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Politics & Government

President Trump Marks 6 Months In The White House


Exactly six months ago, Donald Trump was sworn in as president.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Congratulations, Mr. President.



CORNISH: I know it's hard to think about or talk about the last six months when we can barely get our heads around the last 24 hours, but we wanted to revisit some of the key moments of this presidency so far, so I have NPR's Ron Elving here to be our guide. Hey there, Ron. Thanks for coming to the studio.


CORNISH: So let's go back to that first day after inauguration.

ELVING: Sean Spicer called the White House press corps together the day after the inauguration on Saturday...


SEAN SPICER: Good evening. Thank you guys for coming. I know...

ELVING: ...To give them a spanking, essentially, for the way they had reported on the inauguration.


SPICER: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration period both in person and around the globe.

ELVING: Problem was that all the evidence from the police, from aerial photography was that the crowd wasn't nearly as large as it was in 2009. And people were reporting that, and they were showing the pictures. This apparently was displeasing somebody about Sean Spicer's paygrade, and he was sent out to summon the press to give them a lecture. And this went on for weeks. Both he and other surrogates and also the president himself...


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We had the biggest audience in the history of inaugural speeches.

ELVING: ...Continued to make a real focus on the reporting of the size of the crowd.

CORNISH: Policy wise, the next big moment would probably be his signing of the executive order on what came to be known as the travel ban.


TRUMP: Protection of the nation from foreign terrorist entry.

CORNISH: What happened in that first weekend?

ELVING: In that first weekend - and it was just seven days after he became president - no one was sure to whom it applied. Did it apply to people with green cards? Did it apply to people who had relatives in the United States, people who actually had been living in the United States? No one knew because there had been no guidance. And there was an emphasis on the surprise.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Set the refugees free.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, it had fired up his opposition.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The protest here at JFK was organized within hours of reports that people were being detained here.

ELVING: And this immediately led to action in the courts which is still pending in the Supreme Court.

CORNISH: Now, you're bringing up the Supreme Court, which I'm sure the White House would be happy about because this is where they felt they had a win. That's with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch.


TRUMP: I nominate Judge Neil Gorsuch of the United States Supreme Court to be of the United States Supreme Court.

ELVING: The White House followed the script that it had promised during the campaign. They chose someone they believed would be in the spirit of Antonin Scalia, who had been the conservative anchor of the court for many years.

CORNISH: And in his testimony, Neil Gorsuch was considered to have performed well.


NEIL GORSUCH: Because everybody wants a fair judge to come to their case with an open mind and to decide on the facts and the law.

ELVING: He was obviously going to be a conservative justice. He has also ruled just that way in the cases he's participated in in the last few months. And so he is a big plus with Trump's voters and with Republicans generally for this presidency.

CORNISH: The same week that you have the Gorsuch testimony you also have testimony by then FBI Director James Comey before the Senate intelligence committee. He essentially confirms that there is an investigation going on.

ELVING: That's right. And he says that it involves the Trump campaign. That is to say, they are looking at that possibility.


JAMES COMEY: The FBI as part of our counterintelligence mission is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts.

ELVING: This was apparently truly insupportable for the president. We now know from memos that James Comey wrote that the president asked for his personal loyalty and urged him to get out there and make the case for Donald Trump being entirely separate from this Russia investigation. Those were things James Comey said he couldn't do. And of course, James Comey as a result was fired.

CORNISH: It's also the most confusing chapter of the first six months and the one in the book that is thickest with names. Paul Manafort - right? - the former campaign staffer, Michael Flynn.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: President Trump's national security adviser is forced out.

CORNISH: Donald Trump Jr. now has become a factor in this.

ELVING: Yes, and it gets very close to the president. Not only his first born child, but also his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has been of enormous importance to him as a person who has been given an enormous, almost limitless portfolio in the White House. And yet his name has come up in this investigation as well.

CORNISH: We're going to end where I think President Trump had hoped to start, which is health care.


TRUMP: On my first day I'm going to ask Congress to send me a bill to immediately repeal and replace disastrous Obamacare.

ELVING: For seven years, the Republican Party has said that once fully in power with a president to sign its legislation they would simply repeal Obamacare and replace it with something. It turns out that during those seven years there was not a plan. And we have had a tremendous struggle in both chambers to come up with something to replace Obamacare.

CORNISH: Another reason this is a defining moment is it taught us how this president deals with Congress because the House was able to actually pass something, the American Health Care Act.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: The ayes are 217. The nays are 213. The bill is passed. And without...

ELVING: In the House it was possible in the end to encourage a small handful of Republicans to come aboard a bill they were not happy about partly because they knew the Senate was there to backstop them and change the bill and they'd get another crack at it down the road. So they got to have their victory party in the Rose Garden.


TRUMP: And this is a great plan. I actually think it will get even better...

ELVING: In the Senate, they know that what they pass is going to be law. So now that they're actually making policy, they have to worry about what happens to Medicaid. They have to worry about what happens to pre-existing conditions.


MITCH MCCONNELL: And as of today we just simply do not have 50 senators who can agree on what ought to replace the existing law.

ELVING: What Donald Trump is accustomed to in the business world is having employees whom he gives orders to. And if they don't please him with their execution, he gets rid of them. You're fired. When it got to the Senate, it was not possible to give orders that made senators willing to vote against their own political interests or their own definition of good policy for their own home state.

CORNISH: Looking ahead, there's still a lot that President Donald Trump wants to accomplish. What's on the table, right? What can he work with this Congress to do?

ELVING: They have to raise the debt ceiling and prevent a government shutdown in September. They have to pass the appropriations bills just to keep the government running. That's not going very well. None of those bills has been passed thus far. They have to all be passed by the end of September. And the big holy grail for these Republicans is tax reform.


TRUMP: The tax cuts. We have the biggest tax cut and great tax reform...

ELVING: Lowering the tax rates, particularly for corporations. There's going to need to be a different relationship between the president and his own party's congressional leaders and their rank-and-file if they're going to accomplish that at all, let alone this fall.

CORNISH: NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Thank you for walking us through it.

ELVING: Thank you, Audie.