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Trump-May Press Conference Covers British Tabloid Story, Boris Johnson

Jul 13, 2018
Originally published on July 13, 2018 11:16 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There seems to be a trend during President Trump's trip to Europe - criticize close allies and then follow up that by heaping praise. Trump is in Britain. And in an interview with him in The Sun newspaper, he criticized Prime Minister Theresa May's approach to Brexit. But then he met with the prime minister a short while ago, stood by her side at a press conference and said that the relationship between the United States and the U.K. remains special - more special than any other relationship. I'm joined now by NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt and NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. Good morning to you both.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Ayesha, I want to start with you. There seems to be a routine here (laughter), at least during this trip. The president really goes after some allies and then decides to stand with them and say that everything is great. What is he up to?

RASCOE: It seems like President Trump really wants to stress that he has good relationships with world leaders. And so when he meets with them in person, that's what he projects. He says they're great. He says very nice things about them. He thinks they're doing a good job. But then when they're not in the room and he's out in public doing an interview or on Twitter, he says much more critical things. And it seemed like what happened with this - this time with Prime Minister May - that he tried to make this difference where he wasn't criticizing her. He was just criticizing maybe her policy on Brexit.

GREENE: Well, let's just listen to a little bit of what happened today. I want to play a little tape here. First we have some tape that The Sun newspaper actually put up. It's audio from the interview with President Trump talking about the prime minister and Brexit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn't agree with - she didn't listen to me.

GREENE: And then at this news conference, Ayesha, he actually called out the Sun reporter who interviewed him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Oh, good. Where is that person - where? Did I say nice things about Theresa May, please?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Unintelligible).

TRUMP: Oh, good. OK. If you reported them, that's good. OK. Where - on the Internet?

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: I said very good things. Thank you very much for saying that. No, I said very good things about her. I didn't think they'd put it in, but that's all right. They didn't put it in the headline. I wish they put that in the headline. That's one of those things.

GREENE: Well, he really does love this whole fake news narrative, Ayesha.

RASCOE: He does. And he - you know, this was another example of President Trump denying something that he definitely said. So he...

GREENE: Ayesha, you still there, or we lost you?

RASCOE: ...Supportive of Prime Minister May.

GREENE: We're getting a little...

RASCOE: Yes, I'm still here. Can you hear me?

GREENE: I can. Yeah. Let me...

RASCOE: Can you hear me now?

GREENE: We're going to try and work on the connection with you. Let me turn to Frank Langfitt. Frank, I want to play a little bit of tape from Donald Trump. He has something else that he said in this interview this morning - was that Boris Johnson, who is a political rival of the prime minister, just resigned because he was not satisfied with the course that she was taking in terms of Brexit - felt that the prime minister was not being strong enough. President Trump was asked, why are you praising someone else, a political rival of the prime minister? And here's what Trump said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: They asked about Boris Johnson. I said yeah - how he would he be as a prime minister? I said he'll be a great prime minister. He's been very nice to me. He's been saying very good things about me as president. I think he thinks I'm doing a great job. I am doing a great job. That I can tell you just in case you haven't notice. But Boris Johnson, I think, would be a great prime minister. I also said that this incredible woman right here is doing a fantastic job - a great job.

GREENE: Frank, put just - how do you take in that moment?

(LAUGHTER)

LANGFITT: I think it's...

GREENE: A lot there.

LANGFITT: Well, it's pretty funny when you think about it. It's like someone asks me about some guy, and I say that guy's nice. Boris Johnson is her rival. He was going to run for prime minister back when the Brexit vote actually occurred - just after that. And so everybody knows that Boris has wanted to be prime minister for a long time, and he's very much a rival of Prime Minister May. And so to praise him like this is to try to elevate Johnson. Now, I don't know how - that definitely damages May. I'm not sure how much it helps Johnson because he's a very polarizing figure here in the United Kingdom. So - but, again, to have, you know, your ally come and praise your rival is very awkward. And it's, as the British like to say, unhelpful. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.