Trump Played A Low-Key Role In Weekend Shutdown Negotiations

Jan 22, 2018
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It is the first weekday of the partial government shutdown. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill worked through the weekend, trying to find some kind of compromise to reopen the government. President Trump also stuck close to his office. He canceled plans to travel to his Mar-a-Lago resort this weekend. Instead, he stayed behind at the White House during those negotiations. For more, we're joined by White House correspondent, NPR's Scott Horsley. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What do we know specifically about the role that the president played in negotiations over the weekend?

HORSLEY: Well, we know it was a low-key role. He stayed largely out of sight during the weekend. The president did spend some time on the phone with the No. 2 Republicans in the Senate and the House, John Cornyn and Kevin McCarthy. His chief of staff was on the phone with Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader. And Marc Short at the White House legislative liaison was also on Capitol Hill last evening. But there was no big, you know, White House summit where he brought all the players together to sort of knock some heads, as Chuck Schumer had suggested he do at the end of the last week. This was a case where the guy whose face is on the cover of "The Art Of The Deal" apparently left the deal making to others.

MARTIN: So we know he was on the phone. We know that because the White House tweeted out this picture of the president at his desk in the Oval Office on the phone. The president, though, was pretty quiet on Twitter, which is extraordinary. So do we imagine that this was intentional to keep the president quiet?

HORSLEY: It's always risky, I think, to try to assign strategy to the president's Twitter feed. But, you know, you heard Senator Chris Coons talk earlier in the hour about the lack of trust. And this is a case where the negotiations are in a delicate stage. You could say this shutdown happened because of a lack of trust. Ending this shutdown is going to take some trust rebuilding, and it may be that the less the president is seen, the easier that is. The White House was also busy dealing with the mechanics of the shutdown over the weekend. For example, there was a flurry of activity over getting the sports channel on Armed Forces Network restarted so that men and women in uniform around the world could watch the NFL playoffs.

MARTIN: Right. Both Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and Republican Lindsey Graham suggested that the president has not been a reliable negotiating partner and more specifically that the president's aides have been interfering in talks, especially when it comes to immigration - Senator Graham in particular calling out White House adviser Stephen Miller. Can you explain what his role has been in all this?

HORSLEY: That's right. Miller is a policy aide and a speechwriter for the president. And he used to be an aide to now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions when Sessions was in the Senate. Sessions and Miller are both hard-liners on immigration. Graham described Miller as an outlier for years. That was certainly true back in 2013 when they torpedoed a bipartisan immigration compromise. But it may be that the center of gravity in the GOP has moved in Miller's direction.

MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Thanks, Scott.

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