SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:
We'll be going back to Lulu in a moment, hear all about what's at stake in next week's Mexican elections. But first, politics back at home. President Trump spent much of the week fighting his own party and undermining efforts to pass immigration legislation. And it comes just as he's seeing a rise in polling, with more and more Americans saying they're satisfied with the direction this country's going. NPR's Mara Liasson joins us now. Hey, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hey, Sue.
DAVIS: Mara, this did seem to be a notable week in the Trump presidency. We saw for the first time a significant pushback within the party - going up against the president on the family separation policy. And the president blinked.
LIASSON: Yes, that's very unusual. The political opposition to the administration's practice of family separation, which was a result of their policy of zero tolerance at the border, got more pushback from Republicans than anything else he's done. And it wasn't just moderate Republicans in the House who were against it. It was also conservatives in the Senate. They were preparing legislation to overturn this. Orrin Hatch said, this isn't American. And I think that's really why this struck such a chord because it did seem to be about who we were as Americans.
And in the face of all of this pushback, Donald Trump did something very out of character. Instead of doubling down, he caved or, as the headline on Breitbart's website said, he buckled. So immigration was about as core to Donald Trump as any other issue. You know, he's been demonizing immigrants since the first day he announced he was running for president and said that Mexico was sending rapists over the border. And he did it again this week, had families to the White House whose loved ones were killed by illegal immigrants. The message has always been pretty clear from him. They're coming over the border to hurt us, and they're infesting our country, which is the word he used. But for the first time, this backfired - or at least part of the issue did.
DAVIS: But on the message, you know, the president this week and his top administration officials, like his Homeland Security secretary, Attorney General Jeff Sessions - they weren't honest about this policy. They spent a lot of the week saying their hands were tied. This was the law. And none of that was true. Do you think there's political repercussions there?
LIASSON: That's a good question. We're so tribal now, maybe there won't be any, you know? Donald Trump said, famously, I could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, and I wouldn't lose any voters. So maybe I think net, net, net, it probably does hurt him a little bit, particularly with suburban voters, that is, the policy itself, not necessarily the dissembling about it.
But I think where the confusion and the untruths really do hurt him over time is with Republicans in Congress because he went from, I'm with you 1,000 percent to pulling the rug out from under them, saying, don't waste your time passing legislation. So I think the White House once again looks politically incompetent to members of Congress. He can't seem to negotiate a deal with Congress on immigration or on health care. And I think over time, that might hurt him.
DAVIS: But he said - he told Republicans in Congress don't bother because we have to wait for what he called the red wave coming this November to elect more Republicans. I have to say that's the first time I've heard the term red wave.
LIASSON: (Laughter) Actually, Newt Gingrich had used the term red wave. Look. It's possible that a couple House seats in Minnesota could go the Republicans' way. That's why he had a rally there last week. But this idea of a red wave, particularly in the House, I think is fiction. Republicans could pick up a few seats in the Senate. But whether that would help the effort to pass a big compromise immigration bill, which is what the president says would happen after the so-called red wave, isn't clear.
DAVIS: There also seemed to be some significant milestones this week about the ongoing debate over - is this Trump's party now? We saw a lot of well-known intellectuals sort of leave the party. Longtime Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said he quit the Republican Party. Conservative columnist George Will called for Republicans to lose their majorities. And the sad death of Charles Krauthammer also seemed to signal maybe an end of an era here.
LIASSON: I think it is. Charles was a friend and a colleague. And I think his loss isn't just to conservatism in particular, but it's to political discourse in general because Charles was an - a conservative intellectual, not a Republican partisan. There was nothing tribal about him. So that was a really big loss.
DAVIS: Do you think there's any impact for people like Steve Schmidt leaving the party?
LIASSON: You mean impact on him? Well, he's not going to get Republican clients anymore. But...
LIASSON: ...You mean, will he have an impact on the party? You know, that's the biggest question, you know? House Speaker - former House Speaker John Boehner said recently, there is no Republican Party anymore. There's a Trump party, and the Republican Party is off taking a nap somewhere. But we don't know what happens to a cult of personality. You've done stories about this...
LIASSON: ...When the charismatic personality goes away...
DAVIS: Well, we will find out. NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you so much.
LIASSON: Thank you.
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