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Week In Politics: The Aftermath Of Kavanaugh's Confirmation And Jamal Khashoggi


All right, let's move now to the political storm that had gripped Washington and the country last week. It is a storm that has calmed down now. Brett Kavanaugh is now Justice Kavanaugh. But the fallout from the bitter and divisive battle over his confirmation is still defining political conversation. When Kavanaugh was sworn in, President Trump apologized to the new justice for the rough confirmation process he had to go through.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Those who step forward to serve our country deserve a fair and dignified evaluation, not a campaign of political and personal destruction based on lies and deception. What happened to the Kavanaugh family violates every notion of fairness, decency and due process.

CHANG: Now, how that confirmation battle will ripple out into the midterm elections is one of the things we'll be talking about in our regular week in politics segment. To do that, I am joined by Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Thanks to both of you for coming in today.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be here.

KAREN TUMULTY: Great to be here.

CHANG: So, Karen, that bit of tape we just heard from President Trump talking about political and personal destruction - that's how some Republicans have been characterizing the opposition to Kavanaugh. But another way they've been describing the people who've turned out to protest is by using the word mob, by calling the angry left moblike. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said this, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.


CHUCK GRASSLEY: What we have learned is the resistance that has existed since the day after the November 2016 election is centered right here on Capitol Hill. They have encouraged mob rule.

CHANG: Mob rule - Karen, was this some sort of coordinated strategy this week - you think several Republicans who just happened to choose the word mob?

TUMULTY: Well, I think they've decided this is a good talking point. Of course it wasn't all that long ago that the sound of, you know, angry protesters was actually music to Republican ears back when it was the Tea Party protesters...

CHANG: Sure.

TUMULTY: ...Who were making it impossible for members of Congress to go to their own town halls without a police escort. And of course we have a president in the White House who has on a regular basis encouraged people at his own rallies to inflict violence on protesters there. But I think that the Republicans have decided - first of all, I guess hypocrisy is nothing new in politics, but they have decided that they see their own base a lot more energized in the wake of this whole fight over Kavanaugh. And they also think that they can use this idea of mob rule as a - you know, as a way of bringing home the idea of, what would it be like if Democrats are given back any of the levers of power?

CHANG: But, David, I mean, the use of this word mob - a lot of the protesters these Republicans are referring to are women. Could describing women's response to all of this as moblike backfire for Republicans among women voters this midterm election?

BROOKS: I don't think so (laughter). You know, we...

CHANG: Why not?

BROOKS: First of all, we live in an age of political polarization or what they call negative polarization, which means you don't particularly have to like your own party. You just have to really hate the other one.

CHANG: (Laughter).

BROOKS: So the crucial issue is, are you appalled? Do you feel appalled at this moment? And that's what motivates people to get active and to go to the polls. And Democrats have been appalled pretty steadily for two years. The Republicans had little to be appalled about, but now they feel really appalled. And the core message in a world of negative polarization is the people who say you are bad are really bad themselves. And this is essentially the message Republicans are now driving home. And they've eliminated the Democratic advantage and enthusiasm. And in red states - not in blue states but in red states, you've begun to see the polls swing over in the Republican direction.

CHANG: How about that? I mean, David's right. Both sides have clearly been galvanized by Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings. We're less than four weeks away from this midterm election. Karen, do you see this fresh energy driven by the confirmation hearings reshaping battle lines before these elections?

TUMULTY: Absolutely. If you look at the polls - and again, we have four more weeks before this election. And in this era, four weeks is what, you know, four years used to be. It does appear that this may be helping the Democrats in the House races, but it could be helping the Republicans in the Senate races in part because where those Senate battlegrounds are. They are - the biggest prizes in this - in the Senate elections are largely Democratic-held seats in states that Donald Trump won. And we are seeing a significant amount of movements in those polls toward the Republicans.

CHANG: But you think it could help Democrats in House races because of the suburban women vote.

TUMULTY: The biggest battlegrounds there are largely in the suburbs where we have - you know, again, the women's vote is going to be absolutely crucial.

CHANG: OK, I want to switch gears now. Karen, late last week, your paper, The Washington Post, had a big blank space on the opinion page where a column from one of your paper's journalists, Jamal Khashoggi, should have been. Khashoggi has been a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He's - he disappeared about 10 days ago after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and he is now assumed to be dead. Your paper, Karen, tied his disappearance all the way to the crown prince personally. How did your colleagues make that direct link to bin Salman?

TUMULTY: Well, you're right. The - you know, increasingly the presumption by intelligence sources on Capitol Hill and in the White House is that our colleague Jamal Khashoggi is dead and that Saudi Arabia is to blame. And one of the biggest pieces of evidence are U.S. intelligence reports that show that the crown prince actually ordered an operation to lure him back to Saudi Arabia, where he was supposed to be detained. The timing of all this is unclear, but it is - if what we are hearing from Turkish sources is true, which is that a - essentially a hit squad of 15 people was waiting for him in the consulate, it is just impossible to imagine that some kind of - that an operation like that would not have happened without the knowledge and approval of the very top levels of the Saudi government.

CHANG: And when President Trump was asked about Khashoggi in the Oval Office yesterday - about an arms deal with the Saudis, this is how he answered.


TRUMP: We don't like it, John. We don't like it, and we don't like it even a little bit. But as to whether or not we should stop $110 billion from being spent in this country knowing they have four or five alternatives, two very good alternatives, that would not be acceptable to me.

CHANG: David, let me turn it to you. Let me turn this to you. Should the U.S. be selling arms to Saudi Arabia right now?

BROOKS: Well, I give the president credit for honesty. Usually when people sell their soul, they try to deny that they're selling it. He's pretty honest that we're selling our democratic principles. We're selling human rights. We're selling a U.S. resident's life down the tube for money.

TUMULTY: Yeah. He even stipulated a price, so...

BROOKS: Yeah. And so it's sort of mercantilism. It's like the axis of greed. And we and the Saudis are part of it. And the second thing that seems clear here is that we have spent the last couple years sucking up to the Saudis. And you would think if that would have a good effect on Saudi foreign policy, you'd think they wouldn't do this sort of thing. And so the idea of flattering people to get them to do your thing - flattering really dictatorial regimes does not seem to work. So I'd say it's a low and sullying moment for American foreign policy.

CHANG: All right, that's David Brooks of The New York Times and Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post. Thank you guys both for coming in today.

BROOKS: Thank you.

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