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Trump Returns To Familiar Complaints During Thanksgiving Call With U.S. Troops

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump visited with members of the U.S. Coast Guard in Florida this Thanksgiving Day. Earlier in the morning, he held a teleconference from his Mar-a-Lago estate to troops overseas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're all doing well. The nation's doing well economically - better than anybody in the world. We're the hot nation of the world. And it's nice to know you're fighting, and you're fighting for something that's doing well, and that's our country. I want to begin by...

SHAPIRO: This was on camera and in front of reporters. The president used the moment to return to some familiar complaints he's been raising in recent days. NPR's Sarah McCammon joins us now to talk about it. Hi, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Before the president went into this litany of complaints and concerns he has, this call started out pretty traditional. Tell us about it.

MCCAMMON: Right. It's not unusual for presidents to address troops on Thanksgiving Day. What was a little unusual was this was a televised phone call. And it did start off as a pretty typical call with troops, talking about their work overseas.

He spoke with an Air Force brigadier general in Afghanistan who said the military is working to fight ISIS and the Taliban and keep terrorists far away from the U.S. So President Trump took that as an opportunity to turn the conversation to another issue - the U.S. border.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: You probably see over the news what's happening in our southern border and our southern border territory. Large numbers of people - and, in many cases, we have no idea who they are. And, in many cases, they're not good people. They're bad people.

MCCAMMON: And this is something President Trump says a lot, right? He suggested, without evidence, that Middle Easterners are crossing the border with the migrant caravan.

And we should say NPR has tried to fact-check this. And according to federal government data, out of more than 300,000 people caught last year trying to cross illegally, fewer than 100 came from the Middle East.

SHAPIRO: And that's not to say those Middle Easterners had terrorism ties, just that they came from Middle East.

MCCAMMON: Indeed. And the president also used the opportunity to thank U.S. troops who are building up security there by putting up barbed wire on the U.S.-Mexico border.

SHAPIRO: Another thing he complained about, which he's been talking about a lot this week - the 9th Circuit Appeals Court. What did he have to say?

MCCAMMON: Right. He repeated his criticism of the 9th Circuit, calling it, a thorn in our side. Let's take a listen to what he had to say today, while talking to the troops.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We always lose. And then you lose again and again. And then you hopefully win at the Supreme Court, which we've done. But it's a terrible thing when judges take over your protective services when they tell you how to protect your border. It's a disgrace.

MCCAMMON: And later, explaining to reporters, he suggested something should be done about it, maybe something involving Congress, though no real details there.

And as you'll recall, Ari, this week, Trump called a judge who ruled against him an Obama judge. That provoked that rare rebuke from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who said, we do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, for example, and emphasized the independence of the judiciary.

Today, Trump responded by saying he likes and respects Justice Roberts and then repeated that the 9th Circuit is, quote, "totally out of control."

SHAPIRO: One more thing that's been controversial this week that the president talked about today - the killing of a Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and Trump's reaction to Saudi Arabia, which was at the center of that. What did he say today?

MCCAMMON: He continued to cast doubt on the CIA conclusion that the Saudi Arabian crown prince was responsible for the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Trump was asked by a reporter whether he's worried that sends a troubling message to other countries. And he said, no, not at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: And it's an atrocity. It's a terrible thing. I dislike it more than you do. But the fact is they've been a very strong ally. They create tremendous wealth. They could - really, tremendous number of jobs in their purchases.

MCCAMMON: And when asked today who should be held accountable, Trump said maybe the world should be held accountable. It's a vicious place.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Sarah McCammon. Thank you, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.