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The Surprises From President Trump's First Week


Members of the Trump administration are making the rounds on the Sunday talk shows in an attempt to clarify details of their executive order. But as the morning goes on, many of the details of the rule are becoming less clear. NPR's Mara Liasson joins us now.



GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's just note that we are learning about major pieces of policy affecting many people on Sunday talk shows. Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, seemed to say this morning on NBC's "Meet The Press" that this executive order does not now affect green card holders. Let's hear what he said.


REINCE PRIEBUS: As far as green card holders, moving forward, it doesn't affect them. But here's the deal, if you're coming in and out of one of those seven countries, then you're going to be subjected, temporarily, with more questioning until a better program is put in place over the next several months.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Walk us through what the president's team is saying this morning.

LIASSON: Well, what they're saying is, over time green card holders will not be affected, but in the short-term they might be subject to more screening. U.S. citizens might also be subject to more screening if they come back and forth from these countries.

The White House feels comfortable that most Americans will think this sounds perfectly reasonable. Donald Trump is just trying to keep them safe. Reince Priebus was also asked why other Muslim countries that have been the country of origin for terrorists who have attacked the U.S. but also are countries where Trump has business interests or hotels - why weren't they on the list. He said, well, maybe other countries will be added in the future.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Other countries added in the future. Mara, President Trump is just starting his second week, and he's already made a number of dramatic moves. Should this surprise anyone?

LIASSON: No, I think that he's moved very quickly to make good on promises that he made during the campaign. He has heartened his supporters by that, and he has horrified some of his critics. Yes, he's caused a lot of confusion and even chaos, as you saw at the airports this weekend. He's gotten pushback from the federal judiciary. Sometimes he stepped on his own story. He's embraced conspiracy theories. He's shown that he really cares about his box office, crowd size, etc.

But the bottom line is that the White House thinks he's been very successful. Kellyanne Conway tweeted this recently. She said (reading) get used to it. POTUS is a man of action and impact - promises made, promises kept, shock to the system. And he's just getting started. So I think when we heard during the campaign that supporters took him seriously but not literally and his critics took him literally but not seriously. Now we're learning it's a good idea to take him seriously and literally.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed. How much of a shock to the system has it been, as Kellyanne Conway put it?

LIASSON: Well, I think it has been a shock to the system. There's also been questions raised about who's calling the shots at the White House. The executive order process seems driven by a very small group led by Steve Bannon who is Donald Trump's chief strategist and keeper of his nationalist, populist ideology. He has been accused of not coordinating enough with other agencies, which resulted in some of the chaos this weekend. But just to give you an idea of how important he is, Donald Trump has elevated him, by executive order, to a seat on the Principals Committee of the National Security Council at the same time that he downgraded the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

This is something that's unusual. David Axelrod, for instance, who had the same position in the Obama White House, said that he never sat on a principals committee meeting. He only was in the Situation Room as an observer. So the big question is - did Bannon create chaos on purpose or, did the chaos ensue because he and other White House aides are inexperienced or maybe even a little paranoid? I'm told one of the reasons that they didn't reach out and coordinate with other agencies was not just because they were in a rush, but because they feared that career bureaucrats would sabotage their policy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bannon has indeed been quite a controversial figure. Remind us a bit who he is now that he is so powerful.

LIASSON: He is a former investment banker, worked at Goldman Sachs, also was the chairman of Breitbart, the website which traffics in conspiracy theories and has become a haven for white nationalists. Bannon told a Daily Beast reporter in 2014 - he described himself as a Leninist. He said (reading) Lenin wanted to destroy the state. That's my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today's establishment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How is the rest of President Trump's party responding to this very eventful week?

LIASSON: I think there's been some pushback from Republican members of Congress on the refugee ban, but mostly silence from the leadership. I think Republicans are a little confused and cowed by Donald Trump. They have changed their positions - to get closer to him - on immigration, trade, governing by executive order, deficit spending, crony capitalism, conflicts of interest. Republicans used to be against all of those things, not anymore. Although at the bottom line, they're very, very happy that Donald Trump is going to be signing their agenda into law.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Mara Liasson, thanks so much for being with us.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.