ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: President Barack Obama completes his last scheduled major foreign trip of his presidency when he flies home tonight from the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Peru.
“New York Times” White House correspondent Gardiner Harris is traveling with the president and he joins me now via Skype from Lima.
Gardiner, last night, President Obama to some young people out of University in Lima, and he mentioned the incoming administration will likely concentrate on trade. What did he say?
GARDINER HARRIS, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did. He basically has spent this whole week during this last trip abroad as president trying to reassure his audiences. Obviously, Trump’s presidency has caused an enormous amount of anxiety amongst America’s traditional allies, although, of course, Mr. Obama actually met today with President Putin. And amongst the Russians and President Putin, Trump is a great hero. But for most of the audiences, there’s been a lot of anxiety. So, he is trying to reassure them.
On trade, though, he said that it is likely to be the one issue where there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty and perhaps some disagreements around the world, because if, he said, that Trump had most of his campaign had been about trade and making a change in the United States policies towards trade.
STEWART: Earlier in the week when he was in Greece, which obviously has gone through austerity and economic issues, he warned against, and this is a quote, “a crude sort of nationalism”. We’ve obviously seen far right movements in Germany and France.
First of all, what was he talking about specifically? And who’s his audience here? What was his point?
HARRIS: Right. So, it’s a little unclear what his specific point was. The president started the week in Washington on Monday, giving a very reassuring press conference. His aides filed out of the White House and they were basically weeping around the White House that day, and he tried to be reassuring not only to the American people, but to his own staff that everything is going to be fine and we didn’t have to worry that much, that presidents have a hard time making dramatic changes from their predecessors.
So, over the course of the week, you would have seen him occasionally diverged from that reassuring message and say some things that made clear that he himself is worried. And one of the earliest occasions was when he said we have to watch out for the rise of a crude nationalism.
Now, was he talking about in the Middle East? Was he talking about in the United States? He didn’t make that clear then. But we all interpreted it, of course, as a worry about appointments such as Steven Bannon in the White House who has described as a nationalist. Others have described Steven Bannon as a white nationalist.
Steven Bannon, of course, was the CEO of Breitbart News, an alt-right website where there are many views that are anti-Semitic, that are anti-minority and other fairly alarmist views for much of the American public.
So, the president’s remarks, while vague, instantly went into that maelstrom of controversy about Steven Bannon’s appointment and those of others within the Obama administration.
STEWART: President Obama headed back to the United States and in 60 days, Donald Trump will take the presidency, the role as president of the United States. The two men met. We all saw that.
Is there anything on the schedule for these two men to meet and work together in the next 60 days?
HARRIS: There’s not. President Obama has, of course, said multiple times that his greatest priority over the next two months is to ensure that there’s a smooth transition between his administration and the Trump administration. The Trump administration has obviously gotten off to a fairly rocky start. Donald Trump denies that, but officials throughout the government have said for days that they were not hearing from anybody in the Trump administration.
That seems to be changing. The Trump administration seems to be finding its feet. They are starting to make obviously some high level appointments. More are expected in the coming days, and one would expect that Mr. Trump would come back to Washington multiples times over the next several weeks and perhaps see the president.
The two actually seemed to have a very productive meeting in the Oval Office more than a week ago as you mentioned, Alison. So, I think the expectation is that Mr. Trump and perhaps his wife Melania will again appear at the White House in the coming weeks.
STEWART: Gardiner Harris from “The New York Times”, thanks for sharing your reporting.
HARRIS: Sure. Thanks for having me, Alison.