KWIT

The Big Week Ahead On Capitol Hill

Mar 19, 2017
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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

This week, Washington, D.C.'s famous cherry blossoms are expected to hit peak bloom, but lawmakers will have to settle for looking at them out the window since it's promising to be a very busy week on Capitol Hill. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here to tell us what's going on. Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's update people on something interesting that happened yesterday at the G20 summit. It was Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's first big outing since being sworn in. And, Mara, tell us what happened.

LIASSON: What happened was that the U.S. broke with all the other large industrialized nations and would not agree to the trade language - the traditional trade language of a G20 communique, which praises the benefits of open trade and warns against the negative effects of protectionism. And Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reportedly repeated Trump's declaration, which, as he has said many times, that the United States is being ripped off by other countries and that trade rules are unfair to the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So why is this important? Why is this meaningful?

LIASSON: Well, it's meaningful because this is a radical departure from a longtime international consensus about not just trade rules, but about a liberal world order where rules about defense, rules about trade are established for the purpose of knitting together countries and reducing armed conflict. And this is the same thing with NATO. You know, yesterday - one day after Angela Merkel left Washington - Trump tweeted that Germany owes, quote, "vast sums of money to NATO and the U.S. for its defense," where, in fact, no nation owes money to NATO and the U.S. NATO's countries are supposed to pay 2 percent of their GDP for the common mutual defense. And Germany has fallen short of that, as has many other European countries, but now they're on track to get to 2 percent.

But it tells you how Trump views not just trade, but NATO. It's a zero-sum game for him, and the world trade rules and defense rules really are kind of a program for protection. The U.S. is a victim, which is a very unusual view of the world's strongest economy and the world's only democratic superpower.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed. I want to move on to Monday. It's a big day. James Comey, the head of the FBI, will testify in front of the House Intelligence Committee. There's a lot of anticipation about what he might say on a number of fronts, right?

LIASSON: Yes. The big topic, of course, is what he'll say about the president's unfounded claims that Barack Obama wiretapped his phones. He has also accused British intelligence of wiretapping his phones on behalf of Barack Obama. There's been no evidence produced for those claims. The British have pushed back against them strongly. People on the Hill say they have not seen any evidence of this, and Comey will be asked about that first and foremost.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. And over at the Senate, the first hearings for President Trump's nomination for the Supreme Court - what kind of reception is he going to get?

LIASSON: Well, that's going to be the big event of the week. Neil Gorsuch, who has been nominated by Donald Trump, is going to be asked a lot of questions about his views on executive power, about Donald Trump's comments disparaging judges and the entire court system. This is one of Donald Trump's most important early initiatives. The Republicans have 52 votes in the Senate. They say if they have to change the rules so they won't need 60 to confirm him, they will do that. So it's going to be very, very hard for the Democrats to stop him. But this is just the first of many, many judicial vacancies that Donald Trump will have the opportunity to fill because of the age of judges on the bench right now and the number of vacancies.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And something else we're looking at, obviously, is what's happening on Thursday - a much anticipated vote in the House. They're voting on the repeal-and-replace legislation for Obamacare. Does Speaker Ryan have the votes?

LIASSON: He certainly thinks so. Speaker Ryan is very confident that he will get the votes to send this bill to the Senate. It's interesting that this is something that's been in the works for seven years. The Republicans have been voting over and over and over again to repeal Obamacare, and, of course, President Obama would veto those bills.

But Speaker Ryan has faced a kind of multi-pronged revolt against this bill. There are conservatives in the House who want a clean repeal, think the bill doesn't go far enough. There are moderates in the House and particularly the Senate who thinks it does too much, kicks too many people off the insurance rolls and will cause costs to go up for many people in rural states. So this is going to have a tough road, but, yes, Ryan thinks it will get through the House this week.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. NPR's Mara Liasson, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.