Weekly Roundup: Thursday, February 16 President Trump holds a press conference. This episode: host/White House correspondent Tamara Keith, congressional reporter Scott Detrow, national political correspondent Mara Liasson, and editor/correspondent Ron Elving. More coverage at nprpolitics.org. Email the show at nprpolitics@npr.org. Find and support your local public radio station at npr.org/stations.
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Weekly Roundup: Thursday, February 16

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Weekly Roundup: Thursday, February 16

Weekly Roundup: Thursday, February 16

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MATT: Hi. This is Matt (ph) on the M2 bus heading downtown to Greenwich Village. This podcast was recorded at...

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Three thirty-eight p.m. on...

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

Three thirty-eight p.m. on...

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Three thirty-eight p.m. on Thursday.

KEITH: (Laughter).

MATT: Things may change by the time you hear it. Keep up with all of NPR's political coverage at npr.org and the NPR One app and on your local public radio station. OK, here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KEITH: It's the NPR POLITICS Podcast, here with a roundup of some of this week's political news. We'll take stock of just how chaotic this week was in Washington, plus answer some of your questions and end the show with Can't Let It Go, when we all share something we can't stop thinking about this week, politics or otherwise. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

DETROW: I'm Scott Detrow. I cover Congress.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

ELVING: And I'm Ron Elving, editor-correspondent.

KEITH: Mara is up in her booth, our booth at the White House.

LIASSON: Hi there.

KEITH: The rest of us are here at NPR HQ. Before we get started, thanks to listeners who sent us intros for our record time disclaimer thingy. We asked for those on Twitter today and got a bunch of them. You can send yours to nprpolitics@npr.org. They've been really fun to hear. And we will use a new one each episode.

DETROW: We got so many of them already this afternoon. It was really fun to see them come in.

KEITH: So we thought today might be a slow news day (laughter).

ELVING: Yeah, not so much.

KEITH: Already this week, there are not one but two episodes in your feed. One from Tuesday about the resignation of Michael Flynn...

ELVING: Who?

KEITH: ...National security adviser - former, and one from Wednesday, with more on that story as it develops. As for today, which we thought would be slow, President Trump held a press conference around 1:00 p.m. this afternoon. He announced a new pick for labor secretary after his first pick, Andrew Puzder, withdrew yesterday. Trump's new pick is former Justice Department lawyer Alexander Acosta. But before we get to that, this was quite a press conference.

ELVING: You know, among other things, there was no Alexander Acosta there. And when the president came out on stage by himself to introduce his new pick for labor secretary without anyone else with him, you knew something was up. This was not the sort of press conference that gets scheduled days in advance. This was not the sort of thing we even expected to see a brief announcement. This was the president coming on down to the East Room with a head of steam and something to say to the news media.

DETROW: Mara, we're going to dig into the content of this press conference, but you're the only one of all of us who was sitting there in the room. You asked the first question, actually. What was, like, just the mood of the room like as it started and as it kept going and as it got confrontational?

LIASSON: Well, it was really an amazing moment. I thought it was an extraordinary display of a human being. He was all the things that Donald Trump can be. He was combative. He excoriated the press, like he's done in the past. He also tried to charm the press. He made some jokes.

And to his credit, he did something that he hasn't done since he's been president. Of course, this is his first full-fledged news conference since he's been president, but he called on reporters who asked him tough questions, not just friendly news outlets. And he did stand there for over an hour answering the questions. I thought it was really, really extraordinary just sitting there.

KEITH: And let's hear from the early part of it. He came out in part to sort of list his accomplishments as president. But as you say, Mara, it quickly became clear that that was not all that was on his mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm making this presentation directly to the American people, with the media present, which is an honor to have you. This morning, because many of our nation's reporters and folks will not tell you the truth, and will not treat the wonderful people of our country with the respect that they deserve. And I hope going forward we can be a little bit different and maybe get along a little bit better, if that's possible. Maybe it's not, and that's OK, too.

DETROW: I feel like it's important to point out - and if you've been listening to the podcast the last few days, you know this already - that, I mean, generally Donald Trump has a contentious relationship with the media, but he's just not doing freelance press criticism here. This is a response to a string of headlines that have been very negative about the Trump White House. And Michael Flynn's someone who's been with Donald Trump since the beginning almost of his campaign, resigning less than a month into an administration, which is totally unheard of. So this is not just I hate the press. This is I don't like all the headlines that I've been getting.

LIASSON: Look. The firing of Mike Flynn was the big news of the week. And yesterday with the prime minister of Israel, he got a question - an oblique question about Mike Flynn where he said Mike Flynn was treated badly by the news media, and it's really terrible, and he's a wonderful person, as if he'd never fired him. And that's why when I was called on to ask the first question, I just said simply, did you fire Mike Flynn?

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

LIASSON: Did you fire Mike Flynn?

TRUMP: Mike Flynn is a fine person, and I asked for his resignation. He respectfully gave it. He is a man who there was a certain amount of information given to Vice President Pence, who's with us today. And I was not happy with the way that information was given.

LIASSON: He went on to explain that, yes, he fired Mike Flynn not because he did anything wrong by talking to the Russian ambassador, but that he didn't tell the vice president of the United States the facts. The vice president of the United States found out about this two weeks after the president of the United States found out that Mike Flynn didn't tell the vice president the facts. And it sounds like he only fired him after this came out in the news media.

I asked him as a follow up, why did you keep the vice president in the dark? And if you listen to his answer, it sounds like he was saying, well, because I really didn't think it was such a big deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: That's what they're supposed to do. They're supposed to be in - he didn't just call Russia. He called...

KEITH: And he is Mike Flynn.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: ...And spoke to both ways. I think there were 30-some-odd countries.

ELVING: Let's get back to the point here, though. The point is that what the conversation was about was not Christmas greetings. It was not happy new year, Sergey. It was about the sanctions that had been imposed by President Obama, who was still president then. It was a call on December 29, and this was about sanctions. And when he was asked if he had spoken about sanctions, Mike Flynn said, no. He said no to the vice president. And the vice president was not informed that he was being lied to until two weeks later, even - or several weeks later, and two weeks after Donald Trump and the rest of the White House knew that that had been a lie.

KEITH: Donald Trump was asked multiple times in this press conference whether people related to his campaign or in his campaign had any contact with Russia during the campaign. And he answered it various different ways, finally settling on this.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?

TRUMP: Well, I told you General Flynn obviously was dealing, so that's one person, but he was dealing as he should have been.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: During the election?

TRUMP: No, nobody that I know of, nobody that I...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So you're not aware of any contacts during the course of the election?

TRUMP: Look. Look. Look. How many times do I have to answer this question?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you just say yes or no on it?

TRUMP: Russia is a ruse. Yeah, I know you have to get up and ask a question, so important. Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia, haven't made a phone call to Russia in years.

KEITH: So in some ways, this press conference was like the president of the United States coming out and saying, hi, I would like to push a reset button. There have been a lot of really bad headlines. And I would like to take control of my narrative, and tell you how I see it from my perch in the White House.

ELVING: Yes.

KEITH: And this is what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: I turn on the TV, open the newspapers, and I see stories of chaos - chaos, yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.

KEITH: All righty then.

ELVING: One should also say that one of the sources of chaos, if you will - or at least in the chaos perception - is some of the things that have been said by the president himself. After having said we're going to repeal Obamacare and get rid of it on day one, then he comes back later and by Super Bowl Sunday, he's telling Bill O'Reilly maybe sometime this year or at the latest next year we'll finally get that done. Then he comes back and says yet a third thing. And it's not surprising that the Republicans on Capitol Hill are going their own way because they don't really get a clear instruction from the White House.

LIASSON: You know, one of the things he did say today was he said, next week we're going to come out with a couple things, a new executive order, new plan for Obamacare. He tried to say things are going to get back under control.

And what I think is interesting is I think one of the reasons he did this, not just to get a reset to tell his narrative as Tam said, but also to convince Republicans on Capitol Hill that, yes, this White House is under his control and try to calm the waters. There are a lot of nervous Republicans. You have John McCain saying, this White House is dysfunctional, we don't know who's in charge. I don't know if this press conference accomplished that end, but I think that was one of his goals.

KEITH: You know, President Trump, this is his fourth press conference. Now, the other three were with world leaders.

ELVING: World leaders.

KEITH: And so it's what's called a two and two. You take two questions from the American press. You take two questions from the foreign press. But here's this press conference, where he gets up there, he takes questions from 17 different reporters, follow-up questions. Many of the questions are the tough questions that people have been wanting to ask for two weeks. And he just - he goes for it.

ELVING: Yes, and goes for it and goes for it and goes for it and rambles and goes on and on and on and down several rabbit holes and round the block on how he won the election back in November, and all the things he didn't like about Hillary Clinton. And it was...

KEITH: A lot about Hillary Clinton.

ELVING: ...remarkable how much this news conference was about 2016.

DETROW: And I think one exchange checks off a lot of those boxes in terms of kind of the trends that have really fascinated us. And it alarmed a lot of opponents of Donald Trump and even allies and Republicans in Congress, and that was the fact that he talked about - in his opening statement he said, you know, I had the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.

KEITH: Not true.

DETROW: Right.

ELVING: Not even close.

DETROW: Because actually one of the one of the questions - I think it was Peter Alexander from NBC News.

KEITH: That's right.

DETROW: He said, you know, that's not the case, and why should the American people trust you?

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: Well, I'm talking about Republican. Yeah. I'm...

PETER ALEXANDER: Obama 365...

KEITH: George H. W. Bush had a much bigger one.

DETROW: Yeah.

ELVING: A hundred and twenty votes bigger.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: Well, no, I was told - I was given that information. I don't know. I was just given it. We had a very, very big margin.

ALEXANDER: I guess my question is why should Americans trust you when you accuse the information they receive as (unintelligible)?

TRUMP: Well, I don't know. I was given that information. I was given - I've - actually, I've seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory. Do you agree with that?

DETROW: So that's several long-running trends right there. One, the fact that he brings everything back to the fact that he was elected president, which we know because he's now president. Two, the fact that he takes information and over inflates it when he doesn't need to.

He was elected president by a sizable margin in the Electoral College. But he says, no, it's the biggest margin since Ronald Reagan, when in fact the only margin it's bigger than is George W. Bush's. I mean, Obama, Clinton, George H. W. Bush all had larger margins in the Electoral College. But it's just a basic fact that is inflated or misstated by the president.

ELVING: And it seems to be terribly important to him, that it be huge, that it be historically large. The fact is there have been 58 Electoral College margins and his is number 45.

LIASSON: But what was so interesting about having a press conference like this and having reporters question him and follow up is look what happened at the end of that exchange. He was kind of deflated. He said, well, I don't know. I was given that information I was given - actually, I've seen it around, but a very substantial victory. Do you agree with that?

In other words, he reverted back to his kind of charming self that he used with the New York tabloids when he was a front page tabloid fixture for all those years in New York. But this is what happens when you open yourself up to real questions. It turns out it wasn't true. He was called on it, and he had to kind of scuttle away from it.

KEITH: He did make news in this press conference aside from announcing his labor secretary pick. He also said that he is planning new executive action next week - at some point in the week - on immigration and national security, basically new executive action to get around sort of the legal challenges that have come up related to his executive order from a few weeks ago, the travel ban that has been held up by the courts.

ELVING: That's right.

LIASSON: He said he would tailor it to the court. He was going to have an executive order that was tailored to the court decision.

ELVING: And one of the problems with that is that you can make it more acceptable to the court's standards and maybe more acceptable to most people's standards, at least make it more easily interpreted by the people who have to enforce it. Leave out, for example, people with green cards, legal permanent residents.

But if you do too much of that, if you take it too far in the direction of what the court was expressing as a view of what was constitutional and what was not, you may not actually be doing what the executive order is intending to do. You may not, in other words, please the people it's designed to please.

KEITH: There was another question that came from ABC's Jon Karl, which was essentially, you know, the president has been talking about how all of these stories that include leaks from the intelligence community and others. He calls them fake news. It's fake news. It isn't real. Jon Karl asks, well, is it fake news just 'cause you don't like it?

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JONATHAN KARL: Is it fake news, or are these real leaks?

TRUMP: Well, the leaks are real. You're the one that wrote about them and reported them. I mean, where the leaks are real. You know what they said. You saw it. And the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake. So one thing that I felt it was very important to do - and I hope we can correct it.

ELVING: The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.

LIASSON: Because I don't like it.

ELVING: What he said, the leaks are real but the news is fake because so much of the news is fake. What is he saying? Later on, we hear a little bit of what he's saying when he essentially says it's the tone of the reporting he doesn't like.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: I just see many, many untruthful things. And I'll tell you what else I see, I see tone. You know the word tone? The tone is such hatred. I'm really not a bad person, by the way. No, but the tone is such - I do get good ratings, you have to admit that. The tone is such hatred.

ELVING: It's not the facts. It's not that the leaks are saying something that is substantial and real. It's that he doesn't like the way we then report that reality.

DETROW: You know, one thing really struck me about that part particularly, the fact that Donald Trump was so combative with the media today and always, but also seemed to be pleading, saying I'm really a good guy. You cover this the wrong way. You're not being fair to me. I'm a successful president. Things are going well. Why don't you say that? To plug another podcast here, I've been listening to The Washington Post's podcast called "Presidential." They have one for each president, and they talk to historians and biographers.

And I just listened to the Richard Nixon one this week. And it was mesmerizing to me how much of what - they, of course, talked to Bob Woodward - but how much of what he said about Richard Nixon sounded exactly like Donald Trump. And not in terms of scandals or anything like that, but in terms of personality and this deep need to want to be accepted by the establishment, by the elites, and the seething anger when that didn't happen that led to just this constant combativeness and making everyone an enemy.

LIASSON: And, you know, Scott, that - one of the most amazing moments in this press conference was exactly what you're talking about where he says, I'm having a great time.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: Now, they'll take this news conference. I'm actually having a very good time, OK? But they'll take this news conference - don't forget, that's the way I won. Remember I used to give you a news conference every time I made a speech, which was like every day? OK. No. That's how I won. I won with news conference and probably speeches. I certainly didn't win by people listening to you people, that's for sure. But I'm having a good time.

Tomorrow, they will say Donald Trump rants and raves at the press. I'm not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you, you know, you're dishonest people. But I'm not ranting and raving. I love this. I'm having a good time doing it. But tomorrow, the headlines are going to be Donald Trump rants and raves. I'm not ranting and raving. Go ahead.

DETROW: Can I say I love...

KEITH: (Laughter).

LIASSON: He's giving - he's doing his own color commentary. He's working the refs as he's performing. This is so meta. I mean, he's actually anticipating his box office and trying to correct it in real time.

ELVING: Well, and he also told us three times that he was not ranting and raving - three times.

KEITH: Scott?

DETROW: I love Donald Trump's newscaster voice. He always does that (imitating Donald Trump) Donald Trump was ranting and raving. It's like the I'm-making-fun-of-your-pompousness voice. I actually - I find it really funny when he impersonates newscasters, which he would do a lot on the campaign trail.

ELVING: I think we can count on hearing some more of that on Saturday down in Florida.

KEITH: Before we get much further into this, let's talk about how team Trump feels about it, how supporters of Donald Trump perceived this press conference. Mara, you've heard from White House officials?

LIASSON: Yes. I think White House officials are very happy with his performance. The president was described to me as being in high spirits. And I actually think he's going to get a lot of credit for having done this at all, showing that he could take tough questions from all sorts of reporters, not just friendly ones. He stood there for an hour and 17 minutes.

And I think that one thing that we have seen all along is his base is happy with what he's doing. They feel he's moving quickly and aggressively to fulfill his campaign promises. And I think for people who tuned in and watched this and are supporters of him, they like it when he gives it to the press. There are other constituencies. Republicans on the Hill, we don't know yet whether they think this helped him or not. But I think his supporters will be very happy.

KEITH: It certainly was engaging television. Scott?

DETROW: And this was full campaign mode Donald Trump, which we really have not seen that much since he's become president. And I think that's one reason why he's holding a rally on Saturday. But this was whether Trump was doing press conferences on the campaign trail or just kind of riffing off the crowd and riffing off the press pen at rallies, this was exactly what he sounded like. Actually, some of the things he said today were almost word for word, you know, regular set list from the Donald Trump tour of 2016.

ELVING: This was a warmup for Saturday night. And it also included this battle that we're going to have going forward about Donald Trump's impression that he is wildly popular in the United States. He cited a poll - the Rasmussen poll - that said that he's at 55 percent approval as of today.

KEITH: There were other polls out today.

ELVING: Yes. Now, the Pew Research Center, which is a highly reputable research organization, thought of in academic terms, had him at 39 percent approval - 3-9 - under 40 percent in his first month in office. Now, that is an extraordinary number for a new president. The Rasmussen poll is a Republican poll, but it's certainly one of the polls that the president has cited often in the past. He cited it twice in this news conference. And I believe that when he gets to Florida and that wildly enthusiastic rally, we may very well hear about it again. And the impression that he's creating is that the country loves him, it's just the media who don't.

DETROW: You know, there was one particularly contentious exchange that really stood out to you, right, Mara?

LIASSON: Yes. And this is something that started in the press conference with Netanyahu yesterday, where an Israeli reporter said, can you talk about the uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States where Jewish centers have been defaced, swastikas written, et cetera? And Donald Trump answered the question as if the guy was asking him if he personally was anti-Semitic or racist, and he of course said I wasn't. Today, another reporter from a Jewish publication asked him the same question, and he answered in the exact same way.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism - the least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican. Quiet, quiet, quiet.

LIASSON: Then later, I think somebody from Sirius XM asked him, said, I want to follow up on this. We're not saying you're anti-Semitic. We're saying, how do you explain the people who are defacing these Jewish centers in your name? And he answered I thought in an amazing way, where he said, no, no, it's not my people, it's my opponents.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: Some of the signs you'll see are not put up by the people that love or like Donald Trump, they're put up by the other side, and you think it's like playing it straight? No. But you have some of those signs and some of that anger is caused by the other side. They'll do signs, and they'll do drawings that are inappropriate. It won't be my people. It will be the people on the other side to anger people like you. OK.

DETROW: And there have been fact checks about the rise in hate incidents that we've been seeing. And there certainly have been several high-profile incidents that have gotten attention that turned out to be fakes, but those are the vast minority of these instances. A lot of outlets have kind of dug into this.

KEITH: There's one other moment I want to get to. It was April Ryan, she works for the American Urban Radio Networks. She's African-American. She asked a question about why President Trump hadn't met with the Congressional Black Caucus or whether he wanted to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

APRIL RYAN: Are you going to include the CBC, Mr. President, in your conversations with your urban agenda, your inner city agenda, as well as...

TRUMP: Am I going to include who?

RYAN: Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus and the congressional...

TRUMP: Well, I would. I tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting?

RYAN: No, no, no. I'm just a reporter.

TRUMP: Are they friends of yours? No, set up the meeting.

RYAN: I know some of them, but I'm sure they're watching right now.

TRUMP: Let's go set up a meeting. I would love to...

KEITH: Yeah, April - she is not the booking agent for the Congressional Black Caucus. However, the Congressional Black Caucus actually did send out a tweet. It says, hi, @realdonaldtrump, we're the CBC. We sent you a letter on January 19, but you never wrote back to us. Sad, exclamation point. And then they linked to the letter that they had sent asking for a meeting.

LIASSON: But, you know, the other thing he did is he said, I was going to have a meeting with Congressman Cummings - Elijah Cummings - but then he said no because he got pressure on him from some lightweight like Schumer not to meet with me.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: But he probably was told by Schumer or somebody like that, some other lightweight. He was probably told don't meet with Trump. It's bad politics. And that's part of the problem in this country. OK, one more. Go ahead.

DETROW: Is a lightweight an improvement or a deterioration...

LIASSON: From a clown?

DETROW: ...From a clown? Yeah.

LIASSON: (Laughter) Well, it's better than fake tears of a clown.

ELVING: Can someone be a lightweight clown?

DETROW: I think I'd rather be a clown than a lightweight.

ELVING: But how about a lightweight clown?

LIASSON: Yeah, the fake tears of a lightweight clown.

KEITH: One person who is going to be spending some time up over on the Senate side of things in the next few weeks is Alexander Acosta. He is the person who Donald Trump announced as his pick for labor secretary. He is going to be the first Latino in Donald Trump's Cabinet if approved. He was a lawyer in the Justice Department. He actually served on the National Labor Relations Board for about a year during the Bush administration.

DETROW: And he is probably one of the more conventional Cabinet nominees that the Trump administration has put forward. I mean, a far cry from Andy Puzder, who was the CEO of a fast food chain, who had actually, you know, had a strong track record of opposing a lot of the things that that labor advocates push for like a big increase in the minimum wage, and someone with a Washington background and relevant experience. I mean, a lot of Trump's picks have been outside the box picks who could see things differently but didn't necessarily have a long time of tenure in the field where they'd be leading things.

ELVING: You know, it's interesting the parallels between Acosta and Tom Perez, who has been the labor secretary under President Obama, the latter one. And they're both Latino former heads of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, both of them Harvard Law grads. And this is interesting also - Acosta, who clerked for Samuel Alito - I think it's safe to say one of the justices of the Supreme Court who is most decidedly on the conservative side - when he was called to testify before the 2011 Senate hearing on protecting the civil rights of Muslim-Americans, gave a rather moving statement on behalf of protecting those rights.

KEITH: And probably his greatest selling point is that he has been confirmed by the Senate three times before. The problem that Andy Puzder ran into - well, he ran into a bunch of problems, but basically they were vetting issues. There was stuff in his background - hiring an undocumented immigrant to work in his home, things that came out during the vetting process as he was preparing for his Senate hearings that made him sort of an untenable candidate for even many Republicans in the Senate in addition to all of the Democrats. Well, Alex Acosta has been vetted by the Senate three times before.

LIASSON: And that's kind of a metaphor for why Donald Trump's singular management style has been leading to this image of chaos because they do things kind of by the seat of the pants. They don't vet executive orders. They don't vet Cabinet secretaries. And that's what causes these problems.

ELVING: I think it's time to mention the name Steve Bannon in this podcast because we have managed to avoid it up until now, which is something of an achievement. But he has said in recent days, we're going fast. And I think that that is a pretty good description of these first three to four weeks. And some of the niceties like actually vetting some of these decisions or nominees have been neglected.

KEITH: OK. We need to take a break, but we will be right back. And we're going to talk sort of big picture. What does this all mean?

ELVING: Yuge (ph).

KEITH: Yuge picture.

ELVING: Big league.

KEITH: Big league.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KEITH: OK. We're back. And I want to pull back from the specifics of this press conference and the specifics of this week to really think about, where are we? We're a month into Donald Trump's presidency.

DETROW: And, yeah - and I think it's fair to say, despite Donald Trump's protestations today - is that a word, protestation?

ELVING: Yes, it is.

KEITH: I think it is.

DETROW: Despite Donald Trump's protestations - to use a Ron word - today, it certainly has been a bumpy, chaotic beginning. Mara and Ron, the thing I want to ask the two of you because you both covered the Clinton administration - I mean, Bill Clinton had a very chaotic first year of his presidency. He had a lot of problems, among them having a chief of staff who was his best friend from childhood, who maybe wasn't the best idea to be a chief of staff of the White House. How does what you've seen in the first month compare to the rockiness of Bill Clinton's start?

LIASSON: Well, you know, first of all, nothing can compare to Donald Trump 'cause he's broken every mold. On the other hand, I've been thinking a lot about the early days of the Bill Clinton administration 'cause that was my, you know, first time I'd ever covered a White House. And I remember gays in the military, Travelgate, all sorts of crazy scandals.

ELVING: Zoe Baird, Kimba Wood.

LIASSON: It was - Zoe Baird, Kimba Wood - totally chaotic. And I remember veteran reporters saying, oh, this is going to be a failed presidency. It has all the earmarks. Bill Clinton, as we know, went on to win a second term and had a period of peace and prosperity and passed welfare reform and NAFTA and all sorts of other things. And the point is this can be stabilized.

DETROW: What got them back on track?

LIASSON: They got a new chief of staff.

KEITH: It took them a year and a half, but they did.

ELVING: And they replaced George Stephanopoulos.

LIASSON: They slowed down. Now, Bill Clinton's might have been a kind of undisciplined person personally, but nothing compares to Donald Trump's uniqueness and the fact that his style is like no other and that he likes chaos. That's his modus operandi. I don't think that's the same as Clinton. But the point is that rocky beginnings can be corrected.

KEITH: Well - and President Clinton came in in sort of a similar - like, I'm coming from outside. I'm bringing people from Arkansas. We're not going to have a bunch of career politicians around here. We're not going to have a bunch of old Washington hands. There's a new president in town.

LIASSON: He wasn't anything like the disruptor that Donald Trump is.

KEITH: No, of course not.

LIASSON: He didn't want to blow up the system. He didn't have a Steve Bannon who called himself a Leninist. There was a little bit of outsider arrogance. But don't forget, he'd been a governor, you know, for many, many terms. He'd led the Democratic Leadership Council.

ELVING: And Bill Clinton also - and I think you remember this, Mara - that there was a bit of a war with the media in the early going, as well, because they wanted to change some of the relationships. They didn't want to be pushed around by the White House correspondents.

And they did a lot of experimenting with going over the heads of the Washington reporters and trying to talk directly to television reporters and local reporters around the country and do an end run around the elitism of those special people who sit in the first few rows of the briefing room every day - not dissimilar in many respects to what Sean Spicer and team are trying to do right now.

LIASSON: That's absolutely true. But - and maybe you can make the analogy the other way by saying, well, you know what? A lot of things that Donald Trump said he was going to come in to do have been starting to revert to the norm. You know, on Russia, he's already announcing that he's been hemmed in, can't make the big deal with Vladimir Putin. So maybe, maybe - as I always say, this is like reality television without the television. Maybe reality will corral Donald Trump's more disruptive tendencies.

KEITH: OK. So as we mentioned before, on Saturday, President Trump is holding a rally in Melbourne, Fla., at a airport hangar.

DETROW: And it's actually run by his presidential campaign 'cause he's already filed for his 2020 re-election.

ELVING: And this is, perhaps in a way, like a lot of other things that Donald Trump does - just a more candid version of how politics is usually practiced. People usually want to be a little more - a little bit more guarded about it or a little bit more...

KEITH: They don't admit that it's basically a political campaign event.

ELVING: How about a veil or two over the reality? But in this case, Donald Trump is saying, I think this is going to work for me. I think I'm going to go out and be a political candidate even while I'm president.

KEITH: So I went back and was, like, digging through past presidents to try to find precedent for this. And I didn't find another campaign rally less than a month into the presidency. But I did find something that I thought was really fascinating. And it gets back to Bill Clinton again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL CLINTON: Let me first of all thank all of you for being here in Michigan and thank our audience.

KEITH: On February 10, 1993, Bill Clinton went and did a televised town hall in Detroit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: Because I can see now, after only three weeks, how easy it is for a president to get out of touch, to be caught up in the trappings of Washington and, basically, to be told by people that nothing needs to be changed or you can't change things.

KEITH: It feels exactly like what Donald Trump is doing, which is like - I'm going to go back to that thing that worked for me when I was running for president. And I'm going to do it again.

ELVING: Go back and plug into the populism. That is, at least, in some sense or another - maybe it's a polite fiction - but, at least in some sense or another, is at the heart of every presidential campaign. I am going to be the man of the people.

LIASSON: Yeah. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that, actually. Going back to the things that worked for you - they just don't always work when you're president. In other words, Barack Obama tried to use social media. He tried to use Organizing for America to help him pass legislation. You know, why not? You try to use the things that worked for you in the campaign. Sometimes, they work when you're the president, and, sometimes, they don't.

KEITH: On that note, we have to take one more quick break. But, Mara, you have to be on the radio, talking about this press conference. So we are going to cut you loose and let you go do that.

LIASSON: Well, thank you, guys. Thanks for having me.

DETROW: Bye, Mara.

KEITH: Yeah. Bye, Mara. Thanks for being on.

LIASSON: It's always a great honor and a pleasure to be in the podcast.

ELVING: Come by anytime.

LIASSON: Yeah, thanks.

DETROW: That's a fun reminder that we are also on the radio with our stories. We've gotten so many tweets saying, are you guys doing a podcast? Are you doing a podcast on this, which - it seems like, more and more, we are. But we're also doing stories on the radio that you can hear on NPR One or your local public radio station on every single twist and turn of all of this.

KEITH: So on that note, let's take a break. And we will be right back.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KEITH: All right. We are back. And we haven't answered questions in a while because we've been busy. But we've been reading those that come in. And it does help us to know what you're curious about. So, again, you can write the show at nprpolitics@npr.org. And we have a question from Cynthia (ph) in Sunnyvale, Calif. She writes, hello, NPR Politics peeps. It's mid-February. And I can't believe I'm asking this, but when will Trump give his State of the Union address? Has the administration given any indication that Trump will present one, or will he just send a nice letter over to Congress instead? Thanks.

ELVING: Well, when a new president comes into office, he does not - she would not - give a State of the Union address. They give an address to a joint session of Congress. And this one for President Trump is going to be on February 28. And that's just a week from tomorrow night.

DETROW: But it looks and feels exactly like the State of the Union. And for all intents and purposes, it basically is. The House will be there. The Senate will be there. Trump will be introduced - Mr. Speaker. He'll come in, and he'll give a speech. And the thing that I have been thinking about so much already - and I'm really curious to see how it plays out - is Donald Trump has blown up so many norms already. What will he do when he's giving that speech? And how, particularly, will he respond to Democrats?

ELVING: And Donald Trump said in his news conference again today that he hopes to unite the country, that the country was divided before he came, and he is trying to bring it together. We'll see how he handles that speech on February 28.

KEITH: All right. We have one last question from Caitlin (ph), who emailed, hey, guys. Who is this guy Stephen Miller I keep seeing? What is his role on the Trump team, and what's his backstory? Thanks, Caitlin. He is a 31-year-old advisor to President Trump. He works directly with Steve Bannon, who is Trump's top sort of political adviser.

DETROW: And he came from the Senate. He was a top aide to Jeff Sessions there.

KEITH: Who's now the attorney general.

DETROW: Now the attorney general - and Miller worked really hard with Jeff Sessions to kind of derail and blow up the bipartisan push for comprehensive immigration reform because a lot of the ways that that President Trump talks about immigration and frames immigration is the same way that then-Senator Sessions framed immigration. And Steven Miller was a top aide in that, where they are not interested in a pathway to citizenship. They want to see strong borders. They want to see a law-and-order approach. And they want to see a crackdown on people in the country illegally.

ELVING: So if you want a little more of an impression of Steve Miller, just go back to last Sunday morning and go to YouTube and watch the four talk shows that he was the exclusive spokesperson for the Trump White House on. And you can hear a little bit of what he has to say about voter fraud and so forth. He was also famous in his time at Duke for being a very high-profile confrontational conservative there and for being a champion and defender of the lacrosse team that was accused of sexual abuse. And, eventually, their accuser was discredited. And so Steve Miller came out on the winning side of that particular controversy.

KEITH: OK. Thanks as always for your questions and comments. Time now to end the show, as we love to do, with Can't Let It Go, when we all share one thing we can't stop thinking about, politics or otherwise. Scott.

DETROW: So I wanted to do this particular one. And then the news today made it really relevant. And I'm really happy with it. So first, I'm just going to play a clip of it. We'll listen, and then I'll explain it. So let's take a listen to this.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing) Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair.

DETROW: Do those words sound familiar at all? Those are Donald Trump tweets that - this site that makes videos called Super Deluxe decided that all the complaining he does on Twitter could be lyrics to an early-2000's-style, emo, rock song - like, punk-rock song.

KEITH: Did he just sing, (singing) it's unfair?

DETROW: So they're just - all they're doing is they're reading Trump - well, they're singing Trump tweets to, like, the style of an emo song.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing) If the press would cover me accurately and honorably, I would have far less reason to tweet.

KEITH: (Singing) Accurately and honorably.

DETROW: I feel like this one right here, like, perfectly gets, like, the emo era.

ELVING: Probably really does - truly does.

KEITH: I was never a fan of emo, just to state an unpopular opinion.

DETROW: I wasn't, either. But it brings me back to a very particular point in my life that I appreciate hearing.

(LAUGHTER)

ELVING: I have a CLIG - brings me back to a particular point of all of our lives. Last Friday night at the Warner Theatre here in Washington, D.C. - big thanks to everybody who turned out for that. It was a tremendously gratifying evening. We all had a great time. I hope everybody who was there did, as well. And I want to give a shoutout to the man who made that possible, our producer, the man who made the NPR POLITICS podcast what it is today. Happy Birthday, Brent.

TAMARA KEITH AND RON ELVING, BYLINE: (Singing) Happy Birthday to you.

DETROW: I can't sing the "Happy Birthday" song, but I'll applaud you doing it.

KEITH AND ELVING: (Singing) Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday...

TAMARA KEITH, RON ELVING AND SCOTT DETROW: (Singing) ...Dear Brent. Happy Birthday to you.

DETROW: Oh. I got off to...

KEITH: Oh. Vocalist needs to rehearse (laughter).

ELVING: Brent Baughman, everybody.

(APPLAUSE)

KEITH: Oh, wait, are we supposed to do snaps?

DETROW: You're not allowed to cut that.

KEITH: (Snapping fingers).

DETROW: Tam, do you have one?

KEITH: I do. It involves my 4-and-a-half-year-old son, who - we were reading stories earlier this week. And he likes to read about Star Wars. He has lots of Star Wars-related books. He has the Little Golden Books. And he also has a Star Wars graphic novel.

DETROW: Where did he get those from?

KEITH: I don't know.

DETROW: (Laughter).

KEITH: It might have been his mommy. Anyway, we were reading one of the books. And I happened to mention that Luke gets his hand cut off by Darth Vader.

ELVING: Oops.

KEITH: And my son was like, that's not right, Mommy. Darth Vader gets his hand cut off by Luke. And I'm like, well, you know, anything's possible. It's probably both. But whatever. Like, I'm telling you. Luke gets his hand cut off. Anyway, OK, buddy. Bed time. Lie down. Let's go to sleep. Fifteen minutes later - Mommy, I have something to show you.

DETROW: What was it?

KEITH: He had found in his graphic novel Darth Vader getting his hand cut off by Luke. About 20 minutes after that, he calls me again to show me in his graphic novel the part where the Wampa, the snow monster, gets his arm cut off by Luke. So now I have a 4-year-old who's just searching for all the examples of limbs being cut off in Star Wars. And there are many examples.

DETROW: There are. It's kind of a repeated theme.

ELVING: Yeah. It's great when your kids discover literature.

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: All right. That is all we have. So that's a wrap. Support the podcast by supporting your local public radio station. Go to npr.org/stations to find yours and donate. Tell them that we sent you. That really helps. And, just as importantly, it also helps your station get out there and cover the news in your community. And thanks to you, the folks who write to us and let us know that you've done that.

And, hey, sign up for our newsletter to get a rundown of all of our political reporting. Just go to npr.org/politicsnewsletter to get signed up. OK, we are going to try to take the day off on Monday since it's a holiday here in the U.S.

ELVING: President's Day.

DETROW: Ron, is that your favorite holiday?

ELVING: Oh, yes.

DETROW: (Laughter).

KEITH: And which is your favorite president, Ron?

ELVING: All of them.

DETROW: Oh, you have to have one.

ELVING: Millard Fillmore.

DETROW: Ooh, deep cut.

KEITH: All right.

DETROW: Ron was into Millard Fillmore before he went mainstream.

ELVING: Because my wife's maiden name was Fillmore. And we believe that she is a distant relative.

DETROW: These days, if you believe it, Ron, it's true.

ELVING: It's true.

KEITH: All right, guys. If there is major news over this holiday weekend, we will try to get you an episode. If not, we will talk to you on Tuesday. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

DETROW: I'm Scott Detrow. I cover Congress.

ELVING: And I'm Ron Elving, editor correspondent.

KEITH: And, of course, Mara Liasson was here. And we love her. Thanks for listening to the NPR Politics podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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