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In An Attempted Show Of Unity, Trump And McConnell Say 'We Have The Same Agenda'


There was a show of unity today at the White House. President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell met for a power lunch and then held an unscheduled Rose Garden news conference. Now, in the past, Trump has openly criticized McConnell for his handling of the Republican agenda. Today, the president had this to say.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My relationship with this gentleman is outstanding, has been outstanding.

KELLY: NPR's Geoff Bennett joins us from the White House with more. Hey there, Geoff.


KELLY: So what's the message here, that Republicans are united, he's burying the hatchet, all is well?

BENNETT: That's what they're saying publicly. I think, you know, as the GOP pivots away from the collapse of the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and then moves toward this push to overhaul the nation's tax system on what is a fairly ambitious timeline, I think in raw political terms they realize they need to at least project a sense of unity and take action on taxes or pay the consequences at the ballot box in the midterm elections. President Trump even acknowledged as much today.


TRUMP: I can say this - if we get taxes approved, we're going to do unbelievably well. Many of the senators are running in states that I won by massive amounts.

BENNETT: But despite their PR push in the Rose Garden today, Mary Louise, earlier in the day the president had told reporters he understood why his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, over the weekend declared war on the Republican establishment. To include Mitch McConnell, Trump said that the Senate had failed to advance his agenda. But then while standing next to McConnell in the Rose Garden, Trump said he would see if Bannon could be talked out of his attack on the GOP establishment, saying that some Republican senators, as Trump put it, are good people.

KELLY: All right, let me turn you to another matter that came up today. And that was this controversy that has popped up over the nomination of Congressman Tom Marino of Pennsylvania to serve as the nation's drug czar. The president's now saying he may reconsider that nomination.

BENNETT: Yes. And it follows the report yesterday by The Washington Post and "60 Minutes" which detailed how legislation that Marino pushed in the House limited the DEA's ability to go after opioid manufacturers, effectively, you know, hindering the government's ability to crack down on the opioid crisis. Add to that Senator Joe Manchin, the Democrat from West Virginia, a state ravaged by the opioid epidemic. He wrote a letter to the president today asking him with to - asking him to withdraw Marino's nomination to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Here's what the president said.


TRUMP: Well, he's a good man. I have not spoken to him, but I will speak to him. And I'll make that determination. And if I think it's - I think - if I think it's 1 percent negative to doing what we want to do, I will make a change, yes.

BENNETT: So that's the president speaking about Congressman Marino. But also on this topic the president said next week he'll officially make a national emergency declaration to fight the opioid epidemic. That's something he pledged to do back in August at the urging of the White House opioid commission.

KELLY: And something a lot of people have been watching for. The president also broke his public silence today about the four American service members who were ambushed and killed in Niger earlier this month. What he said, what the president said has stirred up some controversy. What exactly did he have to say?

BENNETT: Well, first he said that he's written letters to the families of the soldiers killed in Niger. And then he said he would call them at some point, meaning call the parents. And this is the deadliest combat incident of his presidency so far. It happened almost two weeks ago, but the president until today hadn't commented publicly about it. But then he tried to use the issue to score political points, making really the shocking and false claim that past presidents, including Barack Obama, hadn't written or called the families of slain service members.


TRUMP: If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls. I like to call when it's appropriate, when I think I'm able to do it. They have made the ultimate sacrifice.

BENNETT: But when challenged by a reporter, the president backtracked. He tried to get back in line with the facts. He said that's what he was told, although he wouldn't say by whom. But since I suppose it needs to be said, clearly both President Obama...


BENNETT: ...And George W. Bush have written, called...

KELLY: All right.

BENNETT: ...And met with families of soldiers of...

KELLY: Thanks so much. Thanks so much. That's NPR's Geoff Bennett updating us from the White House. Thanks, Geoff.

BENNETT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Geoff Bennett is a White House reporter for NPR. He previously covered Capitol Hill and national politics for NY1 News in New York City and more than a dozen other Time Warner-owned cable news stations across the country. Prior to that role, he was an editor with NPR's Weekend Edition. Geoff regularly guest hosts C-SPAN's Washington Journal — a live, three-hour news and public affairs program. He began his journalism career at ABC News in New York after graduating from Morehouse College.