Week In Politics

Jul 13, 2019
Originally published on July 13, 2019 2:34 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A week of setbacks for the Trump administration in the cabinet and elsewhere. NPR's White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe joins us. Thanks for being with us.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Alex Acosta, the labor secretary, stepped down yesterday 'cause he gave Jeffrey Epstein what sounded like a sweetheart deal a decade ago. This is even after expressions of support from the White House. Did he jump or was he pushed?

RASCOE: Well, they say it was a jump, but it's really hard to know in these situations. Yesterday, Acosta spoke to reporters on the White House lawn with President Trump. And he said that he called Trump and told him he didn't want to be a distraction, so he was stepping down. And Trump did have very kind words for him. He said he was a tremendous talent and said that this was Acosta's decision and not his. But ultimately, if Trump wanted him to stay on, he could've pressed for that. He could've refused to accept the resignation. He didn't do that. And part of that might be because the charges against Epstein now are so serious.

And remember, Epstein did run in some social circles with Trump long before Trump was president. And Trump said back in the early 2000s that Epstein was a, quote, "terrific guy." Now he - Trump is walking that back. He says he fell out with Epstein about 15 years ago. He's saying he's not a fan. But this is not an issue that the White House will want to be focusing on and bringing more attention to. And Acosta - having Acosta in the administration would do that.

SIMON: The president threw in the towel on adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Some of his supporters don't like it, do they?

RASCOE: Well, his supporters wanted him to fight, and that seemed like what Trump was trying to do after the Supreme Court blocked the question for now. But on Thursday, Trump had to acknowledge that it just was not logistically possible to get the question about citizenship on questionnaires in time to carry out the census. The census is a massive undertaking, and the administration had repeatedly argued that they had to start printing forms by the beginning of July to get the head count started on time next year. And the forms were already being printed when Trump tweeted that he was going to keep fighting and they were going to try to find a way. But it just wasn't feasible.

The census is required by the Constitution and federal law. There's really no wiggle room here. Trump did sign this executive order directing all agencies to provide the Commerce Department with U.S. citizenship and noncitizenship data of everyone living in the U.S. The thing is, though, that that data collection was already under way, or at least some of it was. So it's not clear what this executive order is really achieving.

SIMON: House voted to limit the president's authority to use the military to strike Iran. What's the significance of that vote?

RASCOE: So this defense bill was really aimed at reining in the president's power to use military force against Iran without approval from Congress. This has been an issue not only with this president, but, obviously, with prior administrations - the question of when a president must get permission to take military action. And Democrats in the House are trying to take some of that authority back and give it back to Congress. Obviously, Trump was on his - very close to striking Iran, according to him, a few weeks ago.

But although the bill passed the House, it did so along party lines, and it's going to have a much harder time in the Senate. You're likely going to see some compromise have to be made for this bill to become law.

SIMON: Immigration has become, maybe, the defining issue of the Trump presidency. We have the detention centers holding migrants, child separations and, beginning tomorrow, reportedly, the ICE raids the president promised. Is there some kind of strategy on the part of the Trump administration to publicizing this action in advance?

RASCOE: Well, the president has said that this action was coming. And it's not clear if there's a strategy to making it known ahead of time. Some former officials have questioned why these raids are being announced ahead of time because they say it undermines the operation. But this idea of deporting people in the country illegally is something that Trump campaigned on, and this is something that he has talked about to energize his base.

That said, Trump is - has talked about deporting millions of people, and we should be clear that that's not happening. It will likely be in the thousands. And - but what's different is they're not targeting violent criminals; they're targeting recently arrived migrants who have already received final orders of removal from an immigration judge.

SIMON: Ayesha Rascoe, thanks so much.

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