BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — As President Trump continued to aggressively threaten North Korea on Friday, he made a smattering of other comments to reporters on issues ranging from U.S. diplomats getting kicked out of Russia to the deepening crisis in Venezuela to whether Vice President Pence would run for president in 2020.
Here’s a quick rundown of them:
1) Trump said he was just joking when he thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for kicking out U.S. diplomats. A day earlier, Trump was asked by reporters about Putin expelling 775 U.S. diplomatic and technical staff members from Russia in retaliation for sanctions levied against his country. Trump responded: “I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned I’m very thankful that he let go a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll.” He didn’t crack a smile, but White House aides insisted the president was joking. As Trump took questions from reporters at his private golf club Friday evening, he confirmed that he was “absolutely” kidding. He added that he plans to respond to Russia’s action by Sept. 1.
2) He suggested U.S. military involvement in Venezuela. Trump told reporters that he is “not going to rule out a military option” to confront the autocratic government of Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro and the deepening crisis in the South American country.
“We’re all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering, and they’re dying,” Trump said. “We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.”
When asked by a reporter whether this military option would be led by the United States, Trump responded: “We don’t talk about it, but a military operation, a military option is certainly something that we could pursue.”
3) He dismissed the possibility that Pence would mount a separate campaign for president in 2020. Talk about the possibility of a Pence campaign has been percolating since last weekend, when the New York Times ran a story about several Republicans running “shadow campaigns” in anticipation of the possibility that Trump might not seek reelection or would be weak enough to draw a credible GOP challenger. Pence — who has been courting Republican donors and hitting far more political events than Trump — strongly denounced the report, professing his loyalty to the president.
“He’s been terrific,” Trump said of Pence, “he’s been a great ally of mine.”
4) Trump kept bashing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), despite warnings from other Republicans that the sparring could hurt his agenda on Capitol Hill. “I don’t make anything of it,” Trump said when asked what he thought about other Senate Republicans coming to McConnell’s defense. “We should have had health care approved. … And not only didn’t it happen, it was a surprise and a horrible surprise. It was very unfair to the Republican Party and it was very unfair to the people of this country, so I was not impressed.”
“Now, can he do good? I think so,” Trump said, ticking off other priorities, including tax cuts and infrastructure spending.
5) He is still hoping for health-care reform, despite its dramatic failure in the Senate. “Things will happen with respect to health care,” he said. “And I think things will happen maybe outside of necessarily needing Congress, because there are things that I could do as president that will have a huge impact on health care, so you watch.”
6) He is still evaluating the U.S. role in Afghanistan. When asked by a reporter whether he has the right generals positioned in Afghanistan right now, Trump said that he is “going to make a determination … in a very short period of time.”
7) Trump is loving his new chief of staff, John F. Kelly, a retired Marine general. He told reporters that Kelly “has done a fantastic job” and is “a respected person, respected by everybody.” While Trump’s previous chief of staff, Reince Priebus, was given the nickname “Reince-y,” the president said that he has dubbed Kelly “Chief.”
“Chief. I call him, ‘Chief.’ He’s a respected man,” Trump said. “He’s a four-star from the Marines and he carries himself like a four-star from the Marines, and he’s my friend — which is very important.”
8) He’s excited to return home to Trump Tower on Sunday for the first time since becoming president. Trump acknowledged that his visit was sure to snarl traffic, shut down major roads and annoy his fellow New Yorkers, but he’s going anyway. He added that he will travel to the District on Monday for “a very important meeting” and “a pretty big press conference,” but he wouldn’t reveal any more details.
Wagner reported from Washington.