Trump's first week in office
Demetri Sevastopulo and Sam Fleming look at Donald Trump's tempestuous first week in office and the growing rift with Mexico.
Produced by Ben Marino. Footage by Reuters
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SAM FLEMING: Well, it's been an extraordinary first week for Donald Trump's presidency here in Washington, a flurry of announcements from the new president, ranging from new pipelines down from Canada to a wall with Mexico, but also big controversies over Mr. Trump's comments about the size of his inauguration crowd, and also questions about voter fraud that he's been raising. Demetri, what were the highlights for you from President Trump's first week here?
DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO: I think the highlight was that Trump is now president. Everyone was waiting for him to pivot from being the candidate to the president. And yet, he spent most of the week talking about the media inaccurately reporting the size of the crowd at his inauguration, when it was clear to everyone that Barack Obama had a much bigger crowd. Donald Trump is very obsessed by this, to the extent that he even called the head of the Park Service, who monitor crowds on the National Mall, where his inauguration took place, and pressured him to release photographs, which don't exist, of the crowds that he supposedly had.
He then started talking about voter fraud, as you mentioned. Hillary Clinton beat him by roughly three million votes in the popular vote, but obviously didn't win the electoral college. Trump says that was because of voter fraud. And had she not had these illegal votes, he would have won the popular vote. There is no evidence for any of these things that he's saying. And yet despite the fact that he's now in the Oval Office, he's still focused on that, kind of obsessed about it , in a way that during much of his career as a TV star, the Celebrity Apprentice, he was always focused on ratings and what people thought of him. He's doing it again now.
SAM FLEMING: You'd assume, in his first week, he'd really want the policy announcements, which he promised during the election campaign, to be the predominant message coming out of the White House. Instead, as you say, you've had these really bizarre arguments over the size of crowds and over an election which he won, in terms of the electoral college in any case. The other big theme that came out of the week is to do with Trump's relations with the rest of the world, not only the image he's projecting, which you've just referred to, but also America's relations with its key partners. Now, one of those key partners is Mexico, just below the southern border. Clearly, a massively important US trading partner in the NAFTA trade deal, along with Canada. And yet, a country which Trump, this week, picked a massive fight with.
DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO: Trump used his kind of his penchant for hyperbole and he said, I'm going to make the US-Mexico relationship better than it's ever been. The next morning, because of a series of tweets and comments he made about Mexico paying for his wall on the border, the Mexican president, who was going to be the second foreign leader to visit him at the White House, cancelled his trip-- over Twitter, I might add. Everything is being done over Twitter these days. And so instead of having some kind of a foreign policy win and a start of a good relationship with Mexico, Mr. Trump ended up watching his own first foreign policy debacle.
Now, the two leaders got on the phone this morning and they say that they've had a good chat and they're going to try and work things out. But to the rest of the world, that sends a very worrying signal. Now, on the other hand, today he met Theresa May, the British prime minister. That meeting seems to have gone an awful lot better. They talked about strengthening the UK-US relationship, which suffered a little bit under President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron. They had a press conference, much shorter than the previous press conferences we're used to. Donald Trump seemed to be a little bit hesitant at points and Theresa May had to rescue him on a couple of occasions. But overall, it was a much better display for the world than what we had seen the day before.
SAM FLEMING: Although a very different message on Russia sanctions, for instance, with Theresa May sticking really with her policy in favour of sanctions on Russia, Trump really giving a far more ambiguous message on that really crucial point.
DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO: Well, so Theresa May came here, and she is trying to bring Trump back to kind of the Western, orthodox foreign policy view. And most of Europe is worried about Russia is doing, whether it's Ukraine, the Crimea, etc., hacking of American elections. Donald Trump has been very complimentary about Vladimir Putin. In fact, Vladimir Putin is probably the only world leader of a major power that Donald Trump hasn't insulted. There's a difference on the sanctions. Theresa May hadn't put down a marker in saying Britain, we don't believe sanctions should be lifted for the time being.
There's also a difference over torture. I mean, Donald Trump this week raised the possibility that he would allow US interrogators to start using waterboarding again, which was very controversial during the Bush administration. Now, at the same time, he says that General Mattis, his new Defence Secretary, doesn't believe it works and doesn't want to use it, so he'll listen to General Mattis. But I mean, he is turning the tide on many things that have happened over the last 10 years that were very controversial, and in some ways, bringing the US back to what some people say is a darker place. On the economy-- Donald Trump came into office talking about creating jobs. He's the jobs president. I'm going to create more jobs than God has ever seen. What has he done this week to try and fulfil that vow to his voters?
SAM FLEMING: Well, he would argue that withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major Pacific trade deal, is going to be good for US jobs because that was going to be bad for US industry. A lot of economists would question that. That goes to a pretty profound question about the nature of globalisation and whether it's overall a benefit to the countries which are participating or whether there are major problems for countries like the US, because of the trade deals that it's been striking. In addition, there were announcements such as the new pipelines, the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been reawakened.
DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO: And he wants to make the pipes with--
SAM FLEMING: And he wants to make the pipes with US steel. Now, there's a question as to whether that's in line with World Trade rules. A lot of people say it's not with a private sector contractor. However, does Mr. Trump really care if he violates World Trade rules? That's a question that we need to really look for. Another big area has been deregulation. He wants to streamline regulation. Now, there's a lot of anticipation about when the US will come out with its infrastructure plan. Trump and his advisors have talked about $1 trillion of infrastructure. There's no real clarity as to how they want to pay for that, how much will come from the private sector, and really what projects they want to prioritise. What he did do was streamline environmental approval regulations, which is important for infrastructure projects, and provide new procedures for those projects to be brought to the government. That could, according to some infrastructure players I've spoken to, be a help to the industry.
DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO: Now, I've been talking to some people on Capitol Hill, some Republicans who are fiscal conservatives, who, while they applaud Trump in some ways and they like some of the things he's going to do, they're worried that he's going to spend more money than they want him to spend and that he doesn't have a plan to be fiscally conservative or prudent. How do you see that debate unfolding?
SAM FLEMING: This is a major looming battle within the GOP, within the Republican Party right now, I think. And I think that the fiscal conservatives are clearly very alarmed. They're talking about the need to balance the budget in 10 years. They don't want to do that by raising taxes. That's anathema, raising taxes, to fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party. And yet at the same time, that requires then significant cuts to major public programmes, such as Medicare, such as Social Security, which are very, very difficult to touch. With Mr. Trump, he was quite explicit on the campaign trail that he didn't want to go anywhere near these programmes. He promised his voters he wouldn't touch them. So how do you square the circle? A lot of fiscal conservatives say the reality is you don't. And you could see some significant blowout in the deficit in the next 10 years or so.