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On Overseas Trip, Trump Remains Mired In The Russia Probe


When he started his first overseas trip while in office, President Trump left behind a Capitol and a country filled with questions about the last week of news. Just for one example, The New York Times reported that the president described former FBI Director James Comey as a nut job and said this to Russian officials just after Trump had fired Comey, who had been investigating Russian activity. On CNN yesterday, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, joined the Republicans who have begun edging away from the president.


MARCO RUBIO: If any president tries to impede an investigation - any president, no matter who it is - by interfering with the FBI, yes, that would be problematic.

INSKEEP: So what might this week bring? Jonah Goldberg is here. He's with National Review. Hi, Jonah.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Hey, Steve. Great to be here.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking about the fact that there are some Republicans who are firmly critical - firmly against the president and other Republicans who voice concern about specific things but they remain essentially with the president of their party. Which direction is the party heading now, voicing concern or actually being against him?

GOLDBERG: It's Monday so my answer, you know...


GOLDBERG: ...It's very...

INSKEEP: It might change by Tuesday.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. It's very hard to say. No, I think if you talk to almost anybody on the Hill, anybody of seriousness in the party, away from a microphone, away from a camera, they're all exhausted. You know, Mitch McConnell, who's got a gift for understatement, said we could all use a little less drama. That's code for dear God, please cut it out. I have these visions of Reince Priebus doing a sort of "Jerry Maguire" with Trump - you know, help-me-help-you kind of thing.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

GOLDBERG: And - so I think everyone was very relieved by this trip because it kind of gave them a little bit of a reset. But at the end of the day, there is not a huge reservoir of trust. There's not a huge reservoir of political capital with the Republican Party, with the - particularly in the House. It's very difficult for any president to work to move his own party when his approval numbers are this low. And then when you put in all of the sort of smoke and maybe fire and with all this other stuff, it becomes even more difficult to ask people to hitch their wagons to him.

INSKEEP: This has got to be, politically, just on pure politics, an impossible situation for the Republican Party. If you start talking about impeachment, that's a political disaster. If you don't do that, people accuse you of selling out. There's - anything here is going to be a minefield.

GOLDBERG: No, that's right. My friend Erick Erickson had a piece over the weekend saying that the Republicans need to follow the Ed Rollins strategy, which is to run against the president. That is not, you know, a sign of great, robust health of the - for the Republican Party. And, you know, last week, I was getting emails from the White House press shop saying - quoting all of these scholars saying this doesn't rise to the level of impeachment. That may be true, but that is not a great messaging situation for the White House...


GOLDBERG: ...When it's like, it's not impeachable yet.

INSKEEP: That's a great re-election slogan...

GOLDBERG: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: ...He didn't rise to the level of impeachment. Could it be good for the president that a special counsel is now taking over this investigation and maybe it can go dark for a little while while Robert Mueller looks around?

GOLDBERG: I think it absolutely does. In the short and medium term, I think this is actually very good for the president. It gives him, particularly timed with this trip, gives him a chance to reset. It gives the Democrats rhetorically almost no place to go. Democrats, you know, want to call for impeachment right now. They can't do that. Every Republican say we have to wait for all the facts to get in, and it's going to take Mueller a bit of time.

INSKEEP: Just in a few seconds - do you see any sign that the president has become any more focused or disciplined? He did give a speech in Saudi Arabia the other day that was reasonably well-received.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, it was a good - it was a good speech. It wasn't the stellar speech that some of his boosters want to make it out to be, but it was a good, disciplined speech. It was - so far, it's been a good, disciplined trip. And that kind of shows you where the expectations game is. The - one thing that we know is he has a very hard time staying on message. He can be on message but not for very long, so we'll have to wait and see.

INSKEEP: OK. Jonah, thanks as always for coming by. Really appreciate it.

GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Jonah Goldberg at National Review. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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