JEAN: This is Jean (ph) from Chicago. I'm on my way to see NPR POLITICS live and I'm so excited. This podcast was recorded at...
SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
12:25 Eastern on Thursday, October 26.
JEAN: Things might have changed by the time you hear this. Keep up with the latest NPR coverage at npr.org, NPR One or your local public radio station. OK, here's the show.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")
DETROW: Hey there, it's the NPR POLITICS podcast here with our weekly roundup of political news. Today, President Trump declared a public health emergency in response to the opioid epidemic. We'll sort out what that actually means. And we'll check back in with Senate Republicans to see how their relationship with President Trump is. This after this week's extraordinary rebukes from Jeff Flake and Bob Corker. We'll talk about how that could affect the Republican push to cut taxes. And we'll bring in a very special guest who's digging deep into the past of President Trump, Steve Bannon and other top Trump aides. True fact - this conversation will involve Shakespeare in space.
I'm Scott Detrow. I cover Congress for NPR.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.
GEOFF BENNETT, BYLINE: And I'm Geoff Bennett. I also cover the White House.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: And I'm Susan Davis. I also cover Congress.
DETROW: All right. Geoff and I are in studio. Sue, you are at the Capitol. Tam, you are at the White House. We are checking all the boxes this episode.
DETROW: All right. So let's start out with what's been happening with the Republican Party this week. We did an entire special episode on this Tuesday. For those of you who missed it, Republican Senator Bob Corker started the week with a rebuke of President Trump. And then Jeff Flake announced he would not seek re-election in 2018 with a speech on the Senate floor.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
JEFF FLAKE: And there are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our principles. Now is such a time. It must also be said that I rise today with no small measure of regret, regret because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics, regret because of the indecency of our discourse, regret because of the coarseness of our leadership, regret for the compromise of our moral authority. And by our, I mean all of our complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs. It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.
DETROW: Yesterday, President Trump responded.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He was against me from before he ever knew me. He wrote a book about me before I ever met him, before I ever heard his name. His poll numbers in Arizona are so low that he couldn't win. And I don't blame him for leaving. I think he did the right thing for himself.
DETROW: Now, before all that happened, before Flake made that speech, before Bob Corker said what he said, we were all ready to talk about taxes because that's why President Trump was going up to Capitol Hill to begin with - to rally Republican support for a tax cut. So let's just have that conversation now. So, Sue - Sue, let's start out with this. The House just passed a budget. And now we always say the budget is tied to tax cuts. Can you explain for those of us - and I will be honest, including me - who don't fully understand that connection?
DAVIS: When Congress passes a joint budget resolution, which means both the House and the Senate passed the exact same budget document, which is not a law. It does not have the force of law. They do not send this to the president to sign into law. It stays in the legislative branch. But it outlines the parameters by which Congress can use a special budget process - which is a word we've probably talked about a lot on this podcast - called reconciliation, where you reconcile the budget, the revenues and spending of the federal government. And the intention of the reconciliation process is strictly to do fiscal legislation.
And when you do this legislation, it creates almost a special process, protected process where, under normal circumstances, it takes a super majority to get a bill through the Senate. That is 60 votes. That is the hurdle by which you have to overcome a filibuster. It's generally the standard for major pieces of legislation such as this. Under this circumstance, you can use the reconciliation process to bring a tax bill to the floor.
And Republicans are using this process because this is likely to be a very partisan exercise in which, again, we have a similar scenario like health care, where Republicans are trying to pass legislation on their votes alone. And in the Senate, they only have 52 Republicans. And, again, the math, we say over and over. They can only lose two votes and still pass a bill in the Senate with 50 votes because Vice President Mike Pence is also the president of the Senate, and he can come down to Capitol Hill and cast the deciding vote - the 51st vote - to pass these bills.
Now that was the plan in health care, didn't work out so well. They're going to try the same process in tax cuts. They are hopeful to have a better resolution on the other end of it. But passing the budget now allows them to release this tax bill, and they're going to release it next Wednesday. That's November 1. And they're going to start moving it through committee on November 6, the following week.
And the timeline's really ambitious. I mean, they're saying - the speaker is saying they want to pass it out of the House by Thanksgiving. They want the Senate to do it in December. They want to work through the differences there and get it to President Trump by the end of the year.
KEITH: I feel like there are so many unanswered questions, and we're a week away from them announcing it.
DAVIS: And it's true because so much of the - we know some of the broad-stroke details of the tax plan.
KEITH: Like the top-line stuff, we've got that.
DAVIS: We don't even have top-line numbers. We kind of know - one number we know is they want to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. That's a hard number that we do know. But in terms of what most people are going to care about - their own individual tax bracket and which of their deductions and loopholes and retirement savings might be affected - those details have been pretty closely guarded. And once the bill drops, the lobbying frenzy that you will see in Washington over a piece of tax legislation this big is unlike anything else. And it's incredibly difficult to do. And it's why Congress hasn't really tried to do something this comprehensive since Ronald Reagan was president.
BENNETT: And when they did attempt it, it was in the sixth year of Ronald Reagan's two terms. And it took two years to complete.
DAVIS: And it was a different time. It was also bipartisan. So it's very different circumstances by which Republicans are operating in 2017.
DETROW: On the fact that this bill just hasn't been rolled out in detail, there was a great quote from Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, saying, you know, I was watching "Indiana Jones" the other night and I sort of feel like this tax bill is like the Ark of the Covenant. It must be so magnificent that if we actually laid our eyes on it, it would eviscerate all of us. It would lay waste to nations.
DAVIS: I love that.
DETROW: Don't look at it, Marion.
DAVIS: I mean, there is a risk here, right? Like, even the Republicans that want to vote for this, they care about the details. And they've been so closely guarded. The inner circle that has sort of crafted this bill is about six people. It's the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. The Ways and Means chairman is Kevin Brady. He's a Republican from Texas. Orrin Hatch is a Republican from Utah. He's the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. And you have the White House adviser Steven Mnuchin, who's the treasury secretary, and Gary Cohn, who's a top economic adviser. The big five. They're - they've - and I'm sorry, the sixth is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
So this has been a pretty tightly held product. And there is some resentment or at least nervousness among Republicans that they really do want to vote for this. But are they going to release a bill on Wednesday that people go, uh (ph)? And we've already seen that a little bit. One of the things - the fights we have seen. And there was a tight vote to pass the budget today. One of the things they're talking about is eliminating the ability to write off state and local taxes. It's called - you're going to hear the word SALT a lot in the coming months.
KEITH: Oh, my gosh.
DAVIS: That's the shorthand for state and local taxes.
KEITH: I had seen SALT in my Twitter feed, and I was like, what?
DAVIS: Get used to it. You're going to be seeing that SALT all over the place in this debate.
KEITH: Oh, my God.
BENNETT: You know, Sue's making the point about how the details on this are important. And taking this back into the realm of the beef between President Trump and Bob Corker, you'll remember this whole thing started because Donald Trump said on Twitter - he just took - he just said that there was going to be no cap on the tax-deferred 401(k) IRA retirement account.
KEITH: Like how much you could put into your 401(k).
BENNETT: How much you could put into it. And that was something that Republican leaders were considering. Who knows how serious they were considering it? But it was at least part of the ongoing negotiations. Bob Corker said it was not at all helpful for the president to weigh in like that because, as you say, you know, this is something that Republican leaders want to consider on their own. And it's not helpful to have the president weigh in at a whim.
DETROW: So, Sue, you were talking about this. And I think that something like that could really alarm someone who pays taxes and is thinking, wait, what? I'm not going to be able to contribute as much to my 401(k)? Wait, what? I'm not going to be able to deduct my state taxes? All these things by themselves could be seen unpopularly (ph). And if President Trump keeps popping in and saying, we're not going to do that - I mean, you're talking about how it's taken months to write this bill. How do you adjust to that when you don't know what's going to be on Twitter?
DAVIS: And there has been a level of sensitivity from Republicans about this bill, that it's not going to cut taxes for the middle class in the ways that some Republicans, including the president, are promising. I'm hesitant to give too harsh of a judgment on what this bill's going to be because, again, nobody's seen it. We don't have - and the details in this bill are going to matter. And even to the extent of the state and local deductions and all of these things that make people nervous, Republicans' point - that I've talked to this week - are like, wait until you see the full product.
Because in theory, you know, you could eliminate some deductions here or there. But if you double other tax breaks, if you increase the deduction amounts, the end goal is to reduce overall tax burdens, right? But this is the challenge. Every time you move the dial one way, you have to move the dial another way. And if you want to cut taxes to the extent that they do, you got to pay for it somehow. There will be winners in this tax bill. There will be losers. There is no way to do a tax bill without losers. The question is we just don't know who those losers are yet and if certain states might win or lose more than others.
BENNETT: That hasn't stopped the White House from making all kinds of assertions about how this will benefit the middle class and how there will be a $4,000 effective raise for families as a result of this. Even though, you know, as you point out, Republicans who are actually involved in the heavy lifting aren't so sure.
DAVIS: Stephen Moore, who is an adviser who has worked with the White House and has worked with - worked with candidate Trump, was on - I think it was Weekend Edition Sunday. And he was saying that what the White House has outlined so far, what, you know, the sort of top line amounts to about a $4 trillion tax cut because they haven't yet announced what the other stuff is that will be done to pay for that. You know, things like changing the 401(k) or taking away state and local tax deductions.
You know, what loopholes, what deductions are they going to get rid of? Because the budget that was just passed says that $1.5 trillion is what they are allotting for this tax plan to cost, not $4 trillion. So there's like a very big gap to bridge with a lot of information that we simply don't have at this point.
DETROW: So last question for everybody, and I want to hear everybody's opinion on this. This big complicated time-consuming resource-consuming effort is underway at a time when you have President Trump going after certain Republicans on Twitter, certain Republicans going back to President Trump on the Senate floor and in interviews. How much does the infighting get in the way of the tax cut? Geoff?
BENNETT: I heard someone describe this as having a baby to save the marriage, right?
KEITH: Oh, I heard that too.
BENNETT: Like you - now have to get taxes done because you have Lindsey Graham and other top Republicans saying on the record that if they don't, Republicans can't go into 2018 talking only about how Neil Gorsuch is on the Supreme Court. Like, that can't be the thing that they go to the voters with.
So how does the infighting affect all of it? I'd say it certainly doesn't help, but I think Republicans from the White House over to the Capitol realize that they've got to do something on taxes. Even if it's not tax reform or tax overhaul, maybe if it's just tax cuts, the vast majority of Americans will see that and that'll be enough for them - the vast majority of Republicans, I mean.
DAVIS: So I don't think the infighting matters to the extent that the suggestion that a senator like Bob Corker or Jeff Flake could be a no because of the personal animus between themselves and the president. I think that's overstated. I really don't think people vote on policy based on people they like or don't like. A lot of people up here don't like each other and they can work together on things.
What I do think could really hurt this process is if the president does continue to try and dictate policy through Twitter. And part of that is he then creates standards by which it requires lawmakers to scramble to get behind the president. And when you're talking about something like this that - where the numbers and the specificity are so detailed that, you know, if the president tweets tomorrow, I don't like these state and local taxes, I won't sign it - the bill can't move.
And so having these kind of airing of grievances in public is more what concerns policy makers who are trying to write this bill because if you don't know what's coming from the White House on any given day, it's tough. And if you remember during health care - do you remember when the president tweeted that the bill was - or it was - I don't know if it was tweeted or it was reported that he called the health care bill mean?
BENNETT: Yeah. He said it.
DAVIS: He said it when he said he didn't want it to be - it was too mean. He wanted it to be nicer to people.
BENNETT: Have heart, yeah.
DAVIS: It really did stall the momentum and push lawmakers back on their heels. And they didn't know how to message it. And he can really hamstring the process in ways, quite frankly, I'm not sure the president even really gets himself that - the damage it can do. So the nervousness about this is, I mean, every Republican up here wants to go for a tax cut, right? Like, they want this bill to pass. But the challenges are, again, having a president who's entirely unpredictable.
KEITH: The real question I have is whether the president is going to be able to use his bully pulpit or whether he's going to choose to use his bully pulpit and not get distracted and not distract others to build a case for the need for overhauling the tax system. Because at this point, the president has made a few speeches. Often, they've been overshadowed by other things he's said.
And you don't hear the American public clamoring like, we need this. We need this right now. I mean, you hear the donor class clamoring for it. You hear Republicans in Congress clamoring for it. But you need to get like a lot of Americans saying, yes, we need this. This is so important that I'm willing to give up my state and local tax deduction.
DETROW: All right. So when it comes to all of this infighting, a big player is Steve Bannon. He's leading this big push to take on incumbents who he says aren't supportive enough of Donald Trump. Bannon claimed victory, claimed a scalp almost when Flake said he wasn't running because Flake was a big Bannon target.
But Bannon had a past life, a past life that involved movie scripts about Titus Andronicus in space, among other things. And that is weirdly relevant to what's going on today. And it is so relevant that our colleague Kelly McEvers is spending all season of Embedded digging into the past lives of Bannon and other top Trump aides, plus Trump himself. So, Kelly, you're on with us from LA. How's it going?
KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Hey. It's going well.
DETROW: I've got to say, we gave Embedded a shoutout during our live show in Chicago and it got like roaring applause from the audience.
MCEVERS: All right. Wow. We have crossover. Cool.
DETROW: So I want to ask like the big picture what you were trying to get at here, but I really actually want to start with, like, what is up with all of these weird movie ideas that Steve Bannon had that you dug up?
MCEVERS: Right. So we were just like so interested in going back into the record of not just Donald Trump but some of his top advisers. Because, as you guys know well, like, they don't have a record of public office, but they have records in business and, of course, on television. So we thought, there's got to be some good stories to tell back in that record, right? And because we're based in LA, when I say we, I mean me and Embedded producer Tom Dreisbach. We were thinking like, what if we looked at Steve Bannon's time in Hollywood?
He actually spent a lot of time here. And he came here as a money guy. He worked for Goldman Sachs, as everyone knows. And he came to Hollywood with Goldman in the '80s to do, you know, sort of investment deals in like movie and TV. And then he opened his own investment shop.
And so a lot of the work that he was doing, like his day job basically was to be like a money guy, but like a lot of people who come to Hollywood - right? - he wanted to be a creative type too. And we were able to get a hold of this list of his, this list that he made with this writing partner of his named Julia Jones. And to see this list and to watch how this list changed over time is to just be able to like look into Steve Bannon's brain at that time.
DETROW: So let's listen to a moment from the episode where you walk through that list.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
MCEVERS: So here's some of the stuff on the list. And remember, these are just ideas in and Steve and Julia's heads. There's "Those Who Knew." It's a weekly TV show that Julia describes as a "60 Minutes" for great thinkers.
JULIA JONES: That we're entering the new millennium. And people have to start thinking differently - and that the greatest ideas are often the oldest ideas - the ancient wisdom, he called it. Very into Plato, very into Marcus Aurelius.
MCEVERS: And then there are these really melodramatic stories that usually involve a naval officer. Steve Bannon, remember, was a naval officer. There's "Navy Cross," about a young couple who gets married. He goes off to sea. She gets pregnant. He dies in war. She dies in childbirth. Julia says that was totally Steve.
And there's "That Hamilton Woman," which was maybe a remake of a 1941 film of the same name starring Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. And it's about this dance hall girl who marries a diplomat but then has an affair with an admiral in the British Navy. There's a project about infinity called "Dig Infinity," a project based on the Gospel of St. Mark, a project about the final hours of soldiers' lives on the battlefield and a lot more Shakespeare.
DETROW: So, Kelly, I feel like I heard that, and I was like, everybody knows this guy from his college dorm room - of, like, I'm really into Julius Caesar. And I'm really into, like, Greek philosophy.
MCEVERS: Navy stories.
DETROW: Yeah. Let's do a project on that.
MCEVERS: Right. I mean, this is what was so interesting to us. Like, this is a person who's obviously, like, a student of history who reads a lot of Shakespeare, who's, like, really into philosophy. And so yeah. So that all seems pretty normal, if not a little wacky. But it's Hollywood, right? Everyone's just sort of throwing out ideas, seeing what's going to stick. That's what we hear about in this episode so much.
And then this list totally and completely changes. And that was just this moment that we were really fascinated by. And the reason it changes is because he makes this film about Ronald Reagan. And it's 2004. And it's based on a book by this conservative author named Peter Schweitzer. And it's about Reagan's war with communism. That's sort of the idea. And so the project starts as this kind of straight documentary.
And then when Steve Bannon gets involved, it turns into something else. There's a lot of Kato. There's a lot of, like, referencing to the Roman Empire. For him, the story of Reagan's war with communism is basically the story of good versus evil. So, again, like, stuff that we're seeing from his life - the making of the Reagan film and the screening of the Reagan film is what changes everything. And the reason it changes everything is because it gets screened at a conservative film festival here in Los Angeles, here in Hollywood. And at that film festival is a guy named Andrew Breitbart. And that is where the two of them meet.
DETROW: So - and Bannon, eventually, obviously, takes over Breitbart after Andrew Breitbart dies. But did you get the sense in your reporting that Steve Bannon just became this crusading conservative - crusading nationalist figure - because his ideas shifted or because he discovered a niche?
MCEVERS: That is the million-dollar question. And from our reporting, like - and again, this is a theory. This is based on all the sources that we talked to. We were not able to talk to Steve Bannon himself on the record. Our sense is that he changed with the opportunity. What we see on his list - he actually writes the words himself - this film is going to open the door to funding from conservative organizations. We see that he sees an opportunity after he meets Andrew Breitbart. And then we see his ideas change.
And then this list - right? - so the early 2004 list, Navy melodrama and the Shakespeare and the historical stuff - it changes completely to include stories about Ann Coulter, why Michael Moore hates America, "Studies In Liberal Hypocrisy." I mean, you just see stuff that's much more in line with the Steve Bannon that we see today than was previously on that list.
KEITH: Kelly, I want to go back to something - a name that you said a couple of minutes ago, Peter Schweitzer.
MCEVERS: Yeah, right.
KEITH: That name rings a bell from...
KEITH: ...This most recent campaign because he wrote the "Clinton Cash" book...
MCEVERS: Oh, yeah.
KEITH: ...Which has been at the heart of a lot of the sort of opposition research against Hillary Clinton that came out in the campaign and is coming out even this week, as you talk about the uranium stuff.
MCEVERS: Yep. And he works for the Government Accountability Institute, which is an organization that Steve Bannon is formally aligned with. They first met on this Reagan project and have been working together in different projects going forward.
KEITH: And he played a prominent role in the 2016 campaign before Steve Bannon was ever working on the Trump campaign formally.
DETROW: So, Kelly, you were talking a lot about Bannon now. But you also did an episode about Trump's time on "The Apprentice," about a California golf course that Trump developed. The episode that comes out today is all about Jared Kushner.
DETROW: What's, like, the big-picture takeaway that you learned about Kushner doing this?
MCEVERS: You know, we spent a lot of time talking to these two great reporters at Bloomberg News who've done a lot of reporting on this building that Jared Kushner's family, Kushner Companies, owns. It's called 666 Fifth Avenue. It's this skyscraper on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. And what they have found - I mean, this is a building that, when the Kushners bought it for $1.8 billion, was the most anyone had paid for a Manhattan building ever. It's a very, very big deal. Jared Kushner was in charge of the deal. He was very young at the time. He was in his 20s. And this was in the housing boom in Manhattan. It's 2007. Of course, the financial crisis happens. The building gets in a lot of trouble.
And the Kushners' plan is at some point to just knock the whole thing down and rebuild it, rebuild it as an $8 billion building, which is just this crazy plan. And to do that, they go overseas, looking for big-time investors. And one of those investors is a big, giant Chinese insurance company called Anbang. We all remember Anbang from the news. What's fascinating about what these two reporters found and what we report sort of in detail in this episode is that everyone thought that Jared Kushner being in the White House was going to enrich his family's business.
And on this particular case, the opposite happened, right? Being in the White House actually brought more scrutiny to 666 Fifth Avenue - more reporters, more, you know, ethics experts, more people looking at the business dealings and saying, hang on a second. If you're going to get $400 million in cash from this giant Chinese insurance company that has ties to the political elite in China, could there be a conflict of interest if you're sitting in on meetings with Chinese officials at the White House?
And the deal fell through. Anbang pulled out. And, actually, now 666 Fifth Avenue is in real trouble. So I think that was the big surprise for us - is that this idea - and we're seeing this with some of Donald Trump's properties, right? - that being in the White House hasn't necessarily enriched the business in a way that people thought early on.
DETROW: All right. Well, Kelly McEvers, host of Embedded, also All Things Considered, thanks for hanging out with us for a few minutes today.
MCEVERS: Yeah. Thanks for having me.
DETROW: All right. Look forward to listening to the Kushner thing.
DETROW: All right. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, what this declaration of a national emergency over the opioid crisis actually means. And we'll also do Can't Let it Go. That's up ahead.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DETROW: And we're back. So today, President Trump officially declared a public health emergency over the opioid epidemic. Tam, we have talked again and again how he said he was going to. Then he didn't. Now he has. What have we learned that we didn't know before in terms of what the White House is actually doing?
KEITH: Yeah. So the president kept saying that he was going to declare a national emergency. But what wasn't clear is what kind of emergency he was going to declare. And now we know that it's a public health emergency. Now, the reason that matters is different types of emergencies come with different sorts of power and funding. And a public health emergency doesn't actually come with any funding. There is a fund to deal with public health emergencies. That fund is empty. And so Congress would actually have to allocate money for that, which is, you know, a whole other thing that they could get to by the end of this year.
But - so this emergency declaration, we now know, doesn't add any new funding in and of itself. What it does do is it opens up telemedicine services to a lot more people. So, you know, in a lot of rural areas where the opioid crisis is particularly problematic, there aren't a lot of doctors. And the public health belief at this point is that the best way for most people to treat addiction to opioids is through medication-assisted treatment. But if they can't get to a doctor, then they can't get that medication-assisted treatment. What this will allow is for remote prescribing of those medications. So that is something.
But, you know, like one advocate I was talking to today said, great. They've declared an emergency. They have given themselves the option to do a whole bunch of things to accelerate action. Now the administration actually needs to take action.
BENNETT: And it's yet another thing that the Trump administration is now sending over to Congress to handle, in addition to the protections for, you know, the so-called DREAMers and figuring out what to do with the Iran nuclear deal. Now they have to appropriate money to fund the opioid crisis.
KEITH: And the fascinating thing to me is that the White House - we - you know, a reporter asked on this briefing call earlier today, how much money does the White House want for this? And they wouldn't say.
DETROW: So after all that - like, Trump was hyping this as a really big step - are the people you're talking to feeling, like underwhelmed, or are they just waiting to see what more comes into clarity?
KEITH: What I'm hearing from folks is that this is a potentially big step - that, you know, the president's opioid commission had recommended that an emergency be declared. And they had suggested that a public health emergency was one option for a way to do that. But instead of rolling this out as, like, a package of - we're signing this declaration, and then here are the six emergency measures we're taking, and it's going to happen right now - it's like, well, we're signing this thing. And that will give us more power to do other things.
BENNETT: So there's one thing I want to give voice to because it hadn't occurred to me in hearing from people that there is an unintended consequence to all of this. And it's among people who suffer from chronic pain, like, people who've had, you know, major falls, and they've had, like, back surgery or something. And because state and federal regulators are cracking down on how doctors prescribe opioids in hopes of stemming the overall national epidemic, there are people in dire need of, you know, high-strength prescription drugs who cannot get them and cannot get them for the durations at which they used to get them.
BENNETT: And they feel like they are overlooked and neglected because of the dire needs of the overall crisis.
KEITH: This is the thing that really requires nuance and focus.
DAVIS: I also think, like, this is where you get into the more complex problems of how you treat something as a health problem and a public health problem - is that the system is designed to treat pain with drugs and not with long-term physical therapies, with different approaches to pain management because they're expensive, right? It's a lot cheaper in a lot of ways to write someone a pain pill.
And a lot of these drugs were originally intended as palliative care, as end-of-life care to alleviate pain when you're dying, not when you have back pain. And it was cheaper to prescribe drugs than to cover long-term, extensive physical treatments. And that's - sort of that's secondary both as a policy matter but as a cost matter of - if you want to treat these types of public health epidemics, coming at it just from one perspective - it's sort of a multi-prong perspective of how to solve the problem, and it's really complicated.
DETROW: Yeah. OK. One more thing before we get to Can't Let it Go. It's been a while since we did a This Week in Russia roundup, but there were a lot of different Russia developments this week. The Washington Post reported - and then other outlets later confirmed - that the infamous steel dossier - yes, that one - was at one point funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
House Republicans also opened up an investigation into a uranium deal with a Russian company that happened during Clinton's tenure at the State Department. And next week, representatives from the big social media companies will be testifying in front of Congress about Russian ads and trolls last year.
It's a lot. And it's confusing - so confusing that we're going to save it all for Monday and do one big episode explaining everything to you. That way, you can follow that hearing next week and know what's going on, OK? And, Geoff - sad story - you're just going to be a listener for that episode.
KEITH: Aww (ph).
BENNETT: I am leaving you all physically but not in spirit.
BENNETT: I'm leaving NPR to join NBC News as their newest White House correspondent.
DETROW: Well, congratulations. That is a really cool opportunity.
BENNETT: Thank you.
KEITH: And on the plus side, I'll still get to see you.
BENNETT: (Laughter) That's right.
DAVIS: And I'll get to see you on TV.
BENNETT: (Laughter) And - but the thing I do have to say is, you know, I was fans of all of you, having listened to the podcast before I came back to NPR in this latest iteration as a reporter. But I have to say it's quite a privilege to count you now all as friends. So thank you for that.
DETROW: Working next to you in the Capitol - you have the perfect mix of being a good reporter, a low-drama human being...
DETROW: ...And a nice human being and that all merges together well - and also being a very good reporter (laughter). So it's a good mix of someone to work with. So we will miss you.
BENNETT: Thanks, man.
DETROW: But look forward to seeing you on TV and maybe being tweeted about.
BENNETT: Maybe. We'll see.
DAVIS: Lying Geoff Bennett coming to the White House.
DETROW: Geoff is going to NBC, but he'll still be on Up First sometimes.
BENNETT: That's right.
DETROW: So you can see him in that podcast. Geoff, since it's your last one with us, do you want to have the honor of the first Can't Let it Go?
BENNETT: Sure. So you'll remember a couple of weeks ago - maybe it was a couple of months ago now - we talked about how Kid Rock was mounting what appeared to be a run for a Senate seat. And we were dubious about it because if you went to his website, there were no policy statements. It was just, like, a link to merch.
BENNETT: And there was, like, a bizarro photo of him sitting in a throne surrounded by, like, a bald eagle and a whole bunch of other crazy stuff. Well, it turns out in a conversation he had with Howard Stern on his Sirius XM show...
KEITH: Which is where all political news should be broken.
BENNETT: Yeah, that's right. Stern asked him about it. And then Kid Rock said this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KID ROCK: [Expletive] no, I'm not running for Senate. Are you [expletive] kidding me?
HOWARD STERN: Thank God.
KID ROCK: Like, who [expletive] couldn't figure that out?
KID ROCK: I'm releasing the new album...
KID ROCK: ...On November - whatever - 3 or something like that. I'm going on tour, too, which is - no one's going to print. They're going to be, like, no, he's not running for - [expletive] no, I'm...
DETROW: So, Geoff, I feel like...
BENNETT: I mean, but we could be forgiven for thinking that he might actually run since we're living in an era in which a reality TV star is now president of the United States.
DETROW: Right. And I feel like this is the perfect example of how, sometimes, everybody overcorrects, right?
BENNETT: That's right.
DETROW: Like, oh, well, we have to take it seriously. We can't dismiss it because who knows what it could be? And it's, like, the same thing - I think it's the same idea that, like, Trump could never lose another state, could never lose re-election...
BENNETT: (Laughter) Right.
DETROW: ...Because we all underestimated him last time around.
DETROW: Like, the pendulum has not swung through the ceiling quite yet.
DAVIS: When he tweeted that, and it sort of kicked it all up, campaign operatives tried to reach out to him to be like, hey, man, are you serious about this? And they couldn't get at him. Like, he never responded, which is how they knew he wasn't really serious about it. But it was serious in the sense that there were some people that were like, maybe we could make this work.
BENNETT: And then circling back to the whole Steve Bannon thing, Kid Rock says that Steve Bannon was one of the people who encouraged him to run and was in his corner.
DETROW: Can I make an embarrassing confession? Not only did I once buy a Kid Rock CD. But I accidentally bought the radio-edit version, where, like, all the curse words were, like, beeped out. It was...
BENNETT: Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow have that great song, though. So...
BENNETT: Right? What's the name of that song?
DAVIS: I put your picture away - that song.
BENNETT: There you go. Sue Davis for the win. So, anyway, Kid Rock is what I can't let go of this week. Well, not actually Kid Rock - the story (laughter) is what I cannot let go of this week.
DETROW: Sue, since you're displaying that deep Kid Rock catalog knowledge, do you want to go next?
DAVIS: Sure. So my Can't Let it Go this week is a new phrase I learned in a conversation with the senator that has just kind of tickled me. And I was talking to Senator Mike Rounds. He's a Republican from South Dakota. We're just chitchatting. And in the course of the conversation, he says, I mean, holy buckets.
DAVIS: And as he's talking, I literally stopped him when he was talking. And I said, did you just say holy buckets? And he was like, yeah. And I was like, is this a you thing or is this a South Dakota thing? And he was like, no, it's like a South Dakota thing. It's like, you know, holy buckets. It's like something you say. I have never heard this phrase in my entire life and I love it. I actually Googled it because it was so curious to me because I've never heard it in any iteration. I've never heard it on TV or in an old movie, like, holy buckets.
Apparently, it was like a slang phrase. It's in like the American Slang Dictionary. And it was popular in like the 1960s. And it's synonymous with like, holy cow. And a lot of times it's shorthand for Holy Christ. You know, so it's like people that don't want to use the religious term will use a variation of it. But like holy buckets is like a phrase, and I've never heard it, and I love it because I think it works for everything. You know, it's like...
DETROW: Are you going to try and make this a thing now?
DAVIS: I'm going to try to make it a thing. I think like my personal goal is to try and get holy buckets in a piece on NPR sometime in the next year.
DETROW: Can we ask listeners to do a holy buckets hashtag, try and get it going that way?
DAVIS: Well, my question is like to crowdsource it, if anybody is living in South Dakota and listening to the podcast, like, I'm curious if like holy buckets is like - it's like if you ever go to Northern California and people still say like, that's hella (ph) cool.
DAVIS: You know, like there's certain phrases or...
BENNETT: Hella has not gone out of style.
DAVIS: ...Turns of phrase that are really - wicked, if you're up in the New England area in Boston. That's wicked awesome, you know, holy buckets.
BENNETT: Or jawn (ph) if you live in Philly.
DAVIS: Yeah, that's my jawn.
DETROW: Did you say things were like - it was a New Jersey thing, where I was, Geoff, was this thing for you saying like, mad. Like, that's mad cool. That's mad expensive.
BENNETT: Oh, yeah, totally, yeah.
DETROW: Nobody says that anywhere else.
BENNETT: Mad as meaning very, yeah.
DAVIS: So holy buckets. I love it. And I hope that it's like a real thing. And I'm going to try - I'm trying to make it my own. I'm co-opting it. I'm going to try and get it on air. If I'm ever in South Dakota, I'm going to see if I can hear it.
DETROW: You're culturally appropriating it.
DAVIS: Yes. I'm culturally appropriating holy buckets from a Republican senator from South Dakota.
DETROW: All right. Tam, your Can't Let It Go, I understand it's a situation where someone could have said holy buckets?
KEITH: Yes, it would have been appropriate. So Kasie Hunt, who's a - an NBC correspondent covering Congress, you know, Geoff's future new colleague - posted this video earlier this week on Twitter of Senator Claire McCaskill, who is a Democrat from Missouri, almost getting hit by a car while walking out of the Senate building.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
CLAIRE MCCASKILL: It's probably the only shot you got to take me out.
KEITH: So what she says is, probably the only shot you've got to take me out. It turns out that the vehicle that almost hit her belonged to Senator Cory Gardner from Colorado, who happens to be the head of the Republican Senatorial Committee, so the one who is electorally trying to take her out.
DETROW: You have to give her credit for coming up with that in the moment - right? - as she's dodging a car.
KEITH: Almost hit by a car and is like, hey, buddy.
DAVIS: It's amazing too that they caught that exact moment on tape.
KEITH: It was not the most gloriously beautiful video, but it was the most gloriously hilarious video.
BENNETT: Claire McCaskill has this other moment from last week where she was invited to the White House because Trump invited a bunch of Senators over to talk about taxes. And she is seated to his immediate right. And when she came back to the Capitol, a reporter asked her about how she got that seat. And her response was, you think I picked it? She called it the Murkowski-Collins seat because, you know, obviously, the White House is trying to prove a point. And of all the Democrats that went to that meeting, Trump won her state by the widest margin.
KEITH: Just trying to tighten the screws a little bit.
BENNETT: That's right.
DETROW: All right. So I will go last. And as we have relived one-year anniversaries of various moments in the campaign last year, we are coming up on a happy one-year anniversary. And that is something that took over the culture by storm, made it into the podcast. And that was we all met David S. Pumpkins.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
TOM HANKS: (As David S. Pumpkins) How's it hanging? I'm David Pumpkins, and I'm going to scare the hell out of you.
DETROW: This is this Tom Hanks "SNL" sketch that everyone watched on repeat for a couple days because it was incredibly hilarious. But vulture.com has put together an oral history of David S. Pumpkins and how it came about, which I may or may not have spent about a half-hour reading on the clock earlier this week.
BENNETT: Just own it.
DETROW: Just own it. Yeah. So among other things, it's kind of an interesting look into like how these things get written, which is often like in the middle of the night and the idea goes all over the place. So the original idea for the sketch was to have Tom Hanks break dancing which - so the writers are talking about it. And they talk about - they pitched this to Tom Hanks. They're like, yeah, and then you break dance. But Tom Hanks said, quote, "fellows, I don't break dance." Which, can't you hear Tom Hanks saying that?
DETROW: I don't know why we assume Tom Hanks would know how to break dance, so that put the kibosh on that. So we just dropped it, wrote a few other things. We wrote one where he was Frankenstein. So around Tuesday morning, at like 5 a.m. as they were looking out and seeing the "Today" show setting up, they came up for the idea for David S. Pumpkins. And the rest is history.
DAVIS: I never saw it. I now want to Google it though as soon as I'm going to get done this podcast and fall down the David S. Pumpkins wormhole.
DETROW: It's worth it.
BENNETT: It's worth it.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")
DETROW: That is a wrap for this week. We'll be back in your feed soon. Keep up with all of our coverage on npr.org, your local public radio station and NPR One. We had a great live show this week in Chicago, and we're doing another one soon, this time in D.C. at the Warner Theatre. It's in January. That's in partnership with our friends at Washington member station WAMU. You can find more information and buy tickets on nprpresents.org. That's nprpresents - all one word - dot org. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover Congress for NPR.
KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.
BENNETT: I'm Geoff Bennett. I also cover the White House.
DAVIS: And I'm Susan Davis. I also cover Congress.
DETROW: Thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS podcast.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")
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.