Trump Receives Briefing On North Korea As Tensions Escalate
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
There was a lot of news out of Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. today. The president is on a working vacation there and spoke to reporters this afternoon. He had more threats for the leader of North Korea, and he declared the country's opioid crisis a national emergency. For more detail on what he said, we're joined by Geoff Bennett. He covers the White House for NPR. Hey there, Geoff.
GEOFF BENNETT, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: Let's start with the comments on North Korea.
BENNETT: Well, earlier this week, as we all know, the president warned North Korea against making any more threats to the U.S., saying the country, in his words, will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. Today he said maybe that threat wasn't tough enough. Here's what the president told reporters just before he attended a security briefing this afternoon.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The first time they've heard it like they heard it, and frankly the people who were questioning that statement, was it too tough? Maybe it wasn't tough enough. They've been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years. And it's about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries. So if anything, maybe that statement wasn't tough enough.
BENNETT: And the president also sounded pessimistic about finding a diplomatic solution to the North Korean threat. He said attempts by former Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have all been ineffective. And he also wouldn't rule out a preemptive strike on North Korea. He said he wouldn't discuss any potential military options, but he did say the U.S. would retaliate if North Korea attacks Guam, which is a U.S. territory. The president said it'll be an event like - an event the likes of which nobody's ever seen before.
CORNISH: People are also talking about this - what is being perceived as a shift on the opioid crisis.
CORNISH: How come?
BENNETT: Well the president this afternoon said the White House is drawing up paperwork to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, apparently overruling his health and human services secretary, Tom Price, who on Tuesday said that an emergency declaration wasn't even necessary. So two days ago, Price, you'll remember, said that national emergencies are usually reserved for what he called a time-limited problem, things like the Zika virus or a hurricane response.
So we don't really know what prompted the president to change course, but a national emergency declaration is something the White House opioid commission had recommended. It's something they wanted because it allows the Trump administration to direct money toward expanding treatment facilities and also to providing emergency responders with anti-overdose medications.
CORNISH: There was also still a lot of room for just domestic politics, right? The president has been in this back-and-forth, a kind of public feud with the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. He's been criticizing McConnell on Twitter over the last couple days.
CORNISH: How did this come up in the public remarks?
BENNETT: Well, remember; the whole thing started after McConnell said the president's - to use his words - excessive expectations were partly to blame for the public perception that Republicans really haven't accomplished much despite the fact that they control all the levers of power in Washington.
CORNISH: So McConnell is essentially defending the last couple of months in Congress.
BENNETT: Right. And the president makes the point that Republicans have been talking about scrapping Obamacare for the last seven years. And you know, today he said actually it was a disgrace - that's the word he used - that the Senate effort failed by one vote. So this afternoon, a reporter asked the president, should McConnell step aside as majority leader, as some conservative commentators have suggested? And here's what he said.
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TRUMP: Well, I'll tell you what. If he doesn't get repeal and replace done and if he doesn't get taxes done - meaning cuts and reform - and if he doesn't get a very easy one to get done, infrastructure - if he doesn't get them done, then you could ask me that question.
BENNETT: And so remember; this is a president with approval ratings at historic lows who, as the head of the Republican Party, it seems is looking to shift the blame for the party's lack of legislative victories. And so, you know, this mostly one-sided feud does nothing to change the legislative landscape that faces Republicans when they come back to the Hill in September. It really just complicates an already fraught relationship between these two men.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Geoff Bennett. Thanks so much.
BENNETT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.