What To Expect In Trump's Address To Congress

Feb 25, 2017
Originally published on February 25, 2017 2:44 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Trump continued to fire shells at the press this week. He denounced news organizations, many by name, before the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in Washington, D.C. yesterday. And he called them enemies of the people. Then he seemed to mock the First Amendment. And later, the White House blocked several news outlets - including The New York Times, CNN, Politico - from attending an off-camera press briefing. We're joined now by national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Mara, thanks for being with us.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Happy to be here.

SIMON: According to reports by CNN and The New York Times, Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, asked top FBI officials to publicly dispute reports the Trump campaign was in touch with Russian agents during the election. The FBI said no. Was the White House trying to influence an FBI investigation?

LIASSON: That's the big question. And that is the big story of the week. Were Priebus' contacts with the FBI unethical or illegal or, as the White House says, neither? They say the FBI told them the story was garbage. But as you just described, they wanted the FBI to push back against the story that the FBI's investigation had discovered constant contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officials. And the big question is were they putting political pressure on what's supposed to be an independent FBI investigation? If they did, that would be a violation of ethics and maybe law.

SIMON: Yeah. Let me ask about President Trump at the CPAC conference. He said, finally, you have a president. Finally, you have a president. Anything in his remarks that you noticed about what policies he's going to pursue?

LIASSON: Well, he spent the first 15 minutes laying out something. Maybe not a policy, but certainly a strategy. And that is to the - attack the press and the media. He again called the media the enemy of the people. Later on, he tweeted that the press were, quote, "a danger to the country." He criticized reporters for using anonymous sources just about an hour after White House officials had briefed reporters anonymously.

But at the end of the speech, he did talk about some policies. He continued where his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, had left off the day before when Bannon came to see CPAC and laid out this vision - no more multilateral trade deals. He talked about deconstructing the administrative state. That might be just a fancy word for deregulation or literally dismantling the departments of Education and the EPA and Energy. Bannon said the Cabinet secretaries who were chosen to lead those departments were chosen to be deconstructors.

SIMON: Let's get back to the news organizations who weren't permitted in this briefing. Now, I gather this kind of briefing is called a gaggle. What happened?

LIASSON: That's right.

SIMON: Were you there? What did you see?

LIASSON: Well, what happened is instead of the daily on-camera briefing, Sean Spicer called a gaggle so he could talk to the pool. That's the small group of reporters that go places where the entire press corps can't fit. And then they share their transcripts and their notes with everyone else in the press corps. The White House said this gaggle would have an extended pool. And turns out they invited some additional organizations, but they pointedly excluded others like CNN, The New York Times, Politico. NPR was not there.

SIMON: Yeah.

LIASSON: We didn't ask to be included. We were going to rely on the pool as we would under normal circumstances.

SIMON: We'll note some reporters, apparently pointedly included, included the ones from Breitbart, The Washington Times, the One American News Network. Was the White House just giving them a chance, to these promising newcomers?

LIASSON: Well, these outlets are favored for the White House for access. They're given prominence seats. He seeks - Trump seeks them out for friendly questions. These are pro-Trump news organizations. That in and of itself isn't nefarious. But excluding the other news organizations was unprecedented, caused a huge outcry about press freedom, raised questions about whether the White House was intending to undermine and delegitimize the press.

And the question is, is this another self-inflicted wound or a brilliant strategy to inoculate the Trump administration from negative stories from the, quote, "fake media"? You've already seen a bit of a backlash. Small but growing group of Republicans on Capitol Hill are saying, hm (ph), maybe we do need an independent commission to look into all of these things - FBI contacts, Russian connections, etc.

SIMON: NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Thanks so much for being with us, Mara. Talk to you later.

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