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The ripple effects of what Trump says and tweets

May 2, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT
President Trump has given a flurry of interviews in the past week and made a dizzying amount of news, offering controversial and sometimes contradictory comments on topics ranging from North Korea to the Civil War. Judy Woodruff tries parsing the president’s words with Lisa Desjardins, Yeganeh Torbati of Reuters and Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump has given a flurry of interviews in the past week or so to commemorate his first 100 days in office. And he made a dizzying amount of news, giving controversial and, at times, contradictory comments on topics ranging from North Korea to the U.S. Civil War.

To try to make sense of it all, we are joined now by our own Lisa Desjardins, by Yeganeh Torbati. She’s a State Department reporter for Reuters. And Julie Davis, she covers the White House for The New York Times.

And we welcome all three of you to the program.

Let’s talk first about the president’s comments about the health care bill, this replacement bill.

Lisa, he was asked some pointed questions over the weekend, CBS’ John Dickerson, in an interview for “Face the Nation.”

Here is some of that interview. Let’s watch.

JOHN DICKERSON, Host, “Face The Nation”: They are worried.

Are they going to have the guarantee of coverage if they have a preexisting condition, or if they live in a state where the governor decides that’s not a part of the health care, or that the prices are going to go up? That’s the worry.

The American Medical Association says …

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We actually …

JOHN DICKERSON: … it could effectively make coverage completely unaffordable for people.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yes, we actually have — well, forget about unaffordable. What’s unaffordable is Obamacare, John.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN DICKERSON: So, I’m not hearing you, Mr. President, say there’s a guarantee of preexisting conditions.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We actually have — we actually have a clause that guarantees.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Lisa, today, there are Republicans saying this newly reworked legislation doesn’t guarantee preexisting conditions will be covered.

What’s going on here?

LISA DESJARDINS: And it’s changed one major vote, Judy.

That’s Fred Upton of Michigan. Our viewers might be familiar with him because he used to chair the committee that wrote health care policy. He says he’s now a no vote on the Republican plan as it stands now, because he says preexisting conditions are not protected in this latest version.

It seemed that either President Trump didn’t exactly understand the latest version, or he was talking about not the preexisting waivers that states could get, but perhaps the high-risk pools that they’re hoping states use to protect those folks who have preexisting medical conditions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And at one point in that interview, Julie Davis, the president did refer to pools. What do you think was going on there?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, The New York Times: Well, I think what we’re hearing is a president who doesn’t like to get very steeped in the details of policy, and what he wants to emphasize is his message, which is that he wants everyone to be covered as effectively and as fulsomely as they are under the Affordable Care Act.

The problem is, members of Congress have to vote on an actual piece of legislation, and they’re looking at a bill that doesn’t do what he says it does. So, that’s why we’re seeing this initiative stall yet again, and it sounds like the president’s rhetoric is out of step with what is actually happening.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as we mentioned, this is to all three of you, we mentioned a minute ago in our news summary, there is also conflicting language coming out of the White House today about the spending plan that was agreed to in the last few days between Democrats and Republicans.

Democrats are saying, we won. The Republicans, some of them are acknowledging that Democrats got the better of this. The president tweeted this morning — and, Julie, I’m going to come back to you on this — he said, “The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and the Democrats is, we need 60 votes in the Senate, which are not there. We,” he said, “either elect more Republican senators in 2018 or we change the rules now to 51 percent. Our country needs a good shutdown in September to fix this mess.”

He sounds frustrated, Julie.

JULIE DAVIS: He is frustrated.

And we heard from his OMB director, his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, this afternoon, that he thought that those tweets were because of the president’s frustration, not that he didn’t want — get what he wanted in the deal, according to the White House, but that they were acting, that Democrats were acting like they had won, when, in fact, you know, the president had been negotiating in good faith, Mr. Mulvaney said.

The fact is, the president did have to come to the table and Republicans in Congress did and compromise to get a spending agreement through. And while most presidents would be spending this time saying, we got a lot of what we wanted, it was a good compromise, I showed that I was willing to come to the table, instead, the president started the day really emphasizing how willing he is to sort of spark a partisan conflict in the next go-round.

So, rather than enjoying the fact that he was able to broker a compromise that most people thought it was going to be difficult for him to do, he is now looking forward to the next negotiation and saying, well, I’m ready to torpedo that one.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how is that received on the hill, Lisa?

LISA DESJARDINS: Yes, that was a big lead balloon on the Hill, Republicans shaking their heads, openly saying, no, none of this makes sense. We don’t want a shutdown, actually. It achieves nothing, with very exceptions, they were saying, and also saying, on the Senate side, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was adamant with reporters today, saying the vast majority of the Senate does not want to change the rules.

We heard from top to bottom they feel that those rules do protect the minority in a way that both parties agree on right now. So he’s out of step. And there was a lot of head-shaking, a lot of question marks about exactly what the president is trying to achieve here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Yeganeh, I want to bring you in now, because I want to share this clip.

This is the president’s interview yesterday with Bloomberg News in which he was asked about North Korea, and, of course, its young dictator, Kim Jong-un, came up. Let’s listen to this. This is an audio interview.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have a potentially very bad situation that we will meet in the toughest of all manners if we have to do that.

If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely — I would be honored to do it. If it’s under the — again, under the right circumstances. But I would — I would do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, he’s honored to meet with the dictator of North Korea. How is that being received at the State Department and abroad?

YEGANEH TORBATI, Reuters: Right.

I think the question here is that it’s not so much a fundamental shift in U.S. policy. As you will remember during the 2008 presidential campaign, former President Obama said that there’s no reason why we shouldn’t meet with rogue nations in order to advance U.S. interests.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s true.

YEGANEH TORBATI: It’s really the wording of saying that he would be honored to meet with Kim Jong-un, who is someone that, you know, U.S. officials have said violates his own people’s rights and is ruling really North Korea with an iron grip.

And so I think that sort of language, especially coming on the heels of his interview last week, one in which he said that there’s a potential for a major, major conflict with North Korea, causes a little bit of whiplash within the bureaucracy, especially the national security bureaucracy here in Washington.

The State Department, the Pentagon, the Treasury Department, they’re all looking for signals from the president as to sort of what their talking points and what their policy should be. And it’s a little bit contradictory at the moment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Lisa, on the Hill, again, you have so many members looking to see how the president speaks about these very sensitive international, national security question.

LISA DESJARDINS: There is no lack of reaction to this.

And, of course, as expected, Democrats said this was a problem, but many Republicans did as well. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker told reporters the president’s iPhone needs to be taken away. John McCain, Armed Services chairman, went farther. He said that he thought this was disturbing.

So it is both serious, and to some degree people aren’t taking the president seriously as well. And that’s a problem for him. I did speak to one source in Trump world who spent a lot of time with the president who said he’s a disrupter, and that people should realize he’s trying to find solutions, so he is both hot and cold at the same time. Washington doesn’t know how to deal with that, and that’s what we’re seeing right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The last excerpt I want to share with the audience brings up the Civil War, and I’m going to come back to you, Julie, on this one.

The president was talking. This is in an interview he did a couple of days ago with Sirius radio. He was being interviewed by the reporter Salena Zito, and Andrew Jackson, president Andrew Jackson”s name came up. Let’s listen to that.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was — he was a very tough person, but he had a big heart.

And he was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, there’s reason for this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Julie Davis, we know President Andrew Jackson died 16 years before the Civil War started. The president was trying to clean this up a little bit on Twitter this morning. What are they saying at the White House?

JULIE DAVIS: Well, I think, as with many of his tweets, they weren’t professing to know exactly what he meant when he made that comment.

I think one of the more charitable explanations was that the was talking about the nullification crisis, when the Southern states wanted to secede, and he was against that.

But, really, I mean, historians point out that this is a president who is really not steeped in the details of history, even sort of the broad outlines of history, the way that many presidents have been. Again, he’s not interested in the details, so much as he’s making the point, Andrew Jackson is a populist who he has said he very much admires and sort of wants to fashion himself after.

The question, though, is, Andrew Jackson was also a slave owner. And to the degree that he might have been suggesting that there might have been a solution short of the Civil War that would have ended the conflict, but preserved slavery or some element of it, that had people really concerned, and that had both historians and other analysts just sort of scratching their heads, like, why would you make a point like that?

It’s just one of those comments that left I think a little bit more of a mess than he intended.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Yeganeh Torbati, obviously, the Civil War, they don’t have to worry about that any more at the State Department.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: But they do obviously consider the way the president uses language and the way he speaks about and his knowledge of American history. What do the diplomats you speak with, those who pay attention to the sensitivities of all this, say?

YEGANEH TORBATI: There is some concern that our allies and our rivals abroad, U.S. allies and rivals abroad, are somewhat behind closed doors a little bit mocking of some of the things that President Trump says, and U.S. diplomats sort of just have to kind of grin and bear it.

There’s not much they can really say either in defense or sort of an explanation, because they’re not really sure themselves what the president might be getting at. There’s a broader question of, when he makes these kind of contradictory remarks or remarks where he’s sort of whipsawing from sort of statement to statement, you know, do the rank and file, do the bureaucrats within the National Security Agency, do they know which direction to follow when they’re trying to sort of set the agenda for meetings?

They’re not quite sure right now, because they usually get their signal, their policy signal from the president. And it’s not really clear right now. Even if Secretary of State Tillerson or Secretary of Defense Mattis are very consistent in their own messaging, the State Department and the Pentagon may not sort of — the right hand may know what the left hand is doing, and so that’s sort of the concern that diplomats at least have right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s a reminder that every word out of the president’s mouth has repercussions on Capitol Hill, elsewhere around the executive branch, Julie and Yeganeh, completely, around the world, not just in the diplomatic community here, but literally around the globe.

Yeganeh Torbati, Julie Davis, Lisa Desjardins, we thank you.

YEGANEH TORBATI: Thank you.

LISA DESJARDINS: Thank you.

JULIE DAVIS: Thanks, Judy.

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