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Politics: Trump Lashes Out At Sessions; McCain Diagnosed With Brain Cancer


Senator John McCain has brain cancer.


That disclosure is not completely surprising to people who closely watch Washington. He had surgery just days ago for a blood clot near his eye, and he's in his 80s. Yet the news itself brought a flood of responses. Many disagree with the one-time presidential candidate, but it is hard not to respect his roughly 60 years in public service.

INSKEEP: He's been universally described as tough, although other words apply - exuberant, energetic, mercurial, ambitious, temperamental and occasionally even repentant when he feels he's made a mistake - also, dedicated to seeing for himself. The chairman of the armed services committee, despite his age, has repeatedly traveled to war zones, all of which begins to explain why the response has been so emotional. NPR's Domenico Montanaro is here to explain more. Hi, Domenico.


INSKEEP: What is McCain's place in the Senate?

MONTANARO: You know, John McCain is somebody who's been in the Senate for 30 years. He's chairman of the armed services committee, something that has been important to him. He's spoken out on a lot of big issues, including on torture during the Bush years in the - with regard to the Iraq War because John McCain is somebody who was beaten and tortured, probably America's most famous prisoner of war when his bomber was shot down over Vietnam.

So this is somebody who's spoken out on that, on immigration. And he's somebody who's gotten the respect from people on both sides of the aisle, really somebody who does things, you know, the old senatorial way of wanting to be able to talk to people on both sides of the aisle - of course, like you said, with his own unique way.

INSKEEP: Happy to make people on both sides of the aisle angry from time to time.

MONTANARO: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: And I'm sure there were plenty of people who disagreed with him - but somebody who knew the system, knew Congress. Before he was in Congress, he was a military representative to Congress, which is a remarkable thing to mean about. So what does it mean politically that he would be out of action for some period starting now?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, when it was - the news came out that he was having a blood clot removed from behind his eye, that automatically derailed the Senate health care bill because Republicans have such a narrow window to be able to pass that kind of legislation. They have 52 senators. With McCain out of the picture right now for you know, the indefinite future, that means that their window is even narrower. I mean that means that they can lose only one person in the Senate to pass anything if Democrats don't get onboard. And that makes it very, very, very difficult to get almost anything done.

INSKEEP: So we'll continue following Senator McCain's medical condition and also covering other news, of which there is, once again today, quite a lot. President Trump gave an interview to The New York Times - the failing New York Times, as he sometimes calls it. But he certainly talks to the Times. And the Times described this interview as being filled with grievances. What are some of his grievances?

MONTANARO: About almost everything...


MONTANARO: ...And especially everyone related to the Russia investigation. He really took aim at his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, saying that if he knew he was going to recuse himself, he would have never appointed him. And, you know, you have to realize that Jeff Sessions, it would - is somebody who serves at the pleasure of the president. So if this president wanted to leverage any kind of pressure to stop a Russia investigation and think he has somebody on his side in the attorney general, he no longer has that.

Trump was annoyed that Sessions stepping aside led to the appointment of a special prosecutor or a special counsel in Robert Mueller, the former FBI director. Trump even lashed out at the deputy attorney general, who Mueller now reports to, saying, well, Rod Rosenstein is from Baltimore, and there aren't that many Republicans in Baltimore.


MONTANARO: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: Although, Rosenstein, I think is Republican, right? He certainly got appointed by a Republican administration.

MONTANARO: You know, Rosenstein is somebody who's gotten praise from both sides. And that's actually something Donald Trump said himself.

INSKEEP: Well, now, there was also some discussion of Trump's son Don Jr.'s meeting with Russians during the 2016 campaign. Let's listen to a little bit of what the president said.


MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Did you know at the time that they had the meeting?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, I didn't know anything about the meeting. But you know, it must have been a very important - must have been a very unimportant meeting because I never even heard about it.

INSKEEP: Must have been very important, then said unimportant meeting. Now, up to now, Domenico, Trump's statements have defended Don Jr. as a high-quality person. He's attacked Hillary Clinton - sort of changing the subject. But Trump has not really defended the meeting itself. Did he defend the meeting itself in this interview?

MONTANARO: He said he found it interesting that adoption came up with Vladimir Putin in his pull-aside at the G-20 dinner as it was - because it was the same issue that was talked about at Don Jr.'s - Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with several Russians.

INSKEEP: They talked about adoption there as well.

MONTANARO: They talked about adoptions.

INSKEEP: Why would they be talking about that?

MONTANARO: Correct - which also is sanctions. It's something that Russia wants to do away with - the Magnitsky Act in the United States, which, you know, has to do with human rights abusers from Russia that the United States has banned and sanctioned.

INSKEEP: OK, Domenico, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.