White House Week: Hope Hicks, Kushner's Business, Trump Talks Trade
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Joining us now is Ron Elving, senior editor, correspondent on the Washington desk.
Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: You heard Anthony Scaramucci. What did you notice we ought to follow up on?
ELVING: My thought was that he was auditioning to get his old job back. It's open. Hope Hicks is gone as communications director. That's the job he briefly had. If one believes that John Kelly is going to be less powerful or perhaps absent in the White House going forward, perhaps there'll be a place for Anthony Scaramucci. He did a rather calm and well-collected and well-presented job of defending the president there. Some of the things he said, people could quarrel with. But his job is to communicate the president's point of view, and it sounds like he's ready to have another swing at that.
SIMON: All right, let me mull over that for a moment and ask you about the departure of Hope Hicks. We've seen lots of high-profile departures from the White House. But there's something special about this, isn't it?
ELVING: Yes, of all the things that happened in this past week, the one that Trump might be the most upset about is losing Hope Hicks. She's been his comfort staffer for some while. Last year, he also lost Keith Schiller, who was his longtime security man. Hicks and Schiller had been very important to the president. He needs people he utterly trusts and feels comfortable being around. And at this point, there just aren't that many of those in the White House. So many people have left. By some accounts, the president is even looking for ways to put some distance between himself and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
SIMON: Jared Kushner hasn't had a good week, as they rate these things in the capital, has he?
ELVING: Oh, you could call it a code-red week for Jared Kushner. His security clearance has been downgraded to something that's really quite negligible. Usually, that would be a death knell.
ELVING: ...For a staffer at his level. And there are reports of him securing $500 million in loans for his father's business, and from people he met with at the White House, people who might have multiple agendas. And there are even reports that his father-in-law would possibly be regretting having him in the White House in the first place and giving him quite the portfolio that he had, especially now, given the fact that he's apparently not going to ever get a final security clearance.
SIMON: Let's turn now to guns and trade. President Trump, at least briefly, or for the moment or for a few seconds, took some positions at odds with much of his party, didn't he?
ELVING: Yes, he seemed to do that very much in that TV session that he had with senators on Wednesday evening. But on Thursday night, he sat down with Chris Cox, the head of the NRA. And he came out tweeting a very different tune, pledging allegiance to the NRA again, rejecting gun control, saying he was against it. And so is this more of his unpredictability strategy? And if so, what's his ultimate aim? We saw this same routine on immigration earlier this year. Early in February, he said he would sign whatever the senators came up with. They came up with something, and he said not only that he wouldn't sign it, but that he would veto it, make them pass it again with two-thirds - and on the budget last fall, when he suddenly was best friends forever with Chuck and Nancy, the two Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, as opposed to the Republican leaders.
SIMON: Forever was about two minutes, as I recall.
ELVING: It didn't last the news cycle. And now we see him going into a meeting with people he was supposed to listen to, and instead telling them he's going to put big tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, and saying he's not concerned about triggering a trade war and that they're easy to win.
SIMON: All of this, of course, happening as the Republican Party, the Democrats and libertarians, for that matter, head into the midterms. Are there political costs?
ELVING: Well, the president will suffer if his party suffers in the midterms this November. There are three dozen governorships on the ballot, most of them now held by Republicans, and nearly that many Senate seats on the ballot. And the GOP margin in the Senate now is down to just two seats. Plus, the entire United States House is in play - all 435 seats. And the Republican majority there is highly vulnerable. So there will be costs.
SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, senior editor and correspondent on the Washington, D.C., desk. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott.
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