A Look At The First Year Of Trump's Presidency
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump did not uphold the tradition of doing a year-end news conference with reporters before he left Washington for the holidays. He did sit down yesterday for an impromptu interview with The New York Times at his golf club in Florida, and that's where we're going to begin our Friday political conversation this week with Matthew Yglesias of Vox and Rachael Larimore of the Weekly Standard. Welcome to both of you.
MATTHEW YGLESIAS: Hi.
RACHAEL LARIMORE: Hi. Thank you for having me.
SHAPIRO: Let me first ask about the unusual circumstances of this interview which apparently took place with no White House staff around. Matt, have you ever heard of a president doing an interview under these sorts of conditions?
YGLESIAS: I mean, it's very unusual to do an interview with no staff. And to some extent, you know, good for the president. It's nice to see a politician sort of unencumbered. But also, we've gotten used to this, but it's really strange that the president is spending so much time at a private golf club that he owns, where he has dues-paying members who are wealthy people who may have business interests before the government, who can come up and chat with him. Sort of, they're paying the president directly. They're paying his family, and they're having direct access to him. Even during the interview, according to The Times, there were club members sort of coming up, dropping by to say hello. And it's a very abnormal situation.
SHAPIRO: I want to talk a bit about the substance of the interview. Rachael, there was a lot of discussion of the Russia investigation. Trump said he believes special counsel Robert Mueller will treat him fairly, which is different from what some of his allies have said, questioning whether the FBI and Mueller's team are impartial. What did you take away from his remarks there?
LARIMORE: Well, after I got done counting all the times he said there's no collusion...
SHAPIRO: Sixteen, was it?
LARIMORE: I think it was 16.
LARIMORE: Sixteen - and it was very - I mean, the first reaction is, you know, the famous quote about - me think he doth protest too much. But it was - the whole thing was very strange, and it did make a little bit more sense after we realized this was off the cuff and happened without any staff around. I've read some different reactions to that, and people saw a very - some people who wrote about the interview saw kind of menacing in the interview, that he was threatening Mueller much the way he was perceived as threatening Comey back in the day.
I didn't take that away from it. I just saw him as a man who is - has very grandiose impressions of his own self. And I'm worried that he, like, believes all these things that he quotes. Alan Dershowitz is sticking up for him. He only sees what he wants to see, and he only thinks that he's winning. And he only thinks that this is going to come out in his favor.
SHAPIRO: President Trump said in this interview that he sees opportunities for bipartisan accomplishments on infrastructure and other big issues in 2018. We have heard Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell say something similar. Here he was speaking with NPR earlier this month.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
MITCH MCCONNELL: This has not been a very bipartisan year (laughter). I hope in the new year, we're going to pivot here and become more co-operative.
SHAPIRO: Pivot and become more cooperative in 2018 - do you both think this is wishful thinking, especially in a midterm election year? Or, Matt, is there real potential here?
YGLESIAS: I mean, it is certainly true that if Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell want to pursue an increase in infrastructure spending, I think they would find Democratic support for that. You know, the reason we haven't had a lot of bipartisanship in 2017 is that the Republicans chose to move on issues where they knew there wasn't much prospect for that. That's their prerogative. It's actually pretty normal for a newly empowered majority to do that. The question is, in 2018, I mean, do Republicans actually want to move forward with that, or do they want to continue advancing their own agenda, which - you know, if they have the majority, you might want to use it.
SHAPIRO: But Rachael, it seems like on some issues such as immigration, it's hard to imagine anything getting done without both parties signing on.
LARIMORE: I mean, in one respect, it's hard to imagine anything even - anything getting done at all without bipartisanship. I mean, Doug Jones just won in Alabama. John McCain is unfortunately in not very good health, and we don't know how often he'll be in the Senate in the coming year. So the Republicans really have no choice. I think the Democrats have to be wary, though, because as we saw with DACA, you know, we - there was that very big show between Pelosi and Schumer and Trump that we have a deal.
SHAPIRO: DACA's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals...
SHAPIRO: ...A program that allows young immigrants to remain in the country legally. Go on.
LARIMORE: Yeah. Sorry about that. We've seen one example where Democrats came away from a meeting with President Trump thinking they had a deal, and he immediately started walking it back on Twitter and in his public comments. So if I'm a Democrat, I'm going to be a little bit leery even on something that is seemingly, you know - excuse me - like, seemingly easy, like, you know, infrastructure that both parties should be able to agree on.
SHAPIRO: OK, we usually describe this segment as the week in politics, but because it is our last political conversation of the year, I would like to take a step back and talk about the year in politics. 2017 started with Trump's inauguration.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
SHAPIRO: And it ended with an overhaul of the tax code.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TRUMP: It's the largest - I always say the most massive, but it's the largest tax cut in the history of our country and reform - but tax cut.
SHAPIRO: I wonder what you each think, taking the long view, has been the biggest political story of this year - Rachael?
LARIMORE: I don't - I mean, Trump touches every political story there is.
LARIMORE: He - I'll leave it there.
LARIMORE: He's the only - I mean, I could go on. But he's the only political story. I mean, there was a phase. I forget what month it was. But you know, every Friday - every day at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, we started looking around on Twitter and just shaking, wondering what story was going to break...
SHAPIRO: What the next big, breaking news story was going to be.
LARIMORE: ...The Comey story. Yeah, like, we can't handle this.
LARIMORE: So he's touched everything. There's no political story that he is not a part of.
SHAPIRO: Matt, would you care to get any more specific?
YGLESIAS: Well, those two clips sort of tell what I think is the big story, which is that Trump campaigned as a very unconventional, ideological figure. That inaugural address - it talked a lot about trade, about outsourcing, factories closing down. But the governing agenda that we've gotten from him, even though he's unusual in a lot of ways - but the actual policy making has been very sort of conventional, business-friendly Republican policy. And we saw that in the tax bill.
I mean, he got all the Republicans, including - people who have been very critical of him voted for it. None of the Democrats did. And that's because whether you love that bill or whether you hate that bill, it's a super normal Republican kind of bill. Jeb Bush could have done that bill, Marco Rubio, anyone else. And that's been a big surprise. He's been surprisingly normal in his policy priorities.
SHAPIRO: In our last minute, what do you each think was one overlooked political story of the year - Matt?
YGLESIAS: I think the sort of success of the American military campaign against ISIS has gotten remarkably little attention if you think about how alarmed people were a few years ago and how much it's really faded.
SHAPIRO: And Rachael?
LARIMORE: I'd like to go back to - there were - there have been a couple stories that came out in the past year that showed how the Obama administration kind of over - sugarcoated some things with Iran and kind of maybe knocked - there was the Politico story about...
SHAPIRO: About Hezbollah, yeah.
LARIMORE: About shutting down a - the Hezbollah investigation that I think would have put the Iran deal in a new light.
SHAPIRO: All right, we have to leave it there unfortunately. But Rachael Larimore, online managing editor of the Weekly Standard, and Matthew Yglesias, columnist, editor and co-founder of Vox, happy New Year to both of you, and thanks so much for chatting with us again.
YGLESIAS: Thank you.
LARIMORE: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.