Week In Politics: Scott Pruitt’s Work At The EPA, The Korean Summit And Ronny Jackson

NPR’s Ailsa Chang speaks with E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and Mary Katharine Ham of The Federalist about the political news of the week including the Korea summit, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and Ronny Jackson’s withdrawal as VA nominee.


All right, so it has been one of the more consequential weeks for President Trump’s foreign policy. As we just heard, Trump met with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And then there were photos of two important handshakes this week. They show progress on a foreign policy issue that has stymied multiple presidents.

Earlier today, the world witnessed a historic handshake between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. And yesterday, the White House released photos of newly minted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo clasping hands with Kim Jong Un while Pompeo was still CIA director.

Joining us now to glean the significance of these events are E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and Mary Katharine Ham of The Federalist. Thanks to both of you for coming in today.


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

CHANG: So it’s still early days on North Korea, but we’re definitely seeing more engagement in that part of the world than we’ve seen in almost two decades, since Madeleine Albright met with Kim Jong Un’s father in 2000. Has President Trump’s brash, combative style of communicating with North Korea been a good thing? What do you think, E.J.? I mean, does Trump deserve some credit here?

DIONNE: Well, if North Korea gives up all its nuclear weapons, I promise I’ll say yes to that.

CHANG: (Laughter).

DIONNE: But until…


DIONNE: …That happens, I think there’s no indication that that’s where we’re going to end up. We don’t know yet who is playing whom. There are ways in which both South and North Korea may have pushed Trump into these negotiations. And Kim Jong Un seems more to be the driver of events so far. I’d still like Trump to explain how he could call a dictator who starves his own people very honorable. But yes, it would be nice if Trump surprised us in a good way for a change on this one.

CHANG: Mary Katharine?

HAM: Yeah, I mean, I think he does deserve some credit for his unorthodoxy and unpredictability, changing the calculus in a really intractable problem. Like, the calculus has also changed because this has been several administrations of trying lots of things, none of which have worked. So he has some leeway to do different things and sometimes…

CHANG: Right.

HAM: …Odd things here. And so I think that’s what he’s doing. The question with Trump always is, is there a real thought-through strategy behind this? And I think the fact that Pompeo is involved and is a guy who is unlikely to be sort of charmed by fool’s gold from North Korea points at – in a more promising direction on that front.

CHANG: Well, about that strategy, I mean, in the next several weeks, the president’s expected to sit down with Kim Jong Un. But is it too soon for the president to give face time to Kim Jong Un when it’s not even clear he is actually ready to give anything up yet in his nuclear program?

HAM: Well, that’s the question. You don’t want to be clinking glasses with Kim Jong Un and not getting anything in return and legitimizing that. And so that is the question. What is the strategy? But they do have this odd dichotomous strategy right now that is sort of lots of engagement and also lots of bluster and sort of aggressive posture. And the combination does seem to be changing the situation at…

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