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Sunday Politics: Trump Vs. Pelosi


The relationship between President Donald Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi has never been warm. But this past week it deteriorated into this.


NANCY PELOSI: We believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So get these phony investigations over with.

PELOSI: I pray for the president of the United States. I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country.

TRUMP: Crazy Nancy - I tell you what. I've been watching her. And I have - I have been watching her for a long period of time. She's not the same person. She's lost it.

DAVIS: Geoff Bennett is my former colleague at NPR and now White House correspondent for NBC. And he joins me now in studio.

Good morning, Geoff.

GEOFF BENNETT, BYLINE: It's great to see you, Sue.

DAVIS: Man, that escalated quickly.

BENNETT: Yeah, it did. And what's so bizarre about this whole thing is that if you set aside the political theater and the ad hominem attacks, what I've heard from people close to President Trump for months is that he actually likes Nancy Pelosi. He respects her. He thinks that she's a worthy adversary. He respects the kind of power that she wields over her caucus. But yet, the president cannot seem to let these attacks go. And so the thing that he really homed in on was when she was at the White House, and she told reporters that the president had engaged in a cover-up. That was the thing that set the president off.

And so this White House is set on a footing, a campaign footing - not a legislative footing. They're focused squarely on 2020. And I think this scorched-earth offensive that we saw from the president this past week just shows that he thinks that his path to reelection is paved by way of confrontation and certainly not collaboration - certainly not cooperating with Nancy Pelosi or any other Democrat on Capitol Hill.

DAVIS: Well, to that end, last week's meeting, remember, was supposed to be about infrastructure.


DAVIS: This, like, last lingering bipartisan hope that has launched a thousand jokes and memes - we know that. But is it now fair to finally say this thing is not going to happen?

BENNETT: The infrastructure thing?

DAVIS: Yeah.

BENNETT: Yeah, I think the infrastructure thing is dead and gone. And even people close to the president and Republicans on the Hill that I've talked to have said that the president's approach to all of this - where he seems to see nothing but upside in suggesting that Democrats are all for investigating him and not about legislating, and he's not going to work with them while they're investigating him - it really poses a few risks. One, he's not going to be able to add any legislative wins to his record heading into 2020. And it also, in a roundabout way, forces him to own the gridlock.

And so Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats have made the point, some of them obliquely but some of them directly, that the president now is playing into their argument, that they have said since 2016 that he's all about himself. He's not about what's - doing what's right for the country. And so, by his own admission, by saying he's not going to work with Democrats, they say that that works for them politically.

DAVIS: It was also a week where there was a lot of talk about impeachment. And the president and his administration have been taking these actions that Democrats see, on Capitol Hill, as goading them towards impeachment by claiming executive privilege to block testimony, fighting subpoenas. What's the White House strategy here on fighting Democrats from getting any of this information?

BENNETT: This is - this is actually fairly remarkable because I've been told that the legal strategy is the same as the political strategy when it comes to dealing with impeachment and dealing with oversight demands from Democrats. And that is to punt to the courts and run out the clock. That's the thing that Donald Trump did in - back in his business life. He relied on the courts for protection a lot of times or - or if he just needed to, again, run out the clock on some issues that didn't work for him for whatever reason.

And here again you see the administration just pivoting to the courts. However, we just saw this past week on two major issues where the courts decided in favor of Democrats. And so Nancy Pelosi, again, in a roundabout way, is buying time for herself. And she has said she's not against impeachment. She's just not for impeachment right now.

DAVIS: Does the White House share the view that impeachment could actually be good politically for the president in the way that many people think it was for former President Bill Clinton?

BENNETT: Oh, certainly. And we've heard from White House officials, even before Democrats won the majority, that if they did win the majority, that that was the thing that they were going to do, that they were going to overplay their hands and that they were going to actually help Donald Trump prove his point that this is entirely a partisan pursuit, that whereas Democrats say that they, you know, need access to the full Mueller report; they need access to documents and financial records pertaining to the president to do their legislative and oversight work, that this is really just a political witch hunt.

DAVIS: You mentioned court battles. The president lost another battle in the courts this past week. A judge temporarily blocked the administration from using a billion dollars in military money to begin building the border wall with Mexico. What's the impact here if the president can't deliver to his base on the central promise of his presidency?

BENNETT: The impact might not be that severe. And here's why. I've talked to Trump supporters all over the country, and they're not so much invested in the details. They're not so much invested in the results. What they're invested in is the fight.

DAVIS: Yeah.

BENNETT: And so long as Donald Trump is seen fighting the establishment, fighting with the courts, fighting with enemies - real and perceived - I think his supporters will be OK with that. So even though there's this temporary injunction, as long as Donald Trump continues to, you know, make the point on Twitter and other places, I think his supporters will get behind him.

DAVIS: NBC's Geoff Bennett, thank you so much for coming in.

BENNETT: Thanks, appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.