JUDY WOODRUFF: In a few moments, we will talk to the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin of Maryland, about the growing North Korean crisis.
President Trump came back to cameras at his New Jersey golf club today for a series of newsworthy exchanges.
And I’m joined now by our own John Yang to take us through some of it.
John, he came back and he just kept on talking.
JOHN YANG: He kept on talking.
His press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, tried to cut it off. He ignored her, went on for 20 minutes. At one point, he was asked about Vladimir Putin, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to expel U.S. diplomats from Russia.
He says the United States should be grateful.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want to thank him, because we’re trying to cut down on payroll. And as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll.
There’s no real reason for them to go back. So, I greatly appreciate the fact that they have been able to cut our payroll for the United States. We will save a lot of money.
JOHN YANG: It was remarkable. Foreign policy experts say it was really remarkable to hear a president go on like that, even if he was making — trying to make a joke.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We have been hearing Republicans in Congress say this is a bad thing, to lose these diplomats stationed in Moscow.
John, the president went on. It was interesting that he had nicer things to say about Vladimir Putin than he did about the Senate majority leader, who in his own party?
JOHN YANG: Mitch McConnell has become the whipping boy for the failure of the Obamacare repeal and replace. And he was asked at one point whether he had asked his Cabinet secretary, Elaine Chao, to help him. Elaine Chao, of course, is married to Mitch McConnell.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Elaine is doing a very good job. We’re very proud of Elaine as secretary of transportation, as you know, as you said, Mitch’s wife. She’s doing a very, very good job.
I’m very disappointed in Mitch. But if he gets these bills passed, I will be happy with him. I will be the first to admit it. But, honestly, repeal and replace of Obamacare should have taken place and it should have been on my desk virtually the first week that I was there or the first day that I was there. I have been hearing about it for seven years.
JOHN YANG: Some are saying that the president’s saying that he should have had that bill on his desk on the first day underscores Mitch McConnell’s point that he has unreasonable expectations.
JUDY WOODRUFF: John, another thing the president was asked about is the Russia investigation and the — I guess the leaks that he and others in the administration have been saying they’re so concerned about.
JOHN YANG: He said he’s given no thought at all to firing special counsel Robert Mueller. He said the White House is cooperating and that Mueller is looking into something that never happened.
And he also said that there are two kinds of leaks in Washington. One, he doesn’t mind.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You have the leaks where people want to love me, and they’re all fighting for love. Those are not very important, but, certainly, we don’t like them. Those are little inter-White House leaks. They’re not very important, but, actually, I’m somewhat honored by them.
But the important leaks to me, and the leaks that the attorney general’s looking at very strongly, are the leaks coming out of intelligence. And we have to stop them for the security and the national security of our country.
JOHN YANG: So, this ends a long period, Judy, where the president has been isolated, not seen in the public eye, but, clearly, he had a lot he wanted to get off his chest.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I noticed, just quickly, that he was also asked about Paul Manafort, former chairman of his campaign, whose home was raided by the FBI a few weeks ago.
JOHN YANG: He said that he thought that raid was to send a strong signal, that it was sort of going into his house before dawn.
He also said that he really hadn’t talked to Paul Manafort in a long time, and repeated that he had been with the campaign only a brief time, even though he was the campaign chairman.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And he made a reference to Manafort being a consultant and earning fees here and there, so a lot of interesting material here. Remarkable.
John Yang, thank you very much.
JOHN YANG: Thank you.