Week In Politics: Turnover In Trump’s Cabinet Continues As Tensions With Russia Escalate

Tensions are escalating between the U.S. and Russia and there’s another shakeup in the president’s cabinet. David Brooks of the New York Times and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution join NPR’s Ari Shapiro to discuss the week in politics.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now from domestic to foreign affairs – this week, North Korea’s president made a trip to China. Russia expelled U.S. diplomats. And to talk about these stories and more from the week in politics, our Friday regulars are here in the studio, David Brooks of The New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Hi, guys.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be here.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Great to be with you.

SHAPIRO: Let’s start with the Russian expulsions. More than two dozen countries including the U.S. kicked out Russian diplomats in retaliation for the nerve agent attack on a Russian ex-spy and his daughter. Russia’s retaliating by expelling Western diplomats, including 60 from the U.S., closing the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg. Some Russia watchers are calling this the worst moment for Russia’s relations with the West since the Cold War. E.J., do you think they’re right?

DIONNE: Yes. And it’s a truly strange moment. Here you have Trump under legitimate attack for being so eager to praise Putin. He won’t say a cross word about him. He has promised better relations with Russia. And we probably have worse relations with Russia than we ever have. And, you know, some could ask to use the old Reaganite slogan, peace through strength. Perhaps Trump’s approach to Putin doesn’t help us.

But there’s a second level here, which is, Trump does not want the White House to announce all of the tough things the United States government is actually doing against Russia. NBC had a story about his saying, you know, we are doing these things against Russia. He just doesn’t want us to talk about them. So it’s very hard to discern what American policy is. It seems there is a kind of verbal Trump policy and an actual policy that’s much tougher.

SHAPIRO: David, you’ve been critical of President Trump’s reluctance to criticize Putin, and yet the actions of the United States in this case seem to be pretty tough on Russia.

BROOKS: Yeah, I think the actions are pretty good. We worked multilaterally. We reacted. And it seemed like a pretty normal American administration doing the normal, right American thing. I think what – I think I still say it’s insufficient. My thinking on all this is that their Trump is better than our Trump, that Putin, like Trump…

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BROOKS: …Succeeds by blowing up the system and by threatening to blow up the system, in this case the nation state system. He did that in Crimea. He did that in Ukraine. He did that in Syria. And he’s done it here. I mean, poisoning people on an English – British territory is a complete violation of norms of how you do statecraft. And he’s willing to do that. And then we do our expulsions, but he ups the ante. I’m really struck by how he wants this. He wants to go higher and higher. And so he’s pretty good at using his power as a disrupter to really mess with the world.

SHAPIRO: Although…

DIONNE: If…

SHAPIRO: If his goal has been to undermine NATO and the European Union and these other Western alliances, his actions sure seem to have brought those countries together in this case.

DIONNE: Right. I mean, some of his actions – the interference with the elections has actually weakened NATO, and you’ve had victories or strong votes for parties that Putin seemed to be helping that hurt the cause of NATO solidarity. And yet this poisoning has really brought people together. And the other striking thing…

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