STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A president with a talent for seizing the nation's attention with a tweet gets that attention at much greater length this week. President Trump delivers the State of the Union address to Congress. It's any president's chance to set the national agenda, although it comes at yet another moment when an investigation of election meddling may be setting the agenda for the president.
Matthew Continetti is going to talk this through with us. He's editor-in-chief of the conservative publication The Washington Free Beacon. Good morning.
MATTHEW CONTINETTI: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Thanks for coming by. So the president led up to this moment by floating his version of what could be an immigration deal. Does he have a real opportunity here?
CONTINETTI: Probably not. I think the gulf...
INSKEEP: (Laughter) OK. Thank you very much for coming by. I appreciate it.
INSKEEP: No, no. Go on.
CONTINETTI: No. The gulf between the Trump administration and the Republicans in Congress - the House Republicans - and the Senate Democrats, I think, is too large to be a bridge by compromise anytime soon. So I think what the president was doing was, one, saying that he is willing to actually amnesty the DREAMers and a large population of them - 1.8 million - in exchange for certain reforms to the immigration system, which the Democrats don't seem willing to provide.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that. What you describe as amnesty, people would use other words, of course. We're talking about a path to citizenship for people who were brought to the United States illegally. And the president put citizenship on the table in his proposal the other day. Are you telling me that House Republicans particularly just aren't going to go there?
CONTINETTI: Well, I think House Republicans would actually be receptive to something that the president laid down in exchange for the other reforms - right? - the money for the wall, the money for additional enforcement and the changes to the actual legal immigration system. But because that probably won't happen due to the Senate Democrats being unwilling to adopt those reforms, I think it's basically a dead letter.
INSKEEP: In 2013, there was immigration reform that passed the Senate and never got anywhere in the House. Is that a possibility here?
CONTINETTI: Doubtful because...
INSKEEP: You really think that if it gets through the Senate at all, the House is going to go for it?
CONTINETTI: Well, I don't think it's going to get through the Senate.
CONTINETTI: (Laughter) So there's no reason for the House to worry. And the reason is that the politics of immigration have changed even from 2013. Remember, there was a great sense in 2013, basically promoted by President Obama, that immigration was key to his re-election campaign and that he owed it to Hispanic voters to do an immigration reform.
INSKEEP: And Republicans felt that they were going to lose a generation of voters if they didn't do something. Some Republicans felt that way.
CONTINETTI: Some did in the Senate. Right. And so that's how you got the Senate bill. But, of course, one of the architects behind the scenes in basically derailing the Senate bill was Stephen Miller, who now, of course, is President Trump's top adviser on domestic policy, including immigration, at the White House. So I think that in itself - that personnel move - shows how the politics of immigration have shifted in a more - in some way, widening the debate to include not only people who want to increase immigration levels and provide a path to citizenship to people who arrived here illegally. But also, it now includes people who actually want to not only clamp down on illegal immigration but also begin to restrict legal immigration.
INSKEEP: Well, that is becoming something of a third rail here, as well, isn't it? Can you adjust the number of people significantly who are allowed in the country legally? That could be another stopping point.
CONTINETTI: Well, I mean, if it's a third rail, then President Trump and Senator Tom Cotton and Senator David Perdue have jumped on it and with interesting results, actually, because some of the polling that's coming out is showing that, actually, Americans are more receptive to their positions than one might have thought.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about the Russia investigation. Of course, there have been New York Times and Washington Post stories that show President Trump trying to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and beyond that, just repeatedly, repeatedly trying to get the Justice Department to stop the investigation, trying to derail the investigation. Democratic Senator Mark Warner said on All Things Considered the other day there seems to be a pattern here that is not a pattern of someone who doesn't have anything to hide. Is the president acting guilty, whatever the facts that may be?
CONTINETTI: Whatever the facts may be pretty important, I think.
INSKEEP: Yeah. But is he acting like someone who's guilty?
CONTINETTI: I think the president has acted as someone who didn't want the investigation to happen. Now, is that because he's hiding something, or does he believe, rightly, that it's negatively affecting his presidency? We have to wait for Robert Mueller to release his findings to actually see what happened. Now, some of the news that's coming out suggests that among those findings may be Robert Mueller's conclusion that the president may have obstructed justice.
INSKEEP: Matthew, thank you very much.
CONTINETTI: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Matthew Continetti of The Washington Free Beacon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.