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Trump Meets With Turkish President Erdogan At The White House


Most of official Washington was focused on the impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill today. On the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Trump held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House. Trump said he was too busy to pay attention to the hearings.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I haven't watched. I haven't watched for one minute because I've been with the president, which is much more important, as far as I'm concerned. This is a sham and shouldn't be allowed.

CORNISH: A comment made at a press conference with Erdogan that followed their meeting.

NPR's White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe was there. And Ayesha, how much was the president actually able to ignore what was happening on the Hill today?

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Well, he waited to have his press conference until the hearing had wrapped up, so it seems like it wasn't too far from his mind. But it is true - he was in meetings much of the day. And that, you know, he - but he was asked about this - what was happening on the Hill, about the hearing, at this press conference, which was supposed to be focused on Turkey. And he's - basically said he wanted to find - he still wants to find out the identity of the whistleblower, and he complained about the inspector general, who allowed the whistleblower plaint to move ahead.

He also even made some news. He announced that tomorrow he will release the transcript of this call that he held in April with Ukraine's president. This was before that July call that was the subject of the whistleblower complaint.

Ultimately, though, the meeting with Erdogan did give Trump a chance to make the argument that he's focused on the business of being president, that, you know - kind of to be above it a bit. As he said, he said that he would much rather focus on peace in the Middle East, and he thinks that's important.

CORNISH: An unusual move - we saw senators at the White House meeting with Erdogan, as well. What was the reason?

RASCOE: So this is unusual. It seems like he - President Trump - wanted to bring this group of five Republicans, including Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch and Republican Lindsey Graham, to the White House because some of these lawmakers - they've been big critics of Erdogan. And Erdogan's decision to enter northern Syria - it drew bipartisan condemnation from Congress, but it also has been a real issue for Trump with his own party, with Republicans.

And so this was a chance for Trump to bring these lawmakers to the White House to kind of try to build a bridge with these senators, who he needs right now and who have been critical of his policies towards Turkey, and also to kind of reassure Erdogan, who Trump says has been an important ally.

CORNISH: So those are the critics. But did Trump himself and Erdogan seem like they were on the same page?

RASCOE: Well, they seemed like they were on - they spoke the right words. But at the same time, there was this issue of, what is actually going to happen going forward with Syria? And it doesn't seem like they really made concrete steps towards that.

There has been this cease-fire after Turkey conducted this military offensive into northern Syria. A cease-fire has been reached, but the experts I talked to say that there are a lot of questions about whether this cease-fire will actually hold and how this agreement will be implemented. And Trump says that he thinks that it will last and that the Kurds are happy about the way things have turned out. But it doesn't seem like that's always backed up on the ground.

CORNISH: And Turkey - what's the response there?

RASCOE: And so Turkey - this gave Turkey a chance to really - to drive home some of the points that they want to raise, like the issue of this cleric that lives in Pennsylvania, Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey accuses of orchestrating a coup against Erdogan, and to make the case that they want him to be extradited. And it gave them a chance to show that they have the backing of the United States.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ayesha Rascoe.

Thanks so much.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.