SUZANNE MALVEAUX: Donald Trump lets the world know he’s going to be unlike any U.S. president before him. I’m Suzanne Malveaux. We examine a busy week of executive orders and a diplomatic showdown tonight on Washington Week.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) A nation without borders is not a nation. Beginning today, the United States of America gets back control of its borders, gets back its borders.
MS. MALVEAUX: After campaigning on the promise that Mexico would pay for a border wall, the Trump administration floats an alternative plan to impose a 20 percent tax on imports from our southern neighbors.
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: (From video.) By doing it that way, we can do $10 billion a year and easily pay for the wall just through that mechanism alone.
MS. MALVEAUX: But will Congress get behind a plan that would use taxpayer dollars to build the wall and tariffs to reimburse the cost?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: (From video.) We’ve been talking about this for a long time.
MS. MALVEAUX: With pen in hand, the president signed off on a bundle of executive orders, from exiting the TPP and reviving two pipelines to replacing the Affordable Care Act. But that progress was overshadowed by Mr. Trump’s repeated claims of voting irregularities in the election he won.
HOUSE MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): (From video.) I frankly feel very sad about the president making this claim. I felt sorry for him. I even prayed for him. But then I prayed for the United States of America.
MS. MALVEAUX: Joining me to discuss how Donald Trump may be redefining what it means to be a leader of the Free world, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker of The Washington Post, Indira Lakshmanan of The Boston Globe, and Jeff Zeleny of CNN. Stay with us. That’s next.
ANNOUNCER: This is Washington Week.
Once again, from Washington, Suzanne Malveaux of CNN.
MS. MALVEAUX: Good evening. What a week it has been. By any standard, it is fair to say this has been unlike any jumpstart of a presidency that we have ever seen. The frenetic pace alone challenged those around the country, around the world, and around this table to keep up.
President Trump ended his first week in office hosting British Prime Minister Theresa May at the White House, where he tried to disarm the room full of reporters with a little bit of humor.
QUESTION: (From video.) What do you say to our viewers at home who are worried about some of your views and worried about you becoming the leader of the free world?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: (From video.) This was your choice of a question? (Laughter.)
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: (From video.) Yes.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: (From video.) There goes that relationship. (Laughter.)
MS. MALVEAUX: We have covered Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama’s first weeks, but this week was different. I want to start with the press conference in the East Room. And, Indira, it lasted all of, what, 18 minutes or so, but it was very revealing. What did it show you about President Trump’s leadership and what Theresa May was trying to do, trying to set him up in that press conference?
INDIRA LAKSHMANAN: Well, first of all, I think that Donald Trump was much more presidential in that press conference than we’ve seen him at any other time this week, including I would say during the inauguration. He was very restrained. He seemed to be sticking to a script. He had all the specific talking points about the special relationship. The photo ops, the so-called optics were very careful, with them at the Winston Churchill bust. So, you know, he kept stressing how friendly they were, and they did seem to have a genuine rapport.
What I was most struck by was Theresa May actually trying to kind of hold Donald Trump accountable by saying, well, we spoke and he told me that he’s 100 percent behind NATO and the NATO alliance, and sort of saying that publicly and putting it out there, and also putting out there that her advice to him about Russia was not so dissimilar from Ronald Reagan’s “trust, but verify.” She was saying, you know, engage, but be careful. And I think those – you know, it seemed like they had a good rapport, actually.
MS. MALVEAUX: And Trump is not one to usually let people speak for him. That was very unusual, I thought. Ashley, tell me a little bit about, when you saw that press conference, how he framed things. Because it seemed like he talked about everything in terms of relationships and how he was getting something done.
ASHLEY PARKER: Yeah, exactly. I was so struck by how for Donald Trump the geopolitical is personal, and sort of every question and every issue that came up you really saw him put it in terms of himself and his personal relationship. So even when he was talking about the relationship he expected he might have with Vladimir Putin, he almost sounded like someone on maybe a blind date gone awry, where he said, you know, sometimes I expect to like people and I like them less – (laughter) – less than I expected. And, you know, when Brexit came up, he sort of said, well, I had a business dealing that went wrong with the European Union, and so you made the right decision breaking with them. And even on torture, he said I sort of support – I support enhanced interrogation, but I’m going to defer to my general, Secretary of Defense Mattis, and he said because, you know, he’s a general’s general. And we know that Trump really cares about people who look like they’re out of central casting. And so it was all about interpersonal relationships, more so than the policy.
MS. MALVEAUX: And was there anybody who saw the prime minister out of central casting, how she behaved, how she was able to kind of manipulate him a little bit, Robert?
ROBERT COSTA: What a strategic performance by the prime minister. She is operating in this position where it’s post-Brexit and she’s having to think about Britain’s role in the world. She knows she needs to cultivate a relationship with President Trump, and at the same time she’s seen Nigel Farage and a lot of her political opponents have a relationship with Trump. And you see her embracing Trump, warts and all. She is going to make – as Ashley was saying, it’s about a relationship, and she wants to make sure this relationship works. That came through today.
MS. MALVEAUX: And how did – how did it work inside that room, where you had the British reporter who threw out that question and it seemed that it – it didn’t disarm him; he actually used humor to get around that.
JEFF ZELENY: He did. And of course, the president had to be expecting that because, I mean, you know, there wasn’t anything out of left field. But I think I was so struck by he did stay on script in that moment. As you said earlier, he was presidential. He was in the East Room of the White House and the world was watching for the first time. We’ve had all these markers from new presidents, but – certainly his inauguration address. But I think today was the second one: standing next to a foreign leader. And I think you’re absolutely right about how she was embracing him, and he loved the photo op in the Oval Office. And they walked hand-in-hand on the Colonnade. So this was –
MS. MALVEAUX: Somewhat awkwardly holding hands.
MR. ZELENY: A little awkward, but he likes to hold hands and, you know, I thought it – I thought it worked fine. But more interestingly, it wasn’t the special relationship that was taking center stage, it was his real challenges with Mexico. He’d just gotten off the phone for an hour-long phone call with his first diplomatic really situation or stalemate. And also Russia, which – he has a phone call tomorrow with Vladimir Putin. So the Theresa May thing was the beginning of a relationship, but boy, he has other problems here and now, beginning with Mexico.
MS. MALVEAUX: And I think one of the things that happened, too, today was that we heard from the new U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, who really – she put the world on notice as well. Let’s take a listen.
U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. NIKKI HALEY: (From video.) Our goal with the administration is to show value at the U.N. And the way that we’ll show value is to show our strength, show our voice, have the backs of our allies, and make sure that our allies have our back as well. For those that don’t have our back, we’re taking names.
MS. MALVEAUX: That sounds to me a little bit like Trump. I mean, Ashley, what did you make of that new language that we heard?
MS. PARKER: Yeah, I mean, what I made is that Trump sort of chooses people who are – he either chooses people who are in his image or, if they’re not in his image, once he chooses them they quickly adopt a lot of his more brash and bold sort of flourishes. And I think that’s exactly what she was showing. And also, it was a little bit of what she said is what we saw in his executive orders, even just saying, you know, I’m coming in, I’m being bold, I’m doing this and, you know, I’m actually intending to govern the way I campaigned, which has surprised some people that Donald Trump is actually doing what he said he was going to do.
MS. MALVEAUX: And, Robert, what do you make of the fact that they are now saying that there is – there is a price to be paid here for the U.N., and also they expect things out of NATO as well? It’s not business as usual.
MR. COSTA: It was alarming for many of the hawks in Washington, people who thought now-Ambassador Haley, the former South Carolina governor, would be more of a traditional voice within the Trump administration, someone who would be an emissary to the world that wasn’t always speaking in Trump-style language. But as Ashley said, people really assimilate within Trump’s orbit to the Trump style, and what we’re seeing from her is someone who’s right there with Steve Bannon, the chief strategist at the White House, and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general – attorney general nominee. These are people who don’t really believe in international institutions, and if they are – they are going to take part in international institutions, they’re not going to put much faith in them.
MS. LAKSHMANAN: I have to say it kind of surprised me because it reminded me of George W. Bush saying you’re either with us or you’re against us after 9/11. But the difference with that is we had just had a national, you know, tragedy. And to say you’re with us or against us, it was jarring to people at the time and yet there was sort of a trigger for it. In this case, there’s no trigger for her saying if you’re not with us we’re taking your name down. And that was really surprising, particularly because in South Carolina as governor she’s worked across the aisle, she’s been, you know, someone who Democrats have actually liked to work with. It was – it was surprising and not exactly as diplomatic as one might have expected.
MS. MALVEAUX: So that’s interesting because you say there was a war, right? I mean, we were – we were in the midst of a war when he said those lines. Often it was used to bring people into the fold after 9/11. Do you think – Jeff, do you think that people see us at war with them, with the other leaders? I mean, is that the perception?
MR. ZELENY: I don’t think yet, but I think the world is trying to figure out Donald Trump. As much as America is, the world is as well. You know, and his whole “American first” agenda is a little worrisome, but the prime minister, I think that’s why she actually had a pretty genius visit here. I mean, she was expressing the president’s support for NATO. She said, you know, and we confirmed his 100 percent support for it. He never said that, but she said it to get it on the record. So I do not think we are at war, certainly not in the way, you know, of post-9/11. Not at all. I mean, we remember those dark days. We covered them together. I think that it is different now. But the challenges are, you know, in many ways more severe. But the world is trying to figure out Donald Trump, without question.
MR. COSTA: It’s kind of a war, almost, against global order as-is. I mean, we always think about the Davos man, this globetrotting international banker or an international bureaucrat. Trump is running against an order that had been established in both the Democratic and Republican Parties, and he’s cracking it apart.
MR. ZELENY: He’s disrupting it. He’s a disruptor, but we’re not quite sure in what way.
MS. MALVEAUX: Disruptor in chief, we know, Indira.
MS. LAKSHMANAN: To make it seem like the Davos thing, I mean, it’s not just, though, that some – there’s some elite order that he’s attacking. This is the liberal international world order post-World War II that for 70 years has kept us safe. The Democrats and Republicans have agreed on certain institutions, like NATO, to support us. So to sort of be backing away from the liberal world order is certainly worrying people. I talked this week to the former Belgian prime minister who’s now the chief EU parliamentarian who will be negotiating Brexit, and he told me that across Europe people are very concerned about what Donald Trump is going to do to perhaps undermine press freedoms or other kinds of freedoms that are part of the world order.
MS. MALVEAUX: And let’s talk a little bit about the late-breaking news that we had – that we had heard. And, Jeff, I understand that you actually had a chance to see this last executive order that he had issued, and this was one of extreme vetting, coming from predominantly Muslim countries. But also we heard something new, and that was about Christians and where they might stand in terms of their status in getting into the United States.
MR. ZELENY: Exactly. You know, we’ve – we’re at the end of only week one. It seems like it’s a lot longer than that. (Laughter.) There was a flurry of executive orders, executive actions, memorandum. And it was clear that this president likes to sign things and show them. But the – really the ones with teeth are the executive orders that were just released this evening, on Friday evening. And it is a campaign pledge that he’s carrying out on extreme vetting. And it is essentially blocking the refugees coming from Syria and Iraq, and then it is also suspending temporarily – for 90 days, I believe – people coming from seven countries. So he said in an interview that Christians will be to the front of the line. But these are all, not surprisingly, majority Muslim countries here. So that is what he’s talking about.
The question here –
MS. MALVEAUX: And that’s restricting for 100 days or so, is that –
MR. ZELENY: Exactly. And the waiver program here is also sort of central to this. But we are still actually poring through these documents because he signed them in the afternoon at the Pentagon. And the White House took several hours to release them. And this is complicated stuff. So Democrats are piling on. Some Republicans are uncomfortable. But of all the executive orders released, a lot of fine print in here which really affects immigration. So this is a serious thing he signed at the end of the week. And he has the authority to do it.
MS. PARKER: And just from a more process side, I mean, you mentioned that he signed this this afternoon, and we just got this executive order – the text of it – it came out, I believe, around 7:02 this evening, 7:02 on a Friday evening. And that reflects sort of the way the Trump White House is operating, which is incredibly chaotically. And these executive orders are getting drafted – ordered up based on a conversation he has with a union worker or a business executive. His aides are working overnight and scrambling. And he’s sort of signing – they’re getting written right until he signs them. And that’s why the White House is having this difficulty sort of rolling them out in a way that makes sense.
MS. MALVEAUX: Sure. I want to bring up – I want to make sure that we get this. This is, of course, a very public spat between Trump and Mexico’s president over who’s going to pay for this wall, the nasty Twitter exchange between them and this cancelled trip. And, Robert, I know that you have some inside information on that phone call that took place, because I’m sure that Trump didn’t really anticipate or expect that the president was going to say, ah, forget it, you know, I’m not coming.
MR. COSTA: Well, when the cameras are off and the lights are off, there’s a different Donald Trump – a different President Trump in this White House. And based on my reporting, my sources tell me that this was an extended call. And it was actually quite reflective of the dynamic that Trump encountered when he first went to Mexico during the campaign. He knows that he’s in the beginning of a negotiation about the border wall. But even as he has this public drama with President Pena Nieto, he has to have a long, extended discussion about what can he actually do on trade, possible tariffs, to make sure some funding comes in from Mexico, even if it’s indirect, to help fund this project.
MS. LAKSHMANAN: I have a couple points on the substance of this. And I think, you know, there’s so much flourish that’s going on with Donald Trump’s first week that I don’t want us to forget the sort of nuts and bolts of all this, which is he keeps talking about Mexico trade and the Mexicans have gotten an unfair deal over us, and all this. In fact, 5 million U.S. jobs depend on Mexican trade. In fact, Mexico is the third-biggest supplier of goods to the U.S. and the second-biggest export destination for American goods.
And were we to suddenly slap a 20 percent tax onto Mexican goods, not only would everything become more expensive at places like Target and Walmart where a lot of Americans shop, I think people would be quite shocked about that. So I think – I hope that he thinks through some of these things, or that someone on his policy team talks to him a little bit more. You can say that a trade deficit sounds bad, but the actual reality of our trade with Mexico has overall been good. And the jobs that have gone away have largely gone away because of automation, not because of trade.
MR. ZELENY: And this is why the actual fight is not just between the U.S. and Mexico. It’s going to be with the White House and Capitol Hill, because they have to pay for that wall. Fifteen billion dollars is the price tag. Some House Republicans like the idea of this – of this 20 percent tax that the White House sort of floated and endorsed. Most do not. So –
MS. LAKSHMANAN: Like Lindsey Graham, with his tweet about Corona.
MS. MALVEAUX: Well, can we talk about the tweet here? This is what he tweeted earlier. He put – he said, “Simply put, any policy proposal which drives up costs of Corona, tequila, or margaritas is a big-time bad idea. Mucho Sad.”
MS. LAKSHMANAN: Mucho sad. (Laughter.) I like that.
MS. MALVEAUX: I think people are doing a little drinking here.
MS. LAKSHMANAN: He’s speaking the president’s language.
MS. MALVEAUX: Yes.
MS. LAKSHMANAN: I mean, in a way maybe that’s a way of communicating with Donald Trump. Not to mention, I hear 80 percent of limes in the U.S. are imported from Mexico too.
MR. COSTA: A lot of these congressional Republicans were in Philadelphia over the last few days. And privately, a lot of them are telling me they don’t like this governing by executive order. It was one of the chief criticisms they made of President Obama. And now, as Jeff said, there’s this flurry coming out of all these different things. Eventually they say, hey, give Congress some power back.
MS. MALVEAUX: Well, wasn’t there a tape that was leaked from their meeting about the Affordable Care Act? And they did not appreciate what was – talk about that a little bit.
MR. COSTA: One of the congressmen said on this tape – it was a tape about what happened at this retreat on Thursday – they said: We can’t – we have to come up with a replacement for the Affordable Care Act or else it’s going to be Trumpcare – that’s how one congressman put it – and we’ll own it in the 2018 midterms. And there’s still a lot of confusion among Republicans about what do they actually do here on health care? What do they leave in place? Do they have to actually pull it out by root and branch, the term they often use?
MS. MALVEAUX: And, Ashley, talk about Trump supporters here, because you wrote a really good piece. And it was very interesting that nobody should be surprised by this week, although we are a little bit kind of spinning around here just trying to keep up the dizzying pace. But that people look at this and they say, why – you know, why would you be surprised?
MS. PARKER: Sure. So one of the best lines, I think we all thought, that came out of the campaign was that the media took Trump literally but not seriously, and Trump supporters took him seriously but not literally. And what we’ve realized in this first week is that everyone should be taking him both literally and seriously, because his executive orders, while he may not – as Bob said – while you need some congressional action and heft behind them, I mean, he is coming in and doing everything he said he was going to do.
And also in terms of his supporters, he had this sort of mixed week, where he hit all of his key messages from the campaign on jobs, on immigration, on trade. But he overstepped and overshadowed his message by sort of these distractions on the crowd size of his inauguration and making these fabricated claims on voter fraud. But one thing, in talking to Republican pollsters, they said his voters are going to give him an incredible amount of leeway and latitude to get stuff done before they get upset. So he could probably have they said as much as two or three years. And if he doesn’t do everything he accomplishes they may say, well, at least we got the wall. We wish Mexico had paid. But they’re willing at least to start –
MS. MALVEAUX: But we got something.
MS. PARKER: Yeah.
MS. MALVEAUX: And how big a problem do you guys think it was, the fact that he did promise this investigation into this alleged voter fraud, and that now – you know, I’m sure Republicans are looking at this and looking at the numbers of what this is going to potentially cost the taxpayers.
MR. ZELENY: I think it was a big mistake that was not supposed to happen this week. I mean, you could – he was talking to congressional leaders on Monday evening and he talked about the election fraud. And then it kind of – I was in that White House press briefing on Tuesday, where Sean Spicer was asked repeated: Does the president of the United States really believe that there were 3 to 5 million votes illegally cast here? That would, you know, question democracy. He said, yes, probably no investigation. The next morning a tweet came out, we’re going to investigate. So, in some respects, his conspiracy theories – the president’s that is – have now become more reality, because the weight of the White House is behind them.
So as we sit here tonight he’s still not signed an executive order on voter fraud. I’m told he could do it this weekend or early next week. He’s still going to. But no Republican, including Senator Mitch McConnell – he said in an interview with National Journal he thinks it’s a waste of time, a waste of money. They want to move on. But the president is not letting it go.
MS. MALVEAUX: But, Jeff, you were – also, I mean, they were on the cusp of doing something, right? You were there at the White House waiting with the pool.
MR. ZELENY: Right. They were supposed to sign an executive order, again, on election fraud on Thursday evening. It didn’t happen. We were all sort of standing around and gathered. We had just flown back from Philadelphia. And something changed. Something happened. So it’s typical – you know, an opening week at the White House. These people are working very hard trying to figure it out. It’s like any new job, it takes a while to settle in. (Laughter.) But this has consequences. But the executive order, what you said earlier, Congress is not going to put up with this that much longer. Congress is here to legislate. He’s supposed to sign bills into law, not executive orders.
MS. LAKSHMANAN: Well, I wonder whether part of it is also the concern about this voter fraud thing. He’s complaining about people being registered in two states. Supposedly his own son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and one of his daughters are registered in two states.
MR. ZELENY: But they would say that that explains the problem, though.
MS. LAKSHMANAN: Not to mention Steve Bannon.
MS. MALVEAUX: Right. Yeah. Well, let’s talk a little bit about Putin and Russia, because obviously there’s going to be a very important call taking place on Saturday. And I wonder what will come of that, in light of the fact that there has been so much of this back and forth and this public posturing. What do we make of that conversation?
MR. COSTA: Well, of course, there’s a long-standing affection in a sense, politically, for Russia on the Trump side, in the Trump White House. But it’s fascinating to think that this call is coming the day after the British prime minister was talking to Trump. And she was reiterating to him the importance of Western Europe, of NATO, of these different alliances that have been longstanding since World War II. And now he gets on the phone with Putin, who’s really trying to rethink all of Western Europe and have more of a Russian imprint on all of global affairs. And how Trump moves on this is going to be one of the central tensions of his presidency.
MS. LAKSHMANAN: And we need to look for the Kremlin readout of that call. Remember last time when they spoke after the election, it was the Kremlin that put out a readout before Trump’s team did, during the transition. And it’ll be interesting to see how they play it, to see whether he has flexibility on sanctions.
MS. MALVEAUX: Sure. And finally, you know, we know that Trump has declared a war on the media. We heard from Steve Bannon saying that we are the opposition party, officially now. But he also told the media to shut their mouths. And on the one hand, you hear this kind of harsh rhetoric. But then I’m sitting around this table and you guys get all these little juicy tidbits from those Trump people, from those inner circles. How do you explain that? What’s happening?
MS. PARKER: Well, one thing that’s happening is Donald Trump’s management style, which is sort of competing centers of power all vying for his brain, basically. And as you know, competing centers of power and tension and friction – while Donald Trump may think, and he may be right, it may lead to good deals and business and even some good policies and ideas out of the White House, it also leads to a lot of leaks because you have everyone desperately trying to undermine everyone else. And that can be good for journalists. (Laughs.)
MR. ZELENY: Steve Bannon said the media should shut up. But he also said in that same sentence they should listen more. And I think he’s absolutely right about that. I think we should listen more. We didn’t necessarily see this election coming. So the shut up thing – OK, we’re not going to shut up, obviously. But I think we should listen more to what America’s doing. But they should too listen more to what their voters are saying and, you know, if he’s going to be able to sort of keep them motivated and alive.
MS. MALVEAUX: And, Indira, how does this resonate with you, in your experience overseas?
MS. LAKSHMANAN: Well, right. Having been a longtime foreign correspondent and having worked in countries like China and Cuba, I get a little bit nervous when I hear people say, you know, the media should keep its mouth shut or talk about alternative facts. That’s not the kind of stuff we’re used to hearing in a democracy. But I think that this is just a call to action for all of us as journalists to keep up our role as a watchdog press, look for facts, not allow alternative facts to be put out there. And they have every right to push back against unfair coverage, but we have every right to insist on the truth.
MR. COSTA: I’ve covered Bannon for nearly a decade. And the one thing I took away from this interview he did with The New York Times is he wants this fight. He wants to have a confrontational relationship with the media for political purposes. It helps him with Trump’s base to have a foe that he can point to. And especially if the Democrats are disorganized and incoherent on certain fronts, he can say: The media, that’s our enemy. That’s why we can’t get things done.
MS. LAKSHMANAN: But the truth shouldn’t be the enemy.
MR. COSTA: Of course. Of course.
MS. MALVEAUX: All right, we got to leave it there, guys. Thank you, everybody. Really appreciate it. Our conversation continues online with the Washington Week Extra. We’ll tell you who made the short list of candidates President Trump is considering for the Supreme Court. Plus, a closer look at the recent march on Washington and Friday’s March for Life. You can find that Friday nights after 10:00 p.m. at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek.
I’m Suzanne Malveaux. Thank you for joining us. Have a great weekend.