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Politics & Government

Working Weekend: Obama In Peru; Trump In New Jersey

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Obama wrapped up what could be his last overseas trip as president with a visit to Lima, Peru. Soon-to-be President Donald Trump was closer to home, interviewing people who might work for him. NPR's Mara Liasson spent the weekend following both of their movements. She's on the line. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So Donald Trump was at this golf club in New Jersey meeting with a long list of candidates who could serve as - in his administration. Are we learning anything from this?

LIASSON: Well, we might be learning a little bit. It was kind of like tryouts for "The Apprentice."

GREENE: (Laughter).

LIASSON: There was a real parade of contenders. We had James Mattis, the retired Marine general who might be the secretary of defense, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie. Two former loyalists were there - Mitt Romney, former adversary of Trump's who has been talked about as secretary of state. But in the end, there were no appointments made, even though Trump had teased that there might be. He just said, quote, "we made a couple of deals."

GREENE: OK, so we'll be watching closely. I guess things could be coming in the coming days or this week. You know, the vice president-elect, Mike Pence, president-elect's new chief of staff, Reince Priebus, they're all over the talk shows on Sunday. And they're getting all these questions about conflict of interest when it comes to Donald Trump's businesses. What exactly are the key questions here?

LIASSON: Well, ethics watchdogs, both Republican and Democrat, have been raising questions about all these potentials for conflicts of interest. He's continued meeting with his business partners while he's been president-elect. His son-in-law might have a top job at the White House. He says he's just going to turn his business over to his kids. The Wall Street Journal editorial page has even called on him to liquidate his assets. But neither Pence nor Priebus said he would do that, just that the White House counsel would make sure there was no conflict.

GREENE: And so are there laws clearly governing this, or could some of these issues end up in court for judges to really sort out when it comes?

LIASSON: They might. They might. There's a big debate about this - whether the conflict of interest rules affect the president and what he might have to do just to rule out the appearance.

GREENE: I guess one of the realities here - I mean, we - we've been reporting that Donald Trump is the first president who has not served in public office or in the military. So coming from the business world, I mean, this is raising all sorts of questions that the country really hasn't dealt with in the past.

LIASSON: All sorts of questions.

GREENE: So Donald Trump talked during his campaign, Mara, about this possible ban on Muslims coming into the country for a period of time, and this has obviously been discussed. It has caused a lot of people to be very nervous about what could happen. This idea of a Muslim registry has come up, and I know Reince Priebus was asked about this yesterday. Do we have clarity about what exactly this would entail and if it is something the Trump administration would consider?

LIASSON: Priebus did not rule it out. He said - all he said is we're not going to have a registry based on religion. It would be based more on countries or regions. He did say, however, on ABC that some aspects of the Islamic faith were problematic. And when he was asked whether Trump agreed with his incoming national security adviser, Mike Flynn, that Islam is a political ideology hiding behind a religion, Priebus agreed.

He said, yes, Trump thinks - I think Trump does agree with that. So this is a huge departure from a 15-year consensus. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama said the fight was against terrorism, whether it was Islamic radical terrorism or jihadi terrorism, but not Islam itself. So we really are back to this idea of a clash of civilizations - that's how Trump sees it - with all the consequences that that implies.

GREENE: All right, well, let's turn to President Obama. I guess the reality at this point in an administration - you're on a road - a road trip around the world, and people are not asking so much about your policies; they're asking about your successor.

LIASSON: That's right. And he gave some indirect advice to Donald Trump. He talked about he hopes that the next administration will continue America's indispensable role in the world upholding the post-World War II world order, where America stood up for democratic ideals - rule of law, free press, independent judiciary, open markets. And here's what he said about the American president and the United States.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRES BARACK OBAMA: If we're not on the side of what's right, if we're not making the argument and fighting for it, even if sometimes we're not able to deliver it 100 percent everywhere, then it collapses, and there's nobody to fill the void.

LIASSON: This is really important because Donald Trump has never talked about any democratic values he wanted to uphold abroad. He's just talked in terms of America winning. I think who he picks as secretary of state will send a very big message on how he sees America's role in the world.

GREENE: OK, Mara, thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

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