Do Americans care about Trump’s feud with the press?

It was a weekend of conflict over facts between the Trump administration and the news media. Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, Tamara Keith of NPR and Reuters’ Jeff Mason, president of the White House Correspondents' Association, join Judy Woodruff to discuss the president’s tense relationship with the press and more.

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    We take a deeper look now at the Trump administration's relationship with the press and the latest policy moves from President Trump in this week's Politics Monday, with our regulars, Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report. And we're joined tonight by Jeff Mason of Reuters. He's the current president of the White House Correspondents Association.

    And we welcome all three of you to the program.

    Jeff Mason, I'm going to start with you, since you're standing out there in the cold.



    You have been covering this White House for eight years. And I know there were contentious times during the Obama administration between the press and the president and the people around him, but how do you compare to what's happened in the last few days under President Trump?

  • JEFF MASON, Reuters:

    Well, it was certainly unusual on Saturday to have the president of the United States to talk about the media being the most dishonest people on Earth, and that followed up by the clip and the statement that you showed already by Sean Spicer in the Briefing Room.

    So, that is — I can't really think of anything that would compare to that during my time at the White House. That said, today, in the first full day at — first working day, I guess, this Monday, the press has had pretty decent access at the White House.

    There were several pool sprays in which we got to see the president do things and hear him make statements. And then Sean Spicer of course held his briefing and took questions for over an hour. So, those are positive steps.

    But the tension over the weekend was unusual, and certainly not how I expected to see them start.


    Tamara Keith, as somebody who has also covered the White House, is this all forgotten now because things went well today?


    No, not necessarily.

    I think that, when a trust is betrayed, that has to be rebuilt. And Sean Spicer came into the Briefing Room, stood at that podium and at that lectern and said things that were verifiably untrue. He apologized today at the briefing — or at least said that he doesn't intentionally want to say things that aren't true and that he wants to have a good relationship with the press.

    But it's a process that requires some restoration.


    Amy, as somebody who watches politicians and the press, because you have been — that's what you do for a living, how does this look from the outside? Are we making more of this than there is here? Because I know a lot of people in the media who are really upset about it.

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    I think that's a great question, Judy, because, look, the media loves to spend a lot of time talking about itself and do a lot of navel-gazing, which the general public isn't quite that interested in.

    They aren't really particularly concerned with whether our feelings are hurt or the things that we complain about. They have their own lives and their own jobs that are difficult as well.

    What they expect from us is to tell us what has happened, is to tell them what is happening and what isn't happening. And I think where the media has gotten itself in trouble, not just with the people who support Donald Trump, but just in the broader frame of reference — remember, they have an approval rating that's almost as low as Congress' approval rating — is the sense that they're much more interested in things like parsing words and getting into fights about little minutia, as opposed to stepping back and seeing what the big picture is.

    And that's where I would argue that the media needs to spend much more time going forward is, focusing on what we know, what we don't know and then moving on.


    So, Jeff Mason, that does put the press in a somewhat unsympathetic position, doesn't it?


    Yes, it's always kind of a tricky position to be in, when the press isn't super popular in this country either. And that is something that we have to take seriously.

    But, as I have been saying for the last few weeks, in light of some of this tension that we have had with the then incoming and now current administration, having some tension is normal, and it's our job to report the news, it's our job to report the news accurately and aggressively.

    And I think if the press corps continues to do that, then we will be on the right path.


    And, so, Tam, as the media, as all of us continue to look at the relationship with the press, there were some substantive things that happened at the White House over the last few days, these executive orders.

    What do they add up to? I interviewed Senator Schumer today. He was fairly dismissive of it. How did you read it?


    Well, first, one thing that happened at the White House today is that President Trump did things that a president does. He held meetings with people and looked presidential.

    He signed these three presidential memoranda, which is a perfectly normal and expected thing for a president to do when they come into office, including one that is related to funding of organizations that would perform abortion overseas.

    That is like a ping-pong. You know, President Reagan started it, and then President Clinton rolled it back, and then President Bush brought it back, and then President Obama rolled it back. And so there — these are, in some ways, expected things for a president to do.

    The memoranda on hiring freezes, that is not unheard of. And the TPP, that is sort of like, as a colleague of mine said, putting the tombstone in front of the grave that was dug about a year ago.


    So, Amy, how much of this — this is an administration that promised to come right out of the gate getting things done.


    That's right.

    And so right of the gate, well, the things that they said on the campaign trail, going to get rid of Obamacare, we're going to stop these trade deals, they started that by putting these executive orders in place.

    What we don't know is what that leads to, and especially on the Obamacare executive order. Nobody, the insurance industry, hospitals, doctors, the people who are signing people up for Obamacare, know exactly what that means.

    So, this is going to be a process that's put into place. But, overall, I think the Trump administration today did some substantive things, but we just don't know fundamentally where they go.

    The other thing that Donald Trump got in his favor today was the fact that you had three Republican senators who were looking like at one point they were holding out on their support for Rex Tillerson, secretary of state nominee, and all three came out and publicly supported him.

    That's a big victory for Donald Trump, because to come in, in your very first days in office, and have your own party sink a Cabinet nominee would have been a big blow.


    I want to come back to you just quickly, Jeff Mason.

    It was kind of a question that I asked John Yang, who was also at the White House today for us. And that is, does it feel like — I know it's only three or four days in, but does it feel like this Trump administration is getting its sea legs yet?



    I think they are still working on that. And I think they would probably say the same if they were standing here, if anyone from the administration were standing here.

    Certain things like speaking to the press over the loudspeaker are not working. They are telling us — giving us announcements that way now so that the pool knows when to gather. We are getting our daily guidance at night which shows what the president will be doing the next day.

    That's taken a couple of days to get into a rhythm. And that sort of applies to some other things, too. But they're getting there, in terms of figuring out how the White House works and how that relationship with the press works. And we're getting there, too. And it takes some adjustment on both sides.

    I guess the principle that I am continuing to push for and the Correspondents Association is continuing to push for is that we have access and that we are able to see and witness and chronicle what's going on.


    And all of that is very important.

    In the little bit of time we have left, Tam and Amy, I want to ask you about this — what little bit of information now has come out about President Trump and his business connections. Is there a sense that he's put a lot of that aside now and away and there aren't going to be that many more questions? Or how do you see that?


    Oh, I don't think that the questions are going to go away, because of the way that he's putting it aside.

    But NPR has gotten its hands on documents that show that he did transfer the title of president of his Trump Organization to his son. So that is something. But the good government people and ethicists and many concerned citizens have — this doesn't allay those concerns.

    And plus, again, over the weekend, they confirmed that they are not planning to release his tax returns any time soon.


    So, Amy, I come back to you for 20 seconds.

    How much does that matter to the electorate, to the American people?


    It matters if it matters.

    I think we have got to keep focused on the most important thing, as voters said going into this election. One, they wanted change. Two, they want their economic security to be better, their personal lives to be better.

    How and what he does that impacts those things are going to be very important. Obviously, these are issues that are going to continue to be surrounding him, but getting it back to what matters to voters is going to be the most important thing.


    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, Jeff Mason, thank you all.



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