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Congress Is Continuing To Address Sexual Harassment Issues


Grappling with sexual misconduct is the starting point for our Week in Politics discussion. This week E.J. Dionne and David Brooks are both here with me in the studio. E.J. is a columnist with The Washington Post and co-author of "One Nation After Trump." Hey, E.J.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Hey. How are you?

HU: Good. And David Brooks is a columnist with The New York Times. Welcome, David.


HU: So all institutions, including this one, are at this moment of reckoning with past behavior of men in power. As we just heard, it's reached Senator Al Franken. And now we have the president criticizing Franken but not Roy Moore. And Trump still doesn't seem to pay a political price for his own past behavior with women. E.J., we'll start with you. How do you square this?

DIONNE: Well, I think when you look at Trump's tweets, a whole lot of words come to mind, including chutzpah, gall, a total lack of self-awareness. It's really remarkable. I mean, I have to say that I have known Al Franken for more than 45 years. We went to college together, and I have always liked and respected him. The photo was not a shock. Alas, offensive photos are often passed for humor. But the rest of the story really seems out of character of the person I have known all these years.

Having said that, Democrats would face all kinds of legitimate accusations of double standards if they didn't take Ms. Tweeden's account - Leeann Tweeden, the radio personality who has - who told her story - they would face charges of double standards if they didn't take her very, very seriously. So Franken and Schumer - Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader - were quite right to call for an ethics investigation. But we are still stuck with Trump's double standards. We still have the Roy Moore story. He hasn't apologized. And CNN referred to President Trump's selective silence. And I think that's a good way to put it.

HU: Well, what happens differently now, do you think, going forward in state legislatures, in Congress and politicians who are running for office who might have behaved badly in the past? Do you think, David, that voters will punish elected officials for past misbehavior, or do you think they'll close ranks as some Alabama Republicans have around Roy Moore?

BROOKS: Well, the basic standard of decency is not hard. It's a - don't be partisan about this. Sexual harassment doesn't have a Democratic and Republican flavor. It's just itself. And so as long as you're consistent, you've crossed the first hurdle. The second hurdle I think we now need to get to as these cases pile up is to create some buckets.

It's one thing to throw them all in the Harvey Weinstein bucket and say they're all like him. I don't think they're all like him. I think there are gradations of sin here. I think there are some people who are vile and venal. I would put Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore and what they did into that bucket. Some people are predatory and lecherous - Mark Halperin the journalist. I would throw - I would frankly throw Bill Clinton into that bucket. And some people are narcissistic and callous, and I would put Franken in that bucket.

And so to me personally, if you ask me, do I think Al Franken should resign or be kicked out of Senate, I don't. I think as long as there's apology and as long as there are real acts of penance, a career should not be destroyed over this. Some of the things that Harvey Weinstein did and Roy Moore did I think clearly cross that line.

HU: But is it fair to create these gradations when the women all feel victimized in sort of the same way?

DIONNE: Well, I think that - it's not clear to me in all cases all the women feel the same way. For example, Ms. Tweeden has said that she is not calling for Al Franken to resign, although she then said she's leaving that up to the Senate. But I do think the feelings of women about these cases really do matter. And how much do they feel degraded, and how much do they feel put upon? And I think that in the stories that have happened that we've talked about so far, finally after a very long time, the views of women on what happened to them are being taken seriously, and that's a good thing.

HU: Let's turn to another big story in Congress - a tax overhaul bill that could be the Republicans' first big legislative victory. That's careening forward now. Here's what Speaker Paul Ryan had to say about it yesterday after the House measure passed.


PAUL RYAN: This is about giving hardworking taxpayers bigger paychecks, more take-home pay. This is about giving those families who are struggling peace of mind. It's about getting this economy to grow faster so we get bigger wages, more jobs. And we put America in the driver's seat in the global economy once again.

HU: Reaction, guys - David?

BROOKS: (Laughter) Well, it's not really about that. It's a bet. It's a bet that if you cut corporate taxes, you'll get a lot more economic activity. And frankly there's a lot of economic research to suggest that will happen. You will get more economic activity. There are other things I support in this bill - getting rid of capping the mortgage deduction. That goes to rich people. We should cap it. Getting rid of the state and local deduction - 90 percent of that benefit goes to people making over a hundred thousand dollars a year. We should probably at least alter it.

To me, I would oppose it for three main reasons, though, even despite those good elements. First, it completely destroys the deficit. We can't do that. Second, it takes our tax code and turns it into a spoil system where - each party using the tax code to punish the other party's voters. The Republicans really - they just go after red - or blue America in this tax bill - and third, for what it does to the universities and nonprofits. Education is one of the glories of our country, and so launching an assault on the university strikes me as the wrong thing to do. So I don't have a blanket condemnation. There's some good things in here. But to me, on balance, it's not a good idea.

DIONNE: I like it even less than David does.


DIONNE: I mean, you know, this is not tax reform. It actually in many ways makes the code more complicated. Tax reform is usually, well, you get rid of some deductions, lower the rates. And it's not a middle-class tax cut. As my colleague at The Washington Post, blogger Greg Sargent, wrote, if Republicans really wanted to have a middle-class tax cut, they could have had that instead of the big corporate cut plus either cutting or eliminating the inheritance tax. And so they are just shuffling around benefits.

And there are two other things. One David pointed to, which is, this is really punitive to the Republican's political opponents, particularly eliminating the state and local tax deduction. And the other is, they are rushing this through in an extraordinary way very much like what didn't happen with Obamacare, which was debated for a year. And I don't see how a senator like John McCain who has called for regular order can vote for a bill that is being sort of rushed through like this that is so complicated.

HU: Yeah. That's what I was going to ask you next. Does momentum just kind of carry this forward despite all the substantive issues that you were bringing up?

BROOKS: Yeah. I've never known momentum to roll across the entire Capitol Building. It can start in the House, but it seems to stop somewhere around the rotunda. And so it just seems to stop - I'm still dubious this is going to pass part for the reasons E.J. mentioned, part because there are a lot of senators - Bob Corker from Tennessee - who's got nothing to lose. He just hates the way it blows up the deficit. And then Susan Collins, it seems to me - and Ron Johnson has already declared opposition. It seems to me there are enough actual deficit hawks still in the United States Senate to block this thing. I don't think they'll probably get nothing, but they'll scale it back. And the question is, what do they scale it back to?

DIONNE: I hope David is right.


HU: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times, thanks to both of you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SMALL BLACK SONG, "SOPHIE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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