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Morning News Brief: Trump And Foreign Policy, Bannon Out Of NSC, Gorsuch Confirmation

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to begin this morning by working our way through some of the biggest stories of the day.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah. Up first, we have this showdown today between Republicans and Democrats in the United States Senate. Later this morning, Republicans appear likely to invoke what a lot of people call the nuclear option. This will prevent Democrats from using the filibuster to stop Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination. And the important thing to know here - this change is permanent. The majority party will no longer have to court votes from the other side in Supreme Court nominee battles. There's some big implications here.

MARTIN: Yeah. So we have a couple of experts - no pressure - here to help us understand the consequences of this. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is on the line. Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.

MARTIN: Also Domenico Montanaro, NPR's lead political editor. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: All right, Tam, I will start with you. We've been hearing for days how big of a deal this is. Why?

KEITH: You know, this is a big deal. This changes the Senate in one more way, but in some ways, it's an inevitable next step that the Senate has been on this path for some time now. And it's sort of what you get when you have such a deeply partisan country and deliberative body.

MARTIN: And when you say this path, you're just talking about the extreme partisan divides that are happening in the country but also in our legislative bodies.

KEITH: Yes, absolutely. And also that in 2013, Democrats pulled the nuclear option on lower court nominations and on Cabinet positions. And when they did that, a lot of people said you're opening the door...

MARTIN: Slippery slope.

KEITH: ...And more will come, and here it is.

MARTIN: OK. So Republicans, though, aren't all super happy about this move. Here's how Republican Senator Lindsey Graham put it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Yeah, this is going to be very bad. Let me tell you what's going to happen. The judges will become more ideological because you don't have to reach across the aisle to get one vote any longer.

MARTIN: So, Domenico, what does this mean in practice? I mean, we say it's going to make the Senate more divided, but it does have practical implications for the minority here.

MONTANARO: Well, look, and not only that but, you know, Tam talks about the increasing polarity in the country and how the Senate is now moving more toward the House with this sort of majority rules. It also has big implications for the Supreme Court, and I think that's what Lindsey Graham is getting at there. I mean, if we think about in 50 years you wind up with people like Judge Judy or something on the Supreme Court, which is still probably not likely, but if you wind up having people who don't have the same sterling credentials as you have seen a lot of the Supreme Court nominees have now, then you're looking at an institution that has had pretty high rankings start to fall. And if people can't rely on the Supreme Court to have good, strong, nonpartisan decision-making, then I think it becomes a big, big problem for the country and how it views its laws.

MARTIN: Further undermining the public's faith in yet another institution. So just in a practical way, is it - it's likely President Trump will get another bite at this apple - right? - a chance to nominate yet another Supreme Court justice. So doesn't this change make it much easier that that nominee would just sail through, Tam?

KEITH: It does. And let me just give you an example of what Domenico was talking about. When Democrats pulled the nuclear option and made it easier for Cabinet picks to get through, well, President Trump was the first president to have that option for all of his Cabinet. And look at the people he picked. He picked people who were very ideological...

MARTIN: Yeah.

KEITH: ...People who were not what you would call consensus candidates. Someone like a Betsy DeVos as education secretary would not have been education secretary if the filibuster had been in place.

MONTANARO: That's a great point.

GREENE: You know, Tam, I just listened to you use the word inevitable. Is the country on this inevitable path to more partisanship? I mean, the politics here are clear. Many feel like the Republicans standing firm with the Supreme Court vacancy galvanized voters, maybe helped Donald Trump win the White House. But is partisanship what Americans really want going forward? Because, as we're seeing today, the consequences are lasting.

MARTIN: All right. We're going to move to another big story we're following this morning - a shakeup at the National Security Council. It was a big deal when President Trump gave his political adviser, Steve Bannon, a seat on the National Security Council. Now Bannon is out. David, get us up to speed here.

GREENE: Yeah. Just a reminder - the National Security Council, this is the president's top group of Cabinet members and advisers for national security issues. The White House is downplaying Steve Bannon's removal. They say this is not a demotion. This is how vice president Mike Pence was explaining it on Fox last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: This is just a natural evolution to ensure the National Security Council is organized in a way that best serves the president in resolving and making those difficult decisions.

GREENE: But we should remember back in January, I mean, Bannon, this top political adviser, was in at the NSC, and you had the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the director of National Intelligence who were having their roles reduced. And there was all the talk that Bannon, this key figure in the alt-right movement, had this outsized role in the Trump White House, which brings us to the news today.

MARTIN: And so here we are. Vice President Pence said this change, as we heard in that clip, is part of a natural evolution of the NSC. But as David noted, Bannon was installed in there in January. It's only April. That's a fairly quick evolution. What does this, Domenico, signify?

MONTANARO: Well - and he also said, though, that this is part of something that best serves the president. You read between the lines there. You talk to Republicans on Capitol Hill, you talk to Democrats on Capitol Hill, they're all very pleased with Steve Bannon coming off of this committee. There were signs early on that Donald Trump didn't actually know about this change to the committee where Bannon was going to be elevated as - to somebody to the principals committee. This is - no question it's a demotion. And it's - and it does signal somewhat of a waning influence of Steve Bannon.

But at the same time, we shouldn't think too much about how, you know, who's the puppet master here, who's the influencer. Donald Trump is his own biggest influencer. And I'll make one other point - blood is thicker than staffers. OK, when you look at Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, they have the biggest role in influencing Donald Trump, and it's always who's the last person in that room. These folks have a lot of influence with Donald Trump when they are there and have his audience.

MARTIN: Tam, how do you read this move?

KEITH: Well, H.R. McMaster is the new national security adviser. As you'll remember, the National Security Council has been through a lot of tumult because Michael Flynn, the original national security adviser, was booted after something like 24 days.

MARTIN: Yeah.

KEITH: So the new guy came in, he's been there a while, and now he is restructuring it. This returns the National Security Council to a more traditional form that other presidents have had. But as Domenico says, President Trump is the real head of this operation. He's the chairman of the board. And his foreign policy views are not - well, he likes to say that he's very flexible. He said yesterday he's flexible, his views change...

MARTIN: They're not set in stone.

KEITH: ...Including his views on Syria.

MARTIN: Yeah. So from the outside, it appears there are these camps forming. You got H.R. McMaster on the one side who is more representative of traditional views of foreign policy. You've got Bannon - definitely the disrupter. So where can we expect to see their respective influence play out?

MONTANARO: You know, I think, first of all, no question that this somewhat normalizes the National Security Council in McMaster's influence within - you know, he's somebody who has operated within the military structure and wants the usual kind of hierarchy. We should also say that this move comes as Trump is meeting with President Xi of China, a very important and critical bilateral relationship here. And we've seen a real big week in foreign policy for Donald Trump. And who has his ear? We're not exactly clear on that. And what is Donald Trump's foreign policy doctrine? That's still to be decided.

MARTIN: Still don't know.

GREENE: Domenico, who has his ear, blood is thicker than staffers - I just think of some of the things you said there. That's what really is important. I mean, Steve Benton might not be automatically invited to NSC meetings in the future, but he might not be family. He's like family, it seems like, for Trump. Is he going to be in the Oval Office giving the president national security advice? Is Trump taking that advice? Where you're sitting in the White House, what meeting you're attending, that doesn't necessarily tell us about influence.

MARTIN: All right. So NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, thank you so much for being here this morning.

KEITH: You're welcome.

MARTIN: And NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Thanks as always, Domenico.

MONTANARO: Thank you.

MARTIN: And, David, you're not off the hook. You're going to leave us with one more story today, right? What you got?

GREENE: Yeah, and I just want to thank you for being a friend.

MARTIN: You do?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THANK YOU FOR BEING A FRIEND")

CYNTHIA FEE: (Singing) Thank you for being a friend, traveled down the road and back again.

GREENE: You watched "The Golden Girls," right, Rachel? Don't say no. Don't say no.

MARTIN: Oh, yeah, in it's original iteration, thank you, not now that it's ironic and cool.

GREENE: Yeah. Well, I mean, all those scenes with the girls in the kitchen talking over relationships and everything about food - well, there is now a restaurant in Washington Heights in New York City that is going with a "The Golden Girls" theme. The place - it looks like the kitchen from the TV show. We asked Michael La Rue, who co-owns the cafe, about it.

MICHAEL LA RUE: Chinese Chippendale chairs just like the girls sat in around their table eating cheesecake, and above that, you'll see the wallpaper that was in Blanche's bedroom, as well as the telephone that hung on the kitchen wall of the set. And there are some costumes that Blanche wore on the show.

MARTIN: Love it.

GREENE: Blanche's costumes - so 18 years ago, Michael met Blanche, played by Rue McClanahan.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOLDEN GIRLS")

RUE MCCLANAHAN: (As Blanche Devereaux) Do you see that man over there staring at me? He's undressing me with his eyes.

(LAUGHTER)

BETTY WHITE: (As Rose Nylund) Do you want to move to another table?

MCCLANAHAN: (As Blanche Devereaux) Not yet. He's only half done.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: So they became friends, hence the name Rue La Rue at the restaurant. And I mean, it's just hilarious. We're taking a road trip. We are taking a trip because they actually serve "The Golden Girls" food at the restaurant.

MARTIN: Yeah. So what does that mean? What is the food?

GREENE: Oh, you have Rue McClanahan's bundt cake, you get Dorothy's no nonsense roast coffee and, of course, Betty White's cake, that yellow cake with cream cheese frosting.

MARTIN: Oh, sounds delicious. Thanks for being my friend, David Greene.

GREENE: No, thank you, Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.