After Speech To Congress, Trump Holds Meeting With GOP Leaders

Mar 1, 2017
Originally published on March 1, 2017 5:21 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today, after his address to Congress, President Trump has been uncharacteristically low-key, tweeting just two words - thank you - all caps. At the White House, he met with Republican House and Senate leaders for a legislative strategy session.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The president left it up to Vice President Pence to blanket the airwaves, touting the president's performance last night. On NBC's "Today" show, Pence argued that President Trump's softer, sunnier tone was just a reflection of the man he's known all along.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODAY")

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: The American people got a look at the president in full. They saw that - they saw his strength. They saw his compassion. They saw his determination to move this country forward with optimism.

CORNISH: And for their part, Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, Trump's words don't matter much. Here's what Schumer told Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep in an interview to air tomorrow.

CHUCK SCHUMER: Donald Trump, when he gives his speeches, talks like a populist. And he talks to middle class and working America and poor people. But when he governs, at least in his first 40 days, he governs like a hard-right guy.

CORNISH: So what now?

SIEGEL: Well, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us from the White House to lay out the way forward. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: How are they feeling at the White House today after last night's speech?

LIASSON: They are feeling really good. The president got good reviews. He's someone who's focused on performance, and he turned in a good one. And they expect a bump in his approval ratings, which I'm sure he'll tell people about. Tomorrow, he's going to go out of town. He's going to give a speech on an aircraft carrier in Virginia, and he's going to talk about those big increases he wants in the defense budget. On Friday, he's going to go to Florida and visit a Catholic school where he'll be talking about school choice.

SIEGEL: So the White House is happy with his speech?

LIASSON: White House is happy.

SIEGEL: What are you hearing from Capitol Hill?

LIASSON: From Republicans I've talked to, they say they wanted a disciplined, focused, more optimistic tone, and that's what they got. Some of them question how long it will last. They're a little bit nervous about that. On the Democratic side, you heard they're not too happy with it. But because the bar was so low for the president because he'd been so undisciplined and impulsive and chaotic in his communications, when he gave a more subdued, restrained speech that looked and sounded like an ordinary Republican State of the Union address, he got a lot of credit for it.

SIEGEL: What about policy? Do Republicans now feel that they have the specifics they need to enact these ideas - to turn the principles of Trump's speech into legislation?

LIASSON: I think they'd like a little more. There are a lot of questions that are still unanswered. You know, on health care, Trump laid out five principles but not much detail. And there's still a lot of issues that have to be resolved. Do the Republicans just want Obamacare-lite? In other words, take the subsidies and turn them into something else - refundable tax credits like in the House Republican plan.

Then there are a lot of political questions not just in terms of selling this idea to conservative members of Congress who want a much cleaner repeal - they see those tax credits as a new entitlement - but the questions of if you get rid of the mandate and shrink Medicaid coverage, you could end up helping young healthy voters, who didn't vote for Trump but who will no longer be forced to buy insurance, and hurting older working-class Americans, many of whom are Trump voters who will now no longer be covered by the Medicaid expansion.

SIEGEL: Now, the president also outlined some policy priorities last night that were not typical Republican issues of concern.

LIASSON: Not at all - $1 trillion in infrastructure, a new entitlement for paid family leave, lower drug prices. It sounded like a Democrat had been elected. This was a real have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too wish list. And the Trump priorities - those priorities are not necessarily the top priorities of congressional Republicans. They cost a lot of money. Trump has yet to say how he wants to pay for them.

And today, Vice President Pence was on the Laura Ingraham Show. She's a conservative radio talk show host, and she really grilled him about whether he has turned from a deficit hawk to a deficit dove. And he pretty much agreed. He said the way we pay for all this, the way we get rid of the debt and deficit is with economic growth. So maybe Republicans only care about the debt and deficits when there's a Democrat in the White House.

SIEGEL: That's NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks.

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