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Week In Politics: Trump's State Of The Union Address And Likeability Standards


OK, it is Friday - hallelujah. And that means it is time for our regular week in politics discussion. Today we're going to look back at the week that was and also look ahead to next week. And to do this, I am joined by The New Yorker's Susan Glasser and by Margaret Hoover, host of "Firing Line" on PBS. Welcome, you too.

SUSAN GLASSER: Thanks so much.


KELLY: So the big ticket event this week of course was the State of the Union on Tuesday. And I'll start with you, Susan, because you wrote about this and made a couple of points. One, you heard this State of the Union as the opening salvo in President Trump's re-election campaign. You also wrote that one of the few lines you think you might remember from the speech was this. The State of the Union is strong, which is supposed to be a throwaway line, not particularly memorable.

GLASSER: Well, that's exactly right, Mary Louise. It's not usually a controversial statement, but of course we were treated to the really unusual spectacle this week of one side clapping and hooting and cheering at this boilerplate announcement that the State of the Union is strong. Democrats sat resolute early on their hands. And, you know, to me, that was in a nutshell right there the state of American politics in 2020, but - or looking into 2020.

And the president I think - it was a very partisan speech between the sort of gauzy, World War II triumphalism. It - even that to me felt a little bit sad, right? The only thing we have to celebrate that both sides can cheer for is our 74-year-old victory in World War II. But in between that packaging, it really was I think quite a partisan speech. And you had the president adding onto his rhetoric about illegal immigration - obviously been the centerpiece of his political identity since he announced for 2016 - with this line about socialism and that he's somehow going to be preventing America from becoming a socialist...

KELLY: Seemed like a shot fired straight at Bernie Sanders and possibly Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as well. Margaret, what about you? Did you - when you heard that line - the State of the Union is strong - did you read that as a controversial statement coming out of the president's mouth?

HOOVER: To be honest, that is a statement that the majority the president's base and many Republicans who don't like President Trump - actually it pretty resonates with them. I mean, the economy is doing well. That is not arguable. Certainly people can say, well, it's going to be headed south soon, or it's not on a strong foundation. But it's difficult to argue with a strong - the high - the unemployment numbers, which are very robust and the...

KELLY: The economy's doing well.

HOOVER: The economy is doing well, and so it's - to that, that means very well. Certainly there were parts of the speech that absolutely were partisan and reflected badly on the parts that intended to be bipartisan. There were some also softer moments. The part that I thought was interesting is that even despite what I agree is a very divided, very fractured moment in our politics, buried amongst it was this jewel of the First Step Act, which is this criminal justice reform bill that President Trump signed and didn't probably - I'm not sure how much - how invested he was in the process of it but is this extraordinary accomplishment that was truly bipartisan that passed. And it was highlighted by Matthew Charles of course, who is the African-American man who was sentenced when he was age 30 for selling crack cocaine in 1996 and was recently let out.

I mean, there - it's pretty extraordinary in a time where our climate is so partisan and so vitriolic that there was this sweeping bipartisan legislation that actually, in my view and the view of the majority of Americans, is actually going to make the country better.

KELLY: Let me look - turn you both to looking ahead and specifically to Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat from Minnesota, who says she is going to make a major announcement in Minneapolis on Sunday. If that announcement, as we expect it to be, is that she's running for president, that will make her the sixth woman to say she's going to run.

And in the run-up to whatever we will hear from Senator Klobuchar this weekend, I want to bring up a Huffington Post story that's just out. The headline is "Klobuchar's Mistreatment Of Staff Scared Off Candidates To Manage Her Presidential Bid." It quotes past Klobuchar staffers complaining that she was mean to them. It does also quote staffers who say she's a great boss. So there we are. My question - and I'll put this to you, Margaret. I don't remember a lot of are-men-nice-enough pieces during the run-up to the 2016 election. Is - am I just forgetting them, Margaret?

HOOVER: Not only are you not forgetting them. I had to scratch my head even going back to my days as an operative in politics and think if I'd ever heard that line of reasoning against a male boss at all in politics. And I'd certainly heard it about women but not about men. And it is true. I mean, we know that our politics just still is laden with sexism from the coverage of Hillary Clinton to Sarah Palin to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and the overemphasis on the tone and the tenor and the physical appearance of women. Women don't get a fair shake in the coverage.

KELLY: This reminds me of a political story, Susan, from I guess the very end of last year. Elizabeth Warren had just announced that she's running, and there was a headline "Warren Battles The Ghosts Of Hillary," which kicked off a lot of discussion about whether female candidates are held to this higher standard of likability. Do you think they are?

GLASSER: I think there's no question that they are. And, you know, frankly, up until now, until this year, we really have never had a critical mass of women candidates so that there could be so many of them that they would be judged more on their own merits. In other words, we've only had women who stood out as exceptional as our candidates up until this moment.

And so already in that sense, it's a positive to me because we have a variety of very smart, credible, experienced women who stepped forward and raised their hands for the presidential election this year. So we're already essentially shattering that category that Hillary Clinton was often left to herself in. And I think that is progress.

But, you know, it's hard to know what to make of this story especially - let's be honest - in the Trump era. You know, you don't want to have everything be kind of what-about-ism (ph), right? Obviously Donald Trump was not judged in similar terms that the Huffington Post applied to Amy Klobuchar in that story, right? You know, we're talking about someone who in the president has a toxic management style that's beyond anything alleged at this moment for any of the Democratic presidential candidates yet that they should be judged on their own right - right? - and their own merit.

So I wouldn't say that it is irrelevant. Of course it's relevant what kind of a leader and manager is offering him or herself to be our president. But it's very, very fraught at this moment when you also have this counter-example of Donald Trump as the person they're trying to run against.

KELLY: Margaret - last word to you in the seconds we have left in terms of the impact of - on this - four female candidates when there is this attention on how warm they are; are they nice enough?

HOOVER: I agree that the increased number of women running will necessarily diffuse the emphasis on the superficial reportage of those women. And it will, I think, steer, my great hope is - I think all of our hope is - the coverage and the reporting towards the content because those are going to be the inflection points that allow us to compare positively and negatively...

KELLY: Right.

HOOVER: ...What they really offer.

KELLY: Here, here to more coverage of the policy of these candidates. That's Margaret Hoover of PBS's "Firing Line" and Susan Glasser of The New Yorker. Thanks to you both.

GLASSER: Thank you.

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

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