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Politics chat: Trump could face political blowback from new charges after all

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: It's not two different issues. How has one keep being indicted and another not?

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

That's House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to CNN's Manu Raju Friday. The speaker was answering a question about the special counsel's new allegations against former President Donald Trump in the classified documents case. And what you heard was McCarthy pointing to the documents retrieved from President Biden. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro joins us now. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Ayesha.

RASCOE: OK, let's set aside the fact that former Vice President Mike Pence also found and returned classified documents. Is Speaker McCarthy on defensible ground here?

MONTANARO: I mean, not really. You know, his is a pretty surface-level argument. I mean, he knows that. You know, he's just trying to defend his guy at all costs, which we've now seen repeatedly from McCarthy and other Republicans, though not all Republicans. You know, there's a pretty simple answer to his rhetorical question. You know, when Biden's team found documents, when former Vice President Pence found documents, they gave them back and cooperated with the government. Trump allegedly not only didn't give them back. He hid them, moved them. He even tried to have a worker at his Florida home delete the surveillance footage so the FBI wouldn't see it, according to the Justice Department. And it wasn't just a cover-up because Trump is on tape flaunting national security documents and saying he knew that they were classified, that he didn't declassify them as president. And it all really continues to be a scandal of Trump's own making.

RASCOE: So you've just written about the other Biden's legal issues, Hunter Biden's gun and tax charges that were, then they weren't and may again be the subject of a plea deal with the government. What is going on with that?

MONTANARO: Right. Well, his, you know, deal fell apart because of questions about how it would work and whether he could be prosecuted for not registering as a foreign agent. His team thought no. The government thought yes. This wasn't because the deal was inappropriate or a sweetheart deal, as some Republicans maintain. As we've reported, this type of deal is in line with past ones for these types of charges. What Hunter Biden is accused of arguably is far less serious than what Trump is accused of. But for Republicans, that's not really the point. You know, they believe that Hunter Biden's legal issues and ethical ones in trying to cash in on his father's name are the tip of the iceberg, and below the water is really the president himself. You know, but they're making a lot of logical leaps here to get to that point with no evidence to support this bridge in getting there. You know, that's not to say Hunter Biden shouldn't be investigated or held accountable. I mean, but the willingness to so easily believe something that is - that it's definitely true to say is really something that defines the Trump era of politics for conservatives.

RASCOE: I mean, you know, you have said that you see, if not signs, maybe hints that Trump isn't politically immune to all of these indictments. And I would think there would also be some impact, even if he were able to get the nomination, in the general election.

MONTANARO: Definitely. I mean, some hints, possibly, right?

RASCOE: OK.

MONTANARO: I mean, our latest survey, you know, the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, found this week that Republicans and Republican-leaning independents dropped nine points in thinking Trump had done nothing wrong. That's from 50% last month to 41% this month. And he dropped six points with that same group in who they said they wanted to be their nominee. But it went from 64% to 58%, so still a pretty sizable majority of potential Republican voters saying they want Trump back in office. So, you know, Trump is still the far-and-away front-runner with numbers like those. You know, we'll have to see if more data on this, you know, shows a trend or not. But there is a clear trend, and that has to do with what you're talking about with a general election. In our poll and others, we've seen that Trump is toxic with the middle. You know, the survey found most people think Trump did something illegal, including 52% of independents. At this point, Trump really has to hope that there's a more crowded general election field than just two candidates for him to have a better-than-even-money chance of winning it back - making it back to the White House.

RASCOE: In the about the - a minute we have left, the House and Senate are out on break for the next month or so. Is this a well-earned rest for getting everything they needed done, done, like funding the government, or are they just, you know, leaving town?

MONTANARO: Well, when is Congress ever gotten everything done they needed to get done, right? Well, you know, the Senate moved on a defense bill, but the House is going to be a complication because of some of these amendments attached by Republicans to this bill. We really do on a - appear to be on a collision course for yet another shutdown. That's because the most hard-line Republican members seem to be itching for one. Here's Virginia Congressman Bob Good.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOB GOOD: What would happen if Republicans for once stared down the Democrats and were the ones who refused to cave and to betray the American people and the trust they put in us when they gave us the majority? So we don't fear a government shutdown.

MONTANARO: I mean, with that kind of attitude, this very slim four-seat majority for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his unwillingness to risk his job by working with Democrats to pass a bill means we are potentially on the road to a shutdown.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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