Trump's New Tone Wins Praise, But Only For 24 Hours Trump got generally positive reviews for his address to Congress. But then, the good news was overtaken by more revelations of contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials.
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Trump's New Tone Wins Praise, But Only For 24 Hours

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Trump's New Tone Wins Praise, But Only For 24 Hours

Trump's New Tone Wins Praise, But Only For 24 Hours

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/518391543/518391546" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

What started as a good week for President Trump has gotten a bit complicated. The president got positive reviews after his speech to a joint session of Congress. Then that positivity was quickly eclipsed by reports about more undisclosed contacts between Trump associates and the Russian government. It's been a recurring pattern for this administration - stepping on its own good news cycle. NPR's Scott Horsley reports on whether the White House is getting any better at navigating the daily ups and downs.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: In his primetime speech this week, President Trump didn't really change what he's been saying about taxes, trade or terrorism, but the way he said it was different on Tuesday night.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us.

HORSLEY: Commentators generally applauded Trump's kinder, gentler way of speaking.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: This is a tone that I think people were looking for just merely to see if he had it in him.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Absolutely Donald Trump in a much more sort of classic presidential mode than we've seen from him before.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Republicans who were very pleased at this performance last night are asking themselves, can he sustain it?

HORSLEY: The White House managed to sustain that positive coverage for not quite 24 hours.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Breaking overnight - Attorney General Jeff Sessions facing calls to resign.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: There are calls this morning for him to resign, George.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Or at minimum, recuse himself from that investigation.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: A growing chorus of Democratic lawmakers calling for Sessions to step back from the Russia investigation, even step down.

HORSLEY: News that his attorney general twice had contacts last year with the Russian ambassador and failed to tell lawmakers overshadowed Trump's trip to a new aircraft carrier where he hoped to highlight his call for more military spending. Sessions' announcement late yesterday that he would recuse himself from any investigation might have tamped down the story, but Trump revived it this afternoon with an angry tweet about Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and his 2003 meeting with the Russian president.

ARI FLEISCHER: One of Donald Trump's greatest weaknesses is that he's such a good counter-puncher; he often hits himself.

HORSLEY: Ari Fleischer, who was George W. Bush's White House spokesman, thinks Trump would be better off focusing on his own economic agenda rather than responding to every critic. Of course some of the president's most ardent supporters like his combative approach. For Gail Anderson of Melbourne Beach, Fla., the more people attack Trump, the better she likes him.

GAIL ANDERSON: They're just poor losers. And I am so glad we have someone in there now who cares about America.

HORSLEY: Still, Fleischer says nursing his fans' grievances is not enough.

FLEISCHER: If the Trump presidency is only about keeping his base, he's not going to be a very successful president.

HORSLEY: The White House has only now hired a communications director to look beyond the daily news cycle and craft more substantive messages. For now, much of the real policymaking is taking place on Capitol Hill. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is happy to have a president who will sign GOP tax cuts or an Obamacare repeal bill. But as McConnell said last month, he'd like to see Trump show a little more message discipline.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: I've been pretty candid with him and with all of you that I'm not a great fan of daily tweets. What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing.

HORSLEY: Trump came out of the presidential campaign with little in the way of detailed policy, and most of his inner circle has no government experience. In a rush to look busy, the White House has tripped over itself on measures like the now-suspended travel ban. Ari Fleischer's advice is to slow down.

FLEISCHER: It's the power of the presidency. It's a tremendous power, but it depends on getting your facts lined up and your ducks in a row. If Donald Trump does that, he can be a very successful president, but he's got to master these inside pieces.

HORSLEY: And that's a lot tougher than just giving a one-hour speech. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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