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Politics & Government

Politics In The News: Previewing President Trump's Week Ahead

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Donald Trump gives his first joint address to Congress Tuesday night. We're also expecting a revised executive order on refugees later this week.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And over the weekend, the president continued his war on the press, announcing on Twitter that he would not be putting on the tuxedo and attending the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner this year.

MARTIN: Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained the decision on ABC's "This Week" yesterday by saying this president wasn't elected to spend his time with reporters and celebrities.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think it's kind of naive of us to think that we can all walk into a room for a couple of hours and pretend that some of that tension isn't there. You know, one of the things we say in the South - if a Girl Scout egged your house, would you buy cookies from her? I think that this is a pretty similar scenario. There's no reason for him to go in and sit and pretend like this is going to be just another Saturday night.

MARTIN: So it seems like a good moment to invite Jonah Goldberg back into our studios, which we have done. He is, of course, the senior editor at National Review.

Hi, Jonah.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Great to be here.

MARTIN: I loved what Sarah said - the egging, the Girl Scouts - apt metaphor.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. I mean, on the White House Correspondents' Dinner itself, rather than the larger question of the media, rarely have I been so torn about an issue that matters so little.

MARTIN: I know. Right?

GOLDBERG: (Laughter).

MARTIN: I mean, this is the thing. We should say - the White House Correspondents' Dinner has been maligned by all kinds of folks for being the epitome of the swamp Donald Trump talks about draining.

GOLDBERG: No, it's exactly right. It's very much like the ball at the beginning of "The Hunger Games" in the capital city. And I find the White House Correspondents' Dinner, which I've been to a couple times, pretty repugnant these days. And so I'm kind of glad to see it taken down a notch. On the larger question of what he's doing with the media, I think that is a much bigger problem.

MARTIN: Well, before we get to the larger issue, does Donald Trump - does he win at the tactical level for now getting to claim the moral high ground in this moment with the correspondents' dinner?

GOLDBERG: Again, I don't know that there's that high a moral - I mean, these are very low hills on both sides (laughter) when it comes to the moral high ground. The White House Correspondents' Dinner has become sort of the epitome of the celebrification (ph) of journalism and the haughtiness of the White House - of the Washington press corps is on display there. So when Trump sticks it to them, I think there are a lot of people who would say - good. And at the same time, given the larger context of Trump's war with the media, it kind of does look, to some people at least, like he's running away from a fight.

MARTIN: So let's play, now, a clip of tape that gets to this larger war on the press. This is President Trump talking at the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: A few days ago, I called the fake news the enemy of the people - and they are. They are the enemy of the people.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: Because they have no sources, they just make them up when there are none.

MARTIN: The enemy of the people - that is - that's big language with severe implications.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, no. It's - I think it's grossly irresponsible, and it's also basically just indefensible. Look - I've made my living for a very long time beating up on liberal media bias. I think it's a real thing. That is not what he's saying. When he says that the press makes up sources - and one of the examples he used was the story about nine sources, I think, in The Washington Post about Michael Flynn. That story led to Michael Flynn being fired. So if it were all fake, made-up sources, why would the Trump administration fire him?

More broadly, when you say that the media is fake, what he's basically saying - I would have no problem with him going after fake news. The real fake news is that sort of garbage stuff on Facebook and whatnot. What he is basically saying is any critical or inconvenient coverage of me is wholly fake and illegitimate. And I think that is a very dangerous route for the president of the United States to go down in terms of his rhetoric.

It also leaves him no place to go. He's basically taking it to 11, you know, in the first month of his presidency and basically saying that all hostile coverage of me is illegitimate and fake and all positive coverage of me is real - sort of like his attitude towards polls. If the numbers are good for him, they're great polls. If the numbers are bad for him, they're bad polls. That is not the way we do democratic discourse in the United States.

MARTIN: So he's going to make a speech on Tuesday night, the first to a joint session of Congress. What kind of work does he have to do? What do you want to hear from him?

GOLDBERG: Well, I think the smartest thing for him to do would be to just focus, you know, monomaniacally on a serious legislative agenda. Set the record - set the agenda for the House and the Senate. Don't do any of this media stuff. Don't seem like you're defensive. Don't be explaining.

Just simply say you want to set up an agenda for what you campaigned on because that's what the American people actually want from him, and it's certainly what his base voters actually really want from him. A lot of these sort of forgotten men and women were not voting for Donald Trump to declare war on anonymous sourcing in The New York Times. They wanted jobs. They wanted, you know, stuff on trade. And I think that's what he should focus on.

MARTIN: Jonah Goldberg is senior editor at National Review and a columnist for the LA Times.

Thanks so much for coming in, Jonah.

GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.