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Trump's Unique Concept Of The Presidency Again On Display As Government Shuts Down


This hour, we've been tackling two important stories - the federal government shutdown and the anniversary of President Trump's first year in office. So this is where we wanted to take a step back and look at what it all means. We'll start with NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you so much for joining us once again.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Happy to be here.

MARTIN: So what have we heard so far from President Trump since the shutdown started?

LIASSON: What we've heard from President Trump is a pretty simple message - and he said it over and over again on Twitter - Democrats are holding the military hostage over their desire for unchecked illegal immigration. And that's a message that I think his base will find very appealing, whether it helps him with anyone beyond his base is not clear.

MARTIN: And what about the Democrats and what about that argument? I mean, the polls show - and there's been some recent polling on this - it shows that the whole idea of protecting DACA recipients is politically popular but not when you've posed it as a tradeoff between...


MARTIN: ...You know, keeping the government open and helping them. So what about on the Democratic side?

LIASSON: The problem for both sides is that neither is convinced that the other guy will pay politically. For Democrats, they know, as you said, that something like 90 percent of Americans are sympathetic with their position on the DREAMers but not shutting down the government over the DREAMers. And when people are polled about who would you blame. It turns out that majorities, overall, would blame Republicans for a shutdown. After all, they control all branches of government.

But in those big five states, the red states where Democratic Senate incumbents are running for re-election - and that's what Democrats are most worried about in those states - Missouri, Montana, West Virginia, Indiana, South Dakota - that's where Democrats would be blamed if it looks like they're doing this because of the DREAMers.

And in terms of whether the president would be blamed, we do know that the hashtag @Trumpshutdown, not @Schumershutdown, but @Trumpshutdown was the top trending topic on Twitter on Friday night. So a lot of people voted for him thinking he was a businessman who would come to Washington, make deals, which is what he promised, make the government work. And now here we are on the first anniversary of his inauguration with a shutdown.

MARTIN: Just building on that point, though, you know, in the past, the polls have suggested that Republicans were blamed for the shutdown but then they went on to midterm elections and actually did fine - in fact, did very, very well, according to the historical pattern that says, you know, the party in the White House tends to suffer in midterms, right? So any sense of what's going to happen this year?

LIASSON: Well, this is the first shutdown that we've ever had under one-party control of government. The last shutdown in 2013, of course, there was a Democrat in the White House, Republicans in Congress. And what you're talking about is absolutely true. What happened was Republicans initially were blamed for the shutdown.

The approval ratings for the Republican Party dropped faster and deeper than they had ever dropped before during that shutdown. But then what people forget about is that then the Obamacare website debuted and crashed. And it totally wiped that story of the shutdown off the front pages. And that's what could happen now if we have a very short shutdown. If something happens to wipe this story in our kind of ADD news environment, we might be talking about something completely different a week from now.

MARTIN: Mara, just one more minute on this, if I could, before we head into the Barbershop because I'm going to ask them to reflect on this question. You know, here we are on the one-year anniversary of President Trump's inauguration. What more do we know about him now than we did a year ago?

LIASSON: Wow. Well, I think what we've - what I wondered about when he was inaugurated was, would he be different in degree or kind? Was he just a ruder, cruder kind of conservative Republican or something completely different? I think in terms of domestic policy, he's become a pretty standard conservative Republican - tax cuts, Neil Gorsuch, deregulation.

But I think for - on the other hand, his divisive behavior and his continuing attacks on democratic institutions like the independent judiciary, free press, the FBI - I think that shows us that he conceives of the presidency in a completely different way than any of his predecessors. He doesn't see himself as the moral leader of the country or with the responsibility to unify the country. He has a totally different concept of the presidency.

MARTIN: That's NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

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

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.