Trump Holds Rally, Despite Health Impact : Politics Podcast : The NPR Politics Podcast In Tulsa, Oklahoma on Saturday, President Trump will hold his first campaign rally since the coronavirus pandemic seized the United States. The top public health official there said he hoped it would be delayed and the campaign agreed to limited public health precautions.

And, new allegations from a former national security adviser draw White House ire.

This episode: congressional correspondent Susan Davis, White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, and national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

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Lagging In Polls, Trump Hits Campaign Trail

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Lagging In Polls, Trump Hits Campaign Trail

Lagging In Polls, Trump Hits Campaign Trail

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SCOTT L SCHULTZ: Hello. My name is Scott L. Schultz (ph), and I am currently at the pipe organ practicing my postlude for this Sunday's socially distanced and face mask-wearing church service. This podcast was recorded at...


1:08 p.m. on Friday, June 19.

SCHULTZ: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, but I will likely still be practicing this piece by Johann Sebastian Bach. (Playing pipe organ).


DAVIS: That is like the music of the Sunday church experience of my childhood at Catholic Church.

LIASSON: That's awesome.

DAVIS: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I cover the White House

LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

DAVIS: President Trump is set to hold his first rally since the coronavirus shutdown started in March tomorrow in Tulsa, Okla. The indoor arena there holds 19,000 people. It's expected to be full, even as the pandemic continues. So, Mara, why did the president decide now was the time to get back out there?

LIASSON: He has been itching to get back out there for many months. For the president, the pandemic is over. He might be over COVID. COVID isn't over with the United States. But he wants to celebrate the economy opening up. He's itching to get back to the campaign trail also because his poll numbers have been slipping behind Joe Biden. And the choice was made to go to a very Trump-friendly state - Oklahoma - which he won by many double digits in 2016. It's also a state where the virus numbers have been low, and where the local officials would be amenable to him holding the kind of rally - indoor, packed with people mask ambivalent - that he wants to do.

DAVIS: Franco, it's expected to be a full house in Tulsa. But not everyone is excited that this rally is happening there.

ORDOÑEZ: That's right. Public health officials in Tulsa are concerned, for example. They're very concerned about the circulating virus. And they would like the event postponed until the virus is less of a concern. The Republican mayor, G. T. Bynum, has imposed a curfew for parts of downtown. Some thought that would impact supporters who have already started to congregate. But President Trump tweeted today that it won't impact supporters. And also, meanwhile, the Oklahoma, governor who is also a Republican, he says the state is ready for President Trump's visit. And they're excited that he's coming.

DAVIS: So on the one hand, Mara, the administration, the president is acting like, you know, moving on from the pandemic. But the campaign is also essentially asking people that show up at the rally to sign a piece of paper saying that they won't hold them responsible if they get sick, right?

LIASSON: Right. It's a legal waiver, a disclaimer saying guests of the rally, quote, "voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID." And they're not going to hold the campaign or the venue liable. This is a venue, by the way, that has canceled all other events through the end of July. They are handing out hand sanitizers and masks, although they're not going to require people to wear them. And they're going to take the temperature of everyone who comes in. Trump, of course, himself has communicated very clearly that he's not a mask fan. He's never worn one in public himself. He accused a reporter who was wearing a mask recently of being politically correct. And he even went so far as to tell The Wall Street Journal in an interview this week that he thinks some people who wear masks are doing it not to prevent COVID but as a way to signal their disapproval of him.

DAVIS: Although didn't his campaign manager today say that he would be wearing a mask at this event?

LIASSON: Yes. And usually, that's kind of par for the course. There are usually mixed messages from the White House in the campaign about COVID. But Brad Parscale hasn't been seen in a mask before this. And usually it's a mask that has a pretty big Trump slogan right on the front of it.

DAVIS: You know, Oklahoma, obviously a very Trump friendly state. But when they posted registration for this event, I think close to a million people sort of signed up to say they wanted to go. They're expected to sell out. There's overflow. It does sort of seem to be a testament to the popularity and the strength that the president still has among the base that so many people are willing to take this health risk to go be at a Trump rally.

LIASSON: Absolutely. And apparently, they're already lined up or camped out in line now.

DAVIS: So we should note that the president initially wanted to have his rally today, which is Juneteenth. And it created, you know, I don't want to say a scandal, Mara, but it created some pushback on this administration. And they had to reschedule.

LIASSON: A lot of pushback. Juneteenth is the holiday commemorating emancipation in the United States. It's celebrated or acknowledged or commemorated by 47 states. The president said he had never heard of it before. But, of course, after the fact, he did what he always does, says that he did a great thing because he made Juneteenth famous because no one had ever heard of it before, which, of course, is not true. But the the pushback was because the president, who has been accused of stoking racial resentment in the past, chose Juneteenth to return to rallies. And he chose Tulsa, Okla., as the site to return to his rallies. And that is a place where, in 1921, white mobs massacred dozens of black Americans in an area that was a prosperous black-owned business area once known as the Black Wall Street. But the president, in response to this backlash, decided to move the date of the rally to tomorrow.

DAVIS: So what do you guys expect from tomorrow?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I think we're going to see - you know, as kind of Mara was alluding to - I think we're going to see a big group of supporters for President Trump coming out and showing their support. I think you're going to have a very strong showing for the president. I think you're also going to likely have a strong showing for protesters who are opposed to President Trump, not only because of their protests for President Trump, protests because of the racial issues. And it's been interesting how President Trump has responded to this, tweeting out today that he's warning protesters that they are going to be met with strong law enforcement if they do any disruptions.

LIASSON: And it's interesting because in that tweet, you know, in the past, of course, he has said that he stands with all peaceful protesters. But in this tweet, there was no distinction. He said, quote, "any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma, please understand you will not be treated like you've been in New York, Seattle or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene." So in this case, protesters are lumped right in there with looters.

DAVIS: All right. Well, let's take a quick break. And when we get back, we'll talk about allegations raised by Trump's former national security adviser in a new tell-all memoir about his time in the White House.


DAVIS: And before we get back to the pod, I want to recommend the latest episode of NPR's Code Switch. Yesterday we talked about the Supreme Court's decision to uphold DACA. Code Switch has been checking in with one of the plaintiffs in the DACA case for a few years. They met up with her after she heard the news that the Supreme Court ruled in her favor. Hear what happened on a brand-new episode from Code Switch.

And we're back. And we're talking about new allegations against the president made by John Bolton. He was the president's former national security adviser. And in his new memoir, he has all sorts of stories to tell. But, Mara, first, can you remind people who exactly John Bolton is and how he got into the White House?

LIASSON: John Bolton has been one of the most preeminent conservative foreign policy hawks in Washington for decades. He's served in different administrations. The president has cycled through a number of national security advisers. And he turned to Bolton, somebody he's seen on - had seen on Fox News for years. And he agreed with him on many things. John Bolton had some areas of commonality with Trump. They both were very suspicious of many multilateral institutions like the United Nations, although they have different views about NATO. And John Bolton ended up being a real critic of Trump's behavior during the whole Ukraine controversy. And if you remember, way back during impeachment, Bolton, we now learn, the whole time was taking a lot of notes and was writing a book. Which, of course, after he was fired by the president, after many, many disagreements on foreign policy, he wrote this book. And now the White House is trying to stop it from being published even though several copies are already circulating.

DAVIS: So the memoir comes out on Tuesday. I believe it's called "The Room Where It Happened." Shoutout to all the "Hamilton" fans out there. But, Franco, what are the biggest revelations in the book?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, one of the most eye-catching allegations is that Trump allegedly tried to get help from the Chinese president in the November election. It reminded a lot of people of allegations against him involving the Ukraine president. But in this case, Bolton writes that during a dinner of G-20 leaders, Trump, quote, "stunningly turned turned a conversation from bilateral relations to the election." Bolton says the president, quote, "pleaded with his Chinese counterpart to buy American agricultural products," which he said would help him with, you know, the very important farmers in the vote. Bolton writes actually that he was hard-pressed to identify any decision, any significant decision by Trump that wasn't driven by reelection calculations. And, frankly, he says that Trump's relationship with foreign leaders was just like this. It was just transactional. And most of it was based on how it could help President Trump.

LIASSON: You know, the allegations about China, I think, are some of the most important in this book because they diminish one of the main lines of attack that Trump is planning to use against Joe Biden, that Joe Biden as somehow weak on China and Trump has been tough. But these scenes that Bolton paints of him being very - being a supplicant to Chinese leader Xi are really extraordinary. He even says that an interpreter told him that in a meeting between Trump and Xi, where only the interpreter was present, that Trump signaled his approval of Xi's move to put Uighurs in concentration camp. Uighurs are the persecuted Muslim minority in China.

DAVIS: So here's my question, especially as someone who covered the impeachment of Donald Trump every single day - John Bolton is someone that Congress wanted to hear from, he declined to come up to Capitol Hill, but yet he had all of this information and is now writing a book, so it just seems a little self-serving. If he had these grave concerns, where was he when the government was actually asking him to come talk?

LIASSON: That's what Democrats are saying. Nobody likes John Bolton right now.

DAVIS: (Laughter).

LIASSON: Everybody loves to hate John Bolton, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican. One thing John Bolton did say back then during impeachment was if you subpoena me and a court upholds the subpoena, I will testify in the House. But the House never subpoenaed him for a variety of reasons. But that never happened.

DAVIS: He also offered to come talk before the Senate at the Senate trial, and the Senate voted not to hear from him.

LIASSON: Right. And, of course, the Senate didn't - voted not to hear from any witnesses. Right.

ORDOÑEZ: Interestingly, he takes it up in the book, and he goes so far as to accuse House Democrats of, quote, "impeachment malpractice" because they did not subpoena him and wait for a court to order his testimony. He also said that they were wrong to restrict the inquiry to just the Ukraine issues and said should have looked into some of Trump's other actions, including getting involved in some of these U.S. investigations that involve companies of autocratic leaders.

DAVIS: So I'm guessing the White House is not a big fan of this book.

LIASSON: (Laughter) To say the least. You know...

DAVIS: This is not one the president's going to be tweeting about that people should go buy.

LIASSON: No. Bolton has gotten the same treatment that so many of Trump's hires who ended up being fired or resigning have gotten. Of course, Trump says he hires all the best people. Then they leave, and he trashes them. He's called Bolton a sick puppy. He said that the book is both full of classified information and lies. Now, how can those two things be true at the same time? I'm not sure. But on one level, this is a kind of existential tragedy for John Bolton because this was the highest position he'd ever had in a White House. He was going to try to carry out his own agenda, a very tough, hawkish foreign policy with a president that he thought agreed with him on many things. But what he found was a president who had no foreign policy principles at all and was uninformed and incompetent, according to him.


DAVIS: So the Justice Department is looking at this. They're angry that - they say there's maybe classified information there. I mean, is there any potential fallout for John Bolton because of this book?

ORDOÑEZ: He could lose his advance. But, I mean, in the big picture, I mean, as we've reported before, so many copies of this book are already out. Stories are already being run. And, frankly, in many ways, this is just drumming up more interest in a book. And as when I spoke to a few, you know, national security experts, they tell me this is just, you know, making Bolton out to look better, look more like a hero after he really, you know, took some hits during the whole impeachment saga. Now President Trump is saying, you know, this book is full of, you know, juicy details and credible information by going on the attack like he is. So it's just - in many ways, it's helping Bolton and just boosting attention for a book that's now at the top of the bestseller list on Amazon.

LIASSON: You know, I actually have a slightly different take on this. I think what it's doing is it's giving more credibility to Bolton's account. For Bolton himself, I don't know if it's boosting his personal stock in Washington or not. But this book is coming at a time where Jim Mattis has criticized the president, where current serving military leaders have broken with the president on several issues. And John Kelly, former chief of staff, also retired general, has spoken out against the president. So it's coming at a time where it's part of a chorus of a lot of ex-Trump officials all saying the same things about his leadership - bad things.

DAVIS: We're going to leave it there, and we'll take a quick break. And when we get back - Can't Let It Go.

And we're back. And it's time for Can't Let It Go when we all talk about the thing we can't stop thinking about this week, politics or otherwise. Franco, what can't you let go this week?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, I'm really interested in the growing attention of this idea in Tennessee to replace some of the statues of Confederate soldiers with a statue of Dolly Parton.

DAVIS: Oh, endorse.

LIASSON: (Laughter).

DAVIS: Strong endorse.

LIASSON: That's great.

ORDOÑEZ: You know? I mean, there's a petition going around now that has over 14,000 signatures. And I don't know. Just in recent years, I've really grown fascinated with this new movement getting behind Dolly Parton. She bridges all these different constituencies. And also I was a big fan of WNYC's podcast that kind of explored...

DAVIS: "Dolly Parton's America."

ORDOÑEZ: ...All that attention. Yes.


ORDOÑEZ: "Dolly Parton's America" - it was was really good. The podcast and her - because you can see it. She just never, you know, really goes there with the politics. You know, she just gives no hint of a political statement, and she's really skilled also at kind of diffusing those tensions, you know, and she did it, you know, for the Emmys, and the podcast actually looked at this when - I think was 2017 when some of her cast mates from the movie "9 To 5" were - you know, Jane Fonda - were trying to - Lily Tomlin - were criticizing Donald Trump and really ripping into him. And Dolly Parton just would not go there and did not bite.

LIASSON: So the idea is she's a better representative of Southern culture than Confederate generals.

DAVIS: Oh, certainly a more proud one, I would argue. I mean, Dolly is like...

LIASSON: I mean, yeah.

DAVIS: ...The most post-partisan person in America right now probably.

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, I can't - I can think of few people who have more fans on the far left and the far right than Dolly Parton.

DAVIS: Mara, what can't you let go?

LIASSON: I can't let go an organization I just found out about. Either I am the most uninformed person in America or this organization does really bad publicity around itself. But it's called...

DAVIS: (Laughter) Go on.

LIASSON: ...Time to Vote. And it is - started in 2018. It has 383 corporate members, and all of these corporations are committed to giving their employees paid time off on Election Day. These are companies like Lyft, Uber, Best Buy, Walmart, Patagonia, Levi Strauss. I mean, there are a lot of companies, and they are all committed to either closing down their businesses - I think Patagonia is actually shutting down its stores completely on Election Day - or giving - or like Walmart is actually going to give employees I think half a day off paid to vote. And, you know, in a country where only 56% of eligible voters voted in 2016, this could actually make a difference.

ORDOÑEZ: I love the idea. I mean, I always get frustrated. I mean, it's really hard. You know, you either get up early in the morning. There's a huge line. It's sometimes very hard to get out during lunch. And I have relatives, you know, overseas, and they're like, oh, we vote on Saturday. And I was like, what? That just - you know, it just seems so much easier and it makes so much common sense and how hard it is to vote during the week, if you got to get to work, if you have a meeting that day, something comes up. And it's very easy for a lot of people to just say, you know, it just didn't work out this time.

DAVIS: Interesting, too, that that's, like, something more and more companies are doing. All right, so I'm going to go next. And the thing I can't let go this week is the latest front in the generation wars. If you guys remember not too long ago, the whole, OK, boomer episode where young people were criticizing boomer generation. This week, Generation Z is just slagging millennials on the Internet. And it all started with this TikTok from the username @mayalepa.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Tired of boomers bunching Gen Z and millennials together because I personally don't want to be associated with people who still think that "Harry Potter" movies are a personality trait.

DAVIS: (Laughter) So apparently Gen Z, the generation that comes after millennials, which I think I have to admit I've probably been guilty of lumping Gen Z and millennials together.

LIASSON: Well, let's define that. What exactly - are Gen Z 18 to 29? What exactly is Gen Z?

LIASSON: So millennials are like roughly - this is like a big point of contention. So we'll say roughly 1980 to, like, roughly mid-to-late '90s, right? And Gen Z is roughly mid-to-late '90s, early aughts to like right now. It gets blurry. But Gen Z had no idea how sensitive they were to being confused with millennials and the fun of millennials that Gen Z have been making on the Internet, especially when it comes to Harry Potter, which was a very defining generational thing for millennials.

LIASSON: Why does Gen Z not like "Harry Potter?" As somebody who read "Harry Potter" to my children.

DAVIS: I think it's more that they feel like millennials - they don't relate to them culturally. And they were - the other things they make fun of them is about - apparently millennials, all they talk about is coffee and wine. They use the word adulting too much without irony. They base it - they make fun of the fact that they eat too much avocado toast. I mean, kind of stuff that everybody else makes fun of millennials for, Gen Z also on it. And partly Can't Let It Go, increasingly, I just feel bad for millennials. They just can't get a break.

ORDOÑEZ: I'm with Mara, though. I'm reading "Harry Potter" to my kids right now. I was just talking about, you know, reading the next chapter with my daughter, you know, an hour ago before we started this. hurts me.

DAVIS: I joke with my husband that, like, 15% of the reason we had a kid was so I could relive the "Harry Potter" saga when she's older.


DAVIS: All right. We also have been doing listener CLIGs. We've been asking people to send us the thing they can't let go this week. And here's one from the many submissions we received.

BRANDON: Hi. This is Brandon (ph) in Massachusetts. I just finished up my freshman year of college. And what I can't let go of is that, after a long wait that's been made even longer by the pandemic, I'm finally getting my gender affirming top surgery this Thursday - today, when I'm recording. Happy weekend, NPR POLITICS.

DAVIS: Oh, wow. That's big, Brandon. Also, I think he said - if he did it yesterday, he's through the surgery already. So hopefully it went really well. And good luck to you.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, definitely.

DAVIS: All right. That's a wrap for today. Our executive producer is Shirley Henry. Our editors are Muthoni Muturi and Eric McDaniel. Our producer's Barton Girdwood. Our production assistant is Chloee Weiner. Thanks to Lexie Schapitl, Elena Moore, Dana Farrington and Brandon Carter.

I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

ORDOÑEZ: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I cover the White House.

LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

DAVIS: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

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