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Trump Transition Continues Amid Fallout From Controversial Tweets


President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet is taking shape. Today he announced that Georgia Congressman Tom Price, a longtime opponent of Obamacare, will be the head of Health and Human Services. Elaine Chao is his choice for transportation secretary.

And Trump is trending on Twitter again. This morning he tweeted that flag burners should perhaps be jailed or lose their citizenship. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is back in the studio with us. Hi there.


SHAPIRO: Let's talk first about the Cabinet. Elaine Chao is a familiar name to many.

LIASSON: Absolutely - mainstream pick - she'd be the kind of person who would be considered for a position in any Republican president's Cabinets because she's actually been in a couple of them. She was the labor secretary for George W. Bush. She was the deputy transportation secretary for George H.W. Bush. She's also one half of the ultimate Republican power couple. She's married to Mitch McConnell, the majority leader in the Senate.

SHAPIRO: And how about Congressman Tom Price? Would you also consider him a mainstream pick?

LIASSON: He - this one is significant because it tells you that Trump is serious about replacing and - repealing and replacing Obamacare because Tom Price is a doctor. He's worked on these issues for a long time. He actually has a plan to replace Obamacare, something that has bedeviled Republicans for years as they voted over 60 times to repeal it but never found something to replace it with. So doing that without kicking 20 million people off of their health care is tricky.

And we know that in Price's plan, there are a lot of different pieces, some tax credits similar to the subsidies, some tax incentives to save up for health care. But Republicans say they want all the people who are getting health care now on the exchanges or through Medicaid to be able to continue to get affordable care. So the big question is, how do you do that?

Also, Donald Trump has said he wants to keep Medicare and Social Security the way they are. Congressman Price along with most Republicans are on record supporting voucherizing Medicare. So there are going to be some conflicts to resolve there.

SHAPIRO: And although Donald Trump has not held a formal press conference since, July he has put out a lot of statements on Twitter, including one this morning. Quote, "nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag. If they do, there must be consequences, perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail." Mara, what do you make of this?

LIASSON: Well, this is the Trump presidency so far - announcements of staff in the - during the day and at night and early in the morning, a lot of tweeting.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

LIASSON: This is his favorite method of directly communicating with the public. Flag burning is a hearty perennial. Who is for flag burning? It's like mom and apple pie. But what raised a lot of concerns on the part of Democrats and some Republicans was that he said the punishment should be perhaps losing your citizenship.

So Democrats and Republicans who've been worried about Trump's commitment to democratic institutions and values pointed at this tweet as exhibit A for his authoritarian tendencies because number one, the Supreme Court led by Trump's favorite justice, Antonin Scalia, has already declared flag burning, however repugnant, to be protected First Amendment speech. And number two, it's also unconstitutional to revoke someone's citizenship as punishment. The Supreme Court ruled in 1958 that that would be cruel and unusual punishment.

SHAPIRO: And later this week, the president-elect is going to Ohio for a rally. The election is over, so why hold a rally (laughter) in swing state Ohio?

LIASSON: Because this is his thank-you tour. He might also go to Michigan. Tweeting and big rallies were the hallmarks of Trump's campaign. He wants to continue them. Meanwhile, he's staffing up a pretty traditional, very conservative Republican government, not a populist outsider government, at least not yet.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you very much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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