Facing the prospect of bruising electoral defeat in congressional elections, President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he won’t accept the blame if his party loses control of the House in November, arguing his campaigning and endorsements have helped Republican candidates.
In a wide-ranging interview three weeks before Election Day, Trump told The Associated Press that he senses voter enthusiasm rivalling 2016 and he expressed cautious optimism that his most loyal supporters will vote even when he is not on the ballot.
When the AP asked Trump, “If Republicans were to lose control of the House on November 6th—or a couple of days later depending on how long it takes to count the votes—do you believe you bear some responsibility for that?”, Trump replied, “No, I think I’m helping people.”
Elaborating, Trump added, “And I will say that we have a very big impact. I don’t believe anybody’s ever had this kind of an impact. They would say that in the old days that if you got the support of a President or if you’ve got the support of somebody it would be nice to have, but it meant nothing, zero. Like literally zero. Some of the people I’ve endorsed have gone up 40 and 50 points just on the endorsement.”
Trump spoke on a range of subjects, defending Saudi Arabia from growing condemnation over the case of a missing journalist, accusing his long time attorney Michael Cohen of lying under oath and flashing defiance when asked about the “Horseface” insult he hurled at Stormy Daniels, the porn actress who accuses him of lying about an affair. Asked if it was appropriate to insult a woman’s appearance, Trump responded, “You can take it any way you want.”
Throughout much of the nearly 40-minute interview, he sat, arms crossed, in the Oval Office behind the Resolute Desk, flanked by top aides, including White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Communications Director Bill Shine. White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway listened from a nearby sofa.
The interview came as Trump’s administration was being urged to pressure Saudi Arabia to account for the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Instead, Trump offered a defence for the US ally, warning against a rush to judgement, like with what happened with his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault. “Well, I think we have to find out what happened first,” Trump said. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh. And he was innocent all the way.”
Weeks away from the midterms, Democrats are hopeful about their chances to recapture the House, while Republicans are increasingly confident they can hold control of the Senate. Trump has been campaigning aggressively in a blitz of rallies aimed at firing up his base. He said he believes he’s doing his job, but allowed he has heard from some of his supporters who say they may not vote this November.
“I’m not running,” he said. “I mean, there are many people that have said to me...‘I will never ever go and vote in the midterms because you’re not running and I don’t think you like Congress’.” He added, “Well, I do like Congress.”
If Democrats take the House and pursue impeachment or investigations—including seeking his long-hidden tax returns—Trump said he will “handle it very well.”
Trump said that Washington lawyer Pat Cipollone will serve as his next White House counsel and that he hoped to announce a replacement for UN Ambassador Nikki Haley in the next week or two.
The President declared he was unconcerned about other potential threats to his presidency. He accused Cohen of lying when testifying under oath that the president coordinated on a hush-money scheme to buy Daniels’ silence.
Trump on Tuesday declared the allegation “totally false.” But in entering a plea deal with Cohen in August, federal prosecutors signalled that they accepted his recitation of facts and account of what occurred.
Trump repeated his frustration with Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the special counsel investigation, saying he could “fire him whenever I want to fire him, but I haven’t said that I was going to.”
On the ongoing Russia investigation, Trump defended his son Donald Trump Jr. for a Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer offering damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump called his son a “good young guy” and said he did what any political aide would have done.
The American President again cast doubt on climate change, suggesting, incorrectly, that the scientific community was evenly split on the existence of climate change and its causes. There are “scientists on both sides of the issue,” Trump said. “But what I’m not willing to do is sacrifice the economic well-being of our country for something that nobody really knows,” Trump said.
He added, “I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.” Asked about his wartime leadership, Trump acknowledged that he has not brought US troops home from conflict zones overseas and that there are more Americans serving in harm’s way now than when he took office. “It’s not a lot more. It’s a little bit more,” he said.
Saying he’s trying to preserve “safety at home,” Trump added that if there are areas where people are threatening the US, “I’m going to have troops there for a period of time.” Trump increased U.S. troop totals in Afghanistan by about 4,000 last year.