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The Week In Politics: Bernie Sanders, Clinton's Emails And A Trump (Non)Debate

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders famously once said that he was sick and tired of hearing about Hillary Clinton's emails. He is saying they are relevant all the same.

An examination found Secretary of State Clinton did not follow the rules when she used a private email server. And in response to a question about that on CBS, Sanders said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

BERNIE SANDERS: The inspector general just came out with a report. It was not a good report for Secretary Clinton. That is something that the American people, Democrats and delegates are going to have to take a hard look at. But for me right now, I continue to focus on how we can rebuild a disappearing middle class, deal with poverty, guarantee health care to all of our people as a right.

INSKEEP: That's where we start our regular political talk with commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts who's on the line. Hi, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And also Washington Times columnist Charlie Hurt who's in our studios here in Washington. Welcome to you, sir.

CHARLIE HURT: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: In all fairness, Sanders was answering a question there. But he did say that emails are an issue. What, if anything, changed for him?

ROBERTS: Well, he was answering a question when he said earlier in that debate about the emails that he was sick and tired of hearing about them and they were...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

ROBERTS: ...Off the table for a good while. But look, the big change is Bernie Sanders has had quite a run. And he is still attracting enormous crowds. And he's tasting it, you know. Even though the math is such that it is impossible for him to get the number of delegates that he wants to get the nomination, he thinks that maybe we can still sway those superdelegates away from Hillary Clinton and to him. And so he's raising everything he can. It's causing a lot of upset in the Democratic Party. But he's forging on.

INSKEEP: Charlie Hurt, Sanders told us on this program a couple of weeks ago that his challenge, going all the way with it, makes Democrats stronger. Does it?

HURT: I don't know if it does or not, actually. I think that, you know, in terms of a general election, the big problem for the Democrats is that Bernie Sanders is pulling Hillary Clinton much farther to the left than she's comfortable with, much farther to the left than she wants to naturally be at. You know, she's invoked her husband's presidency an awful lot during the campaign. I think that's where she would like to be.

But Bernie Sanders has, you know - he has done so much to sort of revolutionize the Democratic Party and take it to a place that they never intended to be. And I think it's going to make Hillary Clinton a much more unpalatable candidate in the general election.

ROBERTS: I think much more that he's attacked her trustworthiness - the policy stuff, I think that the public is all over the place on policies (laughter) at the moment.

But the - on the question of her speeches at Wall Street, those kinds of things - that's where the big damage has come. And we've seen it. We've seen, you know, the polls showing that she - that most voters do not consider her honest and trustworthy. And that's very, very damaging for a presidential candidate of any stripe.

INSKEEP: Why didn't Donald Trump agree to debate Bernie Sanders after apparently suggesting it himself? Charlie Hurt.

HURT: I think that, quite frankly - first of all, you know, Donald Trump, I think, raised it sort of as a joke as he often does. He sort of wanders out there and says something that isn't necessarily that well thought out.

But quite frankly, I think the real concern is that he is - he would rather face Hillary Clinton in the general election than he would Bernie Sanders because Bernie Sanders has generated this incredible organic support behind him.

And the other problem for him in debating Bernie Sanders is if he wound up in a debate, Donald Trump doesn't play nice. He plays rough. And there's nothing in it for him to go and attack Bernie Sanders in any way. He would have to be very gentle with him because he wants to win over any of the supporters he can win over and, at the very least, convince him to stay (unintelligible).

INSKEEP: You know, you've said that Donald Trump doesn't play nice, that he plays rough. I want people to know that very, very early on, when Trump began his candidacy, you were out there saying this guy's doing a great thing. You were very impressed. You liked him a lot. Has his candidacy lived up to your hopes?

HURT: Yeah, I - you know - in the past 25 years, we've had two Republican presidents. Both have been named Bush. Under them, we've had a tax increase, at the time, the largest expansion of an entitlement program in the history of the country and then we had an interventionist war that was put on - a trillion-dollar interventionist war that was put on the country's credit card. None of that is conservative. And so Republicans are very frustrated. And conservatives are very, very frustrated with Republicans.

And this is the kind of guy - I kind of look at the Trump candidacy as something of an interventionist.

ROBERTS: But Charlie, though, a lot of conservatives are very upset with him, thinking that he's not a conservative. They - the true conservatives seem to have been much more behind Ted Cruz...

HURT: Sure.

ROBERTS: ...Than Donald Trump. So - but you've been on Trump's side from the beginning.

HURT: And I think the question is - you know, what kind of conservative are you talking about?

ROBERTS: (Laughter).

HURT: Are you talking about a Republican conservative? Or are you talking about a - and those are, you know, truly conservative. But there's nothing conservative about interventionist wars and doubling the national debt and things like that. And that's what Republicans have given the people.

INSKEEP: Let's me ask about one other thing, Charlie Hurt, since we've got you. Trump has been giving policy speeches, trying to flesh out what he wants to do. He gave an energy speech the other day. Just one line, then, in that energy speech - he says I'm going to bring back coal miners' jobs. Now, as somebody who used to live in Kentucky, I totally get that. I get the sentiment behind it. But the coal mining industry has been devastated by lower prices from natural gas.

Do you actually think that Trump knows how to bring back coal miners' jobs?

HURT: None of this is simple. But the fact that he is voicing the desire for people to go to work obviously...

INSKEEP: Everybody - every candidate says they want people to go to work. No - go - finish your thought. Finish your thought.

HURT: But - in - Republicans have made all these promises about foreign trade, about, you know, free trade, they call it. And it has absolutely devastated, whether it's the coal miners or the furniture manufacturers or the textile manufacturers. It has been absolutely devastating. And none of the benefits that have been promised them by Republicans have, you know, come to fruition. And so I do think that - I don't know if you can bring all these jobs back or not. But I don't think that - I've always felt like a great bumper sticker for Donald Trump could be - you can't screw it up any worse.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) OK. Well, Charlie Hurt...

ROBERTS: But Hillary Clinton supporters are worried that she might not be able to answer all of that. And there's a lot of concern in the Democratic Party about going forward.

INSKEEP: All right, thanks very much, Cokie Roberts and Charlie Hurt of the Washington Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.