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The Week In Politics: From A Decisive Health Care Vote To New White House Staff


It's been another wild week in Washington, D.C. The latest Republican health care bill collapsed, and the disarray on Pennsylvania Avenue picked up steam. Later, we'll talk to a group of Republicans in our Barbershop to get their take on Washington, but we want to start with our very own political editor, Domenico Montanaro. Hey, Domenico.


KING: So let's start with this shakeup in the White House. Reince Priebus is out. General John Kelly is taking his spot. Based on this new appointment, can we get a read on how the White House might operate in the future?

MONTANARO: Well, first of all, what a week, right? I mean...

KING: Yeah.

MONTANARO: ...This was, like, the most intense week of this Trump presidency, and that's saying something (laughter), you know.

KING: Sure is.

MONTANARO: You had everything from this biggest shakeup of the Trump White House to what John McCain did, who's been suffering from a deadly form of brain cancer - returning to help advance a health care bill only to dramatically crush it and Republicans' hopes of passing anything for now. And, you know, Trump has continued to publicly shame and humiliate his own attorney general. I mean, none of this is normal.

But what does it mean for how the White House will operate? This is really the full decline of the Republican-National-Committee-led Washington wing within the White House. There are no more Washington insiders. What you now have are sort of three factions - generals, populist outsiders who are aligned with Steve Bannon's team and the New York braggadocio wing. You know, going forward, Trump's super ego may be gone and his id unleashed, especially with all of what we heard this week from his new communications director.

KING: Yeah, well, what we heard this week from his new communications director was a very colorful interview that Anthony Scaramucci gave to The New Yorker. He predicted that Reince Priebus would be out. He also, in that interview, used some language. That managed to overshadow another moment when the president spoke to the Boy Scouts earlier this week. Let's listen to a bit of that.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Tonight, we put aside all of the policy fights in Washington, D.C., you've been hearing about with the fake news and all of that. We're going to put that - we're going to put that aside.

KING: Domenico, you wrote a great piece on this speech about just how odd that moment was. Tell us why.

MONTANARO: Yeah, well, he didn't stick to that promise of leaving politics out of it. Like, every past president who's spoken to the Boy Scouts, they leave politics out of this and talk about scouting. But he wound up blasting political opponents. He mock threatened a Cabinet member. Worst of all, he alluded to sexual acts on a yacht owned by a rich friend. And remember, these are adolescent boys. If you did that as a schoolteacher or principal, you'd be in a lot of trouble.

You know, and when you refer to someone as a real Boy Scout, it means they're always doing the right thing. They don't cut corners. They always act ethically with the right motivation. That's the opposite of how Trump has been acting and how Trump acted in that speech. In fact, the Boy Scouts had such backlash to this that they actually had to apologize for Trump's speech and said they don't endorse any candidate and that they are a nonpartisan organization. That's fascinating.

KING: Domenico, let's bring this back to governing which, in a perfect world, is what the government does. This week, the Senate failed to pass a bill overhauling the health care system. That was a big agenda item for them. So what happens now when it comes to the president's legislative agenda? Is there a way for him and the GOP establishment to work together and start getting things done?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, what I was wondering, once John McCain became the vote to turn down - when he turned his thumb down and kind of killed the health care effort, and you had Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski still dug in and saying that they're not going to give Republicans that majority, I was wondering if polarization would cry uncle. You know, was this a moment for Republicans, Democrats to realize that, OK, Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act lays the foundation for something that's not government-run health care but something that started as a conservative idea and that maybe they could make some big patches or fixes to it and kind of get back together?

The president of the United States has taken a different tack on this. He was out tweeting this morning threatening to cut off subsidies from the bill. And, really, his administration, if they wanted to, they could send Obamacare into a death spiral. And that's the only way I could see the gears grinding even harder against each other. And that seems to be the president's approach, rather than trying to reach out.

KING: All right, a strange week, indeed. NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thank you so much.

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

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