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Sunday Politics: Trump And The Media, Michael Recovery And U.S.-Saudi Relations


The main electric utility serving the Florida Panhandle says customers may not get power for weeks. So far, the damage there is colossal. And the cleanup is going to take a very long time. President Trump says he'll visit this week. We'll take you to Florida in just a little bit. But first, to NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hey, Mara.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the president announced his visit in a tweet Friday that began, people have no idea how hard Hurricane Michael has hit the great state of Georgia - and that he'll be visiting both states.

LIASSON: That's right. He'll be visiting both states. And that kind of visit, in the aftermath of a terrible storm, is pretty traditional for a president.


LIASSON: What isn't traditional is what he did last week, where he held a campaign rally, in Erie, Pa., right as the storm was hitting and then another one in Lebanon, Ohio. He said, basically, too many people had waited too long to see him, and he couldn't cancel these rallies.

But in the era of Donald Trump politics, we like to go back to the Twitter feed. And lo and behold, back in 2012 on November 6, Donald Trump tweeted, yesterday Obama campaigned with Jay-Z and Bruce Springsteen while Hurricane Sandy victims are still decimated by Sandy. Wrong. And, of course, Sandy made landfall a week prior. And President Obama and Mitt Romney both did suspend their campaigning while it hit. But we like to go back to this historical record, the Twitter record for Trump versus Trump tweets.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes, there is indeed a tweet for everything. Do you expect Trump to be in front of the cameras as much as he was this past week? Because he sure did seem a lot more active than ever in his media interactions.

LIASSON: I think he probably will. I think his instinct is to flood the zone, be ubiquitous, try to dominate the media narrative. Something happened last week that might have shook him up, which is the cable networks, including Fox, stopped taking his rallies live. They played clips instead. And he can't have been too happy about that, especially while he's got a top performer, Fox television executive Bill Shine, in the White House now as the communications director.

But he has a lot of tools with which he can dominate the media narrative. He has those impromptu press conferences on the South Lawn as he's going to the helicopter. He's given interviews to New York magazine and Time, "60 Minutes" tonight. He called into Fox at 11 p.m. for an interview and then again at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. He invited Kanye West to the White House. So there's a lot of ways that he can turn his White House into Trump TV.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, so that's a deliberate White House media strategy, you're saying - to not just invite someone like Pastor Andrew Brunson, newly freed from Turkey, to the Oval Office but also, as you mentioned, to invite Kanye West.

LIASSON: Yes, this is his instinct. And I think what he wants to do, as every president really wants to do, is to write the script himself, to be in control of the narrative. And that's the question. We don't know if he's still in charge. Is he still writing the script himself? Last week, we saw this extraordinary story, the possible murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi - maybe on the orders of the Saudi Arabian government. The president has said there will be, quote, "severe punishment" if it turns out to be true that the Saudis did order this. But he has said he will not withdraw weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

And that calls into question the whole Trump administration's Saudi policy. Remember, Saudi Arabia was Trump's first foreign trip as president. He's put Saudi Arabia at the top of the list of U.S. allies. His son-in-law Jared Kushner very cozy with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. So the big question is, did Trump get Saudi Arabia wrong?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're saying Donald Trump tries to flood the headlines with news and to write the script. And we should note that the script often does not survive a decent fact check, even a cursory one. But as you say, it's all about perception. We're coming up to the midterms. So what evidence is there that it's working?

LIASSON: We'll know after November 6. That's a really important data point because midterms are often a referendum on the president and his party. And that is a role that Donald Trump has embraced more than any other president. He goes out, tells his supporters at these rallies - he says, I'm not on the ballot, but I am on the ballot. So go out and cast a vote for me. So we're going to find out if this kind of ubiquitous president on - presence on TV is working for him or not.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks so much.

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