President Trump Holds News Conference On 2nd Day Of India Trip

Feb 25, 2020
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NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump is finishing up a two-day visit to India. The trip started with a lot of pageantry. He spoke at a Namaste Trump rally in front of more than 100,000 people yesterday. And then a few hours ago, Trump gave a press conference where he said he would be very conservative when he took questions.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm going to be not at all controversial because I don't want to blow the two days plus two days of travel on one answer.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez was watching. Hey, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hello.

KING: OK, so the president covered a wide range of topics. What stood out to you?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, he definitely covered a wide range of topics. What he did also do was he did do what he said he would maybe do, and that is overshadow his India trip with his answers. He was asked about the Intelligence Community's warnings about Russian interference, for example, in the 2020 election.

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TRUMP: But they went to see Bernie, and they told Bernie about something having to do with - they want Bernie to win. They did not tell me. Intelligence never told me, and we have a couple of people here that would know very well. They never told me anything about that, and it was sort of a strange thing that they went to Bernie. And now I find out, if I believe what I read in some of your documents and some of your papers, that it's a highly - it was highly exaggerated. And frankly, I think it's disgraceful.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, but he didn't really answer whether Russia was trying to meddle in the election and instead blamed the House Intelligence Committee for leaking damaging information that would hurt Sanders as he says Democrats have done to him. And just to be clear, the Intelligence Community denies this.

KING: OK, so that was one moment. Then there was another moment where he started criticizing two Supreme Court justices. That seemed unusual. What happened there?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. That was definitely a very rare step to go after two sitting justices - Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He said they should recuse themselves from any cases involving him based on their past statements.

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TRUMP: I always thought that - frankly, that Justice Ginsburg should do it because she went wild during the campaign when I was running. I don't know who she was for. Perhaps she was for Hillary Clinton.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, and also, Sotomayor also had a scathing critique. She recently criticized the court's conservative majority for granting a number of administration's emergency requests. She basically charged the court with being overly eager to side with the Trump administration.

KING: There were some other moments in his press conference that were less unexpected. President Trump was asked about the coronavirus, which everyone's been talking about. Yesterday, the markets took a plunge on fears of the virus. Did the president seem concerned about that?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, yeah. I mean, he's trying to reinforce his message that things are under control despite the fears, as you mentioned, that coronavirus is becoming a pandemic. The president has staked his re-election campaign in part on the booming economy, and he really loves to brag about how the stock market can go up. If the economy takes a sharp plunge, that undercuts his message. You know, the administration has sought to shore up the administration, even asking Congress last night for more money. The White House is asking for $2.5 billion to help with the response, including a billion for vaccines.

KING: OK, and then the president continued to range even further. He talked about Afghanistan and this peace deal between the United States and the Taliban.

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TRUMP: And we're not a police force. They have to police their own country. We're not a police force. It's like law enforcement. And that's the way it is. So we'd like to - after 19 - I can tell you, after 19 years, we'd like to bring our young people back home, bring them - that's where they want to be.

KING: Was it was it surprising that he talked about Afghanistan?

ORDOÑEZ: No. I mean, the president is looking to fulfill a campaign promise, in part to end what he describes as endless wars. This past weekend, he struck a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban with the expectation that they'll sign a peace deal at the end of the week. But things are still very delicate in Afghanistan, and we've been down this road before. Plans to strike a deal, such as at Camp David last year, were upended by new violence.

KING: So I guess the big question is, after two days in India, what was actually accomplished on this trip?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, a lot was symbolic, as you noted earlier. It really reinforced the U.S. relationship with India. Take yesterday's massive Namaste rally - Namaste Trump rally. Pardon me. And there was talk of a trade deal between the two nations, but there are still some thorny issues between the two countries. They did sign a deal to purchase more U.S. military equipment, including helicopters. But there's still a lot of - and also - pardon me. There's also recognition of the Trump administration needing India to partner to counter China's power in the region.

KING: Some strategy there. NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Franco, thanks so much.

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