Is White House drama hurting Trump’s agenda?


JUDY WOODRUFF: From this afternoon's Washington Post story that President Trump may have shared classified information with the Russians, to his firing of James Comey almost a week ago, we look at what all this means for the future of the Trump administration's agenda with our Politics Monday team, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

And welcome to both of you.

So, it looked as if today, Amy, the White House was trying to project an air of calm, trying to tamp everything down, the aftermath of the hurrah, hoopla over the firing of the FBI director, but then late this afternoon this report coming from The Washington Post, it's now confirmed by The New York Times, by the Reuters news service, Tam. And we're hearing BuzzFeed and other organizations.

We're also hearing, as we sit here, that the White House is gathering the national security adviser to go out and talk to the press about it.

But it just seems as if, Amy, this White House is having a hard time keeping news and bad news under control.

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: That's right.

And for the first time this week, this didn't come from the president himself. Remember, a lot of the damage that was done over the course of last week and into the weekend were his own tweets. In this case, it's people leaking information about this president's conversation with the Russians that have gotten him into hot water and the administration into hot water.

And it goes really to the fundamental question here, which is, who is driving the train at that White House? There is no focus, there's no strategy. There is — it seems to me we go day to day without a bigger, broader, you know, comprehensive strategy and messaging and discipline.

And that was how Donald Trump ran his campaign. That was how he ran his businesses. Running the government like this is proving to be much more difficult.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Tam, a lot of this seems to have to do with the White House staff and whether they are pleasing the president, whether they are doing the job they're supposed to do.

There were reports over the weekend of maybe a shakeup of staff, people were going to be fired. And then, in my interview earlier in the program with Greg Jaffe of The Washington Post, he said, typically, it's staff who brief the president before they meet with someone like a foreign minister and an ambassador.

So, the staff is a big part of the focus here.

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: But, by all accounts, the staff has been briefing the president, and the president plays it by the field.

He just — he does what feels right in the moment. He has talked about this, that he's flexible, that he improvises. And it's hard to build a communication strategy around improvisation.

I mean, what we saw last week, with the White House coming out with talking points, the vice president repeating those talking points repeatedly, and then the president of the United States going on television and directly contradicting the talking points and the vice president.

And maybe what the vice president said was more true than what all of the others were saying, but it creates this cloud that just hangs over the administration.

And now you have H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, coming out to brief the press, to push back on this Washington Post story. Well, you know, last week, they came out and they pushed a narrative, and then the president contradicted it.

What's going to happen this week?

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we don't know.


And this is happening, of course, as the president is getting ready to go overseas on his first international trip to some of our most important allies, Saudi Arabia, Israel. So, this is obviously going to be on the minds of the people that he's going to visit. When you're talking about potentially sharing classified information with an adversary, what are our allies going to be thinking about this?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, and we're watching as comments from the senator — United States senators coming in on both sides of the political aisle.


JUDY WOODRUFF: We saw Senator John Warner saying something to the effect, this is troubling.

We saw Senator John McCain saying, if it's true, it would be very concerning.

Republicans, to both of you, they're not embracing — not all of them are embracing the way this White House has handled the FBI story either.

TAMARA KEITH: That's correct.

I was talking to a Republican senator last week who wanted more details, wanted more information about the timing. You see a lot of Republicans in Congress saying, I need more information, we need more details.

On the Comey thing, they are going to get a briefing this week by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. But many of the reactions to this, this latest story are, well, we want to know what's really happening, we want to hear from the administration.

That is maybe a bit of teensy-weensy bit of distancing themselves from the administration, but that is not…

AMY WALTER: But it's not.

TAMARA KEITH: But not really, no.



AMY WALTER: We have not seen — yes, we have not seen — there is no sort of bottom dropping out. You don't see an en masse refusal of Republicans to support this administration or to call for the president to do something different.

I think a lot of what you're seeing is the fact that the Republican base voters still united around this president. This NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that came out this week, I think came out yesterday, support, approval rating among people who voted for Trump 87 percent, among Republicans in general, 82 percent.

The number that should worry Republicans, though, especially those who sit in swing states, swing districts is this; 35 percent of independents give him a positive approval rating, only 35 percent. That is a danger number.

But for most of these Republicans, as we know, they sit in Republican districts. Only 23 House members sit in a district that Hillary Clinton carried. Very few senators up in this next election sit in a state Hillary Clinton carried. Only one, in fact, does. That's some of their calculation, too.

The bottom hasn't dropped outs on Trump among his own voters. Republicans now sort of sitting and waiting to see how much longer they can wait before they have to do something.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, meanwhile, Tam, there is the agenda that the president had been talking about, overhauling health care, coming up with a health care replacement. That is still in motion. Tax reform. You go down the list.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, and those things were stalling a little bit, or they were going to take some time. So nobody's talking about them now. Nobody's looking at the minutia of — Republicans senators are continuing to meet, Republicans senators continuing to meet to talk about health care reform or to talk about how they'd repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

But it's happening at a very low simmer, very much out of view. And it is this remarkable thing. The president is about to leave the country to go overseas to meet with all these allies. And I'm going on that trip. It's unclear to me whether I'm going to be reporting on what the president is doing overseas or whether I will be reporting on the continued kerfuffle and drama that has been coming out of this White House.

AMY WALTER: Can I make one more point?


AMY WALTER: Do we have time?

But the one thing I also want to say about this agenda is, the problem is not simply that this is distracting him from pushing an agenda forward. The problem is that the agenda itself is not particularly popular.

The health care bill that the House passed, and you look at all the polls that have been released since it's passed, at best, it gets an approval rating somewhere in the 30s. This NBC poll, 48 percent said they thought it was bad, only 23 percent good. That's as bad as any poll they took when Obamacare, at its lowest, was polling.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. A lot to consider here, and it keeps on coming.


Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, we thank you both.

TAMARA KEITH: Thank you.

AMY WALTER: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Tamara, safe travels.

TAMARA KEITH: Thank you.

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