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The Latest In Politics: Trump Tweets On Nuclear Strategy

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Before the holiday weekend, President-elect Trump seized the world's attention with a tweet calling for expansion of the U.S. nuclear capability. The president-elect also filled some White House jobs this week. NPR's Scott Horsley is here with us to catch up with the Trump transition. Merry Christmas, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Great to be with you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So, Scott, a Trump spokesman has explained the nuclear tweet, suggesting that the point was to put the world on notice. Should we expect the new administration to depart from the decades-long policy of nuclear arms reduction?

HORSLEY: We've been getting mixed signals from Trump's transition team, Linda. This all started when Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, said his country needs to strengthen the military potential of its strategic forces. And Trump fired back with this tweet saying the U.S. must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability. Now, it's not entirely clear what the president-elect means when he says expand.

The U.S. and Russia have an arms control agreement that calls for dialing back the number of deployed nuclear warheads. We've had follow-up statements from two transition staffers saying Trump was simply talking about modernizing the U.S. arsenal. But then you have Trump himself reportedly telling MSNBC, let it be an arms race because we will outmatch them at every pass. So it's not clear how seriously or literally we should take any of this.

The weaponizing of Twitter, or the Twitterizing (ph) of nuclear weapons, is new territory.

WERTHEIMER: Let's move to recent Trump appointments that have gotten less attention. Tell us about Peter Navarro, who would head a new White House Trade Council.

HORSLEY: Peter Navarro is an economist from the University of California at Irvine. And back in the 1990s when I was living in San Diego, he ran for office there, unsuccessfully, four times as a Democrat. More recently, he's been making a name for himself writing books with titles like "Death By China," "The Coming China Wars." You get the idea.

Navarro is expected to advocate a very tough stance on trade towards China, much as Donald Trump himself has. A lot of economists, though, and some of Trump's other advisers think that could backfire, raising costs for consumers without necessarily doing much to help U.S. workers.

WERTHEIMER: And then there was the announcement of South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

HORSLEY: In Congress, Mulvaney distinguished himself as hawkish on deficits. He pushed for big cuts in domestic spending, like a lot of Republicans. Unlike a lot of Republicans, he's also pushed for cuts in defense spending. Now, that's at odds with the president-elect, who wants a significant increase in military spending. In Congress, Mulvaney also resisted efforts to increase the debt ceiling.

We'll see if he takes a different tact now that Republicans are in charge of both Congress and the White House.

WERTHEIMER: And then there was Trump's appointment as a special adviser on regulatory reform. He named his longtime friend investor Carl Icahn to that job.

HORSLEY: Yeah, Icahn is a billionaire investor and corporate raider. Icahn made a lot of money in the early 1990s buying up Trump's distressed casino debt. And he shares Trump's enthusiasm for cutting government regulations. Now, some critics complain that could be a minefield of possible conflicts. For example, Icahn owns oil refineries that could profit if rules on ethanol blending were scrapped.

WERTHEIMER: Well, we also have another person with a title we don't quite understand, Trump aide we've already seen quite a bit of, former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. She also gets a White House position.

HORSLEY: She's going to be serving as counselor to the president, working in the West Wing alongside chief strategist Steve Bannon. That's a similar structure to what those two enjoyed during the Trump campaign. Conway will likely play a key role in crafting messaging for the White House. But she'll have more power in this position than she would have as press secretary, another job she'd be mentioned for. And she'll probably have more flexibility, too, which could be good for someone who's talked about the importance of being a mom to her four kids.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Scott Horsley, thanks.

HORSLEY: Happy holidays. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.