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Week In Politics: Trump's Press Conference, Michael Flynn


Now it's time to talk more about the week in politics. And as we just heard, it was quite a week. This week, we're joined by Jason Riley of The Wall Street Journal. He's also a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Welcome to you.

JASON RILEY: Welcome, thank you.

MCEVERS: All right, and we are also joined by Abderrahim Foukara. He is Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera. Thanks for coming by.

ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA: Good to be with you.

MCEVERS: As we just heard in Tamara's piece, President Trump seems to be back in campaign mode. He's touring that Boeing facility, and he has that rally in Florida tomorrow. Why do you think Trump is heading back on the road now, Jason?

RILEY: Well, I think, as we just heard in the lead in, it's worked for him. It worked for him during the campaign. It's also not unprecedented in that presidents do this when they're trying to sell policies. They travel around.


RILEY: They try and rile up their voters and get other people on board for what they're trying to do back in Washington. We saw Obama do this with his stimulus package. We saw him do it with his health care plan.

The difference here, though, is I think this is more returning to the campaign mode as a sort of damage control. I think Trump needs to buck up his base. I think he's had a rough start, and he wants to let them know everything's going to be OK. So I think there's a bit of damage control going on here.

MCEVERS: What do you think, Abderrahim - damage control or just sort of normal presidential politicking?

FOUKARA: I think it's both. Obviously he is the kind of guy who thinks that it's never over until it's over. He's had a couple - a rough couple of weeks with what happened with the rollout of the Muslim ban, as it's called, banning citizens from seven majority countries, as it's called. Then he's had the whole Mike Flynn saga.

And it seems to me that now he's trying to operate on two familiar grounds. One is business. The other one is the ground of his base in politics. As we all know, it's all about timing. The trip to North Carolina to talk about jobs is obviously - given his business background, is something that he feels much more comfortable talking about...


FOUKARA: ...On the way to Florida to meet with his base with a message that he is doing some of the things that he promised to do during the campaign.


FOUKARA: And this obviously comes against the backdrop of a large issue, which obviously (laughter) by the time he's done in North Carolina and Florida is...

MCEVERS: South Carolina.

FOUKARA: And South Carolina is not going to go away.


FOUKARA: And that's the Mike Flynn issue.

MCEVERS: Right. I mean we should also say that the President Trump we saw in the press conference yesterday also seemed a lot more like Trump from the campaign. I want to play a clip here. Trump was talking about the election. He claimed that he had the biggest electoral college win since Reagan. That is not true. So a reporter from NBC News challenged him on it. Let's just listen to that.


PETER ALEXANDER: Why should Americans trust you...

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, no, I was told - I was given that information.

ALEXANDER: ...When you're misrepresenting information?

TRUMP: I don't know. I was just given - we had a very, very big margin.

ALEXANDER: I guess my question is, why should Americans trust you when you accuse the information they receive of being fake when you're providing information that's not accurate?

TRUMP: Well, I don't know. I was given that information. I was given - I've - actually, I've seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory. Do you agree with that?

ALEXANDER: You're the president.

TRUMP: OK, thank you. That's - good answer - yes.

MCEVERS: You know, this was a press conference where the president was being asked about a lot of things - you know, his campaign's ties with Russia, his outgoing national security adviser. And yet he was talking about the election. What does that tell us about what this press conference meant for him, Jason?

RILEY: Well, again, I think this was about reassuring his supporters that everything's going to be OK. His polling...

MCEVERS: Do you think it worked?

RILEY: ...Is around 40 percent now.


RILEY: I think it did. I think he - I think he did come off well to his supporters. I mean Trump's lying is not unique to presidents. We all know that - anyone who's covered politics - he seemed to be a uniquely bad liar and that Americans are more used to our presidents being much more eloquent in their efforts to deceive us. And Trump is more straightforward about it, but it's not unique.

And I think the press is making a much bigger deal. They need to keep this in context. I also think there's something very circular and self-serving about this constant reporting by the press of Trump's view of the press. Again, all presidents complain about their bad press, and I think that the Washington, D.C., press corps in particular needs to really get over itself.

MCEVERS: Time to get over it and move on, Abderrahim?

FOUKARA: Well, you know, I'm - like all of us, we are from the press. And I obviously have no compunction about being critical about the role and the behavior of the press whether under this presidency or any other presidency. Obviously what happened in that press conferences is - as we heard, he was obviously playing to the gallery, except that he was playing to the gallery at a time when the United States public opinion is very polarized and a lot of people are talking about the need to build bridges among Americans.

There was a time when there was much to blame in the behavior of the media. I mean if you look back at the campaign, there was a time when the media basically did dish out the narrative that Hillary Clinton was going to win. And that didn't happen. But it's one thing blaming the media for not having the right behavior and the right attitude. It's another thing saying that everything that the media when it criticizes you is dishing out fake news. I think that coming from the president of the most powerful country in the world, perhaps the most powerful country in history - it's not a very healthy narrative to have.

MCEVERS: I want to talk now about the situation with Michael Flynn, outgoing national security adviser. The White House says he was ousted because he misled the vice president about his phone call with a Russian ambassador. Democrats now say that they want major investigations into contact between Trump's team and Russian officials. But there's been a mixed reaction from Republicans. Some in the Senate say investigate. Some in the House say not so much. Why? Jason, you go for it (laughter).

RILEY: Well, I'm not sure I'd accept the premise there. I think if anything, there's been increased concern about investigating these connections among Republicans. And Republicans in the House and Senate have long had a much more skeptical view of Russia than Trump and his administration now. I mean that's - and we're not just talking about people like Lindsey Graham and John McCain. Now you have Bob Corker. You have Roy Blunt and others, people - members of the Senate Intelligence Committee saying that these - this should be investigated thoroughly. And I think they're absolutely right.

You know, Trump - one of the other problems with this in terms of Trump's bad start is that these are self-inflicted wounds. I think Flynn was someone who was an earlier supporter of the president. He was tapped because of his loyalty for this position, but there were warning signs out there about his temperament - you know, that he had a short fuse and so - in his management style and so forth. So there were warning signs, and Trump ignored them.

And the other lesson here is - that Trump has learned is that you can't get away with going after the intelligence community the way he has and think there won't be any blowback or payback. I think part of that is going on, too. You know, Washington is going to leak, and you have to manage that, and you have to be careful with your Twitter feed...

MCEVERS: OK, all right (laughter).

RILEY: ...In Trumps case.

MCEVERS: That's Jason Riley of The Wall Street Journal and the Manhattan Institute. And we also had Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera. Thanks to both of you.

FOUKARA: Thank you.

RILEY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF 40 WINKS SONG, "OUTSIDE THE BOX") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.