ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra.
We were talking on the show about America’s role on the world stage as President Trump meets with leaders at the G-20 summit in Europe. But how do people in Europe view this new American president? Doyle just returned from a trip to Italy. And, Doyle, what did you hear?
DOYLE MCMANUS: Well, Bob, I went on what was supposed to be a nice, restful two-week vacation. (Laughter.) I wasn’t going to have to think about the Trump administration.
MR. COSTA: You’re always going to be a reporter, Doyle. Always a reporter.
MR. MCMANUS: And, no, it wasn’t me; people I met, people I knew, they all wanted to say, so, what’s up with Donald Trump, what’s the deal here. And there were a couple of interesting takeaways. One was the level of the European obsession with Donald Trump. There was a range of opinions. There were people who were more or less sympathetic to Trump, a lot of people who think Trump is crazy and scary. But, boy, did they seem to know all the details. I was – I got a question from an Italian lady about, so, tell me about the son-in-law, is he as powerful as they say? A question from a British friend, who said, so, did Melania really move into the White House and is she going to stay there? They are watching our soap opera very, very closely. That’s number one.
Number two – and this is the substantive part – they’re rattled. They’re worried. They are used, Europeans, for 50, 60 years, of thinking of the United States and the president of the United States as the great stabilizer of world politics. Donald Trump isn’t a stabilizer; he’s a disrupter. And that scares them because they don’t know how anything’s going to turn out.
But they do know that Europe can’t fill that role. Even Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, with all of her power and all her prestige, I have some German friends, and they said it would be nice if Angela Merkel could do it, but she can’t. And that’s the final – third and final point.
The funniest thing I ran into was nostalgia. They miss the days when the United States was the number one superpower in Europe, throwing its weight around, telling people what to do, coordinating meetings. They used to complain about it all the time, but now they –
MR. COSTA: Well, it’s still throwing its weight around.
MR. MCMANUS: Still throwing its weight around, but –
MR. COSTA: Different kind of –
MR. MCMANUS: Exactly. But they’d take the old United States back.
MR. COSTA: Did you sense, though, any of this rise of nationalism in Europe as corresponding to what’s happening in America with Trump and his nationalist project?
MR. MCMANUS: Actually, the funny thing is the last couple of elections in Europe – the British election, the French election, the Dutch election, and actually the last Austrian election – the nationalists all lost. And there are a number of Europeans who will say, you know what that is? That’s the Trump effect. He’s scared us so much it’s swinging away from the nationalists.
MR. COSTA: Has anyone else been to Europe recently? (Laughter.) If only.
MR. MCMANUS: The summer is still young. (Laughter.)
NANCY YOUSSEF: I went to India and I met a guy who didn’t speak English, and he just went “Trump?” That was the only word he could get out when I – when he found out I was an American.
MR. COSTA: I liked how you put it, the American soap opera. I mean, it is – the parts are ever-moving, ever-changing, and it plays out on the afternoon stage usually in the White House press briefing room.
To another topic. President Trump’s very public stance against trade deals and his decision to remove the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership left a vacuum on the world stage. And this week, in the shadow of the G-20 summit, the European Union and Japan announced a major pact that will impact nearly 30 percent of the global economy. That’s roughly the size of NAFTA, another agreement Trump wants to renegotiate. What message are Japan and the EU trying to send to the United States with this agreement, Yeganeh?
YEGANEH TORBATI: Well, the message really is that although the U.S. may be taking sort of this protectionist stance, the rest of the world is moving forward and they want to – they believe in a globally integrated economy. And so now we’re seeing this huge deal between Japan and the EU. It means that basically the barriers to trade between those two entities of all different kinds of goods is going to be – those barriers are going to come down. That benefits Japanese cars. It also benefits, you know, European agricultural goods. And what’s a country that produces both a lot of cars and agricultural goods? It’s America. And that means that those – U.S. farmers, U.S. car manufacturers could, you know, in 10 to 15 years, really see themselves being disadvantaged in both the European and the Japanese markets. And this is the kind of story that maybe right now this week, because of everything else going on, there’s not a lot of attention to, but in 10, 15 years we may look back and see that as like the real seminal moment of this week.
MR. COSTA: Peter, any thoughts on the news stories on trade in Europe?
PETER BAKER: Yeah, I think, you know, this is the one core area that Donald Trump really believes in, right? He’s flexible on a lot of different policies. He’s not wedded to one way or another on replacing health care, for instance. But trade, this idea that America has been getting the shaft, it is central to his identity going back to the ’80s. And I think that the rest of the world, in fact, has taken measure of him and realizes that he’s not, in fact, kidding about this stuff, and they are going to look for other means around him.
MR. COSTA: It’s interesting, though, Yeganeh, that President Trump is trying to warm relations with Japan even as Japan makes its own deals with the EU. He’s struck up a relationship with Abe and others there.
MS. TORBATI: Right. I don’t think, you know, this is intended by the Japanese as sort of a personal affront to President Trump. It’s more that they feel like they’re looking out for their own long-term economic self-interests. And they see that as being more closely knitted together with this huge market of the European Union, rather than sort of trying to make these one-on-one trade deals, which is what President Trump seems to want to do.
MR. COSTA: We also learned this week that one career government official who hasn’t been afraid to criticize President Trump will step down later this month. Walter Shaub has worked for the Office of Government Ethics under both Presidents Bush and Obama. He’s been the director since 2013. His public clashes with Mr. Trump have been well documented. He’s chided the president for failing to divest from his real estate holdings and he urged the administration to discipline advisor Kellyanne Conway for endorsing Ivanka Trump’s clothing during a television appearance. He’ll probably still be a vocal critic from his new perch at a nonprofit that pushes for more transparency in voting laws. But what does it mean when the nation’s ethic watchdog steps away, Peter?
MR. BAKER: Well, it’s certainly a relief, I think, to the Trump White House, which has considered him to something of a nuisance all along. He doesn’t have a lot of power. It’s not an office that’s a giant in the Washington firmament. Most Americans probably didn’t even realize it existed. But it was created in the aftermath of Watergate to try to, you know, help clean up some of the problems that had grown to that point. Walter Shaub made no secret of his opinion about the way the Trump White House had acted. And that’s unusual. I think to be as public, to be as visible, to be as almost aggressive as he was – he went on Twitter, just like the president did – was unusual, especially for somebody who’s seen in this kind of low-key way.
But he said, look, I’ve accomplished what I can accomplish and I can’t probably do a whole lot more. He has this other job opportunity. His term would have ended next January. He almost certainly was not going to get a reappointment from President Trump. And so he decided to leave. This now leaves the office open to an appointment from the president. It’s possible the president could simply leave an acting director in place. That might have a way of actually minimizing its influence, because an acting person is never seen as important as a fully appointed director. But no question, this has been a thorn in the president’s side. And I think for him, he’s probably glad that it’s going away.
MR. COSTA: Is a thorn in his side politically, Doyle, this ethics cloud that sometimes hangs over the administration because of his business enterprise?
MR. MCMANUS: Oh, absolutely. And it’s a thorn in his side because there are lots of outside groups, whether Walter Shaub is there or not, who want to press it. There are outside plaintiffs bringing lawsuits. There are state attorneys general – especially in Democratic states – who are bringing lawsuits. So that’s not going to go away. He may actually want someone in the job – Peter may be right – someone very low profile. Is this a confirmable position? Because those would be great confirmation hearings.
MR. BAKER: Yeah, it’s a good question. I think it is, but honestly I’d have to double check that.
MR. COSTA: It is. It is.
MR. BAKER: Yeah, it is.
MR. COSTA: We’ll have to see. And we’ll finish with a change in policy at the Pentagon. United States has been fighting in Afghanistan for the past 16 years, and there’s no end in sight. Nearly 10,000 U.S. troops remain on the ground. And in the years since September 11th, more than 2,300 U.S. servicemembers have been killed while serving in Afghanistan. But the Pentagon will now wait days to report any death of U.S. troops. It’s a perplexing policy, Nancy. What led to it?
MS. YOUSSEF: Well, as you’ve seen, under the Trump administration generals have had more authority and independence. And General John Nicholson, who is in charge of the war in Afghanistan, decided that too much information was getting out early on. So he said that we’re not going to release any information until the family’s been notified – 24 hours after the family’s been notified. So practically speaking, that means we’ll only hear about troop deaths two days at least until – after a servicemember is killed.
It’s a – it’s a fundamental change. And we now lose the inability – we lose sight in real time about what’s happening on this war. I think so many times we talk about America’s forgotten war. If you have to wait two days to learn about it, it just – it just dulls our ability to understand what’s happening, at a time when the Trump administration is talking about sending upwards of 4,000 more troops, in a war that general – that generals have said you can’t put a timeline on. So there really is no end in sight, and now we have less transparency on how it’s being fought and how Americans are losing their lives there.
MR. COSTA: What’s the reaction within the press corps at the Pentagon? Do they – do they – will they go along with this policy or will they continue to push for the names? It’s a delicate issue.
MS. YOUSSEF: It is a delicate issue. There was a discussion about it at the press briefing this week about it, a rather heated one. I think practically speaking we’re headed towards a scenario where we’re going to hear about U.S. troop deaths from the Afghans. Last month, when three troops were killed by an Afghan troop, it didn’t come from the U.S. military first. It came from the Afghans. And that’s a disheartening thing to hear, because at the minimum Americans should be hearing about American deaths from their military.
MR. COSTA: Tough topic. We salute all those who serve and we’ll leave it there.
That’s the – that’s it for this edition of Washington Week Extra. While you’re online, take the Washington Week-ly News Quiz and check out my take on the challenges facing Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as Congress returns from recess and he tries to pass the Republican health care bill.
For now, I’m Robert Costa, and we’ll see you next time.