Can the Trump administration advance its agenda amid turmoil?

What effects are the Russia investigations and other well-publicized turmoil inside the White House having on the president's agenda? Gerald Seib of The Wall Street Journal and Christopher Ruddy of Newsmax Media join Judy Woodruff to discuss how the Trump administration is responding and how that compares to past administrations.

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    We return our focus to the White House, how the Trump administration is responding to mounting tensions, and how that compares to past administrations, with Gerald Seib, executive Washington editor for The Wall Street Journal. And Christopher Ruddy, he's the CEO of the conservative Newsmax media and a friend of President Trump.

    And welcome, both of you, to the program.

    Chris Ruddy, I'm going to start with you.

    You told The Wall Street Journal for their today's editions that right now the White House is in a what you call perpetual quagmire on side issues. What did you mean by that?


    Well, the side issues are things you have been talking about, Judy, and a lot of the other media on the Russia issue.

    Sometimes, the president's tweets cause some of those side issues. And they're not focusing on the — I think the big agenda items of the Trump administration that are very positive for him, such as his jobs programs and efforts there, the fact that he is getting China to open up its markets for the first time in 30 years to American businesses, incredible movement on making the country more secure.

    And those things are not being talked about, and they're focusing on personnel issues and other things that are not necessarily moving their agenda or making the president more popular.


    Jerry Seib, how do you see the state of affairs right now in the White House?

  • GERALD SEIB, The Wall Street Journal:

    Well, I think there is a danger at a time like this that the controversy, the scandal, the investigation swallows up to the rest of the agenda.

    And we saw this — I think back to the Reagan White House in the second term, the Iran-Contra scandal. You saw it, as well as I did. And there was a real danger that the whole second term could be swallowed up by that scandal, and so the White House moved.

    It brought in new blood. It brought in a new chief of staff, a new White House counsel, a new national security adviser. And, importantly, it set up an entire separate channel to handle the investigation, the scandal, the controversy, trying to wall off the rest of the agenda, so it wouldn't get consumed, and so the rest of the White House staff could work on things other than the scandal that seemed to be everywhere.

    It took a long while, and people who worked in that White House think they lost almost an entire year to the controversy, but eventually they figured out how to get some other things done. I think that's in many ways the challenge before the Trump White House right now.


    Chris Ruddy, you talk to this president on a regular …


    Well …


    Well, pick up on that, because I'm curious to know how the president is seeing this. Does he feel he's able to turn things around?


    Well, I always say Donald Trump moves in two parallel tracks at the same time.

    There's the controversial political guy that's always out there with his tweets. He comes from a showbiz background, as well as a very successful career in finance and real estate. He loves sometimes the controversy more than some people — the press thinks they're totally aggravating him.

    He sometimes thrives on the public controversy and the hitting back. Meanwhile, he's very results-oriented. He knows that the American people are going to judge him by his performance on the economy, on jobs, on national security.

    And on those things, Judy, he has been pushing forward relentlessly. I spoke to Steve Bannon today. And he said to me that they are — the morale in the administration is very high, that they're pushing forward on all these agenda items. They're not going to get bogged down on these investigations. And I think that's the important thing. And I think the president will keep his eye on the ball.


    Jerry Seib, if that's the case, is that coming across?


    Well, I don't think, at the moment it is. And there's a tendency at a time like this in the White House to think, well, the problem is the press or the problem is the leakers, and if we could just have a better communication strategy and get our message out, everything will be OK.

    And it's rarely that simple. I think one of the realities that I think past presidents have discovered at times like this is, the one thing you can't really do is stonewall the investigative process. You have to sort of let it play out. And, in fact, clearing the air is an important thing in the long run.

    In the short run, that's a very tough thing for any president to see. But I do think, right now — and this is why the next few weeks I think are really crucial — the way you look forward out of a rut like that is to show some forward momentum on your agenda in Washington.

    The problem right now is that, on health care and the budget and tax cuts, that doesn't look like it's going to be an easy thing to do. You need to put some wins on the board.


    Chris Ruddy, is that feasible?


    Well, let's start with one other — well, Gerald says stonewalling the investigative process.

    Where has the president stonewalled the investigative process? They're cooperating with Congress. He's never said for Congress — he's got majorities in the House and Senate. Never encouraged anybody to shut down investigation, never — even with the firing of Comey, he could have — the way you shut down that investigation was in the Justice Department. He knew that.

    He could have tried to shut down that investigation. There was never — he was upset that Comey was pursuing this, when people are making leaks of the most highly classified conversations our president can have with foreign leaders, and they're making them out of the intelligence community, and nobody wants to investigate that.

    And yet he feels, after six months of investigating Russia, they keep saying there's no evidence of collusion on this, but yet it keeps going on and on.

    So, I don't think he — there is any evidence that he's been trying to shut down these investigations. But, at the same time, I think he's frustrated that the media keeps focusing on them.


    But is it realistic, Jerry Seib — and I will come back to you, Chris Ruddy, on this — to expect that the media is just going to stand down while these investigations take place?


    Well, first, I wasn't saying that there had been stonewalling. I'm saying that's the temptation at a time like this. And I think past presidents have learned you have to avoid that temptation. So, I agree with Chris entirely on that.

    I think it's not realistic to think that the press is going to stand down. And this is going to be with us for a while. So I think the way you approach this is, you accept that there's going to be this distraction, but you can't make it — allow it to become an all-consuming distraction.

    And so you almost need a two-track strategy. And that's really the point I was trying to make.


    Chris Ruddy, is there — are there more staff …


    Well …


    Go ahead.


    No, you go ahead, Judy. I keep interrupting you.



    We're …


    This is my first time on your show, so I'm learning your tempo a little bit.


    Well, I'm curious to know, are there going to be, you expect, more staff changes? We saw the communications director leave today, or expected the leave after today.


    I think there will be.

    I don't think it's going to be wholesale. Like, sometimes, the press says, President Trump is going the make this wild, major shakeup. I don't — I think there will be changes. Again, let's go back to certain core facts here.

    This is a man that was never a politician, never in Washington. He brought in some fresh faces. He thought it was going to open up government. He realizes he needs more veteran, experienced hands. He's on a learning curve, I think a pretty fast one. He's brought in some very good people in the Cabinet. He's deferring to them on most of the major stuff, which is good.

    And he's brought in McMaster, who is excellent. And he's bringing in other people. And I think you see these changes over time. I think it will be very healthy for him. I think it's going to be good for the country as a whole. But I do think there will be additional changes coming down the pike.


    So, very quickly, if that's what they do, Jerry Seib, can that make a difference?


    I think it can, absolutely.

    And I think one of the things you have to remember is that Republicans on the Hill who control the House and the Senate, they're the ones who kind of have to take the next step at pushing the agenda forward. That's not all on Donald Trump. That's on Republican leadership in the House and the Senate as well.


    We are going to have to leave it there.

    Gentlemen, we look forward to having you back to discuss this and much more to follow.

    Jerry Seib, Chris Ruddy, thank you.

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