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Trump Transition Latest: Departure From Decades-Long U.S Foreign Policy; 'Thank-You Tour'


President-elect Donald Trump has yet to name a secretary of state, but he shook up longstanding U.S. foreign policy this past week. And while he went off the usual script in the international arena, at home, he seemed stuck in campaign mode at times. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins me now to talk about where the Trump transition stands. Hey, Mara.


CHANG: So let's start with Trump's phone conversation with the president of Taiwan. It was a huge departure from what's been U.S. policy since 1979. What do you think? Was this the stumbling of an amateur or a more deliberate negotiating move?

LIASSON: I think it was more deliberate because according to his advisers, Trump is fully aware of the U.S. One China policy, where we have a military relationship with Taiwan, but no formal diplomatic relationship. And several of his advisers, including John Bolton, who's the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., have been advocating for a series of steps that would bring the U.S. closer to Taiwan, in order to show strength against China. So now the question is how does China react, and does the brand new Trump administration have a long term strategy for China? Have they thought through the next steps?

CHANG: Speaking of John Bolton, his name was bandied about at one point for secretary of state. What's the status of all that right now?

LIASSON: We don't know. There are reports that Mitt Romney's star is fading as a secretary of state candidate after his "Celebrity Apprentice"-like interviews with Trump last week and that now John Bolton and Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who's been described as the most pro-Putin member of Congress, are now in the mix, along with David Petraeus and Rudy Giuliani.

CHANG: Trump seemed to be back on the campaign trail last week with what he billed as a thank you tour in the Midwest. What was that all about?

LIASSON: It was all about the fact that the campaign hasn't ended and maybe it never will. Those rallies and the thank you tour had a lot of familiar features - the chants of lock her up, Trump's attacks on the media, on Hillary Clinton. But the tour also had a policy aspect because Trump was able to go to the Carrier company in Indiana and say that he had personally saved 1,000 of the 2,400 jobs that Carrier had planned to move to Mexico.

Turns out that the state of Indiana - of course, Mike Pence, Trump's vice president, is still the governor there - had offered Carrier $7 million in tax incentives. And it's possible that Trump threatened to rethink the defense contracts that Carrier's parent company has. But this was definitely a PR coup. It showed that he meant what he said when he said he would personally intervene to save jobs. Of course, this is on a very, very small scale.

But critics said it just showed that any corporation can say it's going to move jobs to Mexico and then shake down the president of the United States. And there were some desperate Republican voices criticizing Trump from the Wall Street - and a Wall Street Journal editorial page to Sarah Palin, who's a fellow populist, who called this crony capitalism, where government picks winners and losers. This is the kind of thing that Republicans used to oppose when Democratic presidents did it, like the auto industry bailout.

CHANG: And finally, Mara, the recount initiated by Green Party candidate Jill Stein in Michigan and Wisconsin. There was also a recount request in Pennsylvania. Trump supporters filed suit Friday to stop the recount. Why is that?

LIASSON: Good question 'cause it's Trump himself who has said without evidence that millions and millions of votes were cast illegally. You'd think you'd want a recount to get to the bottom of that. But now Trump's lawyers in Pennsylvania are stating, quote, "there is no evidence or even an allegation that any tampering with Pennsylvania's voting systems actually occurred," even though it was Trump himself who made the allegation of nationwide voter fraud. But it's possible he just doesn't want anything to diminish his victory. Hillary Clinton is already ahead of him by about 2.5 million votes in the popular vote count, and a recount could shrink his margin.

CHANG: Thank you so much. That was NPR's Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.