MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And now it's time for a trip to the Barbershop. That's where we gather a group of interesting folks to talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. So we gave you a wrap-up earlier with two of our reporters of the week in politics. But we wanted to take some time to chew over some of the week's political highlights with some other folks who've been following it closely, too.
So joining us for our shape-up today are Puneet Ahluwalia. He is a businessman. He's active in a local Republican Party in Northern Virginia. He supported Donald Trump during the election. In fact, he's organizing one of the Trump inaugural galas next week, if we have that right, Puneet?
PUNEET AHLUWALIA: Yes. It's (unintelligible)...
MARTIN: OK. Do you have a pretty outfit - sorry - a handsome tux to wear...
AHLUWALIA: I have a handsome tux.
AHLUWALIA: My wife is (unintelligible).
MARTIN: OK. Very good. Mona Charen's with us. She's a syndicated columnist for the conservative National Review, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Welcome back to you, Mona, as well.
MONA CHAREN: Great to be here.
MARTIN: And Jolene Ivey, of course, one of our regulars, a former Democratic state lawmaker from Maryland. She's now a public relations consultant. Welcome back to you as well.
JOLENE IVEY: Thanks, Michel.
MARTIN: And as you can tell, they're all here with us in our Washington, D.C., studios which is a nice thing to have. So let's get back to President-elect Donald Trump's latest tweet storm, this time directed at civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis. As we mentioned earlier, Donald Trump tweeted that (reading) Congressman Lewis is all talk, talk, talk, no action or results. Sad.
This came after Congressman Lewis stated on "Meet The Press" that he doesn't see the president-elect as, quote, "a legitimate president," unquote, because of the reported Russian interference in the election. But let me just take a minute to point out the timing of all this. Martin Luther King Day is on Monday. Of course, Congressman Lewis worked closely with Dr. King during the Civil Rights movement. His actual birthday is tomorrow, and I do want to mention that, you know, members of the Black Caucus have been very much offended by President-elect Trump's, you know, five-year campaign questioning President Obama's birthplace, so, you know, not sure which all of that is relevant. But, Jolene, I'll start with you. What do you make of all this?
IVEY: I think that Donald Trump just loves to say anything he wants no matter how crazy or untrue it might be and just keep repeating it. And he thinks that that's going to be fine. And for a lot of people, it is, so it seems to be working for him. But it's...
MARTIN: What did he say that's untrue?
IVEY: Well, when he starts disparaging John Lewis who is certainly someone who not - who didn't just do nothing during the Civil Rights movement. I mean, this man was attacked personally. He gave almost the ultimate sacrifice. He almost died for us, and he's been such a great leader all the way in his years in Congress. I've met him personally a number of times. I think that he is awesome, and he has done a whole lot more than Donald Trump's ever done for anything, except for - make money for himself. So I can't believe that he's got the nerve to attack him in that way.
MARTIN: Puneet, thoughts?
AHLUWALIA: I - look, I respect John Lewis and his contribution and dedication to serving American public, but I feel - well, he disparaged the American people, the American people who work for Donald Trump. And, overwhelmingly, he's now the president-elect. So nobody's talking about that. In fact, he - when he makes a positive move, bringing style (ph) Steve Harvey to his Trump Tower and discuss about let's find a solution. And he's - Steve Harvey said he's a genuine guy. He wants to do things, just doesn't want to talk about things. And that's what Trump said - talk, talk, talk. Nobody wants to do anything about it.
MARTIN: Just to clarify for people who aren't aware of what Puneet's talking about - that those tweets about John Lewis came hours after Donald Trump met with a stand-up comedian, the talk show host, you know, written books all this - Steve Harvey - part of what, I guess, he considers his outreach to the black community. That's kind of what he's mentioning here. But speaking of, though, of what Jolene said is not true - and actually John Lewis' district is actually not a disaster as he's sort of described. There were high - there were a very large number of college graduates in its district. It's quite a - it's actually a fairly affluent district. So...
AHLUWALIA: But why is nobody even talking about what the American public said and wanted and elected president Trump and more importantly when he - look at the Cabinet he's brought in, the kind of caliber of people. And now what my dear friend says here is that he only made money. Now, are we penalizing success? Are we penalizing hard work? Is that what we have reached in our country?
MARTIN: OK. Mona wants to jump in here. Let's hear from Mona.
CHAREN: I do want to - I want to jump in because I think this is the way Trump operates. We're familiar with this. It very frequently - subjects where if he had a slightly larger vision and could see that John Lewis has a particular place in American history and that before you get into a tussle with him, you have to acknowledge that. You have say the civil rights hero had his head - his skull cracked, you know, by white supremacists many decades ago. You have to acknowledge that, and then you can say whatever you want, but that should be acknowledged upfront.
Now, having - if I were Trump, I would point out that, first of all, Lewis was off base saying that his election was illegitimate. That is completely off base and further that Lewis - you can fairly criticize him for in the past saying similar things about other Republicans. He said about John McCain in 2008 that his campaign reminded him of George Wallace. So he has a tendency to see this in Republicans even when it's not trump.
MARTIN: While we're talking about the Cabinet hearings, Mona, let me just go to you on this. We had touched on the president-elect's - this is earlier in the program - the press conference on Wednesday in which he kind of sort of addressed questions about his relationship with Russia, but then we saw on the Senate confirmation hearings that a few of Donald Trump's nominees, including defense secretary nominee James Mattis, CIA director nominee Mike Pompeo, don't see eye to eye with the president-elect and have very different views about Russia. I'm just interested in how you see this.
CHAREN: So this is one of the huge tensions that's going to be playing out over the next years, months, years. Who will he listen to? What are the true nature of his - I mean, it is still a bit mysterious why he has this unwillingness to criticize Putin, even though there's plenty of reason. And you cannot just say, as so many people do, well, you know, Obama did the reset and this is no different from that and so on. And Bush, too, wanted to, you know, get along with - it's different because certainly there's less justification for Obama than there was for Bush. We've seen Putin's behavior in the interim. And it wasn't about Bush, and it wasn't about Obama. It was about America. And so...
MARTIN: I'm curious, though, as a person who did not support Donald Trump. As a Republican, as a conservative, you made it clear that you did not support him for reasons that had a great deal to do with philosophy and temperament and so forth. We don't need to revisit. I'm just wondering if you are encouraged or discouraged by the fact that there are people within his Cabinet who hold different views?
CHAREN: Very encouraged.
AHLUWALIA: Very encouraged.
CHAREN: Very encouraged.
MARTIN: Both of you are.
CHAREN: That is - yes. It's a very good sign.
AHLUWALIA: And President-elect Trump has said I'm going to listen to my generals. I'm going to listen to my advisers. And, in fact, he's listening to Vice President Pence - elect in decisions.
MARTIN: Let me move on to a different topic, if I may. We also saw in the press conference this really tense exchange between President-elect Trump and a CNN - and CNN reporter Jim Acosta. Let me just play a short clip of that if I can.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JIM ACOSTA: Can you give us a question?
DONALD TRUMP: Don't be...
ACOSTA: Can you give us a question?
TRUMP: We're not - I am not going to give you a question.
ACOSTA: Can you state...
TRUMP: You are fake news.
MARTIN: You know, Jolene, I'm going to go to you on this because you're a former elected official yourself. You served in the State House for a number of terms. You were a candidate for lieutenant governor, had a lot of political campaigns. What do you make of all that? I mean, there are though - obviously, there are people who are weighing in on both sides. Some people think Jim Acosta was rude. On the other hand, you know, Donald Trump was conflating something that CNN didn't even report and attributing it to them. What - give us your take on that.
IVEY: Well, considering that he had been cheering on Russia for hacking into the emails and just really celebrating a lot of really negative things that impacted our election, I can't get my knickers in a twist too much when the tables are turned on him. So I had a lot of sympathy for the journalists. And if you think about it, if he had just been having press conferences on the - as a normal state of affairs, he wouldn't have had so much pent up energy around this one. It had been like six months since he'd had a press conference. It's just ridiculous, so I think he got what he deserved.
MARTIN: Puneet, thoughts?
AHLUWALIA: Well, I think he put him in his place. If you are fake news, this president is going to get back to you.
MARTIN: Who's covering - who's reporting fake news?
IVEY: CNN is not fake news.
MARTIN: Who is reporting fake news?
AHLUWALIA: They reported which was not true...
MARTIN: First of all, it's an oxymoron. If it's fake, by definition it's not news. So let me just put a stake in that if we could.
AHLUWALIA: But anyway...
MARTIN: But go ahead.
AHLUWALIA: He will basically give you straight talk. And he's looking for a more fair and balanced and straight talk in terms of the news.
MARTIN: What did CNN report that was inaccurate?
AHLUWALIA: Well, CNN reported about that - the...
MARTIN: They did not report these salacious details. That was another news organization.
AHLUWALIA: But they still...
MARTIN: They reported the fact that the president and the president-elect were briefed about this dossier that existed. You don't think that's important?
AHLUWALIA: Well, according to Trump, it is not. It is basically - what he came out and said is that it's not true, and I'm not going to really give you the respect and time to answer your question because you're not reporting correctly.
CHAREN: I think they...
MARTIN: You still haven't told me what he said that was inaccurate - what CNN reported that was inaccurate.
AHLUWALIA: CNN reported the information that was - basically came out from the intelligence agency or some part and which is not true.
MARTIN: A former British intelligence officer who was reporting this for opposition research within the Republican Party, but they did not report these salacious details. That was another news organization. That's just...
AHLUWALIA: But they highlighted the story.
MARTIN: ...That is a fact. That is not fake news. That is news. It is accurate.
MARTIN: Anyway, Mona you want to jump in on this?
CHAREN: Yeah. I'll jump in. You know, not my usual role to defend Trump, but let's just - I will say two things. First, there was a little bit of doubt about whether what CNN reported was true or not. What CNN reported was that the intelligence services had briefed Trump on this dossier, and then NBC said, no, they hadn't. I think it's still a little murky about - so we don't know.
But CNN did spend a huge amount of time hyping this story and sort of, you know, with a wink and a nod sending people to BuzzFeed to read the details, and Buzzfeed did something incredibly irresponsible. And, furthermore, they did something that is not in the interest of the anti-Trump forces because they now - he - they gave Trump the opportunity to say, see, they're just out to get me. And you don't have to believe anything that comes out of...
MARTIN: But from one other point of view, Mona, if he hadn't opened his press conference with it, I bet you there are millions of people who wouldn't know a thing about it.
CHAREN: I'm not so sure. It was lighting up the boards.
CHAREN: I'm not so sure.
MARTIN: Well, OK. Different points of view on that, but that's where I'm glad we have the range of views.
MARTIN: Switching gears a bit now for the couple of - two and a half minutes that we have left - I wanted to mention President Obama's farewell address to the country. We can just play a little bit of that. I think we have time. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won't stop. In fact, I will be right there with you as a citizen for all my remaining days.
MARTIN: So it was reminiscent clearly of the tone that President Obama said throughout his campaign. He described it kind of as a movement. It's interesting that Donald Trump also sees his support as a movement, and in - just in the couple of minutes that we have left, I just wanted to ask can both of them be right? Jolene, do you want to start?
IVEY: The country is pretty split. Although, I will always point out that Hillary Clinton got 2.5 million more votes than Trump did. But, anyway, just to hear President Obama speak - he's eloquent, he's so classy. And then the next day, we had to hear that press conference. So it was really a stark contrast between what we're giving up and what we're getting.
MARTIN: OK. Puneet, can both of them be right? Are both of them leaders of a movement?
AHLUWALIA: Well, they are leaders, and there are - there is a lack of leadership in the Democratic Party, and I think Obama is still going to play a role in that aspect.
CHAREN: I think it's worrisome that Barack Obama actually contributed to the bifurcation of our society. I don't think that he made nearly enough effort to be a uniter. And there's, I think, been a backlash against him, and some of that has been reflected in Trump's success. And I think it's really sad, and that's part of Obama's legacy.
MARTIN: Jolene, do you want to answer that very briefly?
IVEY: Please, may I? Because just the thought of anybody saying that Obama was the one who divided us when the Republican leadership started out saying we're going to block everything he tries to do - and they were very successful at that, but they couldn't keep him from doing everything. So thank God for his hard work.
AHLUWALIA: Well, the pendulum did swing the other way, and that's the reason why Trump became president-elect and won thoroughly and strongly.
MARTIN: OK. Well, we will have a lot more time to talk about all of these things, and thank you all so much for being here today to kick it off. Puneet Ahluwalia, Jolene Ivey, Mona Charen - they were all here with us in our studios in Washington, D.C., and we really appreciate it. And it was great to see you all. Thank you all so much.
CHAREN: Thank you, Michel.
IVEY: Thank you.
AHLUWALIA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.