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The Week In Politics: Trump Tells Right-Wing McMaster Critics To Back Off


President Trump is at his golf resort in New Jersey this weekend. It's the start of a 17-day working vacation. Trump did take time out last night to issue a statement in defense of his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster. General McMaster has been the target of escalating attacks from right-wing news outlets, some even calling him public enemy number one. But McMaster has the backing of his fellow military man, John Kelly, who took over this week as White House chief of staff. NPR's Scott Horsley traveled with the president, and he joins us now from New Jersey. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Stacey.

SMITH: So, Scott, if you don't read Breitbart News or other right-wing publications, this statement from the president about McMaster might have seemed a little bit out of the blue. So what is going on here? Why is Trump defending McMaster?

HORSLEY: Well, Breitbart, which used to be run by White House adviser Steve Bannon, and other right-wing outlets like that have really been gunning for McMaster in recent days. Sean Hannity tweeted that the national security adviser might have to be fired. The Daily Caller, which is run by Tucker Carlson, published a very critical article.

McMaster is part of the internationalist wing at the White House. And he's sort of a foreign policy traditionalist, so he does engender some suspicion among people like Bannon and others who want to pursue a very different sort of agenda. So Trump issued his statement last night, essentially telling McMaster's critics, hey, back off. He called the Army general a good man and said they're working very well together.

SMITH: And also, from what I understand, McMaster got some backup this week with the arrival of General Kelly.

HORSLEY: Right. Kelly, the new chief of staff, is a natural ally for McMaster. They both have extensive military backgrounds. Kelly also appears to have empowered McMaster to make some personnel changes on the National Security Council, which is another cause of friction with those on the right. The new chief of staff is trying to impose some order on what has been, till now, a pretty chaotic West Wing, and he's trying to tamp down some of this factional fighting. The dust-up over McMaster illustrates, though, that's not going to be an easy job.

SMITH: So it sounds like McMaster's job is safe for now. But his West Wing rival, Steve Bannon, did score some points this week when President Trump endorsed his kind of long-shot immigration proposal. Tell us about that.

HORSLEY: Yeah, this is a bill that was put forward by Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia that would cut, by half, the level of illegal immigration to the U.S. It would also send English-speaking immigrants and those with special skills or higher education to the front of the line, while reducing the number of green cards for extended family members of immigrants who are already here.

This is kind of a bone for Steve Bannon and the other ethnonationalists in the president's orbit. But it's not likely to actually go anywhere. For one thing, given our homegrown population that's getting older, the U.S. needs robust immigration if it's going to keep growing its economy. And Trump says he's committed to faster economic growth.

SMITH: And there was also some good economic news for President Trump this week. There was a really solid jobs report.

HORSLEY: Yeah. The Labor Department says employers added about 209,000 jobs last month, a little better than expected. The unemployment rate ticked down by a fraction. This is pretty much in line with what we saw in the first seven months of last year. So it's hard to say that Donald Trump has rejuvenated the U.S. economy, but he certainly hasn't tanked it, either. It's just kind of plugging along.

SMITH: Scott Horsley is in New Jersey, where the president is taking his working vacation. Scott, thank you.

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

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.