'Fire And Fury' Overshadows GOP Strategy Talks
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump heads to Camp David today to meet with congressional Republican leaders. They're expected to start planning their next move after the GOP notched a win by passing its big tax legislation. But a new book out today by journalist Michael Wolff is overshadowing those talks. It's called "Fire And Fury," and it includes statements from former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon that set off this feud with President Trump and called into question Bannon's role as a populist kingmaker going forward. On Breitbart radio, Bannon's said he still supports the president.
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STEVE BANNON: The president of the United States is a great man. You know I support him day in and day out, going through the country, giving the Trump miracle speech or on the show or on the website. So I don't think you have to worry about that.
MARTIN: The president, though, hasn't seemed so convinced. He lashed out at the book on Twitter. And his lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to prevent it from being published. Here's what President Trump told reporters yesterday.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I don't know. He called me a great man last night. So, you know, he obviously changed his tune pretty quick.
MARTIN: Referring there to Steve Bannon. For more on this, we're joined by NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Good morning, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: So the book is coming out today - this morning, in fact - despite efforts by the president's legal team to stop it.
HORSLEY: Yeah. We have already seen some advance excerpts of the book, and they paint an unflattering portrait of Donald Trump as someone who never really expected to be elected president, someone who was and is ill-prepared for the job. It's based, in part, on interviews with Steve Bannon but also other White House advisers.
The White House itself is pushing back hard against this. The press secretary has called it a complete fantasy. And as you mentioned, the president's personal attorney, Charles Harder, sent a cease-and-desist letter to the publisher trying to block publication. But a defiant publisher instead moved up the release date to this morning. It was supposed to come out on Tuesday. And it's already vaulted to No. 1 on Amazon's bestseller list.
MARTIN: So there are political implications because of this book. I mean, it is - it has driven this wedge between Steve Bannon and the president and the White House. Now Bannon allies are severing ties with him. That's got to make Mitch McConnell kind of happy though, right?
HORSLEY: Absolutely. Now, you know, there was already some skepticism of Steve Bannon after his disastrous effort to install Roy Moore as the senator from Alabama, a move that backfired and put a Democrat in that seat for the first time in a long time. Now you have Rebekah Mercer, who has been one of the dark money financiers of Bannon and his political operation, saying she's not going to bankroll him and his political efforts anymore. Whether that's a reaction to the Alabama race or these latest comments in this new book from Michael Wolff, it certainly is a blow to his effort to put, you know, counter-insurgent candidates in office. And it's a relief for the establishment wing of the GOP, including GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell.
MARTIN: Yeah. So also in Michael Wolf's book - threaded throughout the book are these revelations, suggestions that Donald Trump is not fit for office, these suggestions that Michael Wolff culls from, he says, hundreds of interviews with Trump supporters. That's going to make the meeting today with congressional leaders sort of awkward, no?
HORSLEY: (Laughter) Possibly. Now, we should say, some of the people who were quoted in the book have disputed the accounts. And Michael Wolff does have sort of a checkered history. His accuracy has been challenged in the past. But you're right, now the president is heading to Camp David. He's going to be meeting with congressional leaders - Republican congressional leaders - Mitch McConnell from the Senate, Paul Ryan from the House. They're going to try to get on the same page. You know, they've had some different agendas. How do we build on the GOP success that they had with the tax bill last year?
Paul Ryan, the House speaker, has wanted to go after entitlements now, popular programs like Social Security and Medicare. Mitch McConnell, who has a much narrower GOP majority in the Senate, is wary of that. And he said any effort to do something on entitlements has to be bipartisan. For the White House, you know, President Trump campaigned saying he would protect Social Security and Medicare, but they are looking at what the president calls welfare reform. That means tougher work requirements for programs like food stamps and Medicaid.
MARTIN: Before I let you go, we also got this reporting from The New York Times and The Post about efforts the Trump administration made, and the president in particular, to stop Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, from recusing himself from the Russia investigation. What can you tell us?
HORSLEY: That's right. We've known that Donald Trump was very unhappy that his attorney general recused himself from the Russia investigation. He has wanted Jeff Sessions to sort of act as his protector in that probe which has been a cloud over his administration. And it's clear that Trump views the role of the attorney general as to be sort of his personal attorney rather than the nation's top law enforcement official.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Scott Horsley. Thanks so much, Scott.
HORSLEY: Good be with you, Rachel.
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