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Sunday Politics


Our own national political correspondent Mara Liasson has been listening on the line. Good morning, Mara.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you just heard Senator Sanders. He's releasing his criminal justice plan right after he took a bit of a slide in the polls. And it is an important issue to black voters.

LIASSON: It's a very important issue to black voters. Criminal justice reform has bipartisan support, but African American voters make up a disproportionate percentage of the Democratic primary electorate, especially when you get past the first two very white primary states - Iowa and New Hampshire. If you're going to move on to South Carolina and then Michigan and California, you have got to have support among black voters.

And so far only Joe Biden has shown that he has persistent strong support in the polls among African Americans. This is not Bernie Sanders' only problem. He's also battling Elizabeth Warren for the progressive lane of the primary. But no candidate can win the Democratic nomination without doing very, very well with African American voters.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Meanwhile, the economy became a more present conversation this week, didn't it? And the president seems rattled, I think.

LIASSON: Well, you know, despite President Trump's consistent refrain on Twitter and rallies with reporters that the economy is the best in United States' history, he and his team are very worried, and they're very aware of all the warning signs of a possible slowdown. And a booming economy, not just a good economy, a booming economy is the foundation of the president's reelection message.

So this week, he tried to do something to help the economy by backing off one of his own policies that has been adding to economic anxiety. He decided to delay tariffs on some Chinese goods till past the Christmas shopping season. And that was a big admission - that his repeated claims that China pays the tariffs, American consumers do not, is simply false.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what else can he do?

LIASSON: He doesn't have a whole lot of tools in his toolbox. He can browbeat the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates. They haven't been lowering them as much as he wants. And the stimulative effect of his tax cuts lasted only about a year. They've now worn off, and he certainly can't pass any more.

If there is a recession, he really doesn't have fiscal policy in his toolbox either because he's run up such a huge deficit - it's now about $1 trillion. So he won't be able to use more deficit spending to boost the economy in the case of a slowdown. He doesn't have a lot of tools.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And it was kind of a bad week for President Trump with his own party, too. He got a round of criticism from the GOP when he pressured the Israeli government in a back and forth over the visit of Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib.

LIASSON: That was pretty interesting. He did get a round of criticism from some very unlikely sources - supporters of his, supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu, like pro-Israeli senators like Florida Republican Marco Rubio. He got criticism from AIPAC, a pro-Israeli lobby. And this is - was yet another kind of leap down the slippery slope of eroding democratic norms. No president has ever pressured an ally to deny a visit from a member of the United States Congress.

And the question I have after this chapter is, is there some connections between a softening economy and the willingness of Republicans to openly criticize the president? You know, as the economy weakens, so does Donald Trump. And that could enable members of his own party, who usually bite their tongues when they - when he does something that horrifies them, to speak out.

Foreign policy has been one area where Republicans have been more willing to voice their differences with the president. But I think this - that his move to pressure the Israeli government was pretty extreme and so was the pushback.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Happy Sunday, Mara.

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

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.