ROBERT COSTA: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I’m Robert Costa.
Joining me at the table, Kimberly Atkins, senior news correspondent for WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station; Josh Dawsey, White House reporter for The Washington Post; Susan Davis, congressional correspondent for NPR; and Carl Hulse, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times.
President Trump was in London this week for a NATO meeting. A frequent critic of the alliance, he defended the group.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) And I heard that President Macron said NATO is brain dead. But I was very surprised. You just can’t go around making statements like that about NATO. It’s very disrespectful.
MR. COSTA: The French president then challenged President Trump.
FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (From video.) I know that my statements created some reactions and shake a little bit a lot of people. I do stand by it. When we speak about NATO, it’s not just about money. We have to be respectful.
MR. COSTA: And then video surfaced of several world leaders talking about President Trump.
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: (From video.) Is that why you were late?
FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (From video.) (Inaudible.)
CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: (From video.) He was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top every time. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, 40 minutes. He announced. I just watched – I watched his team’s jaws just drop to the floor.
MR. COSTA: After that video emerged, the U.S. entourage and President Trump left the summit early.
Josh, they left early. Do they feel like they accomplished what they wanted to in terms of pushing around some of the U.S. allies over there on trade? Or was the video the overshadowing thing?
JOSH DAWSEY: The president was annoyed at the video, if you talk to people around him. And he did not like the idea these leaders would get together and laughing at him. But he also, you know, goes over, he does marathon press conferences the whole time he’s there. He dominates the message. And he, you know, is haranguing these countries. He’s going after them about contributing 2 percent. He’s gotten a lot of them to pay more, as the NATO secretary general said. And he believes he has a message of kind of pugilistic behavior. Obviously a lot of – that’s helped the United States, right? Obviously a lot of these other world leaders do not like him that much. They clearly have distain for some of his tactics and his methods and the way he does business. But I think for the president he had, you know, a lot of time to tout his own messages. And besides being laughed at, it’s not the worst trip for him in the world.
MR. COSTA: We’re seeing, Sue, President Macron of France assert himself, saying France wants to help lead. He wants to see Europe lead. That exchange was fascinating in terms of showing how Europe, amid a nationalist presidency across the pond, is changing its calculation in terms of diplomacy and its own role.
SUSAN DAVIS: Yeah, you also see the sort of, like, Trump effect into the global stage too, of world leaders posturing. And Macron’s posturing of, like, the no more Mr. Nice Guy attitude among the global leaders as they sit around now. Like the Trump effect of changing the dynamics at this table that had once long been so cushy and so seemingly like they all got along, has been a really fascinating thing to see. And I think this story’s such a fascinating one because it’s such a story of the Trump administration, where, like, on the substance it wasn’t actually a bad trip for the president or for NATO. You know, the leaders did agree to a two-page draft document reaffirming the NATO alliance. But the politics, and the sideshow, and the Trumpian nature of our lives right now just made it all about something else.
KIMBERLY ATKINS: But I think it’s something when you talk to foreign policy folks and they say, OK, it was a good trip because President Trump didn’t do anything terrible.
MS. DAVIS: Nothing bad happened. (Laughs.)
MS. ATKINS: And that’s where the new standard is. But, yeah, it is really striking to see other world leaders. In the beginning, you would see Macron and Trudeau and other people sort of try to flatter the president, to try to play his game, to try to, you know, find a way to build that alliance that way. And it didn’t work. And so now all bets are off. They are focused on their own goals. And they are focusing – and especially I thought the presser with Macron was really interesting because right to Trump’s face Macron was criticizing U.S. policy when it came to Turkey, when it came to NATO, when it came to Russia. And Trump really didn’t respond to it. He was just going on his spiel about paying up more. And you really sort of saw Macron rise to the moment at a time where Trump sort of retreated into his own stance. It was really remarkable.
MR. DAWSEY: Well, the seminal moment was tariffs, right? The president early on, they were flattering him, they were trying to keep him in his good graces. And then he still popped tariffs on them. And a lot of these world leaders realized, if you talk to people around them at these summits, you can be nice to him, he’s still going to – at the end the day going to sting you if he wants to. And you can’t really stop it from happening.
CARL HULSE: But I think they stung him too.
MR. DAWSEY: Right.
MR. HULSE: I think this is the story of Trump’s life and something that really cuts him to the quick – being ridiculed by the elites. Here’s the borough guy, and the folks in New York don’t respect him. And I think that really burns him. And I’m sure he’ll try and get some revenge for that.
MR. COSTA: What about, when you talk about Trudeau, you see the USMCA, the new version of NAFTA. It’s still lingering in Congress, the deal between U.S., Mexico and Canada. Where does that stand?
MR. HULSE: I don’t think that affects – I think, you know, Trump got in his shot at him. I don’t think it affects that. The administration wants this so badly, Senate Republicans want this, some Democrats want it. I’m from corn country in Illinois. Farmers are really hurting – corn and bean farmers. They need something to happen with this deal. I still think that they can get their – Richard Neal, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, was saying again they’re getting close, they’re getting close. It’s also part of this dynamic between Pelosi and Trump, right? Does she want to give him a win? Can he take a win from her? But I don’t think that that NATO incident hurt.
MR. COSTA: Well, it’s interesting. We ended the week with these new jobs numbers, Sue. And the president was very happy with them. The market responded in a positive way. But earlier in the week one of the headlines coming out of the NATO meeting was the president saying about the China trade deal, he’s prepared to wait a year to possibly sign a deal. And we saw the markets dip down. What does that tell you?
MS. DAVIS: Right. The president’s his own worst enemy sometimes, right, especially when it comes to stories about the economy. By so many metrics and measures the economy’s doing well. And this goes to one of the fundamental criticisms of Trump you hear, especially from Republicans. It’s, like, if he would just stop talking and stop tweeting and let the economy tell the story he would be in such a better place politically in the country, because he does have a story to tell. We just so often are focused on other, bigger, more controversial, and sexier stories.
MR. DAWSEY: And he has a booming economy. And a lot of the things that conservatives want he’s done. Yet his approval ratings still remain low in the 40s because of his temperament, because of his tactics, because of the way he behaves day in and day out with his party and other parties. And if you looked at the fundamentals of his presidency, in some ways they’re pretty good. And yet, he has not reaped the benefits of any of them because, as Sue said, he always is going to be Trump. And a lot of people just don’t like that.
MR. HULSE: Any previous president would have been having a parade about those jobs numbers and that would have been it. That’s my campaign.
MS. DAVIS: But imagine if Trump had never tweeted, right? What if he had won the presidency and said: I’m going to get off this platform? I mean, we might be living in a fundamentally different universe today. (Laughs.)
MS. ATKINS: Would we? But in which way? I mean, he also has this inelastic support from his base that he cares about. And that hasn’t moved throughout all of this. And the Twitter – the tweets are part of what appeals to them. So I think it’s hard to tell.
MR. DAWSEY: But there are folks – and I’ve heard Reince Priebus, his first chief of staff, say this – that believe the president’s approval rating could be 10 points higher if he would just move some things on the edges. If he wouldn’t attack John McCain, if he wouldn’t go after Gold Star families, if he wouldn’t use coarse language, if he wouldn’t get into these unnecessary, needless fights, in their view, he would be able to attract more people in the middle. And there’s something to be said for that argument. I think if you look –
MR. HULSE: Trump is Trump, though.
MR. DAWSEY: Right. Yeah, Trump is Trump. But if you look at what he’s done, as Sue said, there’s good things to be said. And then there’s also all of this other list of –
MR. COSTA: But you look at his strategy. Where’s he going next week? He’s going to Hershey, Pennsylvania, more the western central part of Pennsylvania. He’s not going where I grew up, Philadelphia suburbs. It’s about the base and those rural and exurban voters more than anything, it appears.
MS. DAVIS: Pennsylvania, my home state too, the great state of Pennsylvania, is a great story about the Trump presidency, because that is a place where more Pennsylvanians right now are on record saying they feel good about their futures and good about their kids’ futures. It’s literally never been better on record in Pennsylvania. And the president’s approval rating still hovers in the high 30s. And I think you can only blame the president for that disconnect. In other normal times, a president would be enjoying such a higher approval rating based on how confident and happy people in states like Pennsylvania actually feel about their lives right now.
MR. HULSE: But the elections in 2018 and 2019 were bad for Republicans.
MS. DAVIS: Yeah.
MR. COSTA: In the suburbs and in the South, in Kentucky and Louisiana.
We will leave it there. That’s it for this edition of the Extra. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts or watch on our website. While you’re online check out our Week-ly News Quiz. I’m Robert Costa. Thanks for joining us and see you next time.