© 2021 WKSU
Public Radio News for Northeast Ohio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Week In Politics: Iran Sanctions, Supreme Court Nominee


And we'll pick up there with our Friday political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Welcome back, E.J.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Great to be with you always.

CORNISH: And Kristen Soltis Anderson of the Washington Examiner and author of "The Selfie Vote." Thanks for being here.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: Now, I want to start by talking about foreign policy because Iran wasn't the only country that was dealing with essentially a U.S. reset. Yesterday there was the White House statement to Israel warning that building new settlements on the West Bank, quote, "may not be helpful." Then there was that contentious phone call with Australia's prime minister over a deal involving the U.S. taking some of the country's refugees. Here's what Trump had to say about people's response to that.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They're tough. We have to be tough. It's time we're going to be a little tough, folks. We're taken advantage of by every nation in the world virtually. It's not going to happen anymore. It's not going to happen anymore.

CORNISH: Kristen, how does it sound like this president's version of America first, that philosophy, is playing out?

ANDERSON: Well, there's a trope in reality TV where people say I didn't come here to make friends. And that seems to be Donald Trump's approach to everything that he's done over these first two weeks, whether domestic or foreign policy. He did not come here to make friends. And so this sort of no more Mr. Nice Guy routine where he's getting tough with those that he considers our adversaries, as well as getting a little bit tougher on those when he considers our friends, is something that should not come as a terrible surprise to certainly those who voted for him.

But there is certainly some Republicans here in Washington who I think are feeling a little bit of whiplash right now, where in one moment Donald Trump does something that seems fairly traditionally presidential, and then in the next moment there have been escalating tensions with Australia. I think it's throwing a lot of folks for a loop, where every single moment we're not quite sure how our relations with a nation might change.

CORNISH: E.J., Donald Trump is - the Trump administration is constantly saying - kind of defining things in relation to how the Obama administration did it. What are you seeing in all this?

DIONNE: Well, you know, just to pick up on Kristen's point, if he didn't come here to make friends, he didn't come here to make enemies of our longtime friends either. And I think the Australia example is a particularly good case of the kind of ready-fire-aim approach that Trump seems to be taking in so many areas. I mean, we have to be tough on Australia? Australia has helped us in every war we have fought since World War I. So I think...

CORNISH: But he was arguing that he's raising a question, like, why shouldn't I raise questions about deals that were in place if I don't agree with the previous administration?

DIONNE: Well, there are ways to raise questions about deals. And there are ways to raise questions. And this really created a crisis for Malcolm Turnbull, the very pro-American conservative prime minister of Australia. It got to the point where John McCain had to call the Australian ambassador to say, oh, no, no, we are really friends with Australia. This is not very helpful. And so, yeah, it sure is different, as you asked in your question, from Obama's approach to foreign policy. And, you know, being the opposite of your predecessor on everything is not always the best policy.

CORNISH: I want to move on to the nomination to the Supreme Court. Federal Judge Neil Gorsuch is the pick.


NEIL GORSUCH: I respect the fact that in our legal order it is for Congress and not the courts to write new laws. It is the role of judges to apply, not alter, the work of the people's representatives.

CORNISH: Now, Democrats haven't been able to stop the Cabinet picks, but the Supreme Court nominee would likely need 60 votes to assure a confirmation. Kristen, how do you see this shaping up, the battle for this confirmation?

ANDERSON: I think this pick was a phenomenal move, an excellent choice on the part of President Trump. Of the folks that had been talked about as potential nominees to the court, I had been hearing that Gorsuch was the sort of Goldilocks choice - unlikely to cause too hot a fight in the Senate, but nobody - he wouldn't leave conservatives feeling too cold.

That his record is one that is thoroughly within the mainstream, but also one that's likely to please conservatives, Republicans in the Senate, and is the sort of nominee where this - the guess is that there's unlikely to be things in his record that would cause significant numbers of Democrats who are perhaps in red states who may be up for re-election in future years to be in a very tough position. Do they stand and obstruct and filibuster, or do they at least say that he deserves an up or down vote?

CORNISH: E.J., we heard the pitch, how do Democrats respond to this?

DIONNE: Well, he's smart. He seems like a nice person. And his views, particularly on issues related to worker rights, regulation, consumers tilt quite far to the right. And the Democrats have another issue here, which is the question of Merrick Garland. And they are still furious that the Republicans wouldn't even give Garland a hearing. So they view this - as the term goes - as a stolen seat. And, you know, the conservatives have complained for years about borking the Robert Bork case where he was voted down in 1987. But at least to be borked is to get a hearing and a vote. To be Merricked (ph) is not even to get a hearing. So...

CORNISH: So we heard it first, to be Merricked, E.J. Dionne.

ANDERSON: (Laughter).

DIONNE: Oh, yeah. So I think it was actually on a - a comedy show did it first, so I won't claim credit.

CORNISH: (Laughter) OK. Oh, good. Thank you.

DIONNE: The - but so I think that underlies the whole thing. And I think that the key will, as Kristen says, be the Democratic senators from states that went to Trump and how hard they want to fight. But there's a real inclination not just to let this go through right now.

CORNISH: Now, before I let you guys go, I just want to touch on today's executive actions. They're aimed at rolling back provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulations. And note that Trump has signed something like 18 executive orders just in the first 12 days of office. Which I was reading into this, it's actually fewer than Obama, but the reaction has been much greater. E.J. Dionne, what do you think? What strikes you about this latest batch?

DIONNE: First, there's something very odd about opening your administration with government-by-decree. He sits in a chair. He holds up the document. Republicans complained about Obama's imperial presidency. I wonder in their heart of hearts what they really make of this approach opening your presidency. I think the executive order today on Wall Street was particularly disturbing, and I think could cause him real trouble down the road.

The man who was friends of the workers said - and I'm quoting him here - "I have so many people, friends of mine, that had nice businesses. They can't borrow money." He's cutting out regulations, for example, to protect people whose IRAs - how their IRAs are invested. And I think you're going to hear a lot - Elizabeth Warren was already out there saying something like this - that the idea of Trump as a populist will be a scam the way Trump University was. I think today he made a big mistake coming right up front gutting Dodd-Frank.

CORNISH: Oh, Kristen, I need to let you to respond to that. Your heart of hearts for E.J. Dionne.

DIONNE: I left her plenty of time.


ANDERSON: Well, I think, you know, you've had Hill Republicans that have had their eyes on Dodd-Frank for quite some time. And with the way that that law is set up, you have a lot of it that is made through agency, through sort of administrative decree which opens it to the White House being able to make a lot of these tweaks without having to get Congress's approval.

And in this case, I think the Trump administration would say they're trying to correct things that have had unintended consequences. Are there pieces of this law that are preventing small and mid-sized banks from being able to lend? Are they preventing people from being able to have the choices they want to have in their IRA accounts? And so as a result, this is something that will make sort of conventional free-market-type Republicans who have had their eyes on Dodd-Frank for a while quite happy.

But as E.J. talks about, a large piece of Trump's coalition are populist folks, folks who perhaps do not care as much about limited government, but they do want to see the little guy looked out for. And so when it comes to actions like this, this is going to be an interesting dance for the Trump administration to pursue or to go through with because it is the sort of thing where depending on how they communicate it, to what extent do his loyal supporters - who are more populist than traditionally Republican - think that this is what they sent him to Washington to do?

CORNISH: And at this pace, we will have much more to discuss when it comes to executive actions. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, thank you so much.

DIONNE: Great to be with you.

ANDERSON: Thank you.

CORNISH: And Kristen Soltis Anderson of the Washington Examiner, thank you.

ANDERSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICOLAS JAAR SONG, "MI MUJER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.