Politics In The News: Cohn Resignation, Texas Primary

Mar 7, 2018
Originally published on March 7, 2018 6:25 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So in a press conference yesterday before this news broke about Gary Cohn quitting, President Trump was talking up his White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It is a great place to be working. Many, many people want every single job. You know, I read where - oh, gee, maybe people don't want to work for Trump. And believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House. They all want a piece of that Oval Office. They want a piece of the West Wing.

MARTIN: For more perspective on the transitions happening in the Trump administration, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now.

Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So the president was already addressing the issue of White House staffing even before we knew Gary Cohn was stepping down. Can you just remind us which of the many departures have had the biggest impact? And frankly, who might be next on the way out?

LIASSON: There have been a lot of departures - many more than any other administration. And some people have been fired. Some have left at their own volition like Hope Hicks, the president's - one of the president's closest aides. But one of the departures that, in hindsight, turns out to be the most consequential was Rob Porter, the staff secretary who left after it was revealed that his two ex-wives had accused him of abuse. He was an ally of Cohn's. He was also the linchpin of the White House policy process, which apparently evaporated in the run-up to Trump's surprise announcement about tariffs.

And you know, yesterday the president - you heard him talk about how many people want to work in the White House. He says he can get the 10 best people to apply for any given job. It's hard to square that statement with the fact that a lot of these jobs remain open. There's still no communications director, no staff secretary, no top political adviser and no indication of whom might replace Gary Cohn.

And a lot of Trump supporters are worried about a bigger brain drain because Cohn had assembled the most competent policy shop in the White House at the National Economic Council.

MARTIN: Yeah.

LIASSON: The question is, will that staff stick around? Who will Trump get to replace Cohn that has both credibility with corporations in the markets and agrees with Trump on tariffs? That's a really hard combination to find.

MARTIN: Right. And then we just heard Stephen Moore - economist Stephen Moore there, a Trump supporter, being really concerned about what this means for the direction of the White House. Who steps into that role? And who's left as the voice of free trade in the White House right now?

LIASSON: Well, we don't know. The "American Firsters" (ph) have won here. The globalists, the free traders, have lost. Right now you'd say that Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary; Rob - Bob Lighthizer, Peter Navarro - those are the pro-tariff voices. They are leading on economic policy right now.

And this position on tariffs is something that the president believes in very deeply. He's been asking for a tariff plan for months. And the other question is, going forward, what's left of the president's economic agenda? The Republican leadership on the Hill has made it pretty clear that the infrastructure bill isn't going to be brought up anytime soon. Immigration and guns seem to be on hold. And now the president is completely at odds with his Republican leaders on the Hill over trade.

MARTIN: Right. All right. Before I let you go, I want to get you to weigh in on what's happening where I am, here in Texas. The first primary election of the midterm season happened here yesterday. There was a lot of focus on whether Democrats were going to turn out their vote because there is such this anti-Trump sentiment here among liberals. So they did pretty well. But I mean, it wasn't, like, revolutionary turnout. I mean, when you look at...

LIASSON: Well...

MARTIN: ...What happened here, what do you think it portends for November?

LIASSON: Well, I think the biggest takeaway is Democrats have the enthusiasm advantage. They're turning out in big numbers. Turnout in Texas for Republicans was about 15 percent above the last midterm. But turnout for Democrats in Texas was about 105 percent above, so they doubled their turnout. That being said, there are still a lot more Republicans in Texas than Democrats. So raw numbers - there were more Republicans voting than Democrats - about 1.4 million Republicans, 1 million Democrats.

But it tells you that Democrats are motivated. We saw this in Virginia, Alabama, other places. They're not only voting, they're also running. We have a huge surge in Democratic candidates. There wasn't a single uncontested race in Texas yesterday. So Democrats are finally starting to do what Republican voters have always done - show up every two years instead of just every four.

MARTIN: So this is just the first of 50 states (laughter) hosting primaries this year. There are going to be a lot of other contests, a lot of other conversations. But where else are you looking to get a real sense of what could happen in the general?

LIASSON: Well, I think that we're looking to see if Democrats can replace this kind of - replicate this kind of turnout surge in other states, especially in areas where they need to win back House seats from Republicans, those 24 seats - those 23 seats that...

MARTIN: Yeah.

LIASSON: ...Hillary Clinton won but that have a Republican congressman right now. That's where Democrats are going to be concentrating. And we'll see if they can do it elsewhere.

MARTIN: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson for us.

Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE'S "ELK RIVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.