SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This week, President Trump steps into the role of consoler in chief in Puerto Rico and Las Vegas. He also moved toward a couple of policy changes he's hinted about previously and plopped a mystery in front of the press one night after dinner.
NPR's Ron Elving, senior political correspondent, joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: In Puerto Rico, as a lot of people will note, the president tossed out a few packages of paper towels to survivors of the hurricanes that have devastated this island that's part of the United States. And he said, I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you've thrown our budget a little out of whack. Anyone consoled?
ELVING: There were some in the immediate crowd, Scott, who were smiling. But the president chose to make his tour of the damage in a rather affluent area where the damage was not so severe. Elsewhere on the island, these remarks seemed surreal. Plus, there was his rather cavalier comment about Puerto Rico's debt crisis, which is quite severe and which he dismissed and said, well, that's gone. That's gone. That's gone. Well, the next day, the president's budget director had to walk that back and say we shouldn't take that word for word. And all of this gave the impression that the president wasn't taking Puerto Rico as seriously as he did the hurricane disasters in Texas and Florida.
SIMON: Did he leave a different impression the next day in Las Vegas?
ELVING: You know, he did, and very much so. Whether it was recompense or whether the Vegas shooting just got to him on another level, one of his most authentic moments, really, of apparent empathy since he took office.
SIMON: We're getting a tweet from president - from President Trump. Or we're not getting it. But he's tweeted, I called Chuck Schumer yesterday to see if the Dems would do a great health care bill. Obamacare is badly broken, big premiums. Who knows?
ELVING: Who knows, indeed. He has...
SIMON: That's why I asked you - yes?
ELVING: He has - he has made a couple of new BFFs in the people he calls Chuck and Nancy - Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House - on the subject of the debt ceiling and on the subject of the fiscal cliff that we were facing back in September. Now we pushed it off to December. It was a big shock to the Republicans when the president made the deal with Democrats. And he has threatened to do something similar with them with respect to the DREAMers, the U.S. residents who were brought here by - when they were still children. And this could be the next one of his big moves, if you could call it a move, to the left, perhaps. But really what he's doing is he's maneuvering to put the Republican leadership in Congress in the crosshairs.
SIMON: Do you foresee Secretary of State Tillerson going back to one of his ranches any time soon?
ELVING: You know, the liveliest speculation game in Washington right now is playing Rexit (ph), guessing the day that Rex Tillerson exits the Cabinet. He was first suggested to Bush - suggested by Bush officials. He was not a Trump crony. And the Bush officials had little use for Trump. And Tillerson was accepted by Trump despite the fact that he had little use for former Bush officials. So this was not a marriage made in heaven. And at the moment, it promises to be a mercifully brief marriage.
SIMON: Bob Corker of Tennessee Senate, head of the Senate foreign relations committee, said, quote, "I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis and chief of staff Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos." That is not a ringing endorsement of executive leadership, is it?
ELVING: No. And the question is, from whence cometh this chaos? Is it something that the president can't protect us from? Or is the chaos, in a sense, the responsibility of this palace guard because it's coming from inside the palace itself?
SIMON: And president had dinner with military families, called in photographers and said, maybe it's the calm before the storm. And when he was asked why, he said, you'll find out. What do you make of this?
ELVING: We simply don't know what the president meant by this. Perhaps it was a passing whim, a phrase that occurred to him, sounded good, a comment on how nice all these military leaders and their spouses looked on the eve of what might be our next confrontation with a foreign power. I think we can all hope that's not the case.
SIMON: NPR senior political editor and correspondent Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us as always.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott.
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