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Recapping The Week In Politics

Dec 23, 2018
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Parts of the government shut down. The markets are spooked. The secretary of defense has quit, and the president has accelerated his departure. And Christmas is around the corner. Here we are beginning another week of 2018 during the Trump presidency. Santa has left NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson under the tree for us this morning to explain it all. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: At least I didn't have to come down the chimney.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Even for a president who thrives on chaos, this looks like peak Trump, doesn't it? What kind of political costs could there be to the shutdown?

LIASSON: That's a good question. Usually, the public blames one side or another for a government shutdown. And, of course, Trump said very publicly that he would be happy to bear the blame and bear the mantle for a shutdown. But the president's outside advisers don't think that he's going to pay a big political price. They say only part of the government is shut down. It's Christmas week. Most people are checked out. But shutting down the government, even for people who support the wall - shutting down the government to get the wall is not seen as worth it by majorities of Americans. However, the president's supporters and key advisers say it's much more politically dangerous for him to be seen as caving on the wall than shutting down the government.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But what is the strategy here? - because somebody has to cave, right? And the Democrats are saying that they're not going to be the ones to blink.

LIASSON: And as time goes on, they have less and less incentive to do that since they're about to take over the House in January. One scenario for an endgame that was described to me by someone who has spent some time with the president recently is that the government stays closed till January, but then the president agrees to open it up. But he orders the military to start digging holes or putting up fencing, kind of like what he did when he sent them to the border for the caravan. And Trump has been tweeting about this. He's been tweeting that one way or another, the wall will get built. Maybe the military has to build it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, of course, that's not really clear what he means by that. And on top of all this, he has also thrown his foreign policy into a tailspin by threatening to pull troops from Syria and Afghanistan. He's gotten a lot of pushback from this from inside his own administration. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned, reportedly in protest. And today Trump announced he's out earlier than scheduled - on New Year's Day instead of the end of February. What's happening?

LIASSON: Well, Mattis had said he wanted to leave at the end of February just to make a smooth transition. The president seems to have looked at TV - the president appears to not like the kind of coverage that his decision has been getting and the kind of lionizing that Mattis has been getting for quitting on principle. Yes, you're right. The president has gotten a lot of pushback from his own party in Congress who are unhappy about his decision to pull out of Syria, unhappy and really freaked out, actually, that Mattis decided to resign. He was one of those guardrails that, along with some other ex-officials, kept the president from acting on his instincts in foreign policy and many areas.

But now Trump is unshackled. And he can enact his America First isolationist agenda, pulling troops not just out of Syria, also out of Afghanistan. And Republicans are worried. What is going to happen next? Is he going to pull troops out of South Korea because it's expensive there, as he has complained about in the past. And it also means that he is now distracted. You mentioned the stock market going down. The government is shut down. The Russia investigation is continuing. He's distracted. He doesn't have his party behind him on foreign policy. It means he's less able to respond if there's a foreign crisis.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you so much.

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