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Week In Politics: Lessons From The Primaries, The G-7 Summit And Trump's Pardons

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump hit the road this morning. He has got not one but two summits on his plate. First stop - Quebec, where he is meeting the leaders of the G-7. Along with the U.S., that would be Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K. Although, right before he boarded Air Force One this morning, Trump threw out this suggestion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have a world to run. And in the G-7, which used to be the G-8 - they threw Russia out. They should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.

KELLY: Reinstate Russia to the G-7. Or should it be the G-8 - one of many topics on which there appears to be a lot of daylight between the U.S. president and the other leaders gathered in Canada. And let's start there for our regular Friday roundup of the week in politics. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, welcome back.

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

KELLY: And John Phillips of the Orange County Register, welcome back to you, too.

JOHN PHILLIPS: Happy Friday.

KELLY: Happy Friday to you. And I'm going to start with you, John. For the record, I want to point out Russia was kicked out of the G-7 - the G-8 - after the invasion of Crimea. There is a reason that Vladimir Putin is not there in Quebec tonight. But I want you to take that and all of the other tensions that were already on the table over tariffs, trade and the Iran nuclear deal and everything else. What are you watching for as this summit unfolds?

PHILLIPS: Well, I think you have to put all of this in the context of Donald Trump the presidential candidate. Where Donald Trump broke from previous Republicans, people like Mitt Romney, John McCain, were his hawkish positions on immigration and trade. And the fact that he's going to Canada and he is pushing back on trade - specifically on Twitter, he pushed back on what Canada is charging us for dairy - is something that plays very well to the base back home. There are Republicans who are running for re-election in Wisconsin and the Central Valley of California, dairy farmers. And when they see Donald Trump digging in his heels on issues like that, they're happy.

KELLY: So this is domestic politics, but it's playing out on the world stage, E.J.

DIONNE: Right. And, you know, I think if there were a best-seller written about this, it would be "How To Lose Old Friends And Increase The Influence Of Your Traditional Enemies."

KELLY: (Laughter) OK.

DIONNE: I mean, this notion of inviting Vladimir Putin back in - there's so much opposition to this in the Republican Party. The conservative Weekly Standard had no problem today getting senators such as John McCain, Rob Portman, Ben Sasse immediately say, what is the president thinking about here? He's also picking fights with some of our closest friends - for goodness' sake, Canada.

KELLY: Canada.

DIONNE: And the irony is that we actually have a trade surplus with Canada - last year $2.8 billion. But most of that surplus comes from services, not goods. And so the president highlights goods. But I think to John's political point, one of the fascinating things about trade war is - trade wars is that he's quite right. A lot of American workers don't trust free trade. But the specific results of this particular trade war - as an NPR piece earlier this week showed with a steel worker, it can hurt blue-collar jobs in particular sectors of our economy. So this is not cost-free politically, and it's certainly got a lot of costs in foreign policy.

KELLY: All right, well, since you two have taken us from the G-7 to domestic politics, let me stay there for a minute and turn to the big election this week, this week's California primary.

PHILLIPS: (Laughter).

KELLY: E.J., you go first this time. What's your big takeaway from that one.

DIONNE: Well, first, my big takeaway is this California system, the so-called jungle primary, is a real problem. The Democrats came out well in this 'cause they were worried that in several target districts, you might - their candidate might run third because they had so many candidates.

KELLY: And why is it a problem? I mean, both Republicans and Democrats are shouting that California was a success for them.

DIONNE: Wait; well, no, but I think it's a - I'll get to that in a second. The Democrats are very happy that they're going to have candidates in all of the swing districts. And I think the Democrats nationally have ended up with a pretty good pool of candidates for the fall. So Democrats are feeling good.

But in the Senate race, you are going to have two Democrats running against each other. Now, Democrats may love that, but if you are a Republican who doesn't vote in primaries, you're going to walk in the voting booth and not have anybody to vote for. I think that is a structural problem for this California primary. But the bottom line is so far, Democrats avoided a lot of problems that people thought they were going to have out of these primaries - no big divisions, a lot of women candidates. They're pretty happy with the slate they have.

KELLY: John, take this thread, and run with it. What do you see as the national implications of the California vote?

DIONNE: Well, if the road to the House majority for Democrats runs through California, Nancy Pelosi may be stuck at a SigAlert on the 405 Freeway.

KELLY: (Laughter).

DIONNE: Two things happened that are very significant. One is Republican businessman John Cox made it to the runoff in the race for governor, which means the Republicans aren't going to be locked out of the top of the ticket. Republicans now have a reason to come out in the general election. The second thing is if you look at the targeted congressional seats, many of them are in Orange County, one in Los Angeles County, a couple of them in California's Central Valley. Republican candidates, if you add up all of the votes, only got less than 52 percent of the vote in one district. That's the Darrell Issa district. So if they can maintain those percentages in November, Republicans are going to hold on to all of their seats with the exception of that one, which in my opinion is a toss-up.

KELLY: E.J., I can see you itching to come in on this one.

DIONNE: I will because in fact what John is overlooking in that analysis - he's right in what he said - is that the Democratic turnout in 2018 in this primary was much higher than it was in 2014. A lot of Democratic voters, particularly among Latinos and young people, don't vote in this primary. So for the very same reason, Democrats feel good about this because their candidates collectively got a whole lot more votes in this primary in 2018 than they did in 2014 when of course they took a shellacking. So the trend they see is positive.

KELLY: John, you agree?

PHILLIPS: No. Well, in 2014, the Republican wave stopped at the Sierra Nevada. That was a good year for Democrats in the state of California. The Republicans I talked to, including strategists that are running those races, think that their guys have a pretty good chance of getting re-elected. Donald Trump, according to one consultant in Orange County, has a 50 percent approval rating in that county. I just don't see so many of them being in trouble.

DIONNE: Well, we'll find out soon. But I think the actual number of Democrats who turned out was consistent with the higher participation by Democrats around the country in the special elections.

KELLY: More primaries to come...

DIONNE: We'll know soon.

KELLY: ...And more discussion from the two of you. We'll look forward to having you back and debating this as the year unfolds and we move toward November. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and John Phillips of the Orange County Register, thanks very much to you both.

DIONNE: Great to be with you.

PHILLIPS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.