HH: Robert Costa is my guest. He is the man who knows all, sees all. I think sometimes, he has a tin cup running from every office in the White House down to his little cubby in the White House basement. Robert, how are you, my friend?
RC: Great to join you.
HH: Tell me, if you can, if we’re going to get some judge announcements this week. It’s been reported at the blog Above the Law and Politico that there’s going to be a big George W. Bush-like rollout of a dozen or so Circuit Court appointments. Do you hear that is happening?
RC: I’m hearing that buzz. I haven’t heard a definitive word on the date, but I know that the Senate is ready to start moving on some of these appointments.
HH: One of those could be Judge, Justice Willett of Texas, but there is evidently, according to Above the Law, a knockdown drag-out for the two spaces open on the 5th Circuit. What do you hear about that? It would be crazy not to nominate Willett.
RC: Well, I’m not someone to opine on judicial nominees, but Willett has created somewhat of a large profile for himself nationally. He’s respected by Senator Cruz and other conservatives inside of the Senate, also has a presence on social media in terms of communicating his legal ideas. He is seen favorably by many on the right.
HH: And it would sort of cement Trump as an out of the box thinker and not afraid of new media. It just works on every level. I hope that happens. Now let me talk to you about the Department of State. I got a call last night, and did not get called by Rick. Rick Grenell’s a friend of mine, so I’m not putting Rick on the line, but by someone concerned that Rex Tillerson has said that he’s going to keep State run by the professionals for all of 2017. That puts on ice ambassadors like Rick Grenell, who was supposed to go to NATO, and a whole bunch of other stuff. What is going on, Robert Costa?
RC: Tillerson, I’m told by my sources, wants to assert more control and authority within Foggy Bottom. He wants it to be his department. Of course, he serves at the pleasure of the President, but as a former executive of Exxon/Mobile, he is someone who does not always love having direction from different political players or policy players within the administration. And he is starting to reemerge after a quiet first few months as a new player in this administration who’s pretty headstrong.
HH: All right, let me ask, is he in any way anti-LGBT, because Rick Grenell was going to be the high profile LGBT appointment for the administration?
RC: I have not heard that at all. I know Grenell is close to Steve Bannon and others within the White House, and so it’s going to be a test for the White House to see if they can get some of their allies like Grenell inside of the State Department and push back at Tillerson’s resistance.
HH: And what has happened to John Bolton? You know, I haven’t talked to the Ambassador in probably a month. For a while, he was going back and forth to the White House. On ice because of Tillerson Again? In other words, are all the conservatives getting put in the refrigerator, because that’s always what happens at State?
RC: It’s a fair question. Bolton has had a positive relationship with the President, I’m told, in terms of having conversations with him at Mar-A-Lago during the transition, during his presidency. But Bolton is such a high profile commentator, he’s seen as someone who could come in, in a big role, wouldn’t likely take a smaller role. He’s already been UN Ambassador, maybe deputy Secretary of State. That was mulled at one point according to a source, even Secretary of State. He’s someone the Trump administration seems to want to keep close in case a big job comes open at some point, but it doesn’t seem like any appointment is imminent.
HH: And you know, it just confuses me, Robert. You’ve got someone like Ambassador Pierre Prosper, who’s the only African-American who was on the short list to go in. This is the least diverse group of people. Does Team Trump not worry about that?
RC: It doesn’t seem so. I haven’t heard a lot of clamoring to make sure the cabinet or the administration are more diverse on some of these national security and foreign policy posts.
HH: All right, let me turn to the success story. There are two. Jeff Sessions has stood up Justice, and it’s humming. Now they haven’t all been confirmed, but the Attorney General obviously arrived with a plan and he’s executing it. Is, in the course of doing that, is he gaining first among equal status with the President among his cabinet?
RC: He’s always had that kind of status going back to his work on the campaign. I think Sessions has been doing a lot in terms of executing the President’s vision with executive authority, but there has been some stumbles, not necessarily caused by the Attorney General. But when you look at this spending bill on Capitol Hill, it doesn’t have tons of funding for the wall, if any. It has some border security funding. And so you see some of the initiatives that Sessions want to do, including building the wall, are not moving along at the pace some Trump loyalists would like to see. At the same time, they know Sessions is a trusted hand, and he is a populist in the way that some other cabinet members are not.
HH: I just talked with Senator Cotton about the omnibus, and he expressed first of all, it’s only four months, secondly, it does good things for the military. It breaks the principle of one dollar of military spending for a dollar of domestic spending. It gives the military a 2% raise. It stops the cutbacks of the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy. He has a lot to like in it, and he understands we didn’t fight any symbolic battles. But he agrees with me, and I’m wondering what your take is on this, they give a billion and a half to border security. That allows Donald Trump to identify, you know, some of those stretches of miles where they laid out traffic barriers, those little concrete barriers you can step over. He can go to that area and turn those into doubled-sided fences with a road between them, and point to the fact you may not call it a wall, but it becomes a genuine barrier. Is that the plan?
RC: That is the plan, it seems, to move incrementally along those lines. It’s really fascinating, Hugh, to see Republicans in Congress control both chambers, control the White House, but they’re still struggling to find consensus about how to move forward on implementing the President’s vision and policy on immigration, on the border, on trade, on health care, on infrastructure, on taxes. There’s a lot of these moving parts, and there’s not a total synchronized agenda right now on Capitol Hill.
HH: Now Robert, I saw you were on Morning Joe this morning, but I couldn’t listen, because I was on the air at the same time. And I found the hundred day assessments generally to be overly-critical of Trump, and under-appreciative of his accomplishments. Of course, everyone says Gorsuch, Gorsuch, Gorsuch. They don’t understand the CRA. But mostly to me, I have four, I have an acronym. It’s not an acronym. It’s China, DACA, NAFTA, NATO. And so the three A’s and the O. China, NAFTA, DACA and NATO, he’s very flexible. And on those four things, he’s been flexible to good result. But I don’t see our friends on the MSM side paying any attention to this. Do you?
RC: Well, he doesn’t have a coherent ideology. He’s a transactional president.
RC: I mean, that’s, on foreign policy, too. I mean, I think when you look at these comments he’s making about some of these dictators, my sources inside of the White House say he thinks he’s signaling a willingness to deal on certain fronts to make transactions, just like he has been with the Freedom Caucus and others on domestic policy.
HH: You know, the Philippines president is an interesting case. I looked into him last night. I don’t know much about the Philippines. I know it’s 7,000 islands, incredibly difficult place, and there have been 3,500 alleged extra-judicial executions, perhaps some of them by the police, and that he has not been the world’s greatest civil libertarian. He was democratically elected, though, and it was, he’s not a dictator in the sense of being an al-Sisi, who came to power via extra-judicial, or extra-democratic means. And he goes to all the summits. I do think there is this hyper-criticism of him, and I can even go to the Andrew Jackson comment, Robert Costa. And Jon Meacham’s book, American Lion, made it very clear that Andrew Jackson said to the secessionists, to hell with you, I will march in and take over South Carolina if you attempt to secede. He didn’t believe in nullification, and may have believed, he was a slaveholder, we get that, but I just think there, and I am no Trump apologist. I’ll call him out when he does something stupid like calling a judge so-called. But this hundred days cycle left me thinking he’s never going to get a fair shake from the media.
RC: Well, I think on the Andrew Jackson point, the President may have been alluding to the nullification question. But Andrew Jackson is most famous for the War of 1812, as we can go into detail, but we don’t need to right now, not the Civil War. And I think that was certainly a stumble by the President just objectively speaking, Hugh. But I think the hundred days, this is a Republican Congress that has not figured out this president. And this president hasn’t figured out the Republican Congress. Yes, they’ve done Gorsuch, yes, they’ve done executive authority. But I think even White House officials, Hugh, would privately acknowledged that they’re not accomplishing what they think they should be when it comes to legislation, that they’re still searching for votes on health care. Tax reform is somewhat stalled. It’s a piece of paper. Infrastructure hasn’t even begun. The Democrats are dug in looking ahead to 2018 and 2020. So yes, the President likes to say he’s done a lot, but you’d have to say he’s been confronted day in, day out, you could say by the media and his opponents, but he’s also been confronted by Republicans who aren’t always going along with him.
HH: Yeah, and on the Andrew Jackson thing, obviously he lives long before the Civil War. I’m just saying if President Obama had made some off the cuff thing like that, like 57 states, we wouldn’t be hearing about it for all 24/7, because it is, it’s obviously a mistake. It’s obviously inelegantly delivered, as many of his comments are. But it is not without an intellectual basis for arguing about the nullification crisis of 1833. And he may have been briefed on it at some point by Bannon or somebody else and got it bollixed up. I just think we don’t focus on the overall picture that he does not get any breathing room from the media. Robert, let’s talk about this health care bill, because if they can move this, the narrative changes. If they can get this out of the House, things begin to click, they get some space on tax reform. What are the odds? What do they way?
RC: It’s hard to say. I mean, I think they’re just trying to find some light right now on health care to try to get something done in the House, knowing it’s going to face immense hurdles in the Senate even from Republicans. I think what the President keeps telling his staff, I’m told, is win. Get some wins. Get something on the board, even if it faces challenges in the Senate. Get something done.
HH: And that, you know, the easiest dones are the judicial nominees, Grenell, all this other, personnel are wins. I don’t understand why they don’t win with personnel. But Robert Costa, as always, you’ve got your finger on the pulse. How did the Washington Week in Review go this week? You getting comfy?
RC: I’m, I don’t want to get too comfortable, but it’s a real honor to do it, and it’s a lot of fun.
HH: Well, I mean, it takes a while, right? And then before long, you’ll be one of those old pros. But it’s like an NFL draftee. By the way, what did you make of DeShone Kizer going to the Browns?
RC: I wish him the best. Go Irish.
HH: Well, but I mean do you think he’s got it? Does he have the stuff to be a franchise QB?
RC: I thin Cleveland should be happy. I think the guy has a heck of an arm. He’s got poise. I think he can be developed into an NFL star, at least above average player. I think you know, Notre Dame wasn’t a perfect fit all the time, but he excelled, and he’s a real athlete.
HH: Amen. High ceiling, a big week for the Browns, thank you, Robert Costa. Follow him, @CostaReports.
End of interview.