In a wide-ranging interview set to air shortly before the kick-off of Super Bowl LIII, President Donald Trump remained non-committal on a variety of pressing issues, unable or unwilling to say exactly where he stands.
Would he shut down the government again?
“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens.”
Would he pursue military intervention in Venezuela?
“It’s an option.”
Would he make special counsel Robert Mueller’s report public?
“That’s up to the attorney general.”
It’s become somewhat of a tradition over the last 15 years for the president to sit down for an interview with news networks before the biggest annual sporting event in the United States. But this is only the second time that Trump has agreed to take questions. Last year he bucked tradition by refusing to be interviewed by NBC, retribution for what he saw as unfair coverage from the network. The year before that, Trump sat down with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.
Though the president will occasionally sit down for wide-ranging interviews with print outlets like the New York Times (as he did Thursday), his interview Sunday with CBS host Margaret Brennan marks one of the rare instances in which Trump took questions from any television network other than Fox. Brennan was able to cover a remarkable amount of ground in the interview, with questions on everything from ISIS to his views on allowing his youngest son to play football. Here are four of the most interesting highlights:
Trump wants to keep US troops in Iraq to keep an eye on Iran
The president said he plans to keep US troops in Iraq in order to keep an eye on neighboring Iran, “because Iran is a real problem.”
“I want to be able to watch Iran. All I want to do is be able to watch,” Trump told Brennan.
Trump did not specify how many troops he planned to keep in the region. Trump surprised his own top administration officials and key allies abroad last year by announcing plans to withdraw all US troops from Syria, and he told Brennan he’s determined to get out of the “endless wars” both there and in Afghanistan. He’s thus far seemed more committed to Iraq, visiting troops deployed there in December, but in the same interview moments later, Trump called the invasion in Iraq “one of the greatest mistakes” the US has ever made.
Trump says he doesn’t “have to agree” with his intelligence chiefs
In their testimony before Congress this week, top US intelligence officials showed the extent to which Trump’s statements on foreign policy have been based outside of reality. On everything from the nuclear threat-level posed by North Korea to the staying power of ISIS, Trump’s own intelligence chiefs described a world that was often in outright contradiction with the one the president has painted. Even still, Trump says he doesn’t have to listen to them.
”I have intel people, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree,” he told Brennan. “President [George W.] Bush had intel people that said Saddam Hussein in Iraq had nuclear weapons, had all sorts of weapons of mass destruction. Guess what? Those intel people didn’t know what the hell they were doing, and they got us tied up in a war that we should have never been in.”
The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong! When I became President Iran was making trouble all over the Middle East, and beyond. Since ending the terrible Iran Nuclear Deal, they are MUCH different, but….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 30, 2019
Trump’s right that he doesn’t have to listen to advisers — as Vox’s Alex Ward notes, the president “has every right to make foreign policy decisions as he sees fit.”
In fact, Trump has made a habit out of bucking the advice of his own senior staff and insulting the intelligence community as a whole whenever they disagree with him. And when that doesn’t work — when intel from his top spies is televised and written down in the official record as it was this week — Trump will find a way to claim their words were misquoted or taken out of context by the media.
He wants credit for black, Hispanic and Asian employment levels; says “something very special” is happening in the US in terms of race
In one of the more bizarre turns of the interview, Trump is asked about the state of race relations in the US. Citing a recent CBS poll that found that 63 percent of Americans say they disapprove of how the president is handling race-related issues in the US, Brennan asks Trump to reflect on his own job performance in addressing race. Trump says he deserves recognition for high employment stats for blacks, Latinos, and Asians.
“Our employment numbers are phenomenal, the best in over 50 years. So I think I’ve been given a lot of credit for that,” Trump said. (Trump has made these claims before, and each time economists have noted that the president is taking credit on job growth that he doesn’t deserve. The White House has been called out repeatedly for cherry-picking its data.)
And despite his infamous reputation of stoking racial anxieties, making overtly racist comments and pushing a discriminatory agenda, Trump had this to say: “And in terms of race, a lot of people are saying well this is something very special what’s happening.”
Trump says he’d have a ‘hard time’ allowing his son to play football
Once upon a time, Trump complained that violence in football just wasn’t what it used to be. On the campaign trail, Trump bemoaned that football had gone “soft” for banning helmet-to-helmet tackles and mocked debilitating concussions from the game as “a little ding on the head.”
Now, however, he thinks he would have a “hard time” allowing his 12-year-old son, Barron, to play the sport, given the body of research showing the lasting physical harm and damage caused by concussions from the game.
”I just don’t like the reports that I see coming out having to do with football — I mean, it’s a dangerous sport and I think it’s really tough,” he said. “I thought the equipment would get better, and it has. The helmets have gotten far better but it hasn’t solved the problem.”
You can watch the interview in its entirety here.