ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra, where we pick up online where we left off on the broadcast.
Joining me around the table, Kimberly Atkins of The Boston Herald, Seung Min Kim of The Washington Post, and Mark Landler of The New York Times.
President Trump travels to Brussels next week for the NATO summit and then heads to the U.K., the United Kingdom, for a working visit. The White House says the president’s trip to the U.K. is meant to strengthen the special relationship between the two countries. We’ll see about that. Mr. Trump’s travel abroad comes just weeks after an at times uneasy G-7 meeting in Canada and in the middle of a trade war with the European Union and China. The president will also meet one on one with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to administration officials. Seung Min, you’re flying over there right after the president makes his Supreme Court announcement on Monday. What is in your reporter’s notebook as you plan ahead for that trip? Not your hotels or anything like that – (laughter) – but what are you looking for from this president? Is it about trade? Is it about something else?
SEUNG MIN KIM: It’s going to be about so many different things. But I think the dynamics that you will see from Brussels and the NATO summit are going to be very similar to the dynamics we saw at the G-7 last month, where the president was feuding with people who are our traditional allies and then goes off to a foreign land to meet with leaders of what are our adversaries. So we are already seeing the president talk about whether other NATO member states are contributing enough. We’re seeing concerns about trade. You’re seeing warnings towards Germany because we’ve seen how much the president likes to kind of rankle Angela Merkel. And so I think that all those combined just set up what’s going to be quite the unpredictable trip next week.
MR. COSTA: Mark?
MARK LANDLER: I mean, one thing I’d add to this is that there’s always a hope that President Trump is going to behave differently and surprise people. But if you go back and look at the way he behaved at his first NATO summit, which I attended, a lot of administration officials assured us in the leadup to that summit, don’t worry, the president will ultimately have a unifying message – he’ll endorse Article 5, which of course is the alliance’s principle of mutual defense, and he will kind of soothe everybody’s nerves. When it happened, when he showed up at NATO’s new headquarters, not only did he not endorse Article 5, he came out with all guns blazing about how these countries needed to step and pay more, pay a greater share of the cost of defending the alliance. So I think that given that predicate and given where he was at the Quebec summit, it’s hard to imagine him coming in with a soothing message. The only thing I will say is this president never loses the capacity to surprise, so it is possible he could catch us a little bit off-guard.
In the Putin meeting, I think the big fear that a lot of people have is that Putin is a very skilled interlocutor. Some portion of this is going to be one on one, if not a large portion of it, and the prospect of the president alone with such a skilled operator has already gotten a lot of people afraid that, as he did in his summit in Singapore with Kim Jong-un, he might end up giving up quite a bit even if he comes out of the meeting, as he almost surely will, and claims victory.
KIMBERLY ATKINS: He’s definitely going to claim victory. He needs to come out with something to justify his two years of saying we really need to work with Russia, it will be better if Russia is our friend, as this Mueller investigation moves along. So he’s definitely going to come out claiming some victory, and what exactly it is will be another story. But I think the corollary to that, the concern about that one on one, is that there will be just the two of them and a translator. There will be no record, no stenographer, no nothing. And so, with this ongoing Mueller investigation and all of these questions about the potential ties between Russia and his campaign, what will be said, what will be done during that window will be like the 18 minutes of the tape in the Nixon days. (Laughter.) We won’t know what that is.
MR. COSTA: But Putin and Russia, they’re not the only people who are cozying up to President Trump ahead of this trip. It’s also the Brits. The Brits want this to work. Now, the president won’t be going to London, but he will be in the U.K. And why does Britain and Theresa May, the prime minister there – is it just because of the history of the special relationship, the military relationship between the two countries? Why do they want this to work so much in a way other countries may not be?
MS. KIM: That’s definitely what Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to the U.K., stressed to us on a call earlier today outlining the trip, that the United States and the U.K. do have this special relationship, this bond. And the president’s trip is to really underscore that bond. The president is going to get a hero’s welcome when he arrives. He has a lavish state dinner. He is seeing all the key sites. He is meeting her majesty the queen.
MR. COSTA: He will be in London, but just not saying overnight there.
MS. KIM: Correct. And, but which is such a stark contrast with what the government is rolling out for him, versus what we’re expected to see from the public. There are days of protests planned in London for the president’s visit. We’ve all seen photos of this giant blimp that’s supposed to fly over London in protest. So that contrast between what the public in London is expected to – or, how they’re expected to greet the president and how the government is expected to greet Trump, is quite striking.
MR. LANDLER: I’d make one point about your question about why is Britain so determined to make this work. Britain voted to leave the European Union. And when they did that, they left themselves deeply isolated. They basically need the United States desperately. They need some kind of a trade deal with the United States. And they need to avoid any rupture in this relationship. So I think Theresa May is in a terrible position where she has a president who’s difficult to deal with, who’s very antagonistic, but she doesn’t have any particular leverage. At least Macron in France and Angela Merkel in Germany still have the European Union behind them as they face off against President Trump. Theresa May is much more isolated. And I think that explains a lot of why the Brits are swallowing hard and determined to make this thing work.
MR. COSTA: When you think about the president has a new team as he heads to Europe. I mean, there’s a new secretary of state now. Mike Pompeo’s been very focused on North Korea. How have we seen this administration evolve in how it thinks through foreign policy in the last year?
MS. ATKINS: I think they’re trying to take a more serious and a more unified approach. It certainly was never a help to the president when he was sending out Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state, and no country could really trust what Rex Tillerson said as being – as him speaking for the United States, because often he wasn’t because he was at odds with the president. Of course, Secretary Pompeo and the president have a much closer relationship. And so that creates that sort of unity there. Mike Pompeo’s also a pretty good clean up artist. (Laughs.) We saw him going to North Korea, trying to figure out exactly what the president and Kim Jong-un did agree to, and hammer out some details there. He’s helpful to the president in that way that we did not see with Secretary Tillerson.
MR. COSTA: As you said, Mark, I’m sure we will be surprised at some point, regardless of what happens. (Laughter.)
That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. While you’re online, check out my blog post about past Supreme Court nominees who seemed ready to sail through the confirmation process, but didn’t make the bench. I’m Robert Costa. See you next time.