RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump met with lawmakers from farming states yesterday, and he surprised some folks in the room with a particular suggestion. Here's Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse describing the meeting.
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BEN SASSE: Definitely, the big headline coming out of this meeting is that the president said he was deputizing Larry Kudlow and Ambassador Lighthizer to look at re-entering the TPP negotiations.
MARTIN: Ah, the TPP - the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This was a trade pact with 11 other countries that Donald Trump railed against during the presidential campaign. And taking the U.S. out of the TPP was one of the first things that he did as president. So what has changed? NPR White House reporter Scott Horsley joins me now. Hey, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: Donald Trump hated the TPP. He said it all the time on the campaign trail - said it as soon as he was inaugurated, wanted to take the U.S. out. So has he changed his mind about his opinion of this thing?
HORSLEY: I'm not sure he really has. You are absolutely right. He campaigned hard against this big Asia-Pacific trade deal. It ranked right up there with the North American Free Trade Agreement in his sort of personal punching bag collection. And one of his very first acts as president was, with considerable fanfare, to formally withdraw the U.S. from this trade agreement. So the talk about re-entering would be a big reversal if - and this is a very big if - the president really meant it, but I don't think he does.
MARTIN: Right. So he has a tendency, I think we can say, of knowing how to speak to his audience, right? It is - it is actually one of his skills. He knows his audience. Might this be one of those moments when he just understood the anxiety in the room with these lawmakers, representing these farming - farmers who feel under pressure with the China tariffs?
HORSLEY: That's right. And we have seen this happen before. In White House meetings on immigration policy, for example, or gun control, politicians come out of those meetings thinking that things went their way, only to then have their hopes dashed. I'm not sure that Senator Sasse was really that gullible here. I think instead, he might have been trying to make the president own what was, in fact, just an offhand comment. But before the day was out, Trump himself was pouring cold water on this. He tweeted that he would only join TPP if the deal were substantially better than the deal that was offered to President Obama.
MARTIN: Do we even know what better is? I mean, has he articulated what changes would need to happen?
HORSLEY: No, I don't think he's gotten that specific. And meanwhile, the other 11 countries that were parties to this deal - they say, yeah. We would welcome the U.S. to come back into the agreement, but we're not waiting on the U.S. They have struck their own trade agreement, minus the United States. And significantly, Rachel, they have dropped some of the intellectual property provisions that the United States had been pushing for. You know, a number of people, as the U.S. now wages an intellectual property fight with China, have said, how much more powerful would the U.S. be? How much more leverage would it have with China if it went into those talks with an allied front of 11 other countries along the Asia-Pacific? But instead, by withdrawing from the TPP, Trump has lost that leverage. And he has also lost the ability to shape what the TPP looks like.
MARTIN: Before we let you go this morning, I have to ask you about the excerpts coming out from James Comey's new memoir. It's going to be released in the coming days. Of course, James Comey, the fired FBI director. There's been a lot of hype about this book. The excerpts we've seen are fairly critical of the president, which isn't that surprising. But what's the response from the White House at this point, if anything?
HORSLEY: Let me just check my phone here.
MARTIN: (Laughter) No Twitter action.
HORSLEY: No, we have not seen a reaction from the president yet. Certainly, there's been pre-action. He has tried to discredit Comey in the past as a liar and a leaker. The RNC has adopted that lying Comey moniker for its website. But certainly, the White House is watching this with some trepidation. Remember, the president was supposed to be in South America this weekend. Instead, that trip was called off, so he'll be watching cable TV and maybe getting some itchy Twitter thumbs.
MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley for us. Thanks so much, Scott.
HORSLEY: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.