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Trump Embarks On First International Trip Amid Continuing Controversy


While Washington digs into why President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and what a new special counsel at the Justice Department will try to learn about Trump associates and Russia, the president is jetting off. Trump will try to leave his troubles behind him tomorrow as he departs on the first foreign trip of his presidency.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Tomorrow, as you know, I'm going to Saudi Arabia. We're going to Israel. We're going to Rome. And we have the G-7. We have a lot of great things going on.

CORNISH: NPR's Tamara Keith is about to leave for the trip herself. She joins us now. Hey there, Tam.


CORNISH: So how likely is it that these issues that have been hanging over the president all week - we mentioned the Comey firing, reportedly giving classified information to the Russians and now the naming of a special counsel. How likely is this all to follow the president overseas?

KEITH: Very likely because the American press corps is following the president overseas, and there are likely to be more developments back in Washington, even as he's abroad. You know, there's precedent for this. President Obama traveled overseas a lot in his last year in office, and he was repeatedly, almost exclusively, asked about the presidential campaign and then-candidate Donald Trump. And go back to the '90s. President Clinton went on trips, and questions about various investigations surrounding him went right along with him. There's really no escape from domestic politics. That said, the leaders in Saudi Arabia and some of the other Gulf states that President Trump will be meeting with are not as obsessed with this as, say, the media and many in America are. So it's possible that this first leg of his trip could provide something of a reprieve.

CORNISH: In a wide range of events here, we mentioned Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican - right? - three major religious centers. What point is the administration trying to make here?

KEITH: Yeah, it's not an accident that he's going to those three major religious centers. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described it today as being about uniting people of faith.


REX TILLERSON: Bringing people the world over to understand we are in this together. This is not a battle about religions. This is not a battle about cultures. This is a battle about good and evil. And their - the goodness of people of all faiths will prevail over this evil.

KEITH: Being ISIS. In Saudi Arabia, President Trump will give a speech to the leaders of some 50 Muslim-majority countries. And he, as his national security adviser put it recently, will call on these Muslim leaders to promote a peaceful vision of Islam. And, yes, President Trump is the very same person who proposed a Muslim ban during the campaign and in the past has said things that are widely perceived as being opposed to the Islamic religion. So it will be very interesting to see how he tries to cross that divide.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, his stops in Europe will include a meeting of the NATO alliance in Brussels, also the G-7 in Italy. What are we expecting at those events?

KEITH: Well, President Trump had previously said that he thought NATO was obsolete. And then, he changed his mind as president and said that it's no longer obsolete, but he still wants its members to, as he puts it, pay their fair share, meaning that they should spend more on their own national defense. He's going to push for that. The European countries are going to push him to say, hey, we're not getting the credit that we deserve for all that we're doing. And one symbolic way that they'll do that is with the unveiling of an Article 5 Memorial, which will memorialize how NATO countries responded to help America following the 9/11 attack. Also he will meet with President Macron of France, newly elected.

CORNISH: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tamara, thanks so much.

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

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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