Sunday Politics

Oct 20, 2019
Originally published on October 20, 2019 4:44 pm
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

We're staying with the White House for another moment - when the acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney announced during his press briefing that the U.S. would host the next G7 summit at one of the president's personal properties, the Trump National Doral in Miami.

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MICK MULVANEY: We absolutely believe this is the best place to have it. We're going to have it there, and there's going to be folks who will never get over the fact that it's a Trump property. We get that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The idea that an American president could personally profit by hosting thousands of diplomats, staffers, security and journalists at his family business did not sit well with many. And late last night, the president backed down via tweet.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here with the details. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A bit of whiplash here. What happened? This was the president's idea, but did the president really cave to pressure?

LIASSON: I think he did. He has been talking about holding it at the Doral for months. And last night, he did tweet - he said, even though the Doral was the best place to have it, based on the, quote, "media and Democrat crazed and irrational hostility, we will no longer consider" this as the host site for the G7.

So what happened was that Democrats and some Republicans thought this was a pretty clear case of self-dealing, which is illegal. Giving yourself a government contract worth tens of millions of dollars - that's exactly the kind of thing that puts elected officials in jail, not to mention that the Constitution bans federal officials from taking any gifts or rewards from foreign governments. And Democrats in Congress had already introduced legislation to stop the use of federal funds for the G7 if it was held at a Trump property. So in the face of all of that, the president changed his mind.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's talk about the messaging we've heard on the president's pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Can you shed some light on why Mick Mulvaney said it was a good idea to say there was a quid pro quo before he later walked it back?

LIASSON: Right. Lots of walk-backs.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes.

LIASSON: Doral and then the quid pro quo - the thing you have to remember is the quid pro quo was something that the president was fixated on. Democrats said a quid pro quo was irrelevant. What matters is that the president pressured Ukraine to help him in his political campaign, not to advance the interests of the U.S.

I think what Mulvaney was trying to do when you heard him in conversation with Ayesha was to say that even though there was a quid pro quo regarding military aid, it wasn't for the investigation into the Bidens, into his political opponents. He kept on saying - talking about the three things that might have been in the interest of the U.S., reasons to hold up that aid - corruption in Ukraine, other countries' participation, cooperation with that DOJ investigation. But he kept on saying, but not the Bidens.

So he admitted to a quid pro quo, exactly the thing that the president insisted didn't happen. He tied himself up into knots, had to walk back. And in the end, he made it harder for Republicans in Congress to support the president or at least feel good about doing it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Speaking of Republicans and the president, last week, 129 of House Republicans, including all of the - of three of their leaders voted to condemn the president's change of policy in Syria. So where does that - you know, where does the relationship stand?

LIASSON: Well, this has been a hard week for the president and his own party. Obviously, the open criticism of abandoning the Kurds - pretty stark language. You had - in addition to that big vote in the House, you had Mitt Romney in the Senate calling the abandonment a bloodstain in the annals of American history. You had Mitch McConnell writing an op-ed, saying the decision was a grave strategic mistake. You know, and then you had the problems of defending this quid pro quo with Ukraine.

So I - the big question is whether those two things will start merging. Up until now, the only Republicans in Congress who've been willing to openly consider impeachment are the ones who aren't running again. Foreign policy has always been an area where Republicans felt freer to criticize the president. But now the president is at odds with his party in pretty dramatic fashion on a lot of fronts.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just briefly, looking ahead to the impeachment inquiry, what is expected this week?

LIASSON: Bill Taylor, the career diplomat who was involved in those text messages with Gordon Sondland, is supposed to testify this week. He's the one who said in the texts that he thought it was crazy to withhold security assistance for help with the political campaign. He's supposed to come up Tuesday. We don't know if he will, although the White House has been unable to stop people from testifying, even though it said it wasn't cooperating with the impeachment inquiry at all.

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

LIASSON: Thank you.

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