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At News Conference, Trump Offers Little Clarity On Sessions' Job Security

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's not a good sign when your boss publicly speaks of you as beleaguered and very weak. But the criticism that President Trump has for his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, just keeps coming, including at a White House news conference with the prime minister of Lebanon. NPR's Tamara Keith was there and she joins us now. And, Tam, the question is whether Donald Trump wants Sessions out. Is there any more clarity about the attorney general's job security?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Not really. Both of the reporters that President Trump called on at this press conference tried to pin him down on it, but to no avail. A Bloomberg reporter asked Trump whether he intended to fire Sessions or was trying to get him to resign, and why he's letting Sessions twist in the wind rather than, you know, just, like, making a call on it. And Trump took issue with the idea that he was letting Sessions hang out there. But then later in the press conference, when asked again those very same questions, Trump said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm very disappointed with the attorney general. But we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.

KEITH: It's a cliffhanger. It's basically the dictionary definition of letting someone twist in the wind. It's still not clear what he's going to do. But there was a pretty significant rallying around Jeff Sessions today by Republicans, including those on the Hill and in conservative media.

SIEGEL: But the president has several reasons for why he's mad at Sessions - the recusal from Russian matters and, he says, the leaks. He should be tougher on leaks.

KEITH: Yep, that's right. At the press conference today he said that he believes that his attorney general should do a much better job of preventing leaks from the intelligence community. And as for that recusal, Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn't have much of a choice. Justice Department regulations basically required that he recuse himself because of his involvement with the campaign.

SIEGEL: Now, the news conference that - it was a very brief news conference with the visiting Lebanese prime minister - but it came right after Senate Republicans had cleared a procedural hurdle voting to begin debate on health care legislation. Tell us about what the president had to say about that.

KEITH: Yes. So the White House actually delayed the press conference until after the Senate finished their vote and also after Senator John McCain, who just came back from being diagnosed with brain cancer, had spoken on the Senate floor. And President Trump said that he watched the vote on TV with the Lebanese prime minister. He praised the 50 Republicans who voted in favor of moving forward, but President Trump also made sure to call out the two Republicans who voted against the motion to proceed.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: We had two Republicans that went against us, which is very sad, I think. It's very, very sad for them. But I'm very, very happy with the result. I believe now we will, over the next week or two, come up with a plan that's going to be really, really wonderful for the American people.

SIEGEL: He makes that almost sound easy, Tam.

KEITH: He does, but it's not, and not even close to easy. You know, when they took that vote to begin debate on the bill, senators literally didn't know what they would be debating. There are a bunch of different options out there. Just as an example of that, President Trump this morning tweeted, repeal or repeal and replace - I have a pen in hand. But the challenge is any of those options, you know, you gain people, you lose people. It's going to be very difficult to find one option that gets 50 votes.

SIEGEL: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks for talking with us.

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