Weekly Roundup: Thursday, October 4 Key Republican senators who have been withholding judgment on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court amid allegations of sexual assault said the supplemental inquiry by the FBI into those allegations was "thorough." Plus, President Trump signs a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico. This episode: White House correspondent Tamara Keith, justice correspondent Ryan Lucas, political reporter Asma Khalid, Congressional reporter Kelsey Snell, White House correspondent Scott Horsley, and political editor Domenico Montanaro. Email the show at nprpolitics@npr.org. Find and support your local public radio station at npr.org/stations.
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Weekly Roundup: Thursday, October 4

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Weekly Roundup: Thursday, October 4

Weekly Roundup: Thursday, October 4

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RACHEL: Hi. This is Rachel (ph).

STEPHEN: And this is Stephen (ph). We're sitting in Central Park, enjoying the last days of T-shirt weather.

RACHEL: It's been really nice amid a pretty difficult week.

STEPHEN: There's a big mud puddle over here that some people's dogs are bound to jump in.

RACHEL: This podcast was recorded at...

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

2:19 p.m. on (laughter) October 4.

RACHEL: Things may have changed, so keep up to date at npr.org and on your local NPR station.

(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 the biggest political stories. The FBI has concluded its report on allegations of sexual misconduct by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. And NAFTA is out the door. President Trump unveiled a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada not unlike the old trade deal. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: I'm Kelsey Snell. I cover Congress.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: I'm Ryan Lucas. I cover the Justice Department.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: And I'm Asma Khalid, political reporter.

KEITH: All right. We are here. It is the afternoon. This morning, senators started going to look at the FBI background investigation into Brett Kavanaugh - the expanded, reopened background investigation. The FBI concluded their report last night. Ryan, do we have any idea what was in it?

LUCAS: In any sort of specific form, no. It's more like we're looking at the shadow of the tree than at the tree itself. We can try to kind of figure out the contours of what's in here based on what we know on the margins, which is how many people were talked to and some of the people who were talked to. So at this point, we know from the White House that they say the FBI spoke to nine people as part of this background supplemental investigation. I have confirmed six individuals who they have spoken with.

The focus appears to be on the allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford about sexual misconduct that she alleges. The FBI interviewed a friend of Ford's by the name of Leland Keyser, as well as four friends of Brett Kavanaugh, one of whom is Mark Judge, a name that's come up quite a bit in our discussions about this case. The sixth person who I've confirmed is a woman by the name of Deborah Ramirez, which is another name that has come up. She's the second woman who came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct...

KEITH: From Yale.

LUCAS: From...

KEITH: From the time at Yale.

LUCAS: ...The time they were classmates at Yale. She says that, basically, Kavanaugh exposed himself at a party back in the early to mid-'80s. Beyond that, we don't know. But this has led to a lot of frustration on the part of Democrats who feel that the scope of this was so narrow and was so confined that it didn't really give kind of a fair shake to the allegations that the women who came forward made.

KEITH: And we've definitely heard from lawyers for both Ramirez and Blasey Ford saying, hey, wait. We gave you a whole list of people who you could've talked to, and you didn't. Like, the FBI didn't go out searching necessarily for, like, a wide group of people who could potentially corroborate any of this.

LUCAS: Right. And in the case of Ramirez, her lawyers say that she gave more than 20 names of people who could possibly corroborate the events, saying that they either witnessed it at the time or heard about it contemporaneously. Her lawyers say that none of those people were actually contacted. But again, this is not up to the FBI to determine the scope of this investigation. It's very important to say again that this is the White House that dictates this. The White House has said - and you've...

KEITH: (Laughter).

LUCAS: ...Talked about this a lot. The president said, I'd be happy for the FBI to talk to anybody that they want to. But...

KEITH: It feels like the scarecrow who's like, what direction do I go? And they - like, 12 arms point in different directions - not me, not me, not me.

LUCAS: There's been a lot of confusion about what the scope of this is, a lot of kind of mixed signals, conflicting tales. But the bottom line is the president can decide the scope of this investigation. He has said he was basing his guidance of the FBI off of what Senate Republicans wanted.

SNELL: And I should say that Senate Democrats - as a part of their ask, they have been asking all along for the totality of this report to be released. But they're also now saying that they want that directive that was written to the FBI from the White House and with the guidance of Senate Republicans to also be released.

KEITH: So, Kelsey, the ball or the report, whatever it is - it's now in the Senate.

SNELL: Yeah.

KEITH: It's in a secure room in the basement of the Capitol.

SNELL: Yeah. It's one floor below the basement, actually. So it's in a subbasement.

KEITH: (Laughter) The subbasement.

SNELL: And it's a secure room that only senators have access to and some select staff. And they've been rotating in throughout the day. We're now in the mid-afternoon, and there are still Republican senators in there reading through. There is one copy in the room. And as they've been coming out, we've been asking senators to kind of describe what the report is because they can't tell us what's in it.

Well, the things that we do know is that it's about 45 pages long. There's the one copy. And each person's interview is its own separate section. And we're hearing that they're a little confused about exactly how many people were interviewed here. It looks like there are nine to 10 people who were contacted and who have some sort of transcribed version of their contact in this report.

KHALID: Kelsey, I mean, we've been waiting to hear the reaction from a couple of key senators in particular. Have you heard anything from some of those key senators who likely could swing this vote about what they've seen in the report so far?

SNELL: Yeah, several of them who - they say that they are not done reviewing the totality of the documents. But Susan Collins was one of those people who - she's a Republican from Maine. She was in there. She read part of it, left to go have lunch. And we were told she was coming back. Collins said that it appears to be a very thorough investigation. She didn't have any comments about how she was going to vote. But she seemed to think that it was quite thorough. Jeff Flake also - he's the one who actually insisted on having this investigation. He's a Republican from Arizona who is retiring. And he also found it - said he found it reassuring. So there is this sense from many of these Republicans going into the room to review this that the FBI investigation is making it a little easier for them to say yes.

KHALID: Kelsey, have you heard from Senator Joe Manchin in West Virginia yet or Lisa Murkowski of Alaska?

SNELL: Murkowski did go in, and she looked at it. But we don't know what her takeaway was. She is also somebody who left and said she was going to come back. We have not heard from Manchin, though I expect that he may not make up his mind right away. There's not a huge incentive for some of these undecided Democrats to make a decision until it's clear how Republicans are going to vote, though it's kind of funny that Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota completely defied that expectation just a few minutes ago when she announced that she is going to be voting no.

Now, she is in a very tight race. And depending upon who you ask and whose inside polls you look at, she is down right now. And it may just be that she decided that she needs to vote her conscience and, you know, that this is just something that she feels she can't vote for. Or she may be making a calculation that - she's a Democrat. You know, she's a Democrat. She needs to vote with the Democrats to turn out Democrats at the polls.

LUCAS: Kelsey, I'm curious whether there's any sense of kind of buyer's remorse among Democrats that they pushed so hard to get this FBI investigation when, if you kind of look at it from the outside, this has really backfired. They push, and they push, and they push. And if this comes off being, well, nothing corroborated the allegations of the women who came forward - we can now vote with our conscience, and everything is just fine - whether there's a sense that they got, perhaps, outmaneuvered politically here when it's - they should have known that it's the White House that could ultimately control the scope of an investigation like this.

SNELL: That's something that, Tam, you and I were just talking about...

KEITH: Yeah.

SNELL: ...Right? - is that, did they feel like they were already losing the battle and that Kavanaugh was eventually going to be confirmed, and now this gives them a kind of sense of anger or a thing to motivate voters in saying that Republicans were unfair, and they forced this through, and they can now say that, you know - that Republicans stacked the deck for Kavanaugh? Or is this actually, ultimately going to be a blow for them that creates all this kind of new momentum and energy around the Republican side?

It's so hard to tell right now because, I mean, honestly, we just haven't even voted yet. We won't know. And the vote's supposed to happen sometime - the first vote - the procedural vote will happen sometime on Friday, which sets up, likely, final passage on Saturday. So until we see how that happens - until we see whether or not people remain as engaged and excited on the Republican side, I just don't - it's too hard to tell right now.

KEITH: Yeah. I mean, it's kind of like there's been a week that has passed. And what is different now than before? Not much, it doesn't seem, in terms of the political calculation.

SNELL: Except that the FBI report seems to have given Republicans some cover to say that they engaged in the full extent of the opportunities to investigate these claims and that they are satisfied that the claims don't have merit. But one of the things I wanted to ask you, Ryan - because people are saying this as they're coming out - is they want this report to be made public. And they want - that this would clear things up, that voters would have a better understanding...

KHALID: Who's saying this, though, Democrats, Kelsey?

SNELL: Democrats are. And some Republicans beforehand were saying so, though they seem to be backing away from that. So, Ryan, can you kind of help us understand how that all works, why it can't be made public?

KEITH: Why it's one document in a basement...

LUCAS: (Laughter).

KEITH: ...In a room, a secure room.

LUCAS: Well, these are files that contain buckets and buckets and buckets of highly personal information. There was a recent case of a woman who's running for Congress who used to be in the CIA. And basically, her background clearance form was leaked, somehow got out. And you have medical history. You have emotional history. Like, there is just reams of personal data in there that is not supposed to be for public consumption. It's just supposed to be able to allow authorities to kind of gauge or - you know, how firm of a candidate, how solid of a candidate you are for a particular job.

KEITH: We've been sort of talking about the mechanics here of all of this. But on the political side of things, Asma, we have some new polling - a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll...

KHALID: Yeah.

KEITH: ...That shows how this is playing with the public. Can you walk us through some of the really standout numbers there?

KHALID: Sure. I think the big takeaway was that we saw a change in overall enthusiasm. And so basically, you've seen the Democratic advantage for enthusiasm more or less evaporate, according to our latest poll. Just to give you kind of an exact sense of the numbers, in July, there was a 10-point gap between the number of Democrats and Republicans saying that the November elections were, quote, "very important." That gap is now down to two points, which - when you look at polling, that's within the margin of error, right? I mean, that just means that, essentially, there's no difference.

I think that sort of when you also look at the exact figures of who is saying things are very important, you've also seen a big shift. So, like, when you look at men, you've seen an uptick in men saying that it's more important. You've also seen an uptick in women, as well. But I think we are seeing some questions of whether or not this entire saga and debate is really galvanizing sort of the grievance politics of Republican men that Donald Trump very successfully captured during the 2016 election.

KEITH: Yeah. And I've been doing some reporting on that. I know you have, as well. You've been out talking to folks. I've been spending a lot of quality time listening to conservative talk radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The blood-drenched jihad against this innocent man, this good and decent man.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We're finding now that if you are a white male...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: It's OK to be against white guys.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: ...You're out. It's done. It's over.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I think it's hatred of men. And I said this.

KEITH: And there is a reason why, this week, President Trump made a turn where he went from previously saying she's very credible - Christine Blasey Ford - she's credible - to sort of criticizing her and almost, you could say, mocking her at this rally earlier this week. And he also has - he's always sort of had a focus on, what does this mean for Brett Kavanaugh? What does this mean for men? But more so this week - where he says this is a very scary time to be a young man in America, where he, at a rally, started telling this imaginary story about a son who did everything right and went to college and got his dream job and then was wrongfully accused and goes to tell his mom, Mom...

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: A person who I've never met said that I did things that were horrible. And they're firing me from my job, Mom. I don't know what to do. Mom, what do I do? What do I do, Mom? What do I do, Mom? It's a damn sad situation, OK?

KEITH: This gets to an idea that certainly is a strong undercurrent in particular among white Republican men that they're in peril, that this is - that they are victims, too.

KHALID: But I think, also, what we've begun to hear is sort of this galvanizing around the traditional Republican Party. So I was - I did a lot of reporting over the summer with Republican base voters. And some of these people had told me they were really lukewarm Trump supporters. They were what you'd call kind of Kasich Republicans. And I was trying...

KEITH: John Kasich...

KHALID: Exactly. John Kasich.

KEITH: ...The Ohio Republican who is kind of always at odds with President Trump at this point.

KHALID: Yes. And so I was calling some of these people back and. I connected with one guy in the suburbs of Georgia specifically who had made this comment to me. And I asked him, you know, where are you at? What are you thinking now? And he feels like this entire thing, more or less - I mean, I'm summarizing here - is kind of a sham. He feels like it's a distraction and that Brett Kavanaugh is extremely well-qualified. And I think we've begun to see a lot of sort of this coalescing of the Republican Party behind President Trump because of this Brett Kavanaugh fight.

I mean, I think the other clear example to me is - I don't know if you all remember Erick Erickson, who is this conservative blogger, talk radio host. He, during the 2016 election, was one of these, like, famously Never Trumpers, right? He uninvited Donald Trump from attending his very famous Red State gathering. He has been probably one of the most vociferous critics on Twitter defending Brett Kavanaugh. And I've just been so amazed to see this defense, given where he was himself on President Trump just a couple of years.

KEITH: Reuniting the right.

SNELL: Do you feel like that's something that can last, though? Is that - I mean, we've seen so many situations where Republicans have been situationally in support of this president. And then he goes and does something, and they are reminded why they found him distasteful in the first place.

KHALID: I don't know. I think that's a very good question. I think the only example we can have, though, is that when you talk to people about why they may have been lukewarm about President Trump and why they ultimately voted for him in 2016, the most consistent explanation I've been given is the Supreme Court.

SNELL: Yeah.

KHALID: And so I think if that's our one guiding lesson from 2016, it may indicate that that's the one thing that holds true now, as well. The way to sort of reunite the Republican base is the Supreme Court. And perhaps that's what we're seeing now.

LUCAS: And, Kelsey, that's - the question that you asked is the question that can also be directed at Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins.

SNELL: Yeah I talked to activists at the very beginning of the Kavanaugh confirmation process. And they told me that they thought that this was going to be the very last time Democrats failed to realize the importance of the courts. And they thought that there would be a lasting impact if Kavanaugh gets confirmed because it will change the way Democrats view both the courts and the relationship between Congress, the White House and the - that it's basically not just about Congress passing bills that they like or a president signing executive orders but that the last line of defense is the court. And I just - I will be fascinated to see how that shakes out.

KEITH: I think it'd be hard to say right now that Democrats are taking the courts for granted because...

SNELL: Right.

KEITH: ...They are literally marching in the streets right now - at least some of them...

SNELL: Yeah. If I walk out the door where I'm sitting right now inside the Capitol and look out the window, I can see hundreds of them standing outside right now.

KEITH: Yeah, literally marching, rallying.

SNELL: Yeah. And there are - my view on the Senate side looks out on the Supreme Court. And I can see all of the protesters across the lawn of the Capitol. And they've been there all day.

KEITH: All right. We are going to put a pin in this for now. But we will no doubt be back to it. Ryan and Kelsey, we're going to let you go.

SNELL: Thank you.

LUCAS: All right.

KEITH: And when we come back, President Trump's new deal with Canada and Mexico and Can't Let It Go.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KEITH: And we're back. And now we've got Scott Horsley and Domenico Montanaro with us. Hey, guys.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hey.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Tam.

KEITH: And, Scott, we have brought you in because, well, we're talking about trade...

HORSLEY: Woohoo (ph).

KEITH: ...And you're the man. Woo (ph). You are the only man on our team who gets so excited about trade. So on Monday, President Trump made a big announcement. NAFTA is no more. And now we have, pending Congressional approval, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: USMCA. And that'll be the name, I guess, that 99 percent of the time, we'll be hearing - USMCA.

HORSLEY: One thing Donald Trump was very clear on - it was not to be called NAFTA. He wanted it to have a new name. And as you heard, the president thinks it's got a nice ring to it. I talked to a trade expert at the pro-trade Peterson Institute for International Economics, Chad Bown. He was not so sure.

CHAD BOWN: No. It sort of has too many letters to be nice and simple and yet not enough vowels to make it into a word.

KEITH: Now, that is a man who is an expert on trade...

MONTANARO: Well...

KEITH: ...Not a man who is an expert on branding.

KHALID: Phonetics.

MONTANARO: Let me quote Eminem when he says that it all depends on how it's pronounced. I mean, usmicka (ph) certainly could be a word that you pronounce with the acronym.

KEITH: USM ca (ph) (laughter).

MONTANARO: Oh, wow.

KEITH: There's so many options.

HORSLEY: Yeah. I don't know. Maybe this will catch on. I kind of like oozmecha (ph). That's the way one of our managing editors was saying it. But even the president's own White House team - Larry Kudlow, the head of the National Economic Council, was struggling a little bit as he discussed the new agreement this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LARRY KUDLOW: USA - I got to get this right. USAMC, right.

HORSLEY: Close, but no cigar.

(LAUGHTER)

HORSLEY: No.

KEITH: Aw (ph).

HORSLEY: We'll work on it.

KHALID: So, Scott, minus the name and whether people can actually pronounce this or not, it feels like some of the major feedback that we've been getting about this is that, to some degree, it's not substantively, dramatically different from NAFTA in any way. I mean - right? - it accounts for new things that we didn't have, like digital - I mean, right? - in the digital realm or maybe the pharma realm. But it's not hugely, substantively different, is it?

HORSLEY: No, that's right. One of the questions you sort of have to answer in evaluating this new agreement is, what should you compare it to? Should you compare it to NAFTA, which is the deal that's been in place for a quarter century? Should you compare it to the big Asia-Pacific trade deal that the Obama administration negotiated, the so-called TPP, which Trump pulled the plug on in one of his first days in office?

Had that gone into effect, that also would have taken into account some of the new digital commerce and that sort of thing that has grown up in the last quarter century. But it's not a radically different trade deal than what we've had in place. It preserves North America as a basically free trade zone. It gives U.S. dairy farmers slightly more access to the Canadian dairy market. But on the whole, it doesn't make a whole lot of changes.

KEITH: So I have another question about this, which is we have been talking a lot on this podcast and elsewhere about how President Trump is waging a trade war with - well, basically, the whole world. And there are all of these tariffs on various things, including steel and aluminum. Does this address that? Does this resolve any part of the trade war?

HORSLEY: It resolves a little bit of it. I describe this as a partial cease-fire because the president had been threatening to tear up NAFTA and maybe slap big auto tariffs on cars from Canada and Mexico. He didn't do that. So in that sense, he has dialed back the volume on the trade war a little bit. But as you point out, this agreement doesn't change the steel and aluminum tariffs that the U.S. has leveled on Canada, Mexico, Europe, Japan, China, most of the rest of the world.

Those remain in place, and so do the retaliatory tariffs that the other countries imposed in response. So U.S. companies that rely on steel and aluminum are still having to pay more for that. We're seeing that in higher cost for soda cans and that sort of thing. And U.S. companies that want to export are, in some cases, running into these retaliatory tariffs.

MONTANARO: You know, the thing with this, though, is interesting - you know, Twitter's been around so long now that it actually, I think, has, like, cliche memes. And there's, like, the cliche meme now with the guy walking down the street holding one girl's hand but seemingly...

KHALID: Oh, yes.

MONTANARO: ...Checking out another girl, right?

HORSLEY: Sure.

MONTANARO: And the thing that got retweeted so often on this was - over one woman's head was NAFTA, and over the other one was NAFTA.

KEITH: (Laughter).

MONTANARO: So, Scott, is that an accurate portrayal or use of that meme, or is there enough substantively here that's changed?

HORSLEY: I think that's a pretty apt description.

MONTANARO: (Laughter).

HORSLEY: But I would put over the girl who's turning the head, I think I would have put USMCA.

(LAUGHTER)

KHALID: So, you know, on the sort of political ramifications of all of this, I guess I have two quick thoughts and questions. So one is, I mean, this has to get approved by Congress, right? And this could presumably...

MONTANARO: Yep.

KHALID: ...Go on until we have a new Congress.

HORSLEY: It almost certainly will...

KEITH: It has to.

HORSLEY: ...Be the new Congress.

KHALID: Right? And so my question is, I have no inclination to think that if Democrats have a majority in Congress that they would be inclined to work with this president on trade. Not that some Democrats might not actually agree with some provisions of this, but I feel like that's one big question mark.

KEITH: Well...

MONTANARO: Well...

KEITH: That's an argument that the president himself was making. But then I went to a briefing with his top officials, including Jared Kushner and trade representative Lighthizer, and they were arguing NAFTA already exists. This isn't a huge, dramatic change. So they don't think it's going to be nearly as big a fight this time around as it was 25 years ago, when NAFTA first went in and it was a big political fight.

MONTANARO: Maybe. But, you know, elections are going to - are - these elections might have an effect on the outcome because, you know, in the Midwest, we've seen the president's approval ratings tank in a lot of places over the summer because of tariffs. And, you know, more and more, we're seeing Republicans say that these tariffs are a good thing but Democrats saying that they're not.

If the outcome of the elections in the Midwest or elsewhere have some, you know, kind of deleterious effect on the Republican numbers - and it's clear that there was a draining in the Midwest or places that could have been affected by trade - then there might be a rethinking among Democrats and some of those free trade Republicans.

KHALID: That's interesting. And I guess also then, that kind of raises questions about how, if at all, this is even a political galvanizing tool ahead of the midterms. Because...

KEITH: Because it's not (laughter).

KHALID: ...Did a lot - I was going to say, I don't think it is at all, right? Like, I went out all throughout the summer to do a lot of reporting on hearing from members of what we would call the Republican base - right? - Trump's coalition. And you do hear about trade from a small subset of those base voters. And those are traditionally some of the more working-class folks who live in the Midwest.

But I would argue that trade was one of the few issues that I heard Republicans raise the alarm bells about when it came to President Trump. I mean, everything else - whether they were talking about tax reform or the Supreme Court nominees, everybody was lockstep behind the president. And this was one of the few things where I actually heard your more traditional Republicans raise questions about whether or not the president's approach with tariffs was the right approach.

KEITH: All right. We are going to take a quick break and, when we get back, Can't Let It Go.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KEITH: And we're back. And we're going to end the show like we do every week, with Can't Let It Go. I'm going to go first. And while we were all very focused on Kavanaugh and President Trump and all of that, it turns out Congress, despite their very public, partisan fighting, has been quietly doing things in a bipartisan fashion. They passed spending bills that prevent a government shutdown - at least for a couple of months. And this week, a bipartisan bill to deal with the opioid crisis is now headed to the president's desk.

HORSLEY: And, Tam, this is something you learned organically in covering the 2016 campaign - that this is going to play very well because this is obviously a huge concern out there in the country.

KEITH: Yeah. And this bill contains a lot of the things that experts have been saying need to be dealt with. It tries to prevent Fentanyl from getting into the country. Basically, it is an up-and-down, comprehensive piece of legislation. And all of these lawmakers in states that are affected by this - and voters really care about this - they're going to be able to go home and say, look what I did. This is one of those rare instances where good politics mix with policy.

Scott, do you want to go next?

HORSLEY: Well, yeah. You know, there's a new movie trailer out this week. And I know a lot of people have been saying, when are we going to get the biopic of Dick Cheney? And if you've been saying that...

KHALID: Yes.

KEITH: Lots of people...

KHALID: Definitely.

HORSLEY: Yeah.

KEITH: ...Like, nobody.

HORSLEY: (Laughter). I have to say, I was a little skeptical, too. But I watched the trailer for the new movie "Vice" about former Vice President Dick Cheney. And...

MONTANARO: Oh, so this isn't the TV channel.

HORSLEY: (Laughter). Not the TV channel.

MONTANARO: I was confused by that.

KHALID: I know. The name...

MONTANARO: I thought it was...

KHALID: I feel like this name could be read in a lot of different ways.

KEITH: Well, maybe that's part of it.

HORSLEY: I think that is part of it. And I was a little skeptical, but the trailer was very engrossing.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VICE")

SAM ROCKWELL: (As George W. Bush) I want you to be my VP. I want you. You're my vice.

CHRISTIAN BALE: (As Dick Cheney) Well, George, I...

HORSLEY: The movie stars Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush and Christian Bale as a very look-alike Dick Cheney.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VICE")

BALE: (As Dick Cheney) The vice presidency is a mostly symbolic job. However, if we came to a different understanding...

MONTANARO: Now, that Cheney's not bad.

KHALID: He looks eerily similar. It's amazing.

MONTANARO: It's amazing how Christian Bale could be able to get to look like Dick Cheney when he was, like, so ripped for Batman.

HORSLEY: Well, and...

KEITH: Christian Bale is super method.

MONTANARO: Yeah.

HORSLEY: Yeah.

KEITH: He probably ate so much ice cream.

HORSLEY: You know, if you remember him as the emaciated guy in "The Machinist"...

MONTANARO: Oh.

KEITH: Oh, yeah.

HORSLEY: ...I mean, this is the opposite end of the girth spectrum. It looks like an interesting movie. Again, I'm not sure folks were clamoring for a Dick Cheney biopic. But this is from some of the people who brought you "Big Short." And that's a movie that grossed $70 million, even though I don't think people were clamoring for a movie about the financial crisis. So sometimes, an unlikely topic can be a hot movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VICE")

ROCKWELL: (As George W. Bush) So we going to do this thing or what? I mean, is this happening?

BALE: (As Dick Cheney) I believe we can make this work.

ROCKWELL: (As George W. Bush, laughter) Hot damn.

HORSLEY: One thing that became apparent as we were talking about this in the newsroom is that some of our colleagues...

(LAUGHTER)

HORSLEY: ...Have a little trouble telling Christian Bale from Christian Slater...

KEITH: (Laughter).

HORSLEY: ...Another child-actor-turned-grownup-movie-star.

KHALID: (Laughter).

HORSLEY: So I have prepared just a little know-your-Christians cheat sheet.

KEITH: (Laughter).

MONTANARO: Know your Christians.

KHALID: This is quite amazing.

HORSLEY: Christian Bale, English. Christian Slater, not English.

KEITH: OK.

HORSLEY: Christian Bale, Batman. Christian Slater, Deadshot.

KEITH: What's Deadshot?

MONTANARO: What's - yeah.

KHALID: I don't know what that is. What is that?

HORSLEY: He voiced an animated - another DC Comic...

MONTANARO: That's a superhero?

HORSLEY: ...Superhero. That's right. They both had watery roles. Christian Bale, "Laurel Canyon." Christian Slater, "Hot Tub Time Machine 2."

(LAUGHTER)

MONTANARO: Two.

KEITH: OK.

HORSLEY: And it was uncredited.

MONTANARO: Lord.

HORSLEY: Thank you, IMDb database.

KEITH: (Laughter).

KHALID: That's pretty amazing.

KEITH: Domenico, what can't you let go of?

MONTANARO: What I can't let go of is the presidential alert system. And we're not going to make the buzzing noise because apparently you're not allowed to replicate anything like any kind of alert system, or the FCC will come after us, on the radio.

KEITH: There was an all-staff email about that.

MONTANARO: Correct. But I will say that what really struck me, what I can't let go of is not so much the alert system itself, but the reactions to it, how hotly partisan it was. And I'm not trying to be somebody who, you know, puts my head in the sand here and doesn't understand that, of course, there are going to be partisan reactions. But, you know, in theory, it's a good idea - right? - to have a system in which the government can have alerts that go out to all people, wherever they are. But boy, people were freaked out.

KHALID: I don't know. Is that, in theory, a good idea, Domenico? I feel like that could go haywire very quickly.

KEITH: (Laughter).

MONTANARO: Well, there has been a presidential alert system that people had used to reach television sets because a lot of people were on television - would see televisions or listen to radio stations...

KHALID: Yeah.

MONTANARO: ...During the Cold War for 50 or 60 years. So I don't really see the difference.

HORSLEY: Was it a presidential alert system, though?

MONTANARO: Well, that's the weird thing. They called it a presidential alert system. Maybe they could have mitigated some of this if they had just called it, you know, an emergency alert mobile system or something.

HORSLEY: It certainly seems like a good idea to have an emergency alert system that you can reach out to people on their cell phones since fewer people are watching television all the time or, you know, all those cord cutters out there.

KEITH: OK. So I, like, removed the alert without reading it. What did...

KHALID: How - oh.

KEITH: ...President Trump have to say to us?

KHALID: I think it just said, this is a test...

MONTANARO: Yeah.

KHALID: ...Right? - of the national wireless emergency alert system.

KEITH: So it didn't even say it was a presidential alert.

MONTANARO: No, it did, actually, at the very top.

KHALID: I didn't see that. Did you?

MONTANARO: It did. The very top of the alert said presidential alert, which...

KHALID: Oh.

MONTANARO: ...That's part of the issue. And, you know, I edited a story this week with Brian Naylor, who did this piece on the alert system and some of the fear that people have that President Trump, this president in particular, would misuse that system. And that's what you saw, is a lot of the backlash.

KEITH: Asma, what can't you let go of?

KHALID: The "SNL" sketch of the Kavanaugh hearing.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

ALEX MOFFAT: (As Senator Chuck Grassley) Judge Kavanaugh, are you ready to begin?

MATT DAMON: (As Brett Kavanaugh) Oh, hell yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

DAMON: (As Brett Kavanaugh) Let me tell you this. I'm going to start at an 11. I'm going to take it to about a 15 real quick.

(LAUGHTER)

KHALID: I just think it was somewhat comically brilliant, even though I would argue some of the portrayals were sort of less funny than you might expect from "SNL." But I think what, to me...

KEITH: Well, it was "SNL."

MONTANARO: That's subjective.

KEITH: Sorry, sorry.

KHALID: (Laughter) So anyhow, what I think, to me, really stuck out was Matt Damon was portraying Brett Kavanaugh as this really angry, privileged guy who was just not accustomed to being questioned in any way. What I take from that is I think some of the criticism that we've heard in the last week about Brett Kavanaugh has come up not based on whether or not what he is saying about the alleged sexual assault incident is accurate, but about his temperament. And we've heard a lot of questions about that. And I thought that this caricature of him kind of really got at those questions.

KEITH: Well, you know, "SNL" in some ways can cement our ideas of people. Like, so Sarah Palin never said, I can see Alaska from my house. But...

KHALID: Totally.

KEITH: ...Don't tell me that because I saw it on "SNL."

HORSLEY: Sean Spicer never used a squirt gun.

KEITH: (Laughter) Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTANARO: Or rode his podium like a Segway...

KHALID: (Laughter).

MONTANARO: ...Although, he probably wanted to.

KEITH: But, you know, like, I think that in part, Brett Kavanaugh is going to be remembered as a guy who likes beer because of this portrayal on "Saturday Night Live" as much as the 24 times or whatever it was that he referenced it in the hearing.

MONTANARO: I mean, what "SNL" often does, like you're noting, is create a caricature of someone that's often what you think of as the first thing you think of when you hear that person's name, as opposed to the actual person in real life.

KEITH: All right. Those are the things we can't let go of this week, politics or otherwise. And it's our promise that we will be here when there's political news that you need to know about, whenever that is. So with a vote over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation looming, we will probably be back here sooner rather than later. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

HORSLEY: I'm Scott Horsley. I also cover the White House.

MONTANARO: I'm Domenico Montanaro, political editor.

KHALID: And I'm Asma Khalid, political reporter.

KEITH: And thanks for listening to the NPR POLITICS Podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)"

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