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Politics chat: U.S. intelligence will conduct damage assessment of recovered Mar-a-Lago documents


The director of national intelligence says the U.S. intelligence community will conduct a damage assessment based on the materials retrieved from former President Trump's club and residence in Florida. That's what DNI Avril Haines tells lawmakers, underscoring the sensitivity of the documents Trump held back. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro joins us now. Good morning, Domenico.


GURA: So what began as a conversation in late 2020 about preserving presidential documents, as the law requires, has now turned into this story about state secrets, hasn't it?

MONTANARO: Well, the more that's come out, the more we've seen just how much the Justice Department has been focused on these documents of highest classification, particularly about national defense. And now, we don't know exactly what's in those documents. But now that this review is going on, they're going to be looking at what could've happened if this stuff got out. You know, the human intelligence side of this is something that the Democratic chairs of the Congressional Intelligence and Oversight Committees are particularly interested in.

GURA: Right.

MONTANARO: And, you know, Mar-a-Lago hasn't exactly proved to be the most secure of place. You know, there have been at least two instances in the last three years of foreign nationals found on the property with suspicious intentions.

GURA: This week, President Biden heads to Pennsylvania on Tuesday, and the official reason for that trip is to discuss his Safer America Plan, his proposal to reduce gun crime. Is that the only reason? Why Pennsylvania and why now?

MONTANARO: Well, it's a key swing state, right? I mean, and it has a very important Senate race that could help determine who controls the 50-50 Senate next year. Republicans know that. In fact, Trump will be there next weekend to try and boost his Senate candidate, celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz. Oz has been struggling a lot against Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. The White House, on the other hand, you know, wants to get the president out there more on the road in key places to tout what they see as Democrats' accomplishments. You know, we've the president talk about student loans, now gun control. These are just a couple of the planks that we know that they're going to try to lay out the stakes this fall and try to motivate especially younger voters to get out to the polls.

GURA: On the issue of guns, there was a March for Our Lives rally in Austin yesterday calling for stricter gun control measures. Elsewhere in the program today, we're going to look at how abortion rights are fueling political campaigns. As you look at the polls, what are the issues Americans say they care the most about right now?

MONTANARO: Well, one of the things I really like to look at is what candidates are running on to tell us, you know, why they think it's important to people, you know, and that will get them out to vote. And it's pretty clear right now that Democrats are focusing on abortion rights. Republicans think it's inflation and the overall economic environment, which is still negative for Democrats and President Biden. But polls are showing in these swing districts there's a real tension between these two issues because inflation is still the biggest concern among swing voters, but independents also very much disagree with the Supreme Court overturning Roe. And Democrats have gotten some recent wins in light of the court's decision - Kansas, upstate New York. So I think, you know, those will only reinforce - that momentum will only reinforce Democrats' belief that that's a winning strategy. Republicans are hoping that that won't carry through to November so that they can, you know, hope to take over both chambers of Congress.

GURA: Lastly here, I want you to preview something I know you'll talk about on the NPR Politics Podcast. We are at this pivotal moment right now, this moment in the campaign season when candidates pivot to the general election. So what does the landscape look like to you now as hopefuls try to appeal to a wider pool of potential voters?

MONTANARO: Yeah, it's a really critical time for candidates and their campaigns. We're headed into the homestretch. And right now, Republicans still look like they have a narrow advantage to win back control of the House, but a few months ago, if you were asking me that, you know, I would have said that it looked like a potential red wave. That's just not the case right now. The playing field has really shrunk so much because of redistricting and where people live that out of 435 House seats, only about 30 look competitive at all. That's less than 7%, so not a lot of wiggle room here. And Democrats only have a five-seat majority. The Senate is another story - truly looks like a jump ball right now. We know the Senate is only 50-50. I think that's pretty reflective of where the country is right now, as divided politically as ever with a shrinking share of persuadable voters. And we're going to see millions upon millions of dollars spent to try to get those folks out to the poll and to get both parties' bases out to the polls with so much really on the line.

GURA: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thank you very much.

MONTANARO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.