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Trump/McConnell Press Conference: The Highlights
President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) answered questions from reporters in an unscheduled, 40-minute Rose Garden press conference on Monday. Here's the most important lines, plus context:
On his relationship with McConnell: "We are probably now, despite what we read, we're probably now -- I think, at least as far as I'm concerned -- closer than ever before. And the relationship is very good...My relationship with this gentleman is outstanding."
Context: According to reports, Trump and McConnell have a very frosty relationship. Frustrated with the Senate's failure to pass health care reform, the President repeatedly negatively tweeted about McConnell in August. "I'm very disappointed in Mitch," Trump told reporters at the time. CNN also reported in August about an angry phone call between the two that led to a weeks-long period when they did not talk at all.
On his "drug czar" nominee: "As far as Tom Marino, so he was a very early supporter of mine -- the great state of Pennsylvania. He's a great guy. I did see the report. We're going to look into the report and we're going to take it very seriously...He's a good man. I have not spoken to him, but I will speak to him and I'll make that determination. And if I think it's one percent negative to doing what we want to do, I will make a change, yes."
Context: A joint "60 Minutes"/Washington Post investigation revealed that Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), Trump's nominee to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy, was a top advocate for a drug industry-backed bill that weakened the DEA's ability to go after opioid distributors, even as the opioid epidemic worsened. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on Monday called on Trump to withdraw his nomination of Marino; the President's refusal to declare his confidence in the nominee is notable, as is his granting Marino his trademark "kiss of death."
On Steve Bannon's challenges to incumbent Republican senators: "Well, I have a very good relationship, as you know, with Steve Bannon. Steve has been a friend of mine for a long time. I like Steve a lot. Steve is doing what Steve thinks is the right thing. Some of the people that he may be looking at, I'm going to see if we talk him out of that, because, frankly, they're great people... have a fantastic relationship with the people in the Senate, and with the people in Congress."
Context: Breitbart News executive chairman Steve Bannon, who was serving in the White House as Trump's chief strategist just two months ago, continues to gear up to challenge Republican incumbents in the 2018 election, threatening to go after every GOP senator except for Ted Cruz (R-TX). Trump can't seem to make up his mind about the challenges, telling reporters after a Cabinet meeting on Monday, "I can understand where Steve Bannon is coming from." The President said that that the Republican Congress isn't "getting the job done," adding: "And I'm not going to blame myself, I'll be honest." According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump has privately called Bannon to offer encouragement. But, with McConnell at his side, the President stopped short of criticizing Republican senators, instead praising his relationship with them.
On declaring a national emergency on opioids: "We are going to be doing that next week. By the way, you know that's a big step. By the way, people have no understanding of what you just said. That is a very, very big statement. It's a very important step. And to get to that step, a lot of work has to be done and it's time-consuming work. We're going to be doing in next week, okay?"
Context: Trump said in August that he would declare a national emergency to combat the opioid crisis, but has yet to sign a formal declaration doing so.
On soldiers killed in Niger: "I've written them personal letters. They've been sent, or they're going out tonight, but they were written during the weekend. I will, at some point during the period of time, call the parents and the families -- because I have done that, traditionally. I felt very, very badly about that. I always feel badly...So, the traditional way -- if you look at President Obama and other Presidents, most of them didn't make calls, a lot of them didn't make calls. I like to call when it's appropriate, when I think I'm able to do it."
Context: Four American soldiers were killed during an operation in Niger on October 4, and Trump had received criticism for not yet commenting on the deaths. Responding to questioning over his communication with their families, President Trump took the opportunity to criticize his predecessors, falsely claiming that they didn't call relatives of fallen soldiers. "That's a f---ing like," former White House deputy chief of staff Alyssa Mastromonaco, who served in the Obama White House for 5+ years, responded on Twitter. Gen. Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also responded: "POTUS [George W. Bush] & [Barack Obama] and first ladies cared deeply, worked tirelessly for the serving, the fallen, and their families. Not politics. Sacred Trust."
Later in the press conference, when pressed on the claim, Trump backed down: "President Obama I think probably did [call families of fallen soldiers] sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn't. I don't know. That's what I was told. All I can do -- all I can do is ask my generals. Other Presidents did not call. They’d write letters. And some Presidents didn't do anything." A White House statement later defended Trump's remarks, saying that it is true that past Presidents, like Trump, have not "called each family of the fallen," although that is not the claim Trump made.
On attacks at the U.S. embassy in Cuba: "I think Cuba knew about it, sure. I do believe Cuba is responsible."
Context: The U.S. embassy in Havana has been the target of a series of recent attacks against U.S. personnel. The Cuban government has denied responsibility for the attacks, and the State Department has yet to identify the attacker, repeatedly refusing to place blame on Cuba.
On if he is considering firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller: "No, not at all."
Context: Trump's flat-out refusal to fire Mueller, who is leading the FBI's investigation into collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, is a reversal from previous months, when he has left the possibility of removing the Special Counsel open.
On Hillary Clinton: "Oh, I hope Hillary runs. Is she going to run? I hope. Hillary, please run again."
Context: Trump was asked about Clinton's recent comments on the NFL controversy. Echoing a message he tweeted earlier in the day, Trump urged his formal rival to run for the Presidency again in 2020.
"To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain “the last best hope of earth” for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history." -- Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), accepting the Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center on Tuesday, in a sharp rebuke of the "America First" nationalism championed by Steve Bannon and others inside his party.
Today at the White House
The President: President Trump meets today with Defense Secretary James Mattis this morning.
Later, he meets with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece, before holding a working luncheon and then a joint press conference with Tsipras. The presser will be Trump's second time in two days facing reporters in the Rose Garden, a format he is said to enjoy. The President is often critical of or contradictory to his own spokespeople and prefers his own press conferences, which give him control over his own message and the news cycle.
After the Prime Minister departs, Trump participates in a lighting of the ceremonial Diya (an oil lamp) to mark Diwali, the Hindu autumn festival that begins on Thursday.
Tonight, Trump addresses the Heritage Foundation's President's Club Meeting at the Marriott Marquis Washington D.C.
The Vice President: Vice President Mike Pence travels to Buffalo, New York today, where he holds an event on tax reform and a reception for Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), an early Trump supporter who is under investigation for using his office to benefit a company he sits on the board of. The Office of Congressional Ethics released a report last week saying there was "substantial reason" to believe the allegations.
Today in Congress
The Senate: The upper chamber votes today to confirm David Joel Trachtenberg as Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. Trachtenberg, who currently runs a national security council firm, served in the Pentagon under George W. Bush. His nomination was approved by a voice vote of the Senate Armed Services Committee in July. The chamber will also hold its weekly caucus meetings today.
The House: The lower chamber is on recess all week.