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DNC chair shakes up staff, Gorsuch vote nears, Ivanka’s new job and Trump’s life at Mar-A-Lago

DNC chair shakes up staff, Gorsuch vote nears, Ivanka’s new job and Trump’s life at Mar-A-Lago


ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is Washington Week Extra, where we pick up online where we left off on the broadcast. The new chairman of the Democratic National Committee isn’t wasting any time shaking up things at the DNC. Tom Perez, who was elected chairman last month, has asked every staff person to resign by mid-April. Dan, is this what happens when there’s a leadership change inside a political party, or is it something more? DAN BALZ: Well, it’s both of those, I think, Bob. I mean, it’s not uncommon for a new chair of the Democratic National Committee to put in a new staff, and that’s an institution where there is a rotation of staff. People work there for a few years or a cycle, and then they move on. So on the one hand there’s nothing surprising about it. I think the other reality is that the Democratic National Committee during the Obama years atrophied. It became an institution or an organization that had no particular clout, no particular leadership, no particular direction. And so it needs a housecleaning, it needs a shakeup. There have been good people working there, but it lacked direction. It lacked any real presidential support. So I think what the new chairman is doing makes a lot of sense. I think the question is, who are the people he brings in, what kind of authority he really has to do things, and how he defines the job of being DNC chair. I mean, in many ways it’s a mechanics job. There are important external roles he has to play. He has to be in some ways a spokesperson or a face for the Democratic Party. He obviously has to do fundraising. But a lot of what he has to do is get the party ready for the next set of elections, both the midterms but particularly the next presidential election. And that’s a lot of nuts and bolts work, and he needs people to be able to do that. ROBERT COSTA: What’s his political vision? He’s an ally of President Obama. Where does he actually want to take the party? DAN BALZ: Well, I think the party is being taken not by where he may want it to go, although I think he’s entirely comfortable. The base of the party is driving the party to the left, and it is driving up the resistance among elected officials to everything that President Trump is doing. And we’re seeing that in the – in the confirmation process of Judge Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. I mean, the base of the party is angry, it’s energized, it’s anti-Trump, and it’s – you know, it’s closer to Senator Sanders and Senator Warren than it is to Secretary Clinton in terms of the kind of ideology that it prefers. ROBERT COSTA: And probably the key staff person or the person on his team inside of the DNC is Congressman Ellison of Minnesota, his rival for the DNC chairmanship who’s now deputy DNC chair. DAN BALZ: Well, it was a smart thing that he did. I mean, it quickly kind of extinguished the idea that there was going to be an ongoing fight between the Sanders wing of the party and the Clinton wing of the party, or the Obama wing of the party. So he was – he was smart to do that. It’s not clear, I think, at this point exactly what that partnership will look like. I mean, I think that Tom Perez is going to be a full-time chair. Congressman Ellison has other jobs to do. So we’ll see what that is. But symbolically it was a smart thing. ROBERT COSTA: Turning to another subject, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota are the first Senate Democrats to announce their support for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump’s nominee will be confirmed by next Friday, April 7th, before Congress begins its spring break. Ed, does this put a wrench in Democrats’ plans to filibuster the president’s pick? ED O’KEEFE: Not necessarily. As of tonight, there are 35 Democrats announced as against Gorsuch. You need 41, essentially, to sustain and hold a successful filibuster. The way they’re going, it could happen today. Another potential swing vote, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who’s faced a lot of pressure from all sides to make a decision, announced that she’s voting against Gorsuch. Two others, Brian Schatz and Richard Blumenthal, of Hawaii and Connecticut, also said they’re noes. We’re waiting to see what Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Jon Tester of Montana, Michael Bennet from Gorsuch’s home state of Colorado, and Angus King of Maine, among others, decide to do. There’s a $10 million ad campaign underway right now in a lot of those states designed to get them to go for Gorsuch. But increasingly it looks like there will be a filibuster, and Republicans may invoke what’s called the nuclear option and take away the ability to filibuster a judge and allow these things to happen on up-or-down votes. ROBERT COSTA: When you look at those senators, Senate Democrats who are up in 2018, what’s the kind of advice they’re getting from their consultants about how to handle the Gorsuch vote? ED O’KEEFE: You know, it’s state by state. I think Manchin and Heitkamp had no choice. When Trump wins your state by more than 30 points and you know that that is the kind of voter you represent, you have no choice but to do it. McCaskill, coming from Missouri, has been a more loyal Democratic partisan. And frankly, as one Republican pointed out to me this morning, when NARAL, the women’s rights group, came out this morning and said they won’t endorse any Democrat who votes for Gorsuch, they said, well, now we’ve probably lost Claire McCaskill because she needs those kinds of groups to help drive turnout in Missouri next year. A guy like Angus King, Joe Donnelly, Jon Tester, it’ll be about the politics. But for someone like Angus King, who’s an independent, it may also be about the institution – that he doesn’t want to see the Senate lose one of its most revered traditions in this fight, which looks very likely at this point. But Democratic leaders and these senators insist we will run our own campaigns based on what we need to do back home and try to take as few cues from the party as possible. ROBERT COSTA: Based on your reporting, does Gorsuch get confirmed? Do the rules need to be changed? ED O’KEEFE: The rules would have to be changed to get him confirmed, most likely, at this point. Just the number of people who haven’t announced outside of – if Donnelly, Tester, Michael Bennet and Angus King were to join Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Manchin, that’s still not enough to get the 60 and stop the filibuster. ROBERT COSTA: Back to the White House. After weeks of resisting a formal role in her father’s administration, Ivanka Trump has officially become a federal employee. She will not collect a salary, but she will have an office in the West Wing as assistant to the president. She joins her husband, Jared Kushner, who is a senior advisor. His initial assignment, remember, was to facilitate peace in the Middle East. This week, the president added the task of remaking the government bureaucracy in the image of a streamlined business. Alexis, they are becoming the ultimate D.C. power couple, at least in the eyes of Trump allies. And the president continues to look to them for advice. But their influence is also raising real questions about the extent of it. ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: The influence is interesting, but let me just pause and say in all the time I’ve covered the White House, I didn’t think I’d be covering a president’s adult daughter and son-in-law working inside the White House. Let me just stipulate, that is an unusual thing, right? What makes them so interesting to watch is the way in which they were in the president’s circle during the campaign and they have just kind of crept into the White House with a lot of sway. And the sway, in terms of those who are concerned that they’re a little too soft and Democratic in their ideology, they’re a little too New York liberal for some tastes, there’s a little friction – a lot of friction inside the White House about where it is that they might take the president of the United States and some of his thinking. And we haven’t actually seen enough of the results yet to know where Jared Kushner is going to take his portfolio. Remember, he started off – his father-in-law assigned him to try to ease the tensions with Mexico. Then it was Middle East peace. Now he’s got this innovation portfolio which is – you know, the president hopes this is a big thing for the economy. And then his daughter has walked into a role of empowerment for women, trying to support working families – really, women in charge of families and childcare, and has a staff of her own. She will be traveling next month, in April, to a conference for women in Berlin, and really representing in some ways the whole administration in terms of women’s issues. The president definitely has a deficit with women, so it’s fascinating to see where she might take that. And of course, they’re both incredibly wealthy and have businesses of them own, just to make it even more complicated. (Laughter.) ROBERT COSTA: We had a new story out tonight that they’re worth over $700 million with their real estate assets. But politically, it’s not just Jared and Ivanka inside of the White House. They have some advisors, some friends, and Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs executive, Dina Powell, another Goldman executive. So they have their own power center. ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: These are not people that they American people know real well yet. Gary Cohn is the person who’s in charge of the National Economic Council, who came from Goldman Sachs as president, and is one of four people in the White House who’s not earning a salary. KELLY O’DONNELL: And is he also a Democrat? ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: And he was a Democrat. ROBERT COSTA: Still is registered as a Democrat. ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: Registered as a Democrat, indeed. Dina Powell is a fascinating – I got to know her a little bit during the George W. Bush administration. And she was quite effective working in a variety of roles. She eventually left the White House and went to the State Department and was in charge of outreach to women and women empowerment. She went to Goldman Sachs to do some of that in their philanthropy and their outreach. And she’s come into the White House and has wowed the president, and certainly was giving Ivanka Trump all kinds of advice during the transition period about what she could do or the role she could play. So it’s – you know, this is not a White House that’s short of power circle tensions. And just watching them as a couple is fascinating. ROBERT COSTA: And we’ll keep an eye on them. Since taking the oath of office, President Trump has spent more weekends in Florida than in Washington. Kelly, you’ve been traveling there, it seems almost every weekend, to Mar-a-Largo, quite a bit. You also covered President Obama and George W. Bush. How different is it to be at Mar-a-Largo? KELLY O’DONNELL: It is really an extension of the life Donald Trump had before he became president. That’s what you really take away from it. And I’ve been there – if there were only points toward membership by covering it, I’d be on my way. (Laughter.) But it allows him to interact with people who are not a part of his political sphere. Yes, they’re members of the club. So it’s not everyday people. But it allows him to get something he cannot get in the White House, especially without his wife and son living with him, and that’s that interaction. I think, having gone to Crawford, Texas with George W. Bush and Hawaii with Barack Obama, each of the vacation places, whether it’s a weekend or a long stay, fills a hole they cannot get in Washington. For George W. Bush, it was sort of the isolation of clearing brush and riding his bike without people. For President Obama, I think a connection to his youth. And for Donald Trump, it is the maitre d’ presidency. He likes to play host. He likes to show off this asset of Mar-a-Largo. And he’ll do it with the Chinese president this week, which is fascinating. He had the Japanese Prime Minister Abe. And now he’ll have China’s president. I find it incredible that China has such a spy capacity and they’re bringing him into the president’s home to get a sense of what it’s like to be there. So for this president, it seems that the access to golf, sunshine, and a part of the life he had before November is important. ED O’KEEFE: When it gets too hot in Florida later this year, do we – KELLY O’DONNELL: Bedminster, New Jersey. ED O’KEEFE: So it is New Jersey? And then he has the one 30 minutes from here out in Loudon County where he was last weekend. KELLY O’DONNELL: Yes, which he does that on weekends when we’re in D.C. He likes to get out. And those – we’ve been able to cover the White House. If you are inside the White House, you can very clearly hear the protestors who are always on the street. It is a majestic home. It is a place that very few people get to call home. But it is not necessarily a relaxing place to be. DAN BALZ: Wasn’t it Bill Clinton who described it as the crown jewel in the American penal system? (Laughter.) KELLY O’DONNELL: Yeah. So, and there’s a lot of criticism, of course, of the cost of the travel, and the inconvenience to others in Florida, and what it does to general aviation in Florida. There are a lot of things that relate to that. But I don’t see him changing. And I think the Bedminster summers, where he can play golf there and be in suburban New Jersey, and also there’s always a Trump property attached to his visits. And whether it’s just the way he does it or whether it’s subconscious or intentional, we always end up saying it’s his property. It’s not Camp David. Will he ever even go there? ROBERT COSTA: He has not been there yet? KELLY O’DONNELL: No. ROBERT COSTA: And he obviously loves golf. But one thing I’ve always found in my reporting is the White House seems skittish about acknowledging his love of golf. And whenever he’s on the course – KELLY O’DONNELL: Bend over backwards to not acknowledge it. ROBERT COSTA: Why is that? KELLY O’DONNELL: I think because of his overt criticism of Barack Obama for his golf. And I think, again, those of us who have covered presidents, you want them to have some outlet, whatever that might be. But he made it such an issue. And so the fact that he is embracing it – now, he’ll say he’s going to use it to further relationships or the business side of politics. But we haven’t necessarily seen that too much. ROBERT COSTA: Well, that’s it. Maybe some of us can hit the links this weekend. (Laughter.) That’s it for this edition of Washington Week Extra. While you’re on – and while you’re online, make sure you test your knowledge of current events on our Washington Week-ly News Quiz. I’m Robert Costa, and we’ll see you next time.

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  • John Podesta cheated Bernie out of winning the White House, by attacking Bernie delegates at the DNC.

    Podesta put Trump in the White House.
    Bernie would have been the greatest President in the history of the US.
    Greater than JFK.

    Podesta must go to jail for life.

    Debbie Wasserman should be sentenced to 20 years.
    Who had the means & the motive to hack Hillary?

    Then we Bernie geeks hacked Hillary's email & gave them to Wiki Leaks.

    Then after the DNC sabotage, half the Bernie people did not vote for Hillary.
    They refused to vote.
    20% voted for Trump as a "FU" to the DP.
    Michael Moore got it right in his movie "Trumpland".

  • The Greens like water. The Republicans like oil. The Democrats think they can put both together. The result is a burning oil slick.

  • The dnc Chair can't even get all Dems to vote against Gorsuch, as simple, no brainer, vote.
    Manchin & Heitkamp already know they're going to be voted out, they're just securing up their next job in the private sector.

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