5 questions for Donald Trump today
Posted January 10, 2018 10:09 a.m. EST
(CNN) — For the first time since November -- in Vietnam! -- President Trump will talk to the full White House press corps today. He'll be alongside the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and, if tradition holds, the politicians will each take two questions from both the US and foreign press.
From the ongoing discussions over an immigration deal that would save the DACA program and begin to fund Trump's much-ballyhooed border wall to his high profile feud with one-time ally Steve Bannon to his attack on Sen. Dianne Feinstein ("Sneaky Dianne," Trump called her in a tweet Wednesday morning) to his latest insistence that the Russia investigation is a "witch hunt" (also via Twitter), there's a lot to talk about.
Here are 5 questions I hope get asked in some way, shape or form.
1. "You keep saying that there was no collusion between your campaign and the Russians. Have you been told that's the finding of either the special counsel or the congressional investigations exploring Russia's involvement in the election? If not, what are you basing your collusion conclusion on?"
In his tweet Wednesday morning, Trump insisted -- for roughly the billionth time -- that "there was no collusion, everybody including the Dems knows there was no collusion, & yet on and on it goes." But, simply repeating that line ad infinitum doesn't make it any more true.
The simple fact is that neither Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation nor the Congressional investigations in the House and Senate have concluded their processes. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said the question of collusion remained "open" when he updated reporters on the progress of the investigation last October.
2. "In a tweet on Wednesday, you described the Russia investigations as a 'witch hunt'. To carry that analogy forward, who, exactly, is hunting you?"
Here's the reality: Republicans are in charge of Congress, which means that Republicans are in charge of the committees in the House and Senate tasked with investigating Russia's attempted meddling in the 2016 election. The Trump Justice Department decided that a special counsel needed to be named to deal with the Russia investigation and that Mueller should be the person to lead it. Yes, the same Mueller who was appointed FBI director by President George W. Bush, a Republican.
Given all of that, how is this all a "witch hunt"? Is Trump saying his own party is out to get him through a series of trumped-up allegations they know aren't true?
3. When you say "border security" must be included in any DACA deal, what specifically do you mean? In terms of dollars."
The White House has requested $18 billion for the construction of the border wall. There's no way Trump gets all of that money in exchange for a deal to extend the DACA program. But, is there an amount below which -- $1 billion? $5 billion? -- Trump would reject any sort of deal, a move that could end DACA and even lead to a government shutdown? Trump has backed down on previous threats for wall funding in the face of a potential shutdown and declared victory anyway. He may do so again but it's worth trying to pin him down on ANY specifics about funding for the wall so we compare that expectation with the reality that comes out of Congress.
4. "In the past 48 hours, 2 Republicans in swing seats called it quits. How much of those decisions have to do with your low approval ratings?"
With California Reps. Darrell Issa and Ed Royce announcing their retirement plans over the last two days, there are now 32 House Republicans bowing out in 2018 as compared to just 15 Democrats. More important than that, almost 20% of the 23 Republicans who represent seats won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 are retiring or running for another office.
Those decisions are heavily influenced by the fact that the history of midterm elections when the president's approval is below 50% is absolutely terrifying for his party. Since 1962, the average seat loss for the president's party in this situation is 40 seats -- well more than the 24 Democrats need to win back the majority.
Midterm elections, at least in recent years, have been referendums on the president of the United States. If Trump believes this one won't be, why does he think that -- and has he shared it with the Republicans retiring this fall?
5. "On Tuesday, you said politics had grown too nasty. Today you described a sitting US Senator by the nickname 'Sneaky Dianne.' How do you reconcile those two things?"
One of the keys to understanding Trump is that what he says on any given day should not be taken as indicative of what he will say the following day. There is no pivot. There is no Trump 2.0. There is no narrative arc of the presidency beyond his whims -- and the tweets and pronouncements that spiral from them.
In Trump's mind then there is nothing at all contradictory about a 55-minute public jaw session on Tuesday in which he decried the nastiness of politics and talked up his commitment to changing things and a Wednesday tweet running down California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, as "sneaky."
But, it's well worth asking Trump about that obvious contradiction in his own behavior -- if only to see how he explains it (to himself and to reporters.)