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Trump Delivers Populist Message To Supporters, Pence Speaks To Insiders In Washington

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Multiple news organizations are reporting that President-elect Trump has offered the role of U.S. Ambassador to China to Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. NPR News has yet to confirm this, but NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us now to talk about what we do know and what the choice could mean. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what sort of signal would it send to send the governor of Iowa to China?

LIASSON: A lot better signal than that phone call with the president of Taiwan. Terry Branstad has a longtime relationship with the president of China. He's been going on agricultural trade missions to China since the 1980s. Iowa is a big ag state, a lot of trade. Apparently the Chinese were pretty happy about this, the comments they made in their state-run media, they liked that - quite a contrast from the heartburn they had with that phone call with the president of Taiwan. The other thing to remember is Terry Branstad was one of the earliest and prominent Republican establishment supporters of Donald Trump at a time when very, very few others were stepping up to support him, so he rewards his loyal supporters.

INSKEEP: You just said a fascinating thing, Mara Liasson, because you said that people involved in agriculture in Iowa are focused on China because it's a market for them. We have a president-elect who's focused on China as a place that manufactures stuff that's sold to the U.S. that he'd rather be manufactured here. But this is a reminder it's a two-way street, right?

LIASSON: It's a two-way street. And we haven't even begun to get into the real back and forth between the U.S. and China because Donald Trump says he's going to make tougher deals, better deals for the U.S. China has tremendous leverage. This is where all U.S. companies who export want to sell their goods.

INSKEEP: I guess we should mention it's not just agricultural things. There was this tiff involving Boeing, which we're talking about elsewhere in the program. And one thing that emerged there was Boeing has pointed out, the CEO has pointed out in recent days they sell a lot of airplanes in China. This is a big market for the United States.

LIASSON: This is a huge market, and it's not just China. Asia, I think, is going to have the largest number of middle-class consumers in the world, and everyone wants to sell there. And if Donald Trump does go through with his threat to put 35-percent tariffs on goods coming in, well, China can do a lot to hurt U.S. companies, too.

INSKEEP: Now, you mentioned something about rewarding loyalists. The president-elect has been rewarding his supporters in some key states by making a kind of victory tour. He was in Ohio the other day. He was in Fayetteville, N.C., last night. Let's listen to just a little bit of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: You went out and pounded the pavement. You organized your fellow citizens and propelled to victory a grassroots movement the likes of which nobody - nobody - has ever seen before, and that's beyond our country.

INSKEEP: So Trump is out talking to people in North Carolina. And meanwhile, his vice president-elect is playing the inside game. Mike Pence was speaking with the Heritage Foundation, which is a conservative think tank here in Washington, D.C.

LIASSON: That's right. The most significant thing about Pence's speech was the venue. He was at the Trump Hotel in the presidential ballroom, of course, talking to the Heritage Foundation, big conservative think tank. Shows you that conservatives in Washington don't really care about the appearance, if not the actuality, of self-dealing between Trump as president and Trump as business...

INSKEEP: Because they're paying his hotel.

LIASSON: Yes, yes. So he's making money when as he's the president, and that's something that we're hearing a lot about. And we're going to be talking about in the next couple of weeks as Trump tells us how he's going to try to separate himself from his businesses.

INSKEEP: Let me ask you about one other thing on which there's been news. The national security adviser has been named. He's Michael Flynn, retired lieutenant general. He - both Flynn and his son have passed on on social media conspiracy theories and fake news about Hillary Clinton and a sex ring. What does the campaign - or what does the transition, if anything, doing about that?

LIASSON: Well, the campaign - the transition says it has now fired Mike Flynn's son who tweeted those false stories that somehow Hillary Clinton was involved in a child sex ring...

INSKEEP: Which doesn't even exist.

LIASSON: It doesn't even - it's just completely, utterly false. You can call this fake news. You can call this propaganda. You can call this outright lies.

INSKEEP: But it put people at risk.

LIASSON: But it put - not only do we now know that fake news doesn't just undermine faith in democratic institutions, it can be really dangerous.

INSKEEP: Because we had...

LIASSON: Yes...

INSKEEP: ...Actually walk into that restaurant with a gun...

LIASSON: And shoot off a weapon.

INSKEEP: ...And opened fire. Mara, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.