How did consoling Gold Star families become political?

HARI SREENIVASAN: We move from Congress to the controversies swirling around the White House.

John Yang has more on the day’s politics.

JOHN YANG: Thanks, Hari.

We turn back to the president’s exchange with that family of a soldier killed in action earlier this month and the president’s role in the bipartisan effort to stabilize the health insurance market.

For that, I’m joined by Karine Jean-Pierre. She’s a senior adviser to, a contributing editor to “Bustle,” an online women’s magazine, and a veteran of the Obama administration. And Matt Schlapp, he’s the chairman of the American Conservative Union and the former White House political director under President George W. Bush.

Matt, Karine, welcome.

MATT SCHLAPP, American Conservative Union: Great to be here.

JOHN YANG: Karine, let me start with you.

We heard the reporting about the journalistic scrutiny into these telephone calls, contacts the president has with Gold Star families, not just the phone call yesterday, but others.

The White House is pushing back, saying it’s disgusting that journalists are looking into things.

But hasn’t the president brought this on himself in some sense by making the comparison between what he does and what previous presidents do?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, That’s exactly right.

That’s how he started off the week. He wanted to change, I’m assuming, the press, because, the day before he started turning the story around, we were talking about moron and adult care center.

So here’s the thing. This is a — this is not new. This is a TV episode in a reality world that we have seen before. He kicked off his presidential campaign attacking John McCain and his military service. He also, once, after he got the Republican nomination back in 2016, he attacked another Gold Star family, the Khan family.

So this is a reoccurring kind of position. And then he starts off the week saying, oh, Obama and presidents before him didn’t do the same, didn’t do that, didn’t have a kind of — how to honor soldiers, and so did Bush, which is somebody that you worked for.

So there is a pattern that is quite bizarre and disturbing for a president, a commander in chief, to have.

JOHN YANG: Matt, what’s your take?

MATT SCHLAPP: I think the pattern is actually on his critics, and I think the critics have enjoyed trying to act like there is somehow a disrespect for the commitment of our military and their families.

And I think it’s actually just the opposite. I think if you look at the support that he gets from military families and the military across the country, I think they’re very appreciative of what he’s doing to re-energize them, and the approach he has on these basic issues of our national security.

And I think the people who are making politics about this are the people who oppose him politically. And I just think there are some things that just aren’t political. And I think when we have dead men and women from the battlefield, I just don’t think it’s political.

Maybe one president will handle it one way. Maybe another president will handle it another way. Maybe not all presidents handle every phone call or every interaction perfectly. But they’re trying to do their best to console somebody who’s got a terrible loss.

And I think when we put this in — make it all about politics and what people’s reactions are, what I care about is, I want our commander in chief to console the families of the fallen, and I’m glad he does it.

JOHN YANG: But, Matt, didn’t the president — I mean, the president raised this. He started this discussion on Monday, when he was asked about the public silence, his silence about the four Green Berets killed in Niger.

And he brought up this comparison to President Obama in particular.

MATT SCHLAPP: Look, you can say it’s a question, but you can also say it’s a charge, and the charge was that he is not quickly enough or often enough calling the families of those who have lost a loved one on the battlefield.

And what he was trying to say is that that’s not accurate, and it’s not accurate to say that all presidents do it a certain way, and, quite frankly, it’s not accurate to say that President Obama called all these families, which is what we saw with the example of General Kelly and the loss of his son.

So, look, presidents — I don’t criticize President Obama for the way he handled his contact with these families. I don’t criticize President Trump with the way he’s trying to console people. I don’t criticize President Bush, and I saw him do it. It’s a tough thing to do.

And, sometimes, by the way, those parents give you a piece of their mind, and that’s part of this, too.

And I think there should be a zone of privacy around this, and I think what we’re doing is, we’re sullying the real — the central focus of this, which is the sacrifice of one American to put their body and their lives to protect the rest of us.

JOHN YANG: Matt, let me stay with you and turn to health care.

We heard the president just yesterday talk about how this bipartisan effort by Senators Alexander and Murray to try to figure out sort of an interim step to stabilize the health insurance markets while they work on repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act, but then today, he comes out and says that he’s against it.

What’s the president doing here? What’s going on?


MATT SCHLAPP: Well, he’s driving his head of legislative affairs crazy, I’m sure.

But, no, there is method to his madness, which is what he’s trying to say is, is that we can get a deal on these payments to make sure that premiums are affordable for working-class people, but, in order to do that, you have to compromise. And this is where Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi, they have to decide, if they want to get these CSR payments done, he’s going to need to get some things done that Republicans want to see done in health care reform as well, some of the aspects of the previous bills that have failed in the Senate.

This is true on DACA. This is true on all these issues. The president is definitely willing to come up with a compromise, but it’s not just on that issue. It’s going to have to be coupled with some other issues. So I think there’s a real chance to get something done on this.

But at the end of the day, there’s no more important thing for Republicans than to actually do what they said they would do, which is to repeal and replace Obamacare.

JOHN YANG: So, Karine, is this up to the Democrats to get this thing through, or is it up to the Republicans?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I think that this bipartisan deal was amazing.

It’s hard to get Republicans and Democrats to agree that today is Wednesday. So, the fact that this happened is actually a big deal. And I think the only reason you would oppose this is if you want the premiums to go up and if you want to sabotage the health care system.

So, this is what the American people sent them to do on the Hill, which is work together and bring something forth.

And the thing about — the other part about this that’s really bizarre to me is nearly every piece of legislation that Republicans have brought forth on health care since Donald Trump has been president has had a CSR component to it. So, what’s the difference here?

This is something that will help poor and sick people get health care. This is a very simple fix. It really will help the health care — individuals…


MATT SCHLAPP: He’s willing to fix this question around CSRs, but it has to be coupled with the other reforms. And that’s why it was a component…


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: But don’t — but then he’s politicizing it, just like he does with Gold Star families.

MATT SCHLAPP: It’s Democrats and Republicans working together.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: And that’s the part that I don’t understand. You finally have that. Why are you pushing it away? Why are you opposing it? This is a great thing.

MATT SCHLAPP: The answer is because it’s not just about a fix of CSRs. That’s one tiny little sliver of health care.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: But it’s important for right now. It’s important to make sure that poor and sick — poor people and sick people get health care.

MATT SCHLAPP: The people I deal with want to see the whole thing repealed and replaced, not just a sliver.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Well, Republicans couldn’t do that. They had about three, four tries, and they couldn’t make that happen.

MATT SCHLAPP: OK, you got me there.



MATT SCHLAPP: You got me there.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: You guys got the House. You got the Senate. You got presidency. Come on.

MATT SCHLAPP: You sound like a Tea Party person.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Hey, I’m just telling you the facts.


JOHN YANG: Matt Schlapp, Karine Jean-Pierre, thanks so much.

MATT SCHLAPP: Thank you.