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Republicans Are Hoping To Pass Tax Bill By Christmas

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Let's talk more about the Russia investigation we just heard about with our political commentators. This week we have Ana Kasparian, host for The Young Turks Network, here at NPR West, with me. Welcome.

ANA KASPARIAN: Thank you for having me.

MCEVERS: And David Brooks of The New York Times joins us from Washington. Hi, David.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Hi. How are you?

MCEVERS: So first let's talk about those text messages that Carrie talked about that those two FBI agents exchanged. They have led to renewed calls from members of the president's party to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Let's listen to Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, who's been making the rounds this week. Here he is on CNN.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MATT GAETZ: The elected representatives of the people, the Congress, have an obligation to expose this bias, to expose what I believe is a corrupt investigation. And I call on my Republican colleagues to join me in calling for the firing of Bob Mueller. And look. It's time for Mueller to put up or shut up. If there is evidence of collusion with Russia, let's see it.

MCEVERS: You know, a lot of this sounds similar to the weeks just before the presidential election - right? - talk that the election was going to be rigged. Like, if you say it enough times, then it will discredit the outcome of a thing. I mean, is that what's happening here? Ana, is that what you see?

KASPARIAN: I think the Republicans are fighting rather aggressively to discredit the FBI as much as possible, essentially discredit or delegitimize this investigation. And the notion that Robert Mueller is some sort of liberal with an agenda against Trump is crazy. If anything, I actually really commend Robert Mueller for the way that he's handling this. There are no leaks coming out of his investigation. He's not pre-emptively or irresponsibly saying things out in the press that, you know, I think a lot of people would mistakenly do in his position.

And you know, the two individuals that the Trump administration is, you know, going crazy about - these two FBI employees were moved off the investigation as soon as Mueller discovered those text messages. And it doesn't matter what the facts are. They want this investigation to go away. And that's the real question. Why?

Why is it that they haven't been so forthcoming? Why is it that we keep getting this slow and steady drip of, you know, incriminating evidence against Trump or at least officials that worked during his campaign? So we'll see how it all plays out. But I don't think that there's some sort of crazy political bias at play here.

MCEVERS: You know, speaking of sort of pre-emptive talk, I mean, we just talked about this a little bit, David, hearing the president say, you know, there's no reason to talk about pardoning Michael Flynn yet. You know, is the fact that he's even saying it like that cause for concern?

BROOKS: Yeah. Well, as we just heard, I don't think Flynn - pardoning Flynn makes much sense.

MCEVERS: Right.

BROOKS: I will say this about the text. You know, I hang around - anybody in Washington hangs around a lot of federal workers, and there are two things to know about them. One is they're human beings who tend to have private political opinions and which sometimes they might send over a text.

MCEVERS: Right.

BROOKS: And two, in general, they're pretty good at their jobs. Political appointees of both Republican and Democratic say that the senior people are of surprisingly high quality. And so just some - because some texts were sent does not mean that that person could not do a very good job.

What's interesting to me - among the people turning up the heat on Mueller, it's really high among the Sean Hannity-type Republicans. But so far, the Senate Republicans and sort of the mainstream Republicans - Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham, Roy Blunt from Missouri, these senators - they're sticking with Mueller. And they're sort of sending a signal they do not want to - they don't want Trump to take any action here. Their collapse and cratering and - will come later.

MCEVERS: Lots of other things, of course, going on in Washington this week, the big story, of course, being the tax bill. Republicans are confident they have the vote. Here's what the president said earlier this week on that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We want to give you, the American people, a giant tax cut for Christmas. And when I say giant, I mean giant.

(APPLAUSE)

MCEVERS: David, is this going to be a giant tax cut for most Americans?

BROOKS: Well, if most Americans own shares in GE...

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

BROOKS: ...You know? No, I'm a little turned off by some of the extreme negativity about the tax bill. I mean, Barack Obama proposed cutting the corporate rate to 28. Trump is 21. So that's a difference. It's not a total, like, difference between heaven and hell. Nonetheless, I do think it's a very bad bill. It will not generate much growth. It will increase the deficit. And I'm surprised at least Marco Rubio, to his credit, today got something. He got some money for poor families with kids. People like Bob Corker and, as far as I can see, Susan Collins - they're caving in without getting absolutely anything in support of a bill that's bad and unpopular.

MCEVERS: How will Republicans have to message this, you know, in the midterms, Ana, if it does pass? Do you think they'll have trouble with it?

KASPARIAN: I don't think they'll have trouble passing it. I think that they'll pass it rather easily. But that's such a great question because the reality is the electorate is paying attention, and there is a disconnect here between the donors that have been pushing the Republicans to pass this tax plan and the electorate that does not see this as a popular bill. Right now the approval rating for this legislation is hovering around 30 percent, which is very low.

And so I don't know whether or not they will be effective in the messaging because so far, people are not buying what they're selling. And even with Rubio, even though what he did was a very savvy move politically speaking, it doesn't make that much of a difference for low-income earners who have children. The number goes from the original proposed 1,100 to I believe 1,400 now.

MCEVERS: Can't let this week go by without talking about Alabama, of course, where a Democrat was elected to the United States Senate for the first time in a quarter of a century. Here's Senator-elect Doug Jones giving his victory speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOUG JONES: Alabama has been at a crossroads. We have been at crossroads in the past, and unfortunately we have usually taken the wrong fork. Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, you took the right road.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

MCEVERS: And, David, do you think this win in Alabama is a harbinger of things to come for the Republican Party or more easily explained away by, you know, a troublesome Republican candidate in Judge Roy Moore?

BROOKS: Well, definitely a harbinger. The Democrats have a 15-point support advantage going into the generic ballot, going into the midterm elections. That's, like, the classic recipe for a wave. So you've got to expect that to happen. To me, two things are interesting. One, a poll I saw today of Fox News voters - Fox News viewers supported Donald Trump 90 percent back in June. Now that's down to 58 percent. If you're losing Fox News viewers, you're kind of in trouble.

The second important thing is Steve Bannon is running a bunch of candidates against Republican establishment people in places like Tennessee, possibly Wyoming, Arizona. Maybe that - this will quell some of those Bannon insurgencies against regular Republicans.

MCEVERS: You hear a lot of Democrats talking about 2018 and this idea that there's even a possibility of taking both the House and Senate. I mean, is it too soon to crow in that way, Ana, or do you think there's a real chance?

KASPARIAN: I think that there's a real chance. But what I am curious about is whether or not the Democratic Party will learn some lessons from the past general election. And right now there is still a divide among Democrats - you know, the so-called Bernie supporters versus the more establishment types.

And look. The establishment types seem to reject the fact that there are people in the country who feel economically abandoned by the Democratic Party, and they need to wake up and realize that people are engaged. They're paying attention. They're paying very close attention to this tax legislation. And so they really need to look out for their best economic interests if they want to get the votes.

MCEVERS: Ana Kasparian of The Young Turks and David Brooks of The New York Times, thanks to both of you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

KASPARIAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.