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The White House Response To Florence

Sep 16, 2018
Originally published on September 16, 2018 9:00 am
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

President Trump is set to visit areas affected by the storm sometime this week. Once it's determined, the visit will not disrupt any rescue or recovery efforts. But it's Trump's comments about a previous hurricane that seem to be disrupting the president's role as responder in chief. Joining me now to talk about this is NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, so what has been the White House's response to Florence so far?

KEITH: So the president has been getting regular briefings. He's scheduled to get another one today. These have not been opened up to the press. They just sort of send out photos of the president being briefed. And then the president has done what he does, what President Trump does, which is tweet. So last night he tweeted out sympathies to the victims and their families. He said, quote, "Five deaths have been recorded thus far with regard to Hurricane Florence," exclamation point, which is sort of the trademark way in which the president talks about disasters. One thing to note about that is that the death count is higher and was at the time that he tweeted that out. One other thing - he has approved a disaster declaration for North Carolina, which will free up funding for those affected by the storm.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That issue with numbers and death tolls is clearly something that is getting a lot of attention because President Trump made comments last week about the death toll in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. And he falsely blamed Democrats for inflating that number. What's happening here?

KEITH: We are in the midst of a - sort of a typical Trumpian (ph) cycle. What we don't know is whether we're in the middle of it or whether it's over. But what we do know is that he tweeted on Thursday disputing the official death toll from Hurricane Maria, which is based on an estimate. And he then again, late Friday night, tweeted, no way - exclamation point, all caps - in regard to that death count. That prompted the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, to tweet that he'd be very much willing to walk the president through the scientific process of the study that was conducted by George Washington University. And then he says, quote, "There is no reason to underscore the tragedy we have suffered in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This seems to be something that President Trump does a lot. He doubles down on controversial comments.

KEITH: And digs in. When someone tells him he's wrong, he especially digs in.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Let's turn to trade now. There are reports that this administration is close to a new round of tariffs on Chinese goods, while they are still opening a new round of talks with Beijing. So what is going on? How should we read this?

KEITH: Well, there might be something of a disconnect between the president and others in his administration. Others in his administration want to resolve what has been an escalating and ongoing trade dispute with China. What's being discussed here are $200 billion in tariffs on Chinese products. It isn't official yet, but according to many reports, it is coming. The question is whether these tariffs are a means to an end, the idea that you would be tightening the screws on China to get them to change their behavior and that then these tariffs would be dropped, or whether it's an end in itself.

And to hear the president - last week he tweeted something that would make it seem as though he thinks that tariffs may be good on their own. He says that the U.S. is under no pressure to make a deal with China. China is under pressure to make a deal with us. Quote, "Our markets are surging. Theirs are collapsing. We will soon be taking in billions in tariffs and making products at home. If we meet, we meet."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.