- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2017

President Trump will stick with the same list of potential nominees for the next Supreme Court vacancy, he told The Washington Times in an exclusive interview in which he also waved aside the lack of a honeymoon from Capitol Hill, saying Republicans are “going to get there” and Democrats are still smarting over losing an election they thought they couldn’t lose.

Speaking in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump said a repeal of Obamacare would have passed the House last week if Republican leaders had put it up for a vote. He now expects a vote early in May, which he acknowledged is outside the 100-day time frame he had hoped for but still much shorter than the 15 months it took President Obama to have the national health care bill enacted.

He also said he expects the near-universal opposition to his agenda from congressional Democrats to wane.

“I notice it calming down,” he said.

Reflecting on his first weeks, the businessman turned statesman took pride in having upended traditional procedures in Washington. He said he has already notched foreign policy successes that eluded Mr. Obama — such as the release of Egyptian-American charity worker Aya Hijazi from detention in Egypt — and has made his mark at home with the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

“You’ll have hundreds of cases decided by 5-4, and you got that. So that’s a great legacy,” the president said, noting that at 49, Justice Gorsuch has decades of important decisions ahead of him.

SEE ALSO: Donald Trump’s family bears burden, president says

Mr. Trump shook the election campaign last year when he announced a list of 21 potential Supreme Court nominees, selected with the help of the Federalist Society and The Heritage Foundation. The list was an instant hit with conservatives and helped cement the candidate’s support among the Republican base.

“It’s a great list. From the moment I put that list out, it solved that problem. And I was proud to say it was my idea,” he said.

Mr. Trump said he has heard rumors that one of the justices will retire when the current court session ends in June but that he doesn’t have any inside knowledge.

“I don’t know. I have a lot of respect for Justice Kennedy, but I just don’t know,” Mr. Trump said, referring to the senior member of the bench, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. “I don’t like talking about it. I’ve heard the same rumors that a lot of people have heard. And I have a lot of respect for that gentleman, a lot.”

Mr. Trump said conservative voters should be assured that his next choice will be “really talented and of our views.” Asked specifically whether he would pick from the list of candidates he put forward in the campaign, Mr. Trump was unequivocal: “Yes,” he said, adding, “That list was a big thing.”

Democrats rallied near-unanimous opposition and mounted a filibuster in the fight over Justice Gorsuch, forcing Senate Republican leaders to trigger the “nuclear option” and take a shortcut to change the rules.

Fighting the Democrats

It was just one of the areas where Democrats have vowed to resist Mr. Trump at every turn.

The president took a dealmaker’s view of the obstructions he had faced on Capitol Hill, particularly from Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a fellow New Yorker.

Last week, as the federal government teetered on the verge of a partial shutdown, Republican leaders said Mr. Schumer was refusing to even talk to Mr. Trump — particularly about permitting any money for Mr. Trump’s Mexico border wall. The president, though, said Mr. Schumer is coming to the table.

“He’s negotiating. I spoke to him three days ago. He’s negotiating from a standpoint where the Democrats have been decimated,” the president said. “They thought they were going to win. It’s almost impossible for the Democrats to lose. And I think we’re much stronger today than I was on election night. You’ve seen some polls come out where I’m stronger today than I was on election night. So they’re not happy, they’re very angry.”

The Senate Democratic leader, though, said Sunday that it is Mr. Trump who isn’t ready to talk about serious issues on Democrats’ terms.

“On the issues so far — taxes and health care — he doesn’t consult us at all,” Mr. Schumer said on “Fox News Sunday.” “He puts together a plan that is very hard-right, special-interest [and] wealth-oriented and says the way to be bipartisan is to just support his plan. That’s not the way America works.”

Mr. Trump has struggled to forge unity within Republican ranks, too, hindering his efforts to notch early-term accomplishments. But the president said he wasn’t put off by the lack of a honeymoon even from his own party.

“It’s a tight margin. These are really terrific people, and they’ve been very good to me in the sense that they say, ‘We want to do this for our president,’” he said, adding that includes both the right and the centrists.

“I will say, they have their views, their views are somewhat spread out, I believe they’re going to get there,” he said, pivoting to the debate over repealing Obamacare. “I believe over the next week or two or three, I said take your time. You said Obama had a honeymoon. The truth is Obamacare took 17 months to get approved. I only started working this a month and a half in. We could have taken a vote today, I think it could have made it, but who wants to take the chance? So we’ll wait till next week. This is an artificial barrier, which I helped cause to a certain extent, but we’ve done a lot.”

Fighting the press

A constant during Mr. Trump’s first 100 days in office has been his running battle with the media. Despite his efforts to bypass the media by posting frequent messages on Twitter, Mr. Trump said his job approval ratings would be better if he weren’t confronting a steady stream of what he calls “fake news.”

“I think I’m polling really, really well, considering if you watch television. … You’d say, ‘How can this guy be at 48 percent?’” Mr. Trump said. “Anywhere in that [range], how can you do that when every single story is a hit?”

One of Mr. Trump’s biggest foreign policy challenges so far has been the threat posed by North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Sunday that the U.S. would pay for the $1 billion THAAD missile defense system in South Korea, despite Mr. Trump’s comments to The Times two days earlier about making Seoul pick up the tab.

“What I told our South Korean counterpart is until any renegotiation, that the deals in place, we’ll adhere to our word,” Mr. McMaster said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Mr. Trump’s comments had caused unease in Seoul, which was already nervous about the belligerent exchanges between Washington and Pyongyang. Mr. McMaster sought to reassure the ally in call earlier Sunday and told Fox that he was not contradicting Mr. Trump.

“The last thing I would ever do is contradict the president of the United States. And that’s not what it was,” he said. “What the president has asked us to do, is to look across all of our alliances and to have appropriate burden-sharing, responsibility-sharing. We’re looking at that with our great ally South Korea, we’re looking at that with NATO.”

Mr. McMaster also stressed that North Korea poses a “grave threat” to the U.S. and allies in the region and that Mr. Trump was determined to resolve the issue “one way or another.”

Mr. Trump also said in the interview with The Times that he wants to renegotiate or withdraw from the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement known as Korus, which enters a review period this week. The current version, first begun under the George W. Bush administration, took effect in March 2012 under the Obama administration.

“It’s been a very bad deal for the United States, negotiated by [former Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Trump said.

S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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