WASHINGTON — In a pair of interviews, President Donald Trump gave a skewed account of auto jobs and health care under his watch and flatly contradicted himself on how long he’s known his right-hand strategist, Steve Bannon.
“Many years,” Trump said of their relationship back in August, when he made Bannon his campaign chief. “I didn’t know him” at the time, Trump told the New York Post on Tuesday. Trump got it right the first time.
Why does it matter? It comes as another indication that the president may be edging away from the conservative-populist ideologue as an inner-circle rift plays out in the White House.
A look at some of his statements in the interviews and in a brief news conference Wednesday:
TRUMP: “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.”
THE FACTS: Bannon was far from a stranger when he came on board near the start of the general election campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump and Bannon had known each other for five years when the Republican candidate, a month after accepting the nomination, hired the Breitbart executive as his campaign CEO.
David Bossie, who was deputy campaign manager, told AP after Trump took office that he introduced them in 2011 at Trump Tower and they grew to know each other well, as Trump appeared multiple times on Bannon’s Breitbart radio show. Bannon interviewed Trump at least nine times in 2015 and 2016 and members of his family and campaign on many other occasions. “They believe in each other’s agendas, which is why they have grown so close,” Bossie said.
On Aug. 17, the Trump campaign announced the hiring of Bannon and the appointment of Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager. The statement quoted Trump as saying: “’’I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years.”
Friction has surfaced among Trump advisers, particularly between Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Addressing that rift, Trump told the Post: “Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will.”
TRUMP: “I think we’re doing very well on health care. It’s been very much misreported that we failed with health care.” — Interview with Fox Business Network, broadcast Wednesday
THE FACTS: That may well be the president’s opinion, but there’s little evidence objectively to back it up.
It’s been nearly three weeks since House Speaker Paul Ryan yanked the Republican bill intended to repeal and replace much of Barack Obama’s health care law. The problem: disagreements among GOP hardliners and moderates whose votes are needed to pass legislation that has no Democratic support. Since then, negotiations have led to some tweaks, but no apparent breakthroughs.
The Republican bill remains deeply unpopular. March polls by Fox News and Quinnipiac University found overall margins of opposition to the legislation approaching or even exceeding those for Obama’s law at its lowest point.
A recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that among seven major issues tested, the president got his worst rating on health care. About 6 in 10 disapproved of Trump’s handling of the issue.
TRUMP: “The car industry is not going to leave us anymore, believe me. The car industry is staying in our country. They were leaving — if I didn’t win this election, you would have lost your car industry to Mexico and to other countries. They’re not leaving anymore, believe me. There’s retribution if they leave. There was no retribution.” — Fox Business interview
THE FACTS: The only “retribution” he has meted out has come on Twitter and in other rhetorical forms. He hasn’t signed any laws or instituted rules to punish fleeing industries. In fact, Ford Motor Co. is still planning to move small car production from Michigan to an existing plant in Mexico next year.
Trump has made keeping auto manufacturing jobs in the U.S. a theme, needling those and other companies that planned to move operations out of the country.
TRUMP: “We may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russia.” — Press conference Wednesday with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
THE FACT: Arguably true in the post-Soviet era. Not so during the decades of the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear annihilation hung over Russians, Americans, their allies and the world.
The U.S. and the Soviet Union were on the verge of a nuclear conflict in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. After the failed U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had arranged with Cuban premier Fidel Castro to position nuclear missiles in Cuba.
When U.S. intelligence saw evidence of a Soviet arms buildup there, President John F. Kennedy ordered a naval quarantine of the island to prevent offensive weapons deliveries and went on national television with a stern warning. As a standoff persisted, U.S. forces were placed on high alert. After back-channel and direct secret negotiations, Khrushchev announced the missiles would be removed.
TRUMP: “The secretary general and I had a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism. I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”
THE FACTS: NATO has not substantively changed its mission as a result of Trump’s campaign-season complaints.
As evidence that NATO is heeding his call to be more aggressive on terrorism, Trump has cited a NATO decision last year to establish a high-level intelligence coordinator that could make the alliance more nimble in responding to threats.
But that position was in the works during the Obama administration and came about because of worries about Russia, including its military action in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, as well as from a desire to respond more effectively to the Islamic State group. It did not start with Trump’s complaints.
Moreover, the U.S. is still pressing NATO to do more about terrorism. Trump said Wednesday the alliance should be stepping up assistance to Iraqi forces fighting IS militants.
Associated Press writers Jim Drinkard, Robert Burns, Nancy Benac, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Paul Wiseman in Washington and Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit contributed to this report.
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