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Losing The House Is A Blow To President Trump's Agenda


Democrats took control of the House last night. They did not take control of the Senate. It will be a Congress divided. What does that mean for President Trump? NPR's political editor Domenico Montanaro is here to help us answer that question. Good morning, Domenico.


KING: So is the president going to be going forced to compromise, especially with Democrats who now have the power to block his legislative agenda?

MONTANARO: Well, it puts him in a little bit of a box because everyone is going to have their own narrative today. The reality is that losing the House is a major blow to the president and his agenda potentially. You know, he can either choose to compromise or essentially become a lame duck, starting in January, if he decides that he wants to become more entrenched, say, hey, the Senate went more Republican, so - and use that as a way to say that he won. And I assume that we're going to see the president try that at least for a little while.

KING: All right. Domenico, stand by just a minute. Also with us now is Marc Lotter, a former special assistant to the president. He is an outside spokesperson for the White House. And he did sign an NDA with the White House, meaning he may be limited in how much he can say. Mr. Lotter, good morning.

MARC LOTTER: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

KING: All right. So despite some victories in key races, a majority of people voted against the president's party. What do you make of that?

LOTTER: Well, I completely disagree. I mean, the Republicans expanded their majority by a significant margin, possibly, right now, it looks like up to five seats added to the Republican majority in the United States...

KING: Talking about...

LOTTER: ...Senate.

KING: ...Numbers, talking about numbers.

LOTTER: And - well - and - but those are...

KING: Numbers of people...

LOTTER: ...Important numbers...

KING: ...Who voted in...

LOTTER: ...When it comes to governing.

KING: Yes, of course, of course. So you would say - well, let me switch gears here a little bit. A lot of people said that they voted on health care, right? Many Republicans said that they would work to protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Are Republicans acknowledging that at least some elements of Obamacare are important and popular?

LOTTER: I think it's long been acknowledged that there have been elements of Obamacare that that needed to be retained, primarily the pre-existing coverage.

KING: By Republicans.

LOTTER: ...And how you do that. The challenge that we face - and this is the challenge that Democrats will face - is that they - it's often easy to campaign and say you are against something, but when it comes to governing and replacing it or coming up with a plan that can move forward, that's where the stumbling block is. We've seen this happen. The president reached out in the previous - or the current Congress on immigration issues, on infrastructure issues. And, while the Democrats talked about wanting to compromise, they actually never did. So now we're going to see, how does that translate in terms of governing with the House controlled by Democrats and the Senate firmly in the control of Republicans?

KING: Well, yeah, what do you make of the prospects for bipartisanship, for compromise?

LOTTER: I think, if I had to guess, I would assume that both sides will try to find an area where they can get to relatively quick agreement. That would probably be in the area of infrastructure, where there is lower hurdles to overcome because both sides are going to want to be able to tell their voters that they've been rewarded, that their leadership has produced something, that they want to be bipartisan so they can always point back to that when the partisan battles happen. Now, whether that will hold for the next two years will be a different story. But it wouldn't surprise me to see something come early in the next year where both sides could get together and throw out something as a victory.

KING: All right. Let me pull back a little bit and ask you about the president's campaign. We just heard on the show from the conservative commentator Max Boot, a former Republican famously. Here's some of what he had to say about the president's campaigning during the midterms.

MAX BOOT: He is essentially appealing to this angry, old, undereducated, white demographic in our society, and he's figured out how to mobilize them with fear-mongering about this supposed caravan invasion and all the rest of it. This is not the Republican Party that I grew up with. This is not the Republican Party I want to see. But this is what the Republican Party has become, which is essentially a white nationalist party.

KING: That is a very strong statement. What do you make of it?

LOTTER: Well, I think it's complete nonsense from somebody who usually utters complete nonsense. I mean, the president is reaching out and trying to grow the economy for everyone. We have seen the results - the positive results, whether it is the lowest African-American unemployment rate in history or the lowest unemployment rate for Latinos and Hispanics in history. We have rising paychecks. That is lifting all boats. And, trust me, the president is going to reach out over these next couple of years into areas where we're seeing, according to some polling, that the president has the highest approval rating among African-Americans among Republicans...

KING: All right.

LOTTER: ...In modern history.

KING: I think all of those numbers you just cited are actually debatable, but we don't have time to debate them right now. Marc Lotter is a former special assistant to President Trump.

Thank you, Mr. Lotter.

LOTTER: Thank you.

KING: All right. We're back now with NPR's Domenico Montanaro.

Domenico, what do you think?

MONTANARO: Well, I thought it was interesting that he said that they want to probably reach out to try to do something quickly...

KING: Yeah.

MONTANARO: ...On bipartisanship because I think he's right that people do want at least to be able to point back and say, in the partisan battles, look, that we did this thing. Now, I kind of laugh out - you know, to myself a little bit when anyone talks about infrastructure...


MONTANARO: ...Because almost anything...

KING: Tell us why.

MONTANARO: ...Almost anything that's tried to get done on infrastructure - you know, it's always dangled out there as the thing that they want to do. And they can never agree on how to pay for it. And, you know, every time there's been an "infrastructure week," quote-unquote, in this administration, something crazy has happened, and it had nothing to do with infrastructure (laughter). So, you know, seeing that as a possibility - you know, I think it's interesting that at least there's the fig leaf out there to say, look - acknowledging they probably need to get something done.

KING: But do you predict, very quickly, more legislative gridlock ahead?

MONTANARO: Absolutely - unless the president is willing to compromise on a host of issues, then there is going to be legislative gridlock. And that's just fine by Democrats, who are looking to just put a - you know, gum up the system until 2020, when they'll have a shot to try to take out this president for re-election.

KING: NPR's Domenico Montanaro.

Thanks, Domenico.

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