspondent.
KEITH: Awesome. And you are calling us today from Beijing.
HORSLEY: Yes, from a bus at the Beijing airport. We're getting set to head to Vietnam, the fourth stop on the president's five-nation Asia tour.
KEITH: All right, so what time is it where you are?
HORSLEY: It's 12:30 a.m., half-hour past midnight.
DAVIS: Oh, my gosh.
DETROW: So you're tomorrowing (ph). You're...
KEITH: Today's news tomorrow - today?
KEITH: And, Scott, President Trump got some notice with something he said about trade at a business leaders event in China along with President Xi.
HORSLEY: That's right. He was talking about unfair trading practices that China has carried on, and that's led to a big trade deficit. That's not a new complaint from President Trump. It's something he talked about a lot on the campaign trail. But then he said, this is the fault not of China but of past U.S. administrations. Take a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Right now, unfortunately, it is a very one-sided and unfair one. But - but I don't blame China.
TRUMP: After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit.
HORSLEY: Well, we should say, first of all, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described the president's comments as tongue-in-cheek. But to those of us in the room, I don't think it really sounded tongue-in-cheek. One way to read this is that the president sees the United States as a victim that's been kind of beat up on by other countries. That's another sort of grievance that he often aired during the campaign and he's aired as president.
But another way to sort of see this is just as a window into Donald Trump's rather grim dog-eat-dog view of international relations, where it's OK to take advantage of another country so long as you can get away with it.
But for more than 70 years, the international order has really been designed to stop strong countries from taking advantage of weaker countries. And, in fact, tomorrow the president is going to be giving a speech in Vietnam kind of outlining his view of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. And one of the phrases that aides have used to describe that vision is rules-based. Well, rules-based is all about stopping people from taking advantage of one another. So it will be interesting to see how he squares those two ideas.
DETROW: Yeah, that's definitely true. And think about that through line of how Trump has criticized NATO, how he's criticized international agreements like the Paris climate accord, how he's - at times - been very skeptical of the European Union. It's almost like if any country benefits from something, the United States must be losing. And the idea that everyone can benefit, which is kind of the hallmark of these, goes away.
The other thing that's interesting to me is, like, China was probably No. 2 boogeyman of Trump's campaign after Hillary Clinton.
KEITH: (Laughter) Yeah.
DETROW: But, you know, that tone has really changed. He has this - he criticizes them for not doing more with North Korea, but seems like he's developed this real buddy relationship with Xi.
HORSLEY: They do have a rapport. And certainly, President Xi has worked hard to sort of play to Donald Trump's ego. The Chinese staged an elaborate welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People today. President Xi took President Trump on a tour yesterday of the Forbidden City. They were treated to a performance by the Peking Opera.
So the Chinese have certainly pulled out all the stops to sort of cater to Trump's desire for the ceremonial side of the presidency. And Trump himself has also said, earlier in his administration, that he's willing to cut China some slack on these difficult trade issues if he gets more cooperation on North Korea. However, coming into this meeting, aides weren't really describing that as a quid pro quo. They were saying they wanted to make progress on both those fronts.
LIASSON: You know, what's so interesting to me - I mean, I know that the White House is stressing the rapport and the personal relationship. But, Scott, he seems to be more deferential to the Chinese leader than any other recent American president. And he's done so many things that China likes - that make China stronger - like pulling out from TPP, threatening to get out of the U.S.-South Korea free trade deal, really rejecting rules-based multilateral organizations and agreements, even though now I guess he's maybe thinking twice about that.
But it seems like he's done a lot of things that just underscore this disparity between Xi, who's now being called the most powerful leader in the world, and Donald Trump, who's struggling at home, not popular. I'm wondering if that's what it feels like when you're there.
HORSLEY: Well, Trump was asked about that on the flight at the beginning of his Asia trip. And he scoffed at the idea that they're in some kind of uneven footing. He says, you know, yes, President Xi is coming off this Communist Party Congress that's enshrined him right up there with Mao and Deng Xiaoping. But he says, look, I'm in a strong position, too, because the stock market is at an all-time high. So he brushed aside that suggestion.
But there's no question there is a view among many in the international relations community that the president's withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, his announcement of intent to withdraw from the Paris climate accord - his retreat, in many ways, from sort of multilateral institutions has created a vacuum that the Chinese are more than happy to fill.
KEITH: And meanwhile, China is sort of playing up the fact that it is in the Paris climate agreement and that it is working on electric cars and alternative fuels and it's going to rule in solar panels and all of these other things.
HORSLEY: Yeah. And make no mistake, China's approach to those international bodies and those international challenges is very different than the approach that the United States had taken in the era prior to Donald Trump. I mean, China does have a more mercantilist philosophy. They are not necessarily going to conduct themselves in the way that the United States did when our country had a more internationalist perspective. But they do see an opportunity to sort of reshape the international order in a way that suits them.
LIASSON: Have there been any takeaways at all on this trip about North Korea, which the president has elevated to the most urgent national security issue facing the United States? I mean, he wants China to solve the problem. They don't seem to be doing it for him. Is he coming home with any movement on that?
HORSLEY: Secretary of State Tillerson says there is a policy agreement between the U.S. and China that the Korean peninsula must be completely denuclearized. But I think there's a difference in sort of timetable and urgency with that. President Xi seems willing to give sanctions plenty of time to work. He has taken steps to put the economic screws on North Korea, to be sure. And President Trump thanked the Chinese for that but has said they need to do more. Xi seems to be taking a more patient approach. Of course, President Trump has said the era of strategic patience is over.
KEITH: My other item to ask you about, Scott, is this video that's been going around on the Internet of Arabella Kushner.
HORSLEY: (Laughter) The president's granddaughter, that's right. At the state banquet that was hosted earlier this evening, Beijing time, President Xi played a little video that was sort of a highlight reel of the U.S.-China relationship dating back to his trip to Mar-a-Lago and then some of the ceremonial events surrounding President Trump's visit here to Beijing. And spliced into that was a short clip of President Trump's granddaughter speaking and singing and reciting in Mandarin.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
ARABELLA KUSHNER: (Singing in Mandarin).
HORSLEY: That's from a video that Trump himself showed in its entirety. And it got a big round of applause, obviously, from the audience here in Beijing.
KEITH: And Scott, we're letting you go before we get to Can't Let It Go. But what can't you let go from this trip?
HORSLEY: You know, on these trips, you try to grab a few minutes here and there, when you can, just to get out of the bubble and see a little of the local color. And I was treated, in Tokyo, to an afternoon with our colleague Elise Hu. We went out and slurped some ramen.
But then, really, for me, the highlight of the trip so far has been just a morning in Seoul, South Korea. You know, we've been having kind of a dull fall foliage season in Washington, D.C. But in Seoul, they're having a gorgeous fall. And there was a lovely park right next to the hotel where the press corps was staying. And I was able to go out for a little while and go for a run and then spend some time in that beautiful park. And it just kind of made my day.
And then I came back into my hotel room and checked my email and saw that that was when the president had to abort his attempted trip to the demilitarized zone. So (laughter) - I was glad to have been away from the bubble for just about an hour.
KEITH: All right, Scott, we're going to need a full foliage report when you return. Thank you so much for phoning in.
HORSLEY: I'll look forward to it. Take care.
KEITH: All right, we are going to take a quick break now. And when we come back, election night 2017 was a good one for Democrats.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KEITH: We're back. And if election night last year was a great win for the Republicans and a terrible one for the Democrats, then this year - this kind of off year - it went the other way. Democrats won both open governorships in Virginia and New Jersey. New Jersey was completely expected. Virginia - mostly expected but sort of more of a toss-up. And Virginia is seen as more of a purple state, more of a bellwether.
But maybe even more significantly, if we're talking about a bellwether, is what happened down ballot in Virginia, which is that Democrats picked up a whole bunch of seats in the Virginia House of Delegates. And at this point, Scott, we don't know how many exactly.
DETROW: Yeah. And this was so interesting. And I should start with kind of an apology and a nod to the fact that, as a longtime statehouse reporter, I can only imagine how people who cover the Virginia statehouse every day felt seeing all of the national media suddenly start pontificating on the Virginia House of Delegates.
DETROW: But it was interesting because, for all of their infighting and problems, one thing Democrats have agreed on this year is that they need to compete in more places. They need to just show up. And that has been a mantra from Tom Perez to Bernie Sanders to basically anybody in the Democratic Party - says we need to compete more.
So they made a decision, with national help, to compete in these races because, for years, Virginia Democrats just didn't even field a candidate in a lot of these races. And what did they do? They went from nearly having a supermajority of Republicans to a split in the House of Delegates with a couple of these races still outstanding.
KEITH: And way too close to call.
DETROW: Yeah, yeah.
KEITH: There's going to be recounts. It could be a little while before we know the final result.
LIASSON: And the reason that's so incredibly important is because we're coming up on a census year and redistricting.
KEITH: Well - but even before that, what about health care? Virginia is a state that didn't expand Medicaid. And the current governor...
LIASSON: Right, wanted to.
KEITH: ...Terry McAuliffe, wanted to...
DETROW: Wanted to.
KEITH: ...and was blocked by the legislature, was blocked...
KEITH: ...by the House of Delegates. Well, if Democrats end up controlling all the levers of power in Virginia - and that may not happen, but it could - well, that would be potentially something significant.
DAVIS: Although Northam campaigned on saying as governor he would take recommendations for redistricting from a nonpartisan board, which is its own interesting factor in this - that he ran as sort of, like, a post-partisan on this redistricting question.
DETROW: Yeah. But the other interesting thing here is that if you have an environment where these first-time candidates with zero political experience are knocking off members of Republican leadership, then what can we infer for the political climate going into next year? Does this mean that a lot of congressional Republicans may be vulnerable to energetic Democrats who want to run for Congress in the midterms?
LIASSON: Yes, we can. I don't think that these...
DETROW: (Laughter) Well, we'll just do it right here.
LIASSON: I don't think that these off-year elections are predictive, but they tell you a lot about the environment. And don't forget the conversations we were having right before Election Day in Virginia. Everyone had in their computer the outlines of Democrats-lose-again piece. You know, Democrats can't get it together in the age of Trump - because the race was getting closer and closer in the polls. Ralph Northam won by 9 points.
KEITH: That's not insignificant.
LIASSON: And the fact that he - and he outperformed Hillary in an off-year election, when Democrats are famously hard to get to the polls. They turned out in droves, all the kind of groups that they can't get out to the polls in the past - young people, minorities - they got them out. And they outperformed. And does it mean that every other race in 2018 is going to be like this? No. But it had all the hallmarks of a wave developing.
And it shows that while we inside the Beltway were focused on all this circular firing squad activity among the Democrats and their internal squabbles - and believe me, they're bad, and they're not going away - right outside the Beltway - or in some cases, in Northern Virginia, still inside the Beltway - Democrats were focused on the task at hand. And the focus and the task at hand was sending a message to Donald Trump. This was a referendum on Trump, as off-year elections often are on the president. And the Democrats succeeded way beyond what they thought they would be able to do.
DETROW: Tam, you're the only suburban Virginian in the podcast right now, so why don't you weigh in?
KEITH: I was very focused on the local school bond measure. And turnout was extremely high in my town because of the school bond measure, in part. But that's not what we're here to talk about.
DETROW: Why aren't we here to talk about the school bond measure?
KEITH: The thing that has gotten me in the last 48 hours is just the incredible amount of self-interested analysis that's been going on about what these results mean, where you have Steve Bannon out there saying - well, clearly Ed Gillespie was just not Trump enough. He didn't wrap himself in Trump. He did - fact-check.
LIASSON: The day before, Steve Bannon was saying the reason why Ed Gillespie is surging is because he's using the Trump playbook.
DETROW: Yeah. Steve Bannon hopped off that bandwagon just as soon as he hopped on the bandwagon, just to be clear on that.
KEITH: And then you have sort of moderate Republicans saying this means we can't hug Trump too closely. We need to be more independent. And then you have Democrats saying Republicans are in so much trouble, and it's all because of Trump.
LIASSON: But that's what always happens after a surprise result like this. What I think is interesting is I'm expecting the first reaction - because human beings are human, after all - the first reaction to an election like this is fear. And you already saw today a Virginia Republican announce his retirement - another one.
KEITH: Bob Goodlatte.
LIASSON: Bob Goodlatte. And what I'm looking for - to see is, are we going to have a real rush to the exits?
KEITH: Sue, there were also some pretty interesting - in these like down-ballot races, there were some pretty interesting stories.
DAVIS: There was. And I would say Tuesday night on the macro level was the best off-year election the Democratic Party's had since 2006. And that is a point worth emphasizing because 2006 was the last off-year Democratic wave in congressional elections in that midterm election year during the Bush presidency.
KEITH: That's when they took back the House.
DAVIS: Correct. And they won the Senate. So there's this - what happened on Tuesday night has, I think, what had been a very demoralized Democratic Party suddenly feeling re-energized in this conversation over how competitive control of Congress is going to be next year. And part of that is because of all of these races down the ballot, that even Democrats did not think they were going to win on Tuesday.
And that is the sign of a wave election. When you're winning in places where even the party wasn't playing, didn't know who their candidate is, you know, that are winning and they were like, oh, my God. And that, I think, is one of those things that people look at. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who ran the campaign operation in 2006, said they are seeing echoes of what happened in 2006 today.
LIASSON: And, you know, I've been watching all along through all these special elections. Can a ham sandwich with a D beat a Republican? In other words, just what you're saying - can pretty much an a nothing candidate that nobody knows about win because the wind is at the back of Democrats? And it didn't happen in Georgia six. And I think Jon Ossoff, no disrespect to him, was a ham-sandwich candidate. And he didn't win.
KEITH: No disrespect, but he was totally a ham sandwich.
LIASSON: Well, no. But the wave there wasn't big enough, but it was in Virginia.
DETROW: It's honey baked ham. It's not the worst insult.
LIASSON: Granted, this is a light-blue state. We don't think that Virginia is going to be able to be replicated in all of these red state Senate races where Democratic incumbents are up next year. But it tells you a lot about just the fundamentals and the anger at Donald Trump and the energy. He has managed to energize Democratic voters.
DAVIS: There's also something about this too where I think particularly coming out of the 2016 election, and including many of us, who felt like Donald Trump was rewriting the playbook of American politics.
DAVIS: And Tuesday night was kind of a reminder that the rules still apply.
LIASSON: The rules still work. That is exactly what I had written in my little list of things. The rules started working again. Not only did it seem like the rules didn't apply to him, but people started thinking he had magic powers.
DETROW: But it wasn't just that.
LIASSON: He could be at 38 percent approval and he could still dominate. And he certainly is dominating his party, but the rules still win. When a president is really unpopular and disses minorities and women routinely, they tend to react to that. And look, this puts the Republicans in a really difficult position. Running on the Trump playbook, which Ed Gillespie tried to do - confederate statues, Hispanic gangs..
LIASSON: ...You know, immigration. It works in the primary. It's even required in the primary. But in a swing state or a light-blue state, it's not going to work for you in the general. It might even cause a backlash.
DAVIS: That was one thing that Democrats - and I think this is a really important point from what happened on Tuesday because it wasn't just the governor's race that turned on a lot of these ethno-nationalist racist themes. There was a lot of down-ballot races where there was mailers sent out targeting Democratic candidates, people of color that were overtly racist mailings.
But all of those Democrats who were targeted in these sort of racist-tinged campaigns won. I think that is important. But then in other races - like Danica Roem became the first openly transgender person elected to a state house in the entire country. She beat a Republican incumbent who had been the author of Virginia's - what do they call them? - like the bathroom bills.
KEITH: Bathroom bill, yeah.
DAVIS: And he was seen as an anti-gay candidate. She won. And Chris Hurst, who was the fiance of Alison Parker - she was that reporter who was shot and killed on live television - he won a seat in the Virginia statehouse against a Republican incumbent who was backed by the NRA. I mean, there was a lot of really interesting narratives down the ballot. And I think there's an effect here for Republicans who are thinking, do we run these primary driven, you know, base campaigns or do we try to appeal to the middle?
And I would note, today on Capitol Hill, a group of House Republicans had a press conference calling to pass DREAMer legislation by the end of the year. And it's a very moderate centrist position to say we think that we need to find a legal path, maybe even citizenship. And there's no reason they had to have that press conference today, right? It's notable that 48 hours after this race - and in all of these races, where all of these racial questions were really simmering beneath the surface, I think a lot of Republicans who have to run races in these moderate districts that have a lot of these centrist-independent-type voters are looking at what happened in Virginia and thinking, we've got to expand this tent.
LIASSON: Right. And this is what's so hard. You know, we've been ping-ponging between the two civil wars - the Democratic civil war and the Republican civil war. And in the days right before Virginia, we were all focused on the Democrats and their circular firing squad.
But now, just what Sue has said, what do you do if you're a Republican? You have to run hard Trumpist in a primary. And how do you suddenly pivot and run a different way in the general, especially when you have this chorus of people like Steve Bannon and the president of the United States saying the reason why Ed Gillespie lost is because he didn't embrace me enough?
DAVIS: One of the things that I think is another lesson we're learning from 2016 and what I saw in Virginia is just how much this country did not like Hillary Clinton and did not want her to be president, particularly these demographics like suburban white women, people who thought they would ultimately vote for Hillary Clinton and they didn't. And there was this question of, are these people leaving the party? Are they becoming Republicans? This culture-war issue.
And when you look at the demographics of who voted in Virginia, all those voters swung back to Northam. He won white suburban women by a higher - by 5-point margin greater than Clinton's. You know, a lot of those traditional demographics for the Democratic Party that didn't show up for Clinton showed up for Ralph Northam, who was an underwhelming candidate, right?
DETROW: So I have one more question about what we can or cannot infer from Tuesday for stuff going forward. We talked about taxes last week. We're going to talk about taxes at length again next week. But given that the suburbs were such a huge shift for Democrats, and given that Republicans lost so much in the suburbs, and given how some of the dynamics that these bills are working through, particularly the idea of, do you deduct or not deduct state and local income taxes? I mean, that could be a huge issue for an on-the-fence Republican in a blue state, where a lot of these battleground districts are. Sue, do you think that Republicans in suburban blue-state districts are suddenly less interested in going down that road now?
DAVIS: So this is what's really tricky about this, right? And this is where like politics doesn't always make sense. On the micro level, I think you're right, Scott, in these like New York and New Jersey districts where members are looking at this and thinking, oh, I'm going to get killed. On the macro level, I think that this election has had the effect up here on Capitol Hill of Republicans saying, we have got to pass this tax bill now.
Because the idea that - you already are seeing that the fundamentals are not playing in your favor, the pressure to pass something legislatively to give your members something to campaign on. And again, for most Republicans, this is a pretty good thing to go home and campaign on. But it might not be great in those districts that you need to win to hold onto your majority.
LIASSON: And what's so interesting to me, Sue, is that there's this assumption - it's unanimously held by Republicans that if they don't pass the tax bill, they're going to be totally cooked. You can write off the House. Mitch McConnell as we know it is over in the words of Lindsey Graham.
But what I don't understand is why are they so sure that if they do pass the tax cut they're going to get a lot of benefit? I wonder, are some of those suburban independents who came out to vote for Democrats, they're going to say, wow, the Republicans passed a tax bill, I think I'll reconsider my feelings about Donald Trump?
DAVIS: Well, and I guess there's a part of it too that if you can say...
LIASSON: I don't know.
DAVIS: ...If you can pass a tax cut and the economy's doing strong and if Trump can somehow get his approval ratings above this low watermark, that they have shot, right? They can hold onto things.
LIASSON: Right. It's certainly better than a sharp stick in the eye.
DETROW: Yeah, but those approval ratings have gone in one direction with very minor exceptions since day one.
DAVIS: And it's also a weird environment where I think we can say it's more likely than not that the House is in play. We don't know if the House is going to flip, but the House is in play - the Senate still really isn't. And this is where I think the confidence to move things like this tax legislation comes in, where Republicans are just - in the Senate - on offense next year.
It is very possible that they could take a wash in the House and Republicans could pick up two, three, four, five Senate seats. So there is still a confidence that they need to be able to advance an agenda. And where the battlefields are in the House and Senate in 2018 are just very, very different.
KEITH: All right. We are going to take a quick break. And when we come back, the conversation about sexual harassment and sexual abuse reaches the Capitol. Also, on a lighter note, Can't Let It Go.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KEITH: We're back. And it was just over a month ago that The New York Times published that Harvey Weinstein story, which was then followed by The New Yorker. And it broke open this huge conversation about sexual harassment and assault. And since then, there have been a torrent of people speaking out - men being fired or resigning over allegations of serial sexual harassment or abuse in Hollywood.
You have Kevin Spacey and others in tech and also in media, including here at NPR. One of our top news executives was forced out last week over accusations of sexual harassment. Sue, this is also playing out at the U.S. Capitol.
DAVIS: It is. And what's interesting what's happening up here now is it's very rare that Congress tries to get in front of something, to act before it's a problem. Usually something has to become a problem before Congress acts. And we are seeing lawmakers in both the House and Senate moving pretty rapidly to change chamber rules to mandate sexual harassment training for every single employee on Capitol Hill. And that includes Senators and members of the House, not just their staff. And I've talked to a lot of members about this this week. And there's just this attitude that they want to send a message that Capitol Hill is not a place where sexual harassment is OK.
KEITH: However, it is a place where sexual harassment exists, right?
DAVIS: Absolutely. And part of what has ticked off the conversation up here is California Congresswoman Jackie Speier after the Harvey Weinstein allegations broke - and you all remember the sort of #MeToo social media campaign where a lot of women were sharing their stories of sexual assault and harassment online - she, as a congresswoman, posted a YouTube video in which she recounted her own sexual harassment assault story on Capitol Hill from decades ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)
JACKIE SPEIER: I was working as a congressional staffer. The chief of staff held my face, kissed me and stuck his tongue in my mouth. So I know what it's like to keep these things hidden deep down inside. I know what it's like to lie awake in bed at night wondering if I was the one who had done something wrong. I know what it's like, years later, to remember that rush of humiliation and anger. You know what? Many of us in Congress know what it's like because Congress has been a breeding ground for a hostile work environment for far too long.
DAVIS: So she also encouraged other female lawmakers and staffers who had stories to come forward and a handful have. The Associated Press reported citing one current and three former female lawmakers who - saying they were verbally sexually harassed as members of Congress by other male members of Congress. What's important to caveat here is none of them have named their harassers. And no past or former members of Congress have been identified as harassers in this current scandal.
So it has touched the Capitol, but not in this kind of explosive way we've seen with Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey or any of these other stories where it's focused on a person. It's just sort of this amorphous we know sexual harassment can be a problem in the Capitol.
KEITH: And, Scott, it has really blown up in state capitols.
DETROW: Oh, yeah, all across the country. I mean, two big examples is just a few days ago, Kentucky's House speaker resigned after allegations surfaced. And actually, shortly after the Harvey Weinstein story broke, in Sacramento, Calif., nearly 200 women who work in - around the state capitol signed this letter just decrying terrible conditions within the state capitol there, including some really horrific stories of physical assault, physical incidents with members of California's legislature and just saying they were tired of it and just not going to deal with it any longer.
KEITH: Sue, in Washington, D.C., Congress is this weird thing. It's like this weird self-governed place where like - where would you even report?
DAVIS: Exactly. And it's also, you know, each member of Congress is elected by their citizens. Like, you can't be fired by your boss for sexual harassment if it involves a member, right? Like, they are hired and fired by the people. It's worth making clear that there is sexual harassment training offered to all staffers on Capitol Hill. It is not mandatory right now as other training is like ethics training and cybersecurity training. Staffers have to take these sessions and certify that they did it. So they're basically just trying to expand sexual harassment training onto that.
LIASSON: And it'll be really interesting to see if there are identified cases of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill will. The remedy be the same as we're seeing it in news organizations, Hollywood and elsewhere, which is the guy is out of there and his career is over? And I think what's so interesting is that sometimes we get to a tipping point in society, and it happens really fast.
All of a sudden, this has begun - completely unacceptable. And the punishment is swift and complete. And people lose their television shows and their entertainment careers or, in the case of Mark Halperin at ABC, all sorts of book deals and that's it. And this reminds me a little bit about how other big social change in attitudes happened. I mean, one day, we woke up and we had reached a tipping point on gay marriage. All of a sudden, it was widely accepted.
DETROW: Very quickly.
LIASSON: The sexual harassment thing happened almost faster.
DAVIS: Yeah. It's like we're living in a cultural moment. We're mid-cultural moment right now.
KEITH: All right. So with that, let's have some fun. It is now time for that thing we do at the end of the show where we talk about what we can't let go, politics or otherwise. Sue, otherwise?
DAVIS: Otherwise, the thing that I can't stop thinking about this week is two of the viral moments from President Trump's trip abroad. The first is, which I think many of our listeners probably saw on social media, the koi pond incident.
KEITH: Koigate (ph)? Is that what we're calling it?
DAVIS: And which I have to fully admit that I fell for this at first because, like many people, I get up in the morning and I look at my Twitter feed. And because the time change where they're ahead of time, we're getting a lot of this news in the morning. And there had been this video clip of President Trump while he was in Japan, where there's a tradition that when presidents or any foreign dignitaries go to Japan, you go to koi ponds and feed the koi. And President Trump, there's this image of him standing next to the Japanese prime minister. And he takes his fish food and just dumps the box into the pond. And it just - the image of it, especially with the Japanese prime minister kind of standing next to him with this like tight grin on his face, it looks like the president has made this huge faux pas, right? So there's this viral moment where everybody's kind of criticizing the president and saying it's in this embarrassing moment.
KEITH: It's like a kid dumping his Legos...
LIASSON: Doesn't he know not to overfeed the fish?
KEITH: People were very concerned about the fish.
DAVIS: And then, you know, when they play the longer segment of the video, when you actually do a little bit more reporting on it, turns out that the Japanese prime minister had done the exact same thing just seconds prior to Trump. So he was sort of...
LIASSON: When in Rome. He was just when in Rome.
DAVIS: Yeah. He was mimicking his host, not embarrassing him.
KEITH: So this was totally fake news.
DAVIS: It was totally fake news. And so the president did not do an embarrassing faux pas. He was just kind of following the motions of his host. So credit to the president, he did not embarrass us on this trip. He was maybe arguably trying to be a polite guest in this situation.
DETROW: Has anyone followed up on the health of the koi?
DAVIS: That's a good question.
KEITH: That was my question, too.
DAVIS: 'Cause fish are like golden retrievers, right? Like, they don't stop when they're full. Like, they'll just eat until they're sick.
KEITH: No, they just grow.
DAVIS: (Laughter) They get huge.
KEITH: How do you think those koi got so big?
DAVIS: So they're probably still full. It's like Thanksgiving in that koi pond. The other sort of viral moment that happened on this trip that I think is also - people have been obsessing about is Hope Hicks, the otherwise normally enigmatic private senior White House staffer. I think maybe the original Trump campaign staffer? She was one of the very first people in the campaign, has remained with the president this whole time. She's now the communications director and...
KEITH: Who never goes on the record.
DAVIS: Never goes on the record, has no public image compared to somebody like Kellyanne Conway. And at the state dinner in Japan, she had this sort of fashion breakout moment where it's a black tie affair. And she wore black tie. She wore a tuxedo in this way that - she looked impossibly chic. She's a former Ralph Lauren model, so of course she looked great in it.
KEITH: As a kid, when she was a kid.
DAVIS: And it was interesting to me because, one, for someone who like avoids the spotlight, that is not an outfit you wear when you don't want people to pay attention to you. And two, I have to admit a little fashion jealousy because very few women can wear sort of menswear like that and look elegant and chic. And she totally pulled it off.
LIASSON: That was a high-fashion women's tuxedo. And it might have even been Ralph Lauren. We haven't found out the designer. But I will tell you this, having seen Hope Hicks at a number of events in the White House and been in her office, she always has something fabulous on.
DETROW: Do we still call the, like, the tuxedo, the suit look like a Diane Keaton look, or is that an incredibly stale, dated reference?
DAVIS: That's true. I mean, it's certainly...
LIASSON: That's one version of it.
KEITH: The '90s are here to stay, Scott. It's OK.
DAVIS: Celine Dion did it at one point. Angelina Jolie has done it. Mara, I think you could pull off a tux look and look impossibly chic, too.
LIASSON: Thank you.
KEITH: OK, I'm going to go next. There is a new person - you know, there are a lot of people getting into politics, throwing their hat in. And there is a guy named Boyd Melson who is running for Congress in Staten Island, the New York 11th Congressional District. He's a Democrat. There is an incumbent Republican, Dan Donovan. What stands out about this intro video that has gone up on the web is that he is talking openly about having been addicted to opioids.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BOYD MELSON: You know, when I was active duty, I boxed full-time. I ended up becoming the world military boxing champion, was an alternate for the 2008 Olympic team. I had four shoulder surgeries and two nose surgeries. For six months, I was on Percocet and/or Vicodin. That was getting a seven-year journey to get myself off of taking those medications.
KEITH: And, Sue, you actually sent this video around. This is a shift. Like, this is the kind of thing that people used to not talk about.
DAVIS: The idea that you could use your addiction story in your campaign announcement is - one, I've never heard of anything like that. And two, it - to me, it also shows how pervasive the opioid epidemic is that this is something you want to highlight about yourself to make yourself relatable to your constituents. And this is a district where the opioid epidemic has hit really hard. So it's fascinating to me that this is something you would say to your voters to get them to connect to you as a politician.
KEITH: It also is like, let's get it out in the open. It - maybe it would have come up in the campaign anyway.
DAVIS: Very true, very true. Like, say the worst thing about you so your opponent can't use it.
KEITH: But it's also - to me, as someone who's sort of followed the opioid crisis, this is part of this evolution of how opioids are discussed, where people used to say so-and-so died unexpectedly and that's all that would be in the obituary. And now people say, my son died of a heroin overdose.
DAVIS: The guy that made this ad - I can't remember his name off the top of my head, but he's the same ad maker who did the viral ad for Randy Bryce, who's the Democrat who's running against House Speaker Paul Ryan in Wisconsin. And stylistically, they're really similar. They're like these Hollywood movie premiere ads.
But part of the argument that I think we're going to see a lot of this stylistic ad in next year's elections is that particularly among Democrats, there's this argument that part of what Trump's appeal was was there was this authenticness (ph) to him, you know, that he was unique. He was unlike anyone else. So I think that the way that Democrats are kind of putting their candidates forward is to kind of create a narrative and make them unique and do these like really eye-popping ads to make them break through.
KEITH: Scott, what can't you let go of?
DETROW: Chris Christie going out the way he came in. Chris Christie...
KEITH: Speaking of authentic.
DETROW: Yeah, exactly. Chris Christie will no longer be governor of New Jersey in a few months. As we've talked about, Phil Murphy, Democrat, is going to be replacing him in January. But Christie made his name on the national stage for one reason - these viral moments where he argued with people - teachers unions, Democratic voters, whoever got in his way on the boardwalk. It was his thing, so much so that he was in the running to host a talk show on WFAN in his post-gubernatorial life. Sadly, he will not be doing that. But Chris Christie went and voted on Tuesday. And when he was talking to reporters afterwards, he got into it with a voter who got in his face about a very hyper-local issue.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Sure, ma'am, why not? Off to a great start.
DETROW: So he's asking, why didn't you merge, you know, Mendham Township with Mendham Borough?
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
CHRISTIE: 'Cause I can't. Well, as governor, I can't - I can't.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: So why didn't you?
CHRISTIE: I don't have the authority to do it. Well, you know what? You can - listen. Well, you - listen. Go in and vote for whatever you want. I never said I was going to merge the two towns. I understand. You're so frustrated. And you know what? The easiest thing in the world is to stand where you stand, stand on the sidelines and critique. Well, you're not, But you're the one here doing the critiquing.
KEITH: And the look on Chris Christie's wife's face throughout this whole exchange is priceless.
DETROW: She looked really into it. She looked like she was loving it.
KEITH: Yes. She looked how I looked while watching the video, I think.
DAVIS: Is this like the politician version of senioritis?
DETROW: Well, but, like, he's done this all along. And like, I feel like everybody loved it the first two years. And then like by year eight, just yelling at people does not seem to have the same appeal I guess if you look at the way his numbers have dropped.
LIASSON: So being authentic isn't enough in and of itself. Sometimes you can be authentic and still be unpopular as Christie is or has become.
DETROW: Anyway, I enjoyed it. Chris Christie, eight years of that, soon he'll be doing something else.
KEITH: Mara, what can't you let go of?
LIASSON: My - the thing I can't let go of this week is the country music awards. The bit that I can't get out of my mind is Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood singing a song about Donald Trump.
DAVIS: Wait, what?
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "51ST ANNUAL COUNTRY MUSIC ASSOCIATION AWARDS")
CARRIE UNDERWOOD: So I guess to present our first award of the night, the stars of the new movie - what are you doing, Brad?
BRAD PAISLEY: Oh, I'm definitely not doing this one. (Singing) Right now, he's probably in his PJ's, watching cable news, reaching for his cellphone.
PAISLEY: Right now, he's probably asking Siri, how in the hell do you spell Pocahontas?
UNDERWOOD: Well, here we go.
PAISLEY: In the middle of the night, from the privacy of a gold-plated White House toilet seat, he writes - little Bob Corker, NFL and covfefe (ph).
UNDERWOOD: (Singing) Covfefe.
PAISLEY: Fefe (ph).
UNDERWOOD: Fifi (ph).
PAISLEY: Fef (ph).
PAISLEY: Thank you. (Singing) And it's fun to watch, yeah, that's for sure, 'till little Rocket Man starts a nuclear war. And then maybe next time he'll think before he tweets.
LIASSON: It's in the eye of the beholder or the ear of the beholder as to whether that was poking gentle fun at the president or whether that was crossing a line and bashing the president. And, of course, both of those reactions were well-represented on Twitter. And don't forget, the last time a country music act got overtly political and was outspoken against a Republican president - at that point, it was George W. Bush - it was the Dixie Chicks. And they got totally frozen out from country music radio.
KEITH: Their CDs were burned in the streets.
LIASSON: Yes. So there was a huge reaction. Now, what's going to happen in this case? Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, my understanding is they're pretty much country music royalty. So I want to see what happens to them over time.
DAVIS: Although the thing that's so interesting to me about that, Mara, because you also referenced the Dixie Chicks. I don't know if you all remember this, but at the CMA awards last year, the Dixie Chicks performed with Beyonce. And there was like a mini sort of culture-war controversy that came out of the awards show last year because a couple of the country music stars kind of tweeted - I can't remember the exact tweets about it, but it became like one of these certainly racially tinged controversies.
LIASSON: You mean they they didn't think Beyonce should have been there?
DAVIS: Yes. And the Dixie Chicks, of course, like responded and defended it. And it became this sort of like sideshow. And it was also shortly after the election, and a lot of these like tensions were there. So it's just interesting to me that like last year, the CMAs had a different political bent to it as well.
DETROW: Well, even as someone who long ago muted the word covfefe in my Twitter feed unapologetically, I found that song entertaining.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")
KEITH: All right. That is a wrap for this week. We will be back in your feed soon. Keep up with our coverage on npr.org, NPR POLITICS on Facebook and, of course, on your local public radio station. And a shoutout to Scott and Sue, they have a piece up on our website about Democrats and Republicans and what they're up to a year after the election.
If you're in the D.C. area in January, we will be doing a live show at the Warner Theatre in partnership with our friends at Washington's public radio station, WAMU. You can find more information and buy tickets on nprpresents.org. That is nprpresents - all one word - dot org. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House for NPR.
DETROW: I'm Scott Detrow, congressional reporter.
DAVIS: I'm Susan Davis. I also cover Congress.
LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.
KEITH: And thanks for listening to the NPR POLITICS podcast.
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.