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Can John Kelly meet high expectations at the White House?

August 2, 2017 at 6:25 PM EDT
He’s only been on the job for three days, but the installation of new Chief of Staff John Kelly is being closely watched for signs of change at the White House. Karine Jean-Pierre of Moveon.org and Barry Bennett, former senior advisor of the Trump campaign, join Judy Woodruff to discuss Kelly’s challenges, divisions between the president and Congress and the president’s words to police.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump’s new chief of staff, John Kelly, is just three days on the job, and expectations are already high that he will stop the recent churn at the top in the White House and mend fences with Congress following the failure of health care reform.

We explore all that and more with Karine Jean-Pierre, a veteran of the Obama administration, and Barry Bennett. He was a senior adviser to the Trump presidential campaign.

And welcome to both of you. Thank you for being with us again.

Karine, I’m going to start with you.

General John Kelly, he’s been on the job three days. Has everything changed?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, Moveon.Org: Well, I think three days is not a pattern for Donald Trump. I think, maybe in three weeks, then we can look back to see if John Kelly can hold up to his distinguished career and being that general that he is and bring everything together.

But I don’t have a lot of confidence in that. Many people have tried before John Kelly and have failed. And you really just can’t change the man by changing staff. It just is not going to work with Donald Trump. He doesn’t want to be managed. He doesn’t want to be — he wants to be his own chief of staff, his own communications director, and his own chief counsel.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see, Barry Bennett?

BARRY BENNETT, Former Trump Campaign Senior Adviser: Well, I think that if his mission were to change Donald Trump, that would probably be a failure in the end.

I think his mission, though, is to make Trump better. Every player needs a coach. This White House team has needed a coach for six months, frankly. And I hope that he is that good coach that they need, an enforcer. Systems, rules, processes all matter. And he seems in his first three days — I know it’s a short time to judge him, but I’m pretty excited about those three days.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, there are a few little reports coming out of the White House, Karine. Apparently, the odor to the Oval Office, which was open to just about everybody, or many, is now closed. There’s some discipline there.

And we’re also noticing the president isn’t tweeting as much. Now, it’s only three days.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Three days.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But maybe he’s having some effect.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: We have to see. I mean, three days is pretty low bar. He is the president of the United States, and we’re saying, oh, yay, three days.

It just doesn’t — it just hasn’t been Donald Trump’s pattern. We haven’t seen that in the past. There’s been many pivots. Even when Reince Priebus came into the office as chief of staff, people thought, oh, there goes a pivot. When his family moved into the White House, oh, there’s a pivot. That is going to calm him down.

And it never has worked. So, we will see.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there some secret formula that we haven’t seen staff try or someone try? I mean, Barry Bennett, one of the things that was said about General Kelly is he’s closer to being a peer of President Trump’s.

BARRY BENNETT: Yes, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He’s a general.

BARRY BENNETT: Great accomplishments.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He’s had a great career in the military.

BARRY BENNETT: You know, I think that the — my time in the campaign, if you give him a plan that he buys into, he executes.

I just don’t think that they were very successful at creating a plan that he was willing to buy into and execute.

JUDY WOODRUFF: When you say they, you mean?

BARRY BENNETT: The staff.

But I think, for instance, if I were General Kelly — and I’m not, thank goodness — but give him some things to tweet about. Have a plan about what happens after you tweet. Here’s an idea. Tweet the White House switch — or switch — the congressional switchboard number. Turn the calls on.

There are all kinds of things that they could be doing that they’re not. And I hope that General Kelly, you know, orchestrates a new plan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, meanwhile, Karine, what we were talking about earlier with Lisa Desjardins and Nick Schifrin is about the divide between the White House and the Congress over some pretty important matters.

Lisa was talking about health care, how the president has said just let the Affordable Care Act implode. Some in Congress are trying to do something to regenerate health care reform. And then Nick Schifrin talking about the divide over the Russia sanctions. The president hates it. He signed it, but doesn’t like it.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: I think, Judy, if you are a Republican sitting on the Hill in the House or the Senate, or if you’re a Republican sitting in any red state, you would look and expect that you have the control of three branches, that you would be able to get things done, major pieces of legislation.

And that just hasn’t happened under this White House. So I think that’s pretty troubling for Republicans and anybody who is following all of this and cares about their country, if you’re, you know, in the Republican Party. So that is troubling.

And also, on the bipartisanship, I think it’s great. I think it’s a great start for them to try and figure out a solution. But if the leaders aren’t there, if Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan aren’t there, it’s just not going to happen.

And they still have on the table full repeal, and you can’t get anywhere if you’re still talking about talking away health care from millions of people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the questions this raises in my mind, Barry Bennett, is, how much clout does this president have with this — with his party in the Congress, after the failure of the health care reform bill? They spent months trying to make this happen. It hasn’t worked yet.

BARRY BENNETT: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are they — do they — do they care what the president says to them?

BARRY BENNETT: Well, the Congress, I have no idea.

Unfortunately for the Congress, they proved all the Trump voters were right about Congress, right, that Washington is broken, and they can’t do anything. Congress hasn’t solved a serious problem in quite a long time.

So, to that extent, his base, the Republican Party, pretty much, as a majority, was proven right, that Congress is broken. You know, as the problem escalates, we’re now seeing, you know, rates — as you just reported, rates are rising across the country. There are 19 counties in Ohio that don’t have don’t have a provider.

California is coming down. As the problems get bigger and bigger, hopefully, more and more people will get serious and we can come to some kind of bipartisan solution. But, up until now, there’s been a total unwillingness for the two sides to work together.

And, you know, frankly the Republican Caucus in the Senate couldn’t even come together.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Congress did come together to pass these sanctions against Russia, which the president is unhappy with.

BARRY BENNETT: Yes.

Well, I think any president would be fairly unhappy with the Congress not giving him his right to lift — you’re taking away the ability to lift sanctions, after some kind of negotiation.

So, you know, as someone who believes in the power of the office of the presidency, I have a problem with that. I understand — I understand, politically, why they did it. But I don’t think that it helps the power of the presidency to do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I was going to ask you about something else the president said this week, and that is handling police suspects.

Karine, we are just about out of time. I know that has caused a lot of pushback, the president basically saying, don’t worry about these suspects when you shove them into the car. Don’t worry about their heads.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: It’s very troubling and concerning what the president said.

He has to understand, as long as he’s in the Oval Office, his words are going to have a lot of weight. And if you have been watching Donald Trump for the last two years, for decades, you know that he wasn’t joking. You know that he was very serious about what he was saying.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we’re going to have to leave it there.

Karine Jean-Pierre, Barry Bennett, thank you.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, Judy.

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