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Trump Continues To Defend His Actions Around Ukraine


President Trump did something today that he has done at other trying times in his presidency. He held an open Cabinet meeting. There, for 71 minutes with the cameras rolling, the president defended his decision to pull troops out of northern Syria and again decried the Democratic impeachment inquiry.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think they want to impeach me because it's the only way they're going to win. They've got nothing. All they have is a phone call that was perfect.

SHAPIRO: It is the latest in Trump's efforts to manage his White House and his message. And here to talk us through it is NPR's Tamara Keith. Hi, Tam.


SHAPIRO: This Cabinet meeting lasted more than an hour, as we said - cameras rolling the whole time. Was there actual Cabinet business being discussed? What did the president have to say?

KEITH: Well, there was an official purpose for the meeting, which was to discuss deregulation and the president's deregulation agenda. That did not become the focus of this. The president didn't even really talk about that in his long opening monologue, where he weighed in on any number of things - talked about how wonderful he says the country is doing, said his rallies set attendance records and - even for someone without a guitar, he said. He gave an update...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

KEITH: ...Of sorts on the situation in Turkey with the Kurds and Syria. And he even weighed in on the spat between Tulsi Gabbard and Hillary Clinton that's been going on over the weekend.

But as you hinted, what President Trump does is he holds these Cabinet meetings at difficult times in his presidency to try to assert control over the news cycle when he's lost control of it; to show himself at that big Cabinet table looking presidential, surrounded by his Cabinet, calling on them, asking them to say things. And also, he uses it to vent. And he had a lot of grievances to talk about today.


TRUMP: Pelosi, Shifty Schiff, Schumer - these people are trying to destroy the country. It's a very bad thing what they're doing. The president of the United States should be allowed to run the country, not have to focus on this kind of crap.

KEITH: And his message was basically, I'm doing all of these great things. Why don't you focus on the great things? Why do I have to deal with this impeachment stuff?

SHAPIRO: As you referenced, there was a lot for the White House to deal with last week, much of its own making, from the pushback to President Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria to the announcement that the G-7 would be held at a Trump property in Florida, which was then revoked - rescinded; the chief of staff acknowledging a quid pro quo in Ukraine before denying he said that. Did President Trump talk about all those difficulties?

KEITH: Well, he certainly acknowledged his frustration and vented his frustration. But you know, he reversed himself over the weekend. And that is a rare thing for President Trump to do and an indication that on the G-7 being held at his resort, he was having a hard time finding anyone to defend him.

And the one person who went out to defend him, Mick Mulvaney, then had to go back on TV. Over the weekend, he was on "Fox News Sunday" saying, well, gosh, if we had made that decision a couple of days ago, then we wouldn't have had all of these other events happen and the quid pro quo statements. And then when he was there on "Fox News Sunday," he sort of explained but didn't fully explain why the president reversed himself on the G-7.


MICK MULVANEY: He was honestly surprised at the level of pushback. At the end of the day, you know, he still considers himself to be a - in the hospitality business. And he saw an opportunity to take the biggest leaders from around the world, and he wanted to put on the absolute best show, the best visit that he possibly could. And he was very comfortable doing that at Doral.

KEITH: And it was sort of this weird acknowledgement - Mick Mulvaney, the chief of staff, going out there to try to fix stuff and then saying that the president, who's been in office for three years, still considers himself to be in the hospitality business.

SHAPIRO: There have been a couple of widely criticized appearances by Mulvaney now. He's still the acting chief of staff even though he's been in the job almost a year. Does he have any job security right now?

KEITH: Well, the job security may come from the fact that it's unclear who would want this job. President Trump has made it quite clear through his actions and his statements that he doesn't want someone to manage the White House in a traditional way. He wants to be his own communications director and his own chief of staff.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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