Morning News Break: Political Fallout From White Nationalist Rally

Aug 15, 2017
Originally published on August 15, 2017 8:00 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It looks like more fallout here for President Trump after his response to that violence in Charlottesville.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

That's right. Three CEOs quit the president's manufacturing council. It started with Kenneth Frazier, the head of Merck. Frazier in his resignation called on Trump to clearly reject expressions of bigotry. And later in the day, the president did.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.

CHANG: But for some, it was probably too little, too late. The CEOs of Intel and Under Armour also quit yesterday evening.

GREENE: Let's talk about this with NPR's political editor Domenico Montanaro. Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So aren't there, like, a million advisory boards for a president and a White House? I mean, how significant are departures from this manufacturing council over what we saw in Charlottesville?

MONTANARO: Well, putting it in context, I mean, these CEOs aren't the first three to break with this president after all. You might remember after the president pulled out of the Paris climate accord, the heads of Tesla, Elon Musk, and Disney's CEO, Bob Iger, quit in June. He - Iger called it a matter of principle. And look, you know, like you said, these departures really don't affect what the president wants to do legislatively.

And these advisory boards are always just more symbolic. But the symbolism really is key here, especially considering Trump and his businessman background. You know, it helps Trump's image to be surrounded by captains of industry. But as they separate themselves from him, the president of the United States, I mean, think about that. It highlights the rift between Trump and corporate America.

GREENE: Yeah, and I'm glad you reminded me this was not just over Charlottesville. This was a departure from business leaders from before over other issues, like climate change. I guess it is important. I mean, I remember being out there talking to voters. And there were a lot of voters who said, I like Donald Trump because he's got that business acumen. So maybe this is an image problem.

MONTANARO: Look, Trump hailed himself as a businessman. And yet corporate America continues to split with him. You know, Trump's lamented being too politically correct, that the country needs a businessman. But the irony here really is that businesses and businessmen know that being politically correct is actually good for business.

GREENE: The fact that we saw some CEOs leave even after the president made this explicit condemnation over Charlottesville yesterday, is that a sign that Trump has not done enough to stem this criticism?

MONTANARO: Well, so, you know, as you know, Trump was doing this under a significant amount of pressure. You had Republicans, Republican leaders in Congress and his own vice president who took very different tones on Charlottesville than he did initially.

And it certainly didn't do enough for the heads of Intel and Under Armour. The Intel CEO said, I stand with others for equality and improving U.S. competitiveness. He said he's doing this explicitly to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues. The head of Under Armour said he's stepping down from the council to focus on inspiring and uniting through the power of sport. In other words, this politics thing, way too divisive. Let's stick to sports (laughter).

GREENE: All right, NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks as always.

MONTANARO: Thank you, David.

GREENE: Now, especially after what happened over the past few days, there are many people wishing President Trump would tell Steve Bannon that he is fired.

CHANG: That's right. Bannon, the controversial White House chief strategist, has held onto his job after so many others have left the Trump administration, think Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Anthony Scaramucci. They are all gone now. After the deadly events in Charlottesville, however, and the growing visibility of white nationalism, it may be Steve Bannon's turn. Scaramucci, the former communications director, had this recent take on Bannon on ABC News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")

RICK KLEIN: Is Steve Bannon a white nationalist, a white supremacist, in your view?

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: You know, I don't know. I mean, I never sat down with Steve Bannon and said, hey, are you a white nationalist or a white supremacist? But I think the toleration of it by Steve Bannon is inexcusable.

GREENE: I want to talk to Joshua Green about this. He's with Bloomberg Businessweek. And he has written a book about the relationship between Steve Bannon and President Trump. Joshua, welcome.

JOSHUA GREEN: Good to be with you.

GREENE: So a lot of people have been complaining about Steve Bannon's presence in the White House since Donald Trump came into the White House. I mean, have you seen something changing that is making him more of a potential liability?

GREEN: Yeah, I do. There are really two things going on right now that suggest Bannon is in big trouble. The first is that Bannon has been waging a very bitter, internal struggle against the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, a feud that has become increasingly personal and spilled out into the press.

You've had The Wall Street Journal page attacking Bannon. And in turn Breitbart news, the right-wing website Bannon used to run, has been attacking McMaster. And all the while, Trump's chief of staff, John Kelly, who's trying to bring order to the White House, is said to be very unhappy with Bannon about this and considering forcing him out.

The other big problem Bannon has, frankly, is my book, "Devil's Bargain" about Trump and Bannon and the campaign. The New York Times is reporting this morning that Trump is angry because the book gives a lot of credit for his victory to Bannon. And if there's one thing we know about Trump, it's that he doesn't like to share the spotlight.

GREENE: You might be responsible for this. Watch out on the tweets from the president about you and not giving too much credit to Steve Bannon.

GREEN: Oh, there - yes, already incoming. But Bannon nearly lost his job back in February when Time magazine put him on the cover and suggested he was the shadow president. So he...

GREENE: So the more attention Steve Bannon gets, the more President Trump might be getting annoyed?

GREEN: Very much so. And, of course, the Charlottesville aftermath isn't helping.

GREENE: Because of the perception that Steve Bannon was the reason that President Trump held back on calling out white supremacists. What - can you just tell us, what does the president risk by keeping Bannon around? And what does he lose, potentially, if he decides to sack him?

GREEN: Well, I think the risks are obvious in the fallout we've seen from Trump's refusal to call out white supremacists. Not only is he being criticized by other Republicans. But now you have corporate leaders breaking ties with his administration. So it's a real black eye for Trump. But the risk is that by denouncing the white supremacists - and apparently Bannon was telling him not to. The risk is that he'd alienate a key part of his political base. So Trump...

GREENE: If he got rid of Bannon?

GREEN: If he were to get rid of Bannon, exactly.

GREENE: All right, Joshua Green is a senior national correspondent at Bloomberg Businessweek and also the author of the book, "Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, And The Storming Of The Presidency." Joshua, thanks a lot.

GREEN: So much - thanks so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: OK, so the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is traveling in Asia this week, urging a diplomatic solution to the threat from North Korea.

CHANG: That's right. General Joseph Dunford is expected to meet his Chinese counterpart in Beijing, today. Yesterday, Dunford was in South Korea and had this to say.

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JOSEPH DUNFORD: Our job is to make sure that our leadership, both the Korean leadership and the U.S. leadership, have viable military options in the event that deterrence fails. And that's what we're going to deliver.

GREENE: And Anthony Kuhn, NPR's Beijing correspondent, is on the line. Good morning, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hey there, David.

GREENE: So General Dunford there - I mean, those comments stand in such contrast to the fire and fury threats that we heard from President Trump last week. What do you make of that shift?

KUHN: Well, they certainly are a sharp contrast. I mean, he talked about viable military options. And it's not clear that there really are any, that the U.S. could take military options without inflicting - you know, resulting in mass casualties in South Korea. But I think the important point he was making is that military options are a last resort if all else fails.

And also, he's there to coordinate with U.S. allies, South Korea and Japan and also North Korea's neighbor, China. And as South Korea's president put it today, they don't want to see any military action without their consent. So they're there to improve that coordination.

GREENE: We also have seen some movement on Chinese sanctions on North Korea and also on these trade disputes between the U.S. and China. What are you seeing? Is this a closening (ph) of that relationship?

KUHN: Well, it certainly improves the coordination between U.S. - the U.S. and China. What China did yesterday was to ban imports of coal, iron, lead, seafood from North Korea. By some estimates, that's like a third of all of North Korea's exports to China. It's a lot.

And while it may not be enough to actually get North Korea to halt its nuclear and missile tests, it certainly helps China to show that it's putting pressure on North Korea. And that's certainly going to be welcome in Washington.

GREENE: And, Anthony, I just want to look back. I mean, we had a colleague of ours who was in Guam just a few days ago because it looked like Guam was potentially a target of North Korea, the leadership there talking about a potential missile launch. Is all that just postponed right now? Have the tensions died down?

KUHN: Yes, well, North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, was quoted in state media as saying that he will, as he put it, watch the stupid conduct of the Yankees for just a while longer before he presses that missile button. He was given...

GREENE: (Laughter). Leave it to them to come up with catchy language and frightening language like this, yeah.

KUHN: That's right. That's right. He was given a plan by the North Korean military to launch...

GREENE: All right, it looks like we have lost Anthony Kuhn, speaking to us from Beijing about movement in the diplomatic back-and-forth with North Korea as General Dunford heads to the region. Anthony, if you can still hear us, we appreciate you being with us this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLD PANDA'S "MY FATHER IN HONG KONG 1961") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.