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Week In Politics: Census Updates And Trump's July 4th Speech


Official Washington was pretty empty this week, with many lawmakers clearing out of town for the Fourth of July holiday. Nevertheless, there's been no shortage of political drama swirling inside and outside of the Capitol this week. There was President Trump's heavily touted and much-criticized salute to America on the rain-soaked National Mall last night.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Americans love our freedom, and no one will ever take it away from us.


CORNISH: And while the president saluted America, many of the 2020 Democrats were pleading their case to Iowa voters at house parties and parades.


JOE BIDEN: Get up, America. Let's remember who we are and let's move. And may God bless you all, and may God protect our troops. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


CORNISH: And today, the Trump administration has told a federal judge that they're still looking for ways to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census. As the president left for New Jersey this morning, he said an executive order might be an option.


TRUMP: It's one of the ways that we're thinking about doing it very seriously. We're doing well on the census.

CORNISH: We're going to talk about all this and more on our regular week in politics segment. Joining me is Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post.

Welcome back.

KAREN TUMULTY: Great to be here.

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome back to you, as well.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be here, too.

CORNISH: Karen, I want to start with that executive order. Is that a viable option?

TUMULTY: At this point, you don't really get a sense that the administration knows what they're doing.

CORNISH: Well, they know what they want.

TUMULTY: They know what they want, and they seem to be ready to just throw anything they can at the wall to please the president and hope that something here sticks. The one thing that happens with an executive order, potentially, is that it starts the - it restarts the whole legal process all over again. But they're - you know, they're talking about putting an addendum to the census. Nobody knows how any of this would work. All they know is that the president has made his wishes clear, and they are all under orders to do whatever it takes to satisfy him.

CORNISH: David Brooks, what do you think is the point? Is this the issue that Trump's base voters care about?

BROOKS: Yep. Immigration is the core issue that drives this and global populism. And for me, I have no problem with the question under normal circumstances. The question has been on the short - the long form of the census off and on for a long time. It's never been on the whole form.

What I do take exception to - you can't do it at a moment when the White House is really terrorizing immigrants. Then it seems like just part of that terror campaign. And you can't do it at a moment when we have a broken immigration system where we say, people, we want you to come, but we're going to declare you - we'll push you into the shadows.

So in principle, it's not a bad thing to have the question. It's only a bad thing in these circumstances.

CORNISH: I want to move to 2020 and the Democrats because Vice President Joe Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris have been, still, going back and forth over issues of race and his history on the issue of court-ordered busing. It followed them to Iowa. Is this a defining moment for these two candidates? Karen, do you want to jump in?

TUMULTY: I think this is a defining moment of this entire race.

CORNISH: It's early. Whoa.

TUMULTY: I know. It's - well, I said a - we will have plenty of defining moments before this is over with. I think that we are really seeing Vice President Biden have to defend what has been a presumed front-runner status. Essentially, you know, this nomination isn't going to come to him. He's going to have to go out and fight for it. And it is also apparently beginning to dawn on him that he is going to have to defend a record that goes back four decades.

Kamala Harris had a pretty good breakthrough moment in the first round of debates, but she is having problems, I think, sort of figuring out how sharply she really wants to delineate her position from the vice president's on busing. She went for - she redefined it and said, basically, you know, busing should just be part of the toolbox here. I think the larger question is what the federal government's role should be in civil rights.

CORNISH: Right. This is a bigger question, also, about the leftward shift of the Democratic Party. And, you know, Biden was on CNN this morning in an interview talking about this. Let's see if we have time for this cut.


BIDEN: I'm happy to debate that issue and all those issues with my friends because, guess what? Again, look who won the races. Look who won last time out. We had - and by the way, I think Ocasio-Cortez is a brilliant, bright woman, but she won a primary. The - in the general election fights, who won? Mainstream Democrats who were very progressive on social issues and very strong on education, health care...

CORNISH: Energy in the progressive wing - Joe Biden doubling down on the moderate part. David Brooks, is it going to work?

BROOKS: Well, it's his only shot. I think he had at first thought he could sort of transcend the party and just coast in as Obama's vice president. That's clearly not going to happen.

CORNISH: Got too many arrows there.

BROOKS: Hit from the left so many times.


BROOKS: And so I think he's being put into the moderate bucket more strongly than he would probably prefer. But it's probably the best bucket for him, and it's probably inevitable. I sort of regret - we're talking about busing in the 1970s when schools are more segregated now than they were then. And so why aren't we talking about that problem? And so going back to an issue that, frankly, I'm too - even I'm too young to really understand is - it's just a little bizarre to me.

TUMULTY: But I do think it is a proxy for how aggressive do you think the federal government should be. Vice President Biden says his objection to it had to do with Washington imposing its will on local jurisdictions. Well, that is also an issue that comes up in all sorts of civil rights issues.

CORNISH: Right. I can't imagine people talking about reparations if they can't figure out where to send the kids to school, right?

I want to talk about one last thing, which is - Karen, I've got it in my notes - tanksgiving (ph).

TUMULTY: (Laughter).

CORNISH: This was the president's revamping of the traditional Independence Day celebration in Washington. Since you gave him the clever nickname, what's your response to how it actually went down?

TUMULTY: You know, I thought parts of it worked pretty well. I mean, maybe we're grading President Trump here on a curve, but, I mean, he did seem to stick to his teleprompter. He made the speech very much not about himself. There were no chants of, lock her up. And I'm - I always love a good air show. I will watch the Blue Angels any time they want to fly.

CORNISH: I've read that answer several times in the last 24 hours. David, for you, did it turn into the rally people feared it would? Did it accomplish - wanted it to?

BROOKS: I think so, and it turned into the rally people feared it was. You know, I thought the attacking on the tanks that it's - were launching of a fascist state was a little Trump phobia - over the top.

CORNISH: People saying that imagery was propaganda.

BROOKS: Yeah, I understand that. But you know, I think the two things to be said are, one, building the American national narrative on military might is not our national narrative. A nation of immigrants is our national narrative, and the - obviously, Trump can't tell us, so he has to create another narrative, which sounds a lot closer to the North Korean narrative. And so that's one thing. Then the second thing that bugged me is building a fence and having an - a VIP section. The whole essence of public spaces is they're democratic spaces. They're equal. And so it was those two things that bugged me about the rally.

CORNISH: That's David Brooks of the New York Times - his new book is called "The Second Mountain: The Quest For A Moral Life" - and Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post. Thank you both.

BROOKS: Thank you.

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

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