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Republicans Press Trump For Strategy On Iran, North Korea


Let's bring in a familiar voice to hear more about how President Trump is handling all of this, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning. Happy New Year.

CHANG: Happy New Year to you, too. So tell us a little more about what the president is saying and doing on these two fronts on Iran and on North Korea.

LIASSON: On Iran, the president tweeted support for the protesters. He's tweeted criticism for the regime for shutting down parts of the Internet. He's tweeted that the U.S. is watching very closely. He said not good about the regime's actions. But as you can hear from Lindsey Graham, he's gotten some pushback from some Republicans who think he hasn't laid out a strategy on Iran. He hasn't decided what he wants to do about it other than tweets.

As for North Korea, he gave a interview on Thursday to The New York Times where he expressed his displeasure with China for not cutting off all the oil shipments to North Korea. But as far as what he's going to do about it, he just says we'll see. He hasn't laid out a strategy for North Korea yet either. Although, he has occasionally seemed to threaten military action threatening fire and fury to try to stop North Korea's nuclear program - so North Korea - clearly the biggest foreign policy problem on the president's plate as he starts the new year.

CHANG: But we will see. Well, let's switch gears for a moment and talk about another division in the Republican Party, the Mueller investigation. How confident are you, Mara, that 2018 will see an end to this inquiry one way or another?

LIASSON: Well, I'm not confident at all. I don't know how long Bob Mueller is going to take. Now, we know that the president's lawyers have said they believe it will be wrapping up very soon. And it will be wrapping up with an exoneration of the president. But in that New York Times interview, the president said he wasn't going to fire Bob Mueller. He went on to say he has the power to do anything he wants to with the Department of Justice but that he was holding back, staying uninvolved in the hopes of being treated fairly.

But. In that same interview, he had praise for the Republicans in Congress and his supporters in conservative media for their efforts to attack Mueller to delegitimize him. They've been saying that Mueller is corrupt and biased. The whole FBI is corrupt. So the strategy here is - on the one hand, the president's lawyers want to present a posture of cooperation with the investigation. But there's a political strategy to make sure the president's base can dismiss whatever Mueller comes up with as a partisan witch hunt. And that's making some Republicans nervous because they're supposed to be the law and order party. And they think it's not such a good thing to undermine the FBI.

CHANG: Well, speaking of the schisms, you know, we're obviously heading into an election year. Do you think Democrats will be able to capitalize on those divisions within the Republican Party when it comes to the Russia investigation?

LIASSON: I think that Democrats are not counting on the Russia investigation. But they are very confident and optimistic about their chances to make gains this election year. Usually, the opposition party does. But what's interesting to me is how high expectations have gotten now. There's so much talk about a big blue wave. It's almost take back the House or bust.

And even though there have been tremendous increases in Democratic enthusiasm and turnout in the special elections that we've seen, Democrats are still facing a pretty high hurdle. They need 23 seats to win the House back. And because of the structural advantages that Republicans have, that's going to be pretty hard. The estimates are that they would have to get 58 percent of the national vote for the House of Representatives just to get 50 percent of the seats.

CHANG: And what about their chances of retaking the Senate, the Democrats?

LIASSON: Oh, much, much less - the Democrats are defending a lot of incumbents in red states where Trump won, sometimes by really big margins. And earlier in the year when I talked to Republican senators, they said that just holding their own would be an incredible victory. Now I think they feel a little bit more confident about that.

CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIC LAU'S "SOME TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.