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Politics & Government

Trump Continues To Make Waves Both Overseas And At Home

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President-elect Trump spent his final weekend before the inauguration making provocative statements. And NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has been following along. She's on the line. Hi, Tamara.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: One of those statements was in an interview with European publications. He said that NATO, the North Atlantic Alliance, is obsolete, which he's said before. Although, in fairness, he added, it's very important to me. So how have his words been received?

KEITH: Well, Russia spoke out to say that it agreed with Trump's assessment of NATO, that it's obsolete. And in Europe, it certainly ruffled feathers, as he has a tendency to do. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said, I think we Europeans have control of our destiny. You know, the interesting thing here, though, is that both Trump's nominee for secretary of state and his nominee for secretary of defense disagree with the assessment that NATO is obsolete. Testifying in their confirmation hearings last week, they spoke of the value and necessity of that alliance.

INSKEEP: And we should just underline the strangeness of this situation, where a Russian - a Kremlin spokesman - is saying, we agree with President-elect Trump, who is saying something different than his American advisers. It doesn't make him look very independent of the Kremlin, does it?

KEITH: No (laughter). And I think that that might be something that the Kremlin likes. It boosts up Russia in a way that Russia wants to be boosted on the international stage - not necessarily what Donald Trump is aiming for. You know, there's this New York Times article that's out today that says that Trump's ties to Russia may be deeper than what he had been saying recently. He says he has no dealings in Russia. The Times article says that he doesn't have any current deals in Russia, but it documents three decades of effort by him and his associates to secure deals that just never really happened.

INSKEEP: Now, here at home over the holiday weekend, he had a fight with John Lewis, the Democratic congressman from Georgia. Lewis, fairly - to be fair, can say - we can say he started it by saying that the president-elect is not going to be a legitimate president because of concerns about Russia in the election and other things. What's the latest here?

KEITH: Well, and then Trump tweeted at him multiple times and in a way that many felt was insulting. Then, on Martin Luther King Day, Martin Luther King Jr.'s son, Martin Luther King III, visited Trump Tower to talk to him. That had been arranged before the Lewis dust-up. King said that maybe people had gotten hot on both sides and said things in the heat of the moment on both sides. He called his discussion with Trump constructive. They talked about voting access. But John Lewis is still boycotting the inauguration, along with a lot of other people.

INSKEEP: How divided is this country as the inauguration approaches, Tamara?

KEITH: This country is very divided as the inauguration approaches. You know, typically leading into an inauguration, a president-elect's ratings go up. In this case, Donald Trump, according to a Gallup poll released yesterday, has a favorability rating of 40 percent. Fifty-five percent view him unfavorably. By way of contrast, Barack Obama, in January of 2009, had almost an 80 percent approval rating. Even George W. Bush, after that very contentious election, he headed into his inauguration with a 62 percent approval rating. And Donald Trump is at 40 percent.

INSKEEP: What's happening to the president-elect then?

KEITH: He is - you know, he talked about coming in, on that night of his election, of bringing Americans together. But for the last couple of months, he hasn't done much to make a lot of Americans feel like he's bringing them together. And he's also been tweeting a lot. And if you look at polling, even people who support him are concerned about some of the things that he's been saying. You know, the feuding worked well as a candidate. There's a question of whether this ongoing feuding is working as president-elect.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Tamara, thanks very much.

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