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A Week Of Policy Reversals For Trump

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is off for a couple of weeks. I'm Linda Wertheimer. President Trump is celebrating Easter this weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort. He traveled to Florida with far fewer senior aides than usual. Those aides are likely scrambling to account for a number of significant policy changes the president made public this week. NPR senior political correspondent Mara Liasson is keeping a tally, and she joins us now. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: We're seeing an extraordinary moment in Donald Trump's presidency - already anything but ordinary. He's not just adjusting positions. He's out and out flipping. I count at least half a dozen major reversals this week.

LIASSON: There's a very long list. NATO was obsolete. Now it's not obsolete. China was manipulating its currency. Now it doesn't manipulate its currency. The Export-Import Bank was crony capitalism. Now it's important to small businesses. President Obama wasn't transparent enough. Now Donald Trump has reversed the Obama policy and has decided to keep the White House visitor logs secret. So the list goes on and on. Now, all presidents change their positions when they come into office. This is kind of like reality television without the television. But even though Donald Trump trumpets his flexibility as an important part of his leadership style, this is really policy whiplash.

WERTHEIMER: Let's take a look at health care. Donald Trump campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare immediately. His effort to do that with the American Health Care Act crashed last month, and now they're thinking about taking another run at it. What has changed?

LIASSON: Well, that's a tactical shift. You know, he said he was going to move on to tax reform. Now, he's back to wanting to do health care first, and his new negotiating stance is to threaten to stop the subsidies to insurance companies that keep the individual market going. He wants to hold those subsidies hostage so that, as he puts it, the Democrats will come running to him, begging for negotiations because he couldn't get enough Republican votes, he has to turn to Democrats. So far, Democrats aren't biting on that. And a coalition of business interests, including the chamber of commerce, has written to Trump saying please don't stop those subsidies.

WERTHEIMER: Could there be real harm to Donald Trump's presidency here if he's so inconsistent on everything from NATO to the Ex-Im Bank and on and on?

LIASSON: Well, that's a good question. The question is, would he lose his base that found his America First economic populism so appealing? I think so far no, as long as he stays very tough on immigration, which he is - he's assembling a deportation force - and on social issues, like his executive order making it easier to defund Planned Parenthood, or guns. He's going to be speaking to a big NRA meeting at the end of the month. I think what's potentially more harmful for him is if he can't pass anything or if he gets involved in a foreign entanglement that people don't like. For the most part, the slippage in the polls for him is coming from people who didn't expect the Trump administration to be so chaotic and ineffective. And, you know, the new chairman of the Republican Party, Ronna Romney, has even warned Republicans that they could lose in 2018 if they don't start passing legislation and acting like a governing party.

WERTHEIMER: So is there some deeper meaning in all these policy changes? Is this a new or different Donald Trump, or is the real Donald Trump or what is it?

LIASSON: I think it's two things. There's confusion and incoherence, but there is something happening if you're trying to read the tea leaves on who's getting the upper hand inside the White House in terms of defining what Trumpism is. We would have to say you're seeing the globalists, the New York Wall Street wing of the Trump White House ascendant. You're seeing the economic populist nationalist Steve Bannon wing losing influence. Maybe the Trump administration is morphing into a xenophobic version of what Mitt Romney administration would have been like. He has - still has a hard-line conservative stance on immigration, abortion, guns, climate change, but the economic policy is getting more globalist and less nationalist.

WERTHEIMER: That's NPR senior political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you very much.

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