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Trump Signs 3 Executive Orders, Meets With Business Leaders


President Trump got right to work on his first full weekday at the White House. He met with a number of groups and signed several executive actions aimed at delivering on his campaign promises. It comes after a weekend of very different news in which his team focused on the size of the crowds watching his inauguration and questioned whether the media got it right.

Well, today - a reset of sorts. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now from the White House. Hi, Mara.


Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: What did the White House press secretary do today?

LIASSON: Well, the White House press secretary did some things to reset. But first, I want to tell you about some things that the president did today because there were some things that he did that you'd expect from any Republican president.

He signed executive actions about abortion funding that every Republican president does to undo what the Democratic president before him has that prevents U.S. taxpayer money from funding international aid organizations that provide or promote abortions. He signed a federal hiring and pay freeze. That's not unique to Trump, but it makes his base very happy. And...

SIEGEL: And he exempted the military from that.

LIASSON: He exempted the military. So he did some things for fiscal conservatives, for social conservatives. But he also did some things that were more Trumpian than traditional Republican presidents.

SIEGEL: What would qualify as more Trumpian?

LIASSON: More Trumpian was he signed an executive action withdrawing from the TPP, the big Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. It was already dead. Even Hillary Clinton wasn't going to pursue it. But this was one of his No. 1 campaign promises, part of his America-first, populist message - puts him at odds with the pro-free trade wing of his own party.

Then he met with the leaders of businesses - CEOs, the leaders of that free trade wing. And while that's a typical thing for a new Republican president to do, he told them that although he would slash taxes and regulations - something they want to hear - he said if you move your factory out of the country, fire your workers then try to export your products back in, we are going to put a substantial border tax on you.

And then in the afternoon, he did something also very Trumpian and not typical Republican. He met with labor leaders - not just leaders of big unions but also presidents of locals. This is part of his populist strategy, reaching out to the working-class voters who helped him win. He said to them, there are going to be a lot of new jobs building all those new plants that are coming back to the U.S. So it was a pretty on-message day for Donald Trump.

SIEGEL: And that on-message day came after an extraordinary weekend when the news surrounding the president and his team was dominated by arguments about how many people watched his inauguration.


SIEGEL: Tell us about that.

LIASSON: This - the weekend was all about Donald Trump's extreme sensitivity to comments about the size of his crowds and the comparison of his crowds to the bigger crowds of the Women's March on Saturday. He decided to talk about this in front of the wall of heroes at the CIA. That's all the anonymous people who worked for the CIA who've been killed in the line of service to the United States.

This was supposed to be a fence-mending visit after his comments comparing the intelligence community's actions to Nazi Germany. But he talked about the size of his crowds there. Then he sent his press secretary, Sean Spicer, out on Sunday to attack the media for its reporting of the crowd size. And Spicer used some very easily disprovable assertions about how the crowd was the biggest inaugural crowd ever.

So you had a lot of Trump critics saying this seemed like a conscious strategy to undermine the credibility of the press, to attack it. At the CIA, Trump had said he was in a running war with the media and journalists were the most dishonest human beings ever. That's actually one of the nicer things he's said about us.


LIASSON: But it sent the message, people thought, that everything the media says is a lie and that's what Trump wants people to think. They should just believe him and not anything they read in the mainstream press.

SIEGEL: Well, did this line of attack against the media continue today?

LIASSON: It actually did not. Sean Spicer, who was at his very first formal White House briefing, went out of his way to get a reset with the press. He tried in every way to redeem himself from Sunday's angry briefing. He was smiling. He was self-effacing. He said he wanted a good relationship with the press. And then he said this.


SEAN SPICER: I believe that we have to be honest with the American people. I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts. There are certain things that we may miss - we may not fully understand when we come out, but our intention is never to lie to you, Jonathan.

LIASSON: He also said he will always tell us the facts as he knows them. So in that respect, this resembled a typical briefing of any new administration.

SIEGEL: Just one point, Mara - you said that Trump sent his press secretary out Sunday to attack the media. Do we know that? Was this a personal affront that Donald Trump felt?

LIASSON: From every bit of reporting that we know - that, yes, he was personally affronted. He wanted Sean Spicer to go out. It was not scheduled. He went out. He read a five-minute statement excoriating the press. He took no questions. And yes, this is - this was Sean Spicer channeling Donald Trump's great irritation.

SIEGEL: NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you.

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

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.