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Week In Politics: Midterm Election Results And A Shakeup At The Justice Department

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right, the never-ending midterms is a great place to start our week in politics conversation. Joining us now are E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and Guy Benson of Townhall. Welcome to both of you.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Great to be with you.

GUY BENSON: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: OK, let's begin with what we just heard from Domenico about Florida. E.J., as someone who I am sure vividly remembers the 2000 presidential election, is this kind of, like, deja vu for you a little bit?

DIONNE: Count every vote.

CHANG: (Laughter).

DIONNE: Yes, I remember every single thing about Florida. I was a Florida obsessive. I'm still upset about the failure to recount all the votes in Florida. And it's really striking that the president is trying to link Florida to every conspiracy, I mean, that he can imagine. He's even gone back to the dossier. What's really striking in terms of similarities is the president's trying to spin a Democratic conspiracy. The fact is, once again, a poorly designed ballot in a Democratic county...

CHANG: Yes.

DIONNE: ...In this case, it's Broward. In the last case, it was Palm Beach County with the butterfly ballot - a poorly designed ballot where they buried this Senate race may have hurt the Democratic candidate, in this case Senator Nelson, very badly. The good news is that recounts are required by law now. That was a reform. And so we'll get to know more about what actually happened in this election than we did in 2000.

CHANG: Guy, you've also been pretty critical. I mean, you wrote today that Broward County election officials are totally bungling this. And I'm curious. Whatever...

DIONNE: I think our criticisms are different, is my suspicion. But go ahead, Guy.

CHANG: But I'm curious about - Guy, you know, whatever happens in the end with this count, are you suggesting that you are not going to be trusting the outcome?

BENSON: No, not at all. I just think that there was a lawsuit filed that Rick Scott, the Republican candidate, the governor there, just won moments ago where there were issues in Broward County involving the law where Broward County officials were not following the law in terms of being transparent about where the votes - the outstanding votes were, how many were left to be counted, that sort of thing. So a judge has sided with Scott. That's just a transparency issue.

My hope is we will get that information soon. I doubt that either race of the two big ones will be beyond that margin for a recount, so we will see the recount. And generally recounts don't upset the outcome from election night. It's very, very rare. I think on average in recent decades, recounts have flipped votes a few hundred, 200 or 300 on average. And so if the Republicans remain on top by thousands of votes, it is likely that we will see Senator-elect Scott and Governor-elect DeSantis. But I just want to see the process and the law followed. And I think everyone should.

CHANG: OK, let's turn to the races where we do know who won and who lost and look at what Tuesday's results mean for Washington come January. In a victory speech Tuesday night, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi offered this message of bipartisanship.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: We have a market - a bipartisan marketplace of ideas that makes our democracy strong. A Democratic Congress will work for solutions that bring us together because we have all had enough of division.

(CHEERING)

CHANG: We have all had enough of division. But we still do have a divided Congress. Or we now have a divided Congress. After two years of Republican control, now we have two chambers that went into opposite directions as a result of the election. No one party was the clear winner. It seems like anyone can pick and choose the explanation for why Tuesday unfolded the way it did. Was it a blue wave or a blue ripple? Was there a red wall? I'm curious. What story did you guys pick to explain it? E.J., let's start with you.

DIONNE: Well, I think the most important thing substantively and also in terms of the will of the electorate is that the Democrats took over the House because they now have some power in the federal elected branches of the federal government. They had no real power before Election Day, and the House was the one set of contests that covered every single voter in America. There were House contests everywhere. And so...

CHANG: You're saying it's a more accurate representation of...

DIONNE: Right.

CHANG: ...What people feel...

DIONNE: Right.

CHANG: ...In this country.

DIONNE: Exactly, whereas the Senate took place in only a third of the states. The Senate races took place only - in only one-third of the states. And the Republicans picked up seats in the core - three core Trump states - Indiana, North Dakota and Tennessee.

What I also think is important is Democrats gained a lot of ground in the old industrial states. Pennsylvania swung to Trump. It swung back hard to the Democrats in the governor's - governor and Senate race. Same was true in Michigan, and same was true a little more narrowly in the governor's race in Wisconsin. That's a big deal. So is the strong Democratic showing in Nevada and, it appears, although we're still counting votes, Arizona.

CHANG: Guy, what's your explanation for why the two chambers went in opposite directions? Was there some repudiation going on, as E.J. suggests, of Republicans?

BENSON: Oh, certainly. And I think the president first and foremost, particularly in House races decided in suburban districts, the type of swing districts that Republicans will need to win again if they want to regain the lower chamber - I don't think it was particularly helpful for the president to be sort of ridiculing some of those Republicans who lost races because they didn't bear hug him hard enough. That was not their problem, although he seems to think it was, perhaps. I do have a spoiler alert for Nancy Pelosi. There will be more division.

CHANG: (Laughter).

BENSON: We have President Trump...

CHANG: I don't think that's much of a spoiler (laughter).

BENSON: We have a Republican Senate. We have a Democratic House. They may get together on infrastructure and to spend money together. That's what both parties seem to like to do. But there are going to be some major fights ahead - so yes, a very good night for Democrats, a better night for Democrats than Republicans but one hell of a consolation prize in the Senate for the GOP gaining - we'll see exactly how many seats depending on what happens in Florida and Arizona. But giving Mitch McConnell more of a cushion - that matters a lot when it comes to judges, which was a top priority for many conservatives.

CHANG: OK, we have about a minute left, and I want to get quickly to - of course President Trump replaced his attorney general with - Jeff Sessions - with Sessions' chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker. Curious - what did you make of that, E.J. - the timing of it, the speed with which it was done and how it was done?

DIONNE: Well, first I'm getting over Guy saying we're not going to get along. I'm so disappointed by that.

CHANG: (Laughter).

BENSON: Sorry, E.J.

DIONNE: But this appointment is itself a sign of why. It's probably unconstitutional. The case made by people of very different views, Neal Katyal and George Conway - yes, Kellyanne Conway's husband. And...

BENSON: Awkward.

DIONNE: And he had a - participation with a very dodgy company fined by the FTC. This is problematic.

CHANG: Guy, what did you make of what happened this week?

BENSON: The timing is not terribly surprising because Jeff Sessions has been a dead man walking politically for quite some time. But yes, I think that there are some legitimate questions about the true authority that Jeff Sessions' replacement or at least temporary replacement has in that position. And it's not just liberals or Democrats saying that, as E.J. has mentioned. John Yoo, for example, has weighed in on the other side of that position.

CHANG: All right, that's Guy Benson of Townhall and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings institution. Thanks to both of you.

DIONNE: Great to be with you.

BENSON: Thank you.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this interview, E.J. Dionne mistakenly stated that Senate races took place in one third of the states. In fact, while one third of the Senate seats were up election, those elections were held in two thirds of the states.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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