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This Week In Politics: Another Round Of Primaries

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Republicans are still finding it hard to unify behind their apparent nominee, Donald Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who's been having his own very public coming to terms with a Trump nomination, says it could be worse.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL RYAN: I'm glad that Republicans are where we are right now because we're on our way to unifying. The Democrats are still ripping each other apart. Bernie Sanders is banking wins to this day.

MONTAGNE: Well, that's one way of looking at it. And to discuss this and other issues this week in politics, we're joined by columnist and commentator Cokie Roberts and Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker. Good morning to both of you.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Renee. Hi, Kathleen.

KATHLEEN PARKER: Good morning. Hey, everybody.

MONTAGNE: OK. Donald Trump has had some ups and downs this past week. That's pretty normal, actually, for Donald Trump. He's under increasing pressure to release his income tax returns. When he was asked about this last Friday on "Good Morning America," here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: What is your tax rate?

DONALD TRUMP: It's none of your business. You'll see it when I release, but I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible.

MONTAGNE: OK. Well, go ahead. Will Donald Trump's supporters care about his taxes?

ROBERTS: His supporters probably don't, but other people do. Look, this idea that it's none of your business is really not something that a presidential candidate can say. Everything is our business when somebody is running for president. What we know about the vote for president is that it is for the person, not for the policies.

And we very sensibly, in my view - the American voters take a look and say look, I don't know what's going to happen in the next four years. I don't know that the twin towers are going to be attacked. I don't know that the Berlin Wall's going to come down. But I'm going to vote for the person that I trust most to handle whatever comes up in the next four years or at least trust more than the other person. And therefore, I need to know everything about that person.

And that has been my very strong view about questions of personal behavior with women, with any of those things - that we need to know everything so we can make that judgment.

PARKER: Yeah, I agree with what Cokie has said. I mean, none of your business is never the right answer if you're running for president because as she says, everything is your business. But of course, the reason Donald Trump doesn't want to have anyone look as his tax returns is because one, he probably does not have as much money as he says he does, doesn't - that's - most people on the Republican side who are not Trump supporters think that's the case. And then also his tax rate - at least he was honest about that. He doesn't pay enough taxes in the view of people who are looking very closely at raising tax rates on the rich.

So he's got a lot to hide, and that's the message he's sending when he says it's none of your business 'cause it is our business. And he can't get away with that. But I would assure you that his supporters don't care because they don't care about anything he says or doesn't say. And if he wants to contradict himself midsentence, that's OK with them apparently. But in this case, none of your business - N-O-B is not the answer.

MONTAGNE: Well, Kathleen, your paper, The Post, reported yesterday on efforts by some unhappy Republicans to draft a third-party candidate. How likely is that to happen?

PARKER: I would say zero chance of that happening. It's just not going - I don't think it's going to happen. They don't - by splitting the ticket or by bringing in a third-party candidate, they're essentially assuring that Hillary Clinton becomes the candidate - becomes the president. And who's going to volunteer for that job? They talk about people like Ben Sasse, who is somebody - you know, he's clearly a rising star and someone to watch...

ROBERTS: Senator from Nebraska.

PARKER: Thank you, Cokie.

(LAUGHTER)

PARKER: But I doubt very much that the people who are saying yes, Ben Sasse, could recognize him in a lineup. I mean, he's just not - he's not there yet.

ROBERTS: Anybody who did that would be doing it for the purpose of saying we just can't stomach Donald Trump. And we're giving people an opportunity to vote for neither him nor Hillary Clinton, knowing that Hillary Clinton would then win. So the Democrats are dying for it to happen. But I think the likelihood is slim to none.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk about the Democrats for a few minutes now. Who ever would've thought, really, that this would be the second nominating contest to be decided this year after the Republicans? But as Paul Ryan points out, speaker of the House, Bernie Sanders keeps winning primaries, as Bernie Sanders would point out as well. He also is making the argument that he would do better with Clinton against Trump in a national election. Does he - is there something to that, Cokie?

ROBERTS: Well, his - he points to polls that show that - that he is running ahead of Clinton against Trump. The reason, however, that he doesn't bring it up is that nobody has done any negative campaigning against him. There have been no negative ads against Bernie Sanders. Nobody has gone back and looked at his somewhat colorful past. And no one has really examined his policies in-depth.

The Clinton people don't want to do it because they don't want to alienate the Sanders voters who they want to come into their tent, assuming that she wins the nomination. And the Republicans don't want to do it because they're thrilled to have Sanders still in the race and taking down Hillary Clinton every day. So he has had - he has been totally unscathed in terms of his own record.

MONTAGNE: The Education Department, the Justice Department warned the states not to discriminate against transgender students or risk losing federal education funds. You're in South Carolina today, where there does not seem to be much appetite for a political fight over this issue. But there's plenty in other states like North Carolina and Texas. Do you think this will become a rallying point for either party in the election?

PARKER: I really don't. I mean, I think this was something for the social conservatives in the Republican Party to grasp onto. I mean, you know, how else can Tony Perkins sent out email blasts asking for $5 donations? You have to have something to sink your teeth into. And people probably are...

ROBERTS: Family Research Council.

PARKER: Yes. Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

PARKER: No, I think it's - I don't think it's - I don't think people are very interested in arguing about that right now. I think they're much more concerned about, you know, who's going to be the president than they are about who's going to which bathroom. It's not...

ROBERTS: But, you know, I - you always wonder, though, at this stage in the year - in the calendar, why would these rules come out? And yes, the president wants to get a lot done before his time is up. But it also might be a political ploy on the part of the administration to try to get young people excited and remind them that the Republicans, in many cases, are against transgender people, gay marriage, that kind of thing, just an attempt to keep the Obama coalition together going into the election.

PARKER: Gosh, do you really think it could be political?

MONTAGNE: Got to leave it at that. Thanks, both of you, for joining us. That's Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker and commentator/columnist Cokie Roberts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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