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In Call To Troops, Trump Shines The Light On Himself


President Trump spent a part of this Thanksgiving Day calling American troops. It's a traditional function of the commander in chief to shine a spotlight on those who serve. It captured extra attention this year because the president took the opportunity to shine a spotlight on himself. During the calls, he promoted his own agenda, changed the subject to strong borders. And then he took questions from reporters. One asked what he was thankful for on Thanksgiving, and the president said he was thankful for his family and for himself.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I've made a tremendous difference in the country. This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office that you wouldn't believe it. And, I mean, you see it, but so much stronger that people can't even believe it.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is here. Tamara, good morning.


INSKEEP: Is it normal that a president on this nonpartisan kind of occasion - Thanksgiving, talking to the troops - would essentially spend the day saying, what about me?

KEITH: It is not normal for most presidents, for other presidents, but it's not abnormal for President Trump. I will remind you of the Boy Scouts Jamboree last year. He went to this big event with all these Boy Scouts. And it's typically a very nonpolitical type of event. And the president delivered a very political speech that was, at time, even a little bit risque. And that caused the Boy Scouts to have to apologize.

INSKEEP: I just wonder, Tamara, if this is just representative of the way the president sees the job. The president is elected to be the head of state, as well as the head of the administration. He has ceremonial functions. He's supposed to rise above politics from time to time. He doesn't see any point in any of that, and he's all partisan all the time.

KEITH: He has a very partisan lens on things. He also has a lens - he sees it through himself. And he also is a big cheerleader, though. And so when he talks about how great the country is doing, that gets to the part that he sees himself as being, you know, a cheerleader. It's the same way where he has gone to disaster areas and focused on how great the first responders did rather than putting focus on the suffering of the victims.

INSKEEP: I see. That's the part where he might say he is promoting the country at large. Now, the president also talked about the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. As we've reported, the CIA has determined that Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of a journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. But the president still doesn't endorse that. Let's listen.


TRUMP: I hate the crime. I hate what's done. I hate the cover-up. And I will tell you this. The crown prince hates it more than I do. And they have vehemently denied it. The CIA points at both ways.

INSKEEP: Again, NPR has been told the CIA doesn't point at both ways. But that part about the crown prince regretting this, hating this more than he does - what's he saying there?

KEITH: You know, President Trump has been very transactional in his approach to this. And more than anything, he seems to be looking for an out because he wants to continue to have strong relations with Saudi Arabia, even as members of Congress are pushing back firmly, saying that the U.S. needs to respond.

INSKEEP: OK. Tamara, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. 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.