MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The back and forth over the congresswomen’s visit, now non-visit, to Israel is where we begin our weekly politics chat. Today I am joined by Politico’s Eliana Johnson.
ELIANA JOHNSON: Thank you.
KELLY: And Matthew Yglesias, editor and columnist for the news website Vox, welcome back to you.
MATTHEW YGLESIAS: Good to be here.
KELLY: So let’s talk norms, and I want to hear from both of you on this. Matthew, I’ll throw this to you first. It is, of course, not unusual for a U.S. president to insert himself in Mideast politics, even in Israeli domestic politics. How unusual is it for a U.S. president to enlist a foreign ally, in this case Netanyahu, in taking on his – Trump’s – domestic political opponents?
YGLESIAS: I mean, it’s strange. And it’s very strange to see an American president not standing up for the right of American citizens to go visit countries but to actually be doing…
KELLY: American elected members of Congress.
YGLESIAS: Yeah, the opposite – and it shows, you know, the extent to which Trump has really tripled down on partisanship domestically, that he sees his adversaries as adversaries not as people who he, as president, needs to be, sort of, representing the interests of everybody.
JOHNSON: I think presidents have typically adhered to a norm that politics end at the water’s edge and have tried to respect that. And President Trump – clearly not sticking to that here. Well, American presidents have tended to insert themselves into Mideast politics, as you suggested, and into Israeli domestic politics.
When American presidents push Israeli leaders and Palestinian leaders to do things, that sort of advice is typically conveyed behind closed doors, particularly when Americans are pushing the Israeli government to do something because Israelis really bristle at the notion that they are a tool of the United States. They’re often mocked as being a lapdog of the U.S.
And so I think Trump really put Netanyahu in a bad position. Netanyahu may have wanted to do this for his own political purposes. As you mentioned, he’s got an election coming up. So I think Trump, by doing this, kind of – he put him in a tough spot by putting this out on Twitter, as opposed to, perhaps, conveying his wishes privately.
KELLY: Political consequences for the president – what do you think, Matthew?
YGLESIAS: You know, I don’t know how much this matters to the average American. But I do think that the sort of underlying question here is worth paying some attention to because a lot of American politicians visit Israel. A lot of American political journals visit Israel. There are a lot of programs to bring us over there, but people tend not to go to the West Bank. They tend not to see the villages that Rep. Tlaib and Rep. Omar were going to go to.
And, you know, the press – had this trip happened and had press followed them and seen life under occupation, what it’s like to struggle when your water is being diverted to settlements that need swimming pools, when you’re cut off from your land by walls – things like that – it’s eye-opening. And it’s important. And I think, you know, there’s a reason why the Israeli government is restrictive in general about who’s allowed to visit and who’s allowed to see these things.
JOHNSON: Well, the Israeli government adopted a law two years ago that gives them the right to prohibit supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that seeks to isolate Israel economically from…
KELLY: And these two particular members of Congress…
KELLY: …Are two of the few who have supported that.
JOHNSON: That’s right. So – from entering the country, and they haven’t enforced it against every person who supports it who seeks to enter Israel, but they have sometimes enforced it. And lawmakers of other countries have been banned on these grounds. And so I think it’s a little bit less an issue of, are Americans and others seeing the West Bank? – and a bit more of an issue of, what’s America’s position on this law? You know, I think Israel is fully within its rights to have this law, but where does the U.S. stand when it comes to this law?
KELLY: One thing before we move on from this subject – this caught my eye – which was among the many groups and individuals that came out and criticized the decision to bar the congresswomen was AIPAC, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is not known for opposing Benjamin Netanyahu. But they did exactly that. They came out against this decision. Did that strike either of you?
YGLESIAS: You know, it’s important to AIPAC to try to have their position in Israel be bipartisan. And I think Donald Trump’s domestic politics – he wants to elevate a relatively rare stance inside the Democratic caucus. And that’s what’s going on here, and that’s not in the interests of AIPAC and, I think, not really in the long-term interests of Israel. And their stance on this reflects that. They would like to bring the temperature down.
KELLY: All right, let me turn you both to a story that already seems to be receding from the front pages – mass shootings and what to do about them. Right after Dayton and El Paso, the president came out and said he supported meaningful background checks. And then last night at a rally in New Hampshire, the president said this.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: People have to remember, however, that there is a mental illness problem that has to be dealt with. It’s not the gun that pulls the trigger. It’s the person holding the gun.
KELLY: Eliana Johnson, what’s going on here?
JOHNSON: So President Trump is certainly the X factor when it comes to whether something’s going to happen in the wake of these two mass shootings that we’ve seen. The House Judiciary Committee is coming back early from recess to consider several gun measures, including whether to ban high-capacity magazines and to establish a process to prevent people who are deemed a risk to themselves and others and ban them from possessing firearms.
Trump, behind the scenes, despite the soundbite that you played, has signaled a lot of openness to taking some sort of action. I think the question is, is it going to be the sort of action that Democrats unite behind? They’ve called for universal background checks – many Democrats. I don’t think the president is likely to get behind that, so I think the open question when Trump returns from his vacation, when Congress gets back from recess, is, can they reach a compromise?
KELLY: Matthew, can they reach a compromise if the president doesn’t get in there and back it?
YGLESIAS: No. I mean, the only way to move forward on this would be for President Trump to engage in a really serious way. I do think the mental health question is interesting. I mean, President Trump has signed on to a lawsuit that, if it prevails, 20 million people are going to lose their health insurance coverage. He has changed regulations at HHS to allow the sale of health insurance plans that don’t cover mental health treatments. So it would be interesting for me to see a real effort on mental health, if that’s what he thinks the issue is, or on guns, if that’s what he thinks the issue is.
KELLY: I have a very quick lightning round for both of you before I let you go. Greenland – President Trump, it’s been reported, would like to buy it. Good idea? Crazy idea? Discuss. Quick take, Matt.
YGLESIAS: America has tried to buy Greenland twice before, so, you know, why not give it a third whirl?
JOHNSON: As a White House reporter, to me, this would really be President Trump, the real estate magnate, leaving his stamp on the presidency if it goes through.
KELLY: Plus maybe a good trip to Greenland in the…
JOHNSON: Exactly, exactly.
KELLY: …Future for the White House press corps.
JOHNSON: I’m all for it.
KELLY: OK, that’s Politico’s Eliana Johnson and Matthew Iglesias, editor and columnist for the website Vox.
Thanks to you both. Happy Friday.
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