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The Week Ahead In Politics


Last week was, by almost any measure, an extraordinary one for news. The meeting between Presidents Putin and Trump in Helsinki reverberated throughout the week and particularly on Capitol Hill.


ADAM SCHIFF: It was a wholesale betrayal of the values and interests of this country.


BOB CORKER: It made us look as a nation more like a pushover.


MITCH MCCONNELL: I think the Russians need to know that there are a lot of us who fully understand what happened in 2016, and it really better not happen again in 2018.

COLEMAN: NPR's Mara Liasson is here to help us process the past week and prepare for the next one.

Good morning, Mara.


COLEMAN: Mara, the post-Helsinki week was a really wild ride filled with clarifications and walk-backs from the president. And meanwhile, Putin and the Russians appear to be defining the post-summit narrative. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will go to the Hill this week to talk to members of Congress. What will they want to know?

LIASSON: I think members of Congress are going to want to ask the secretary of state, what happened in the meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump? They met for way over an hour privately with no one there but interpreters. And then there was a larger bilateral meeting. But the Russians say agreements were made, and the Russians are eager to follow up on those agreements. But there has been no readout or briefing in the United States about what happened, so it's kind of like foreign policy in the dark.

COLEMAN: Something else that we heard about this week was the scuttled notion that the United States might offer up Americans - in particular, a former ambassador - to be questioned by the Russians. And of all the amazing things last week, that may have been the most amazing.

LIASSON: This is what the president called an incredible offer. In their private meeting, he said Putin said, your investigators, U.S. investigators can come over to Russia to question the indicted GRU - that's Russian military intelligence officers - that the Department of Justice has indicted for hacking into the DNC and exposing their emails. And Putin said, you can come over here and interrogate them, but we want to bring your former ambassador over to Russia to interrogate him on another matter. Some people said that if the president had pushed forward with this deal, it would have caused mass resignations at the State Department because it flies in the face of the idea of diplomatic immunity.

COLEMAN: Well, can you tell us about the pushback from the president's party in Congress?

LIASSON: Congress disagreed with this idea vehemently. The White House said the president was going to consider it with his team, and Congress got ready to vote on a nonbinding resolution opposing this idea. Just before they were about to take the vote, the White House said, we're not going to do it; the president disagrees with this idea. But Congress did go forward. They voted on this nonbinding resolution in the Senate. It was 98-0 to block this idea. So this is one area where the president's party in Congress is willing to push back against him.

COLEMAN: So what does the congressional reaction tell us? Is President Trump really transforming his party?

LIASSON: I think that on almost every other principle that used to be a bedrock Republican issue, like free trade or illegal immigration or fiscal discipline or respect for the FBI and law enforcement agencies, they're willing to defer to the president. But on this one, on NATO and Russia, they are willing to stand up and be a check and balance.

COLEMAN: Well, we might get to do it all over again, right, Mara?

LIASSON: Yes, because one of the other big news stories of the week was that the White House announced that the president is inviting Vladimir Putin to come to Washington in the fall for more talks. And I think that's another thing that Congress is going to be asking Secretary Pompeo about this week. When is Putin coming? What is the purpose of the meeting? Will there be actual goals laid out for this meeting? There weren't any for Helsinki. It was a very loose meeting, as the president himself called it. So we don't know if the second meeting is intended to be a do-over or to double down on the first one, but that's something that Congress will really want to know.

COLEMAN: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks so much.

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

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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