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Interview with John Dickerson of CBS News

April 30, 2017

DICKERSON: Mr. President, you and the administration said to North Korea, "Don't test a missile." They have tested a missile. Is the pressure not working?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I didn't say, "Don't test a missile." He's going to have to do what he has to do. But he understands we're not going to be very happy. And I will tell you, a man that I've gotten to like and respect, the president of China, President Xi, I believe, has been putting pressure on him also. But so far, perhaps nothing's happened and perhaps it has. This was a small missile. This was not a big missile. This was not a nuclear test, which he was expected to do three days ago. We'll see what happens.

DICKERSON: You say, "Not happy." What does that mean?

THE PRESIDENT: I would not be happy. If he does a nuclear test, I will not be happy. And I can tell you also, I don't believe that the president of China, who is a very respected man, will be happy either.

DICKERSON: Not happy mean military action?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. I mean, we'll see.

DICKERSON: The Chinese, our allies, have been allies with North Korea. How are you sure that they're not using this as a way to test you?

THE PRESIDENT: You can never be sure of anything, can you? But I developed a very good relationship. I don't think they want to see a destabilized North Korea. I don't think they want to see it. They certainly don't want to see nuclear on -- from their neighbor. They haven't liked it for a long time. But we'll have to see what happens.

The relationship I have with China, it's been already acclaimed as being something very special, something very different than we've ever had. But again, you know, we'll find out whether or not President Xi is able to affect change.


THE PRESIDENT: I hope he is.

DICKERSON: Why do these missiles keep blowing up?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'd rather not discuss it. But perhaps they're just not very good missiles. But eventually, he'll have good missiles.

DICKERSON: You don't want to discuss it because maybe we have something to do with it?

THE PRESIDENT: I just don't want to discuss it. And I think you know me very well, where you've asked me many times over the last couple of years about military. I said, "We shouldn't be announcing we're going into Mosul." I said, "We shouldn't be announcing all our moves." It is a chess game. I just don't want people to know what my thinking is. So eventually, he will have a better delivery system. And if that happens, we can't allow it to happen.

DICKERSON: What do you make of the North Korean leader?

THE PRESIDENT: I have -- I really, you know, have no comment on him. People are saying, "Is he sane?" I have no idea. I can tell you this, and a lot of people don't like when I say it, but he was a young man of 26 or 27 when he took over from his father, when his father died. He's dealing with obviously very tough people, in particular the generals and others.

And at a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I'm sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie. But we have a situation that we just cannot let -- we cannot let what's been going on for a long period of years continue. And frankly, this should've been done and taken care of by the Obama administration. Should've been taken care of by the Bush administration. Should've been taken care of by Clinton.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you a question about the presidency. George W. Bush said this about being president. He said, "You think one thing going in, and then the pressures of the job or the realities of the world are different than you thought." Do you agree?

THE PRESIDENT: I think I can agree with that. I love doing it. I'm, you know, thoroughly enjoying it. It's always a challenge, like life itself is a challenge. But it's something that I really love and I think I've done a very good job at it.

DICKERSON: You said in an interview with Reuters that you thought it would be easier. Why?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's a tough job. But I've had a lot of tough jobs. I've had things that were tougher, although I'll let you know that better at the end of eight years. Perhaps eight years. Hopefully, eight years. But I'll let you know later on. I think we've done very well with foreign policy. I think we've done very, very well with relationships with other leaders.

I think we're doing great on trade deals. It's set. And I think we're doing well. I mean, our country is being out-traded at every single point. We're losing tremendous amounts of money on trade. And I think actually, I've been very consistent. You know, it's very funny when the fake media goes out, you know, which we call the mainstream media which sometimes, I must say, is you.

DICKERSON: You mean me personally or?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, your show. I love your show. I call it Deface the Nation. But, you know, your show is sometimes not exactly correct. But when they talk about currency manipulation, and I did say I would call China, if they were, a currency manipulator, early in my tenure. And then I get there. Number one, they -- as soon as I got elected, they stopped. They're not -- it's not going down anymore, their currency.

DICKERSON: But that had been true before. That had been true--


DICKERSON: --during the campaign, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: No, not true to the extent that we're talking about. Much more important than that, as to when, but, you know, it did stop. And I was talking about it all during the campaign. And I would say that I was the one that got them to stop. But forget that.

DICKERSON: You were the one who got China--

THE PRESIDENT: He is working with us--

DICKERSON: --to stop manipulating their currency?

THE PRESIDENT: I think so, during the campaign I talked about.

DICKERSON: Even if they were doing it before?

THE PRESIDENT: No, they were doing it before. I mean, there was no question. I mean, they were absolute currency manipulators before. But somebody said, "Oh, you didn't call him a currency manipulator." Now, you and I are just talking about how he's working -- I believe that President Xi is working to try and resolve a very big problem, for China also.

And that's North Korea. Can you imagine if I say, "Hey, by the way, how are you doing with North Korea? Also, we're going to announce that you're a currency manipulator tomorrow." So the mainstream media never talks about that. They never say that. And that's, you know, unfortunate. It's just--


THE PRESIDENT: --it's just one of many things, John.

DICKERSON: You're a negotiator. If you need something from somebody, you need China to help you with North Korea, doesn't that send a message to China, "We're not going to bug you about human rights, about intellectual property. In the South China Sea we're not going to put too much heat on you"? Aren't you breaking one of your own negotiating rules?

THE PRESIDENT: No. I think that, frankly, North Korea is maybe more important than trade. Trade is very important. But massive warfare with millions, potentially millions of people being killed? That, as we would say, trumps trade.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you--

THE PRESIDENT: Okay? You understand what I'm saying. And if I can use trade as a method to get China, because I happen to think that China does have reasonably good powers over North Korea. Now, maybe not, you know, ultimate, but pretty good powers. Now, if China can help us with North Korea and can solve that problem--

DICKERSON: Let me ask--

THE PRESIDENT: --that's worth making not as good a trade deal for the United States, excuse me, right?

DICKERSON: What do you know now on day 100 that you wish you knew on day one of the presidency?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, one of the things that I've learned is how dishonest the media is, really. I've done things that are I think very good. I've set great foundations with foreign leaders. We have you know -- NAFTA, as you know, I was going to terminate it, but I got a very nice call from a man I like, the president of Mexico.

I got a very nice call from Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada. And they said please would you rather than terminating NAFTA -- I was all set to do it. In fact, I was going to do it today. I was going to do as we're sitting here. I would've had to delay you. I was going to do it today. I was going to terminate NAFTA. But they called up and they said, "Would you negotiate?" And I said, "Yes, I will negotiate."

DICKERSON: That's all you've learned, about the media? You knew from the campaign about the media. You said it all the time --

THE PRESIDENT: No, no, but the media didn't cover it that way. The media said, oh, I didn't terminate NAFTA.


THE PRESIDENT: First of all, if you look at my statements, I said--

DICKERSON: No, no, I meant--

THE PRESIDENT: "If I'm not able to renegotiate NAFTA, I will terminate NAFTA." Well, I'll make that statement right now.

DICKERSON: Here's a question.

THE PRESIDENT: If I'm not able to renegotiate NAFTA, we will terminate NAFTA.

DICKERSON: Let's step back a minute.


DICKERSON: Presidents have to learn how to adapt. Every president comes into the job, it's different than they expect, they must adapt. Surely, you've learned something else other than that the media is dishonest.

THE PRESIDENT: No, no, I'm just saying--

DICKERSON: And how do you adapt?

THE PRESIDENT: --it was one of my disappointments.

DICKERSON: Give me another thing you learned that you're going to adapt and change because all presidents have to at this stage.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think things generally tend to go a little bit slower than you'd like them to go.


THE PRESIDENT: Just a system. It's just a very, very bureaucratic system. I think the rules in Congress and in particular the rules in the Senate are unbelievably archaic and slow moving. And in many cases, unfair. In many cases, you're forced to make deals that are not the deal you'd make. You'd make a much different kind of a deal.

You're forced into situations that you hate to be forced into. I also learned, and this is very sad, because we have a country that we have to take care of. The Democrats have been totally obstructionist. Chuck Schumer has turned out to be a bad leader. He's a bad leader for the country. And the Democrats are extremely obstructionist.

All they do is obstruct. All they do is delay. Even our Supreme Court justice, as you know, who I think is going to be outstanding, Justice Gorsuch. I think that it was disgraceful the way they handled that. But, you know, I still have people, I'm waiting for them to be approved. Our chief trade negotiator. We can't get these people through.

DICKERSON: I want to get to--

THE PRESIDENT: They are obstructionists. And you know what that's hurting? It's hurting the country.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you about health care -- Tucker Carlson interviewed you about six weeks ago when you were in the middle of health care negotiations. And you agreed with him that the health care bill wasn't going to help your supporters. That those who lived in rural areas, the older, were going to get hurt by that bill. And you told him--

THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, the health care bill is going to help my supporters.

DICKERSON: Well, hold on. Let me just finish the question, if I may, sir--

THE PRESIDENT: Otherwise, I'm not going to sign it. I'm not going to do it.

DICKERSON: Well, this is why I wanted to ask you. You said to Tucker, "We will take care of our people, or I am not signing it." You said you were going to negotiate.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's what I just said.

DICKERSON: So tell me what in the bill you've been negotiating to get--

THE PRESIDENT: But let me--

DICKERSON: --in that helps your supporters. I'm just trying to get the details of how your people--

THE PRESIDENT: Let me just tell you.

DICKERSON: --will be helped.

THE PRESIDENT: Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I just watched another network than yours, and they were saying, "Pre-existing is not covered." Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said, "Has to be."


THE PRESIDENT: We have, we're going to have lower premiums. And before you start there, let me just tell you something. Obamacare is dead. Obamacare right now, all the insurance companies are fleeing. Places like Tennessee have already lost half of their state with the insurance companies. They're all going. Obamacare, John, is dead. Okay, because we're being -- we're being compared to Obamacare. Just, so. Obamacare doesn't work--

DICKERSON: I just want to compare you to your own.

THE PRESIDENT: One thing. No, no, it's important. I've got to compare it.

DICKERSON: No, no, but I want--

THE PRESIDENT: But you were saying about Obamacare.

DICKERSON: No, but I'm not. I'm asking what--

THE PRESIDENT: With Obamacare--

DICKERSON: --you're going to do.

THE PRESIDENT: --the premiums are too high. The deductibles are through the roof, so you never get to use it. But more importantly, it's dead.

DICKERSON: So but in the bill, as it was analyzed, there were two problems. One, and you talked about this with Congressman Robert Aderholt, who brought you the example of the 64-year-old who under Obamacare the premiums--

THE PRESIDENT: But that was a long time ago, John.

DICKERSON: But has that been fixed?

THE PRESIDENT: Totally fixed.


THE PRESIDENT: How? We've made many changes to the bill. You know, this bill is--

DICKERSON: What kind though?

THE PRESIDENT: --very much different than it was three weeks ago.

DICKERSON: Help us explain because there are people--


DICKERSON: --out there wondering what kind of changes.

THE PRESIDENT: Let me explain. Let me explain it to you.


THE PRESIDENT: This bill is much different than it was a little while ago, okay? This bill has evolved. And we didn't have a failure on the bill. You know, it was reported like a failure. Now, the one thing I wouldn't have done again is put a timeline. That's why on the second iteration, I didn't put a timeline.

But we have now pre-existing conditions in the bill. We have -- we've set up a pool for the pre-existing conditions so that the premiums can be allowed to fall. We're taking across all of the borders or the lines so that insurance companies can compete--

DICKERSON: But that's not in--

THE PRESIDENT: --nationwide.

DICKERSON: --this bill. The borders are not in--

THE PRESIDENT: Of course, it's in.

DICKERSON: --this bill. It's in that third bill, right, because--

THE PRESIDENT: It's in the second phase.


THE PRESIDENT: It's called phase one, phase two. And that's, in effect, second phase, which will get approved, which will quickly get approved.


THE PRESIDENT: But let me just explain something. There will be such competition. Right now, there's no competition. There will be such competition by insurance companies so that they can get health care and the people taking care of health care.


THE PRESIDENT: The other thing we're going to have is groups. Groups of people can negotiate. What's going to happen is the competition is going to drive down the premiums. In my opinion, much, much more than people understand.

DICKERSON: So what you've just described is the bill that you previously had said you worried wouldn't help your people. And here's why I ask. You said, "Pre-existing conditions."

THE PRESIDENT: No, there were things in the other bill, the first version, which were not as good.


THE PRESIDENT: But when I watch some of the news reports, which are so unfair, and they say we don't cover pre-existing conditions, we cover it beautifully.

DICKERSON: Although--

THE PRESIDENT: I'll tell you who doesn't cover pre-existing conditions. Obamacare. You know why? It's dead.

DICKERSON: In one of the fixes that was--

THE PRESIDENT: It's not going to be here.

DICKERSON: In one of the fixes it was discussed pre-existing was optional for the states--

THE PRESIDENT: Sure, in one of the fixes. And they're changing it--

DICKERSON: --oh, okay. So it'll--

THE PRESIDENT: --and changing.

DICKERSON: --be permanent?


DICKERSON: Okay. Well, that's a development, sir. So you're saying it's going to be pre-existing to everybody?

THE PRESIDENT: John, this has evolved over a period of three or four weeks. Now, we really have a good bill. I think they could have voted on Friday. I said, "Just relax. Don't worry about this phony 100 day thing. Just relax. Take it easy. Take your time. Get the good vote and make it perfect."

DICKERSON: Just to--

THE PRESIDENT: Most importantly, we're going to drive down premiums. We're going to drive down deductibles because right now, deductibles are so high, you never -- unless you're going to die a long, hard death, you never can get to use your health care--

DICKERSON: Let me ask you something--

THE PRESIDENT: --because the deductibles are so high.

DICKERSON: Okay. So what I hear you saying is pre-existing is going to be in there for everybody, it's not going to be up to the states?

THE PRESIDENT: Pre-existing is going to be in there and we're also--

DICKERSON: And it's not up to the states?

THE PRESIDENT: --going to create pools.


THE PRESIDENT: And pools are going to take care of the pre-existing.

DICKERSON: But on that crucial question, it's not going to be left up to the states? Everybody gets pre-existing, no matter where they live?

THE PRESIDENT: No, but the states--

DICKERSON: Guaranteed?

THE PRESIDENT: --are also going to have a lot to do with it because we ultimately want to get it back down to the states.

DICKERSON: Okay. Is it a guarantee?

THE PRESIDENT: Look, because if you hurt your knee, honestly, I'd rather have the federal government focused on North Korea, focused on other things, than your knee, okay? Or than your back, as important as your back is. I would much rather see the federal government focused on other things--


THE PRESIDENT: --bigger things. Now, the state is going to be in a much better position to take care, because it's smaller.

DICKERSON: People out there with pre-existing conditions, they are worried. Are they going to have the guarantee of coverage if they have a pre-existing condition or if they live in a state where the governor decides that's not a part of the health care, or that the prices are going to go up? That's the worry. The American Medical Association says--

THE PRESIDENT: We actually--

DICKERSON: --it could effectively make coverage completely unaffordable for people.

THE PRESIDENT: --we actually have, well, forget about unaffordable. What's unaffordable is Obamacare, John.

DICKERSON: So I'm not hearing you, Mr. President, say there's a guarantee of pre-existing conditions.

THE PRESIDENT: We actually have -- we actually have a clause that guarantees.

DICKERSON: Okay, excellent. We got there.

THE PRESIDENT: We have a specific clause--

DICKERSON: Let me ask you--

THE PRESIDENT: --that guarantees.

DICKERSON: --about your tax plan.


DICKERSON: Tax plan came out this week. It's got some big deficit numbers. You've said that's going to be made up by growth. Congressional--

THE PRESIDENT: Well, not only growth. It's going to be made up by better trade deals. It's going to be made up--


THE PRESIDENT: --by many different, reciprocal tax. As an example, we have countries where if we make a product and we send it to that country, they charge us 100% tax. If they make the same product and send it to us, we charge them nothing. You think that's smart? It's not.


THE PRESIDENT: We're going to come up with reciprocal taxes and lots of other things on those countries. But I view that more in trade. We're also going to fix all of our trade deals. We're going to have a very wealthy country again.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you this, Mr. President. Congress may not go along with--


DICKERSON: --so they're going to try and find some spending. Let me ask you about the question of Medicare. They're going to want, in Congress, to make up on the spending side, to change Medicare. Will you allow that?

THE PRESIDENT: You're not going to have to do it.

DICKERSON: But, sir, will you allow it?

THE PRESIDENT: You're not going to have to do it. I'm just telling you we are--

DICKERSON: Does President Donald Trump want them not to do that?

THE PRESIDENT: I would much prefer them not to do that, that's right.

DICKERSON: It sounds as if, having covered you in the campaign, it sounds like you're leaving the door open. On the campaign, you were quite clear. You said, "I'm the guy who's not going to touch Medicare."

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, then let me more clear. I'm not going to touch it, because I said it. Now, waste, fraud and abuse, I'm going to touch. If there's something in Medicare that's been abused, I will touch that. There are certain things, as you know, that have been absolutely abused. There are certain provisions in Medicare that are horrible and abusive and there's been terrible things happening. So that kind of stuff, I will absolutely touch.


THE PRESIDENT: But the concept of Medicare, I'm not touching.

DICKERSON: For me, if I have it now, or if I'm going to have it in the future, it's not getting cut?

THE PRESIDENT: Waste, fraud and abuse.

DICKERSON: And that's it?

THE PRESIDENT: And if there are things within Medicare that are being abused, I will touch that also.

DICKERSON: Other than that, it's tightened up?

THE PRESIDENT: That's right. That's what it is. But here's what we do. We're going to grow. The numbers just came out for Obama's last year. 1.6 GDP. That means nothing. That's, like, 1% GDP. So I have gotten to know as you know, I really get along with a lot of other countries. So I talk to the heads of countries. "How are you doing?" "Not well, not well." "Why?" "GDP is 8%. GDP is 9%. We are doing poorly." GDP -- Our GDP is, like, 1%.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you about your tax returns, sir. When your Treasury secretary was asked about whether you were going to release them, Secretary Mnuchin said, "The president has no intention." Is that right?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I never spoke to him about it. Honestly, he's never asked me about it. I said, number one, I'm under audit. Right now, I'm under audit. After the audit is complete. It's a routine audit, but I have a very big tax return. You've seen the pictures. My tax return is probably higher than that from the floor. When you look at other people's tax return, even other wealthy people, their tax return is this big. My tax return is this high.

DICKERSON: I just wanted to make sure--

THE PRESIDENT: I'm under routine--

DICKERSON: --you weren't changing.

THE PRESIDENT: --audit. And I think it's a very unfair thing because I have been under audit almost, like, since I became famous, okay?

DICKERSON: Have you--

THE PRESIDENT: Not just political. I mean, I have been under audit, I'll bet you 12 or 13 or 14 years in a row. Now, I have friends that are wealthy people.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you--

THE PRESIDENT: They've never been audited.


THE PRESIDENT: And I think it's very unfair.

DICKERSON: You first said that you were under audit, were going to wait till that was done, about 14 months ago. That seems like a long time. When do you think this might happen? Are you asking them?

THE PRESIDENT: It could happen soon. I don't know. I mean, I think--

DICKERSON: When? Give me a sense of--

THE PRESIDENT: --it's pretty routine, to be honest with you. But then I'll make a decision.

DICKERSON: A member of Congress suggested that a condition for getting tax reform would be releasing your tax returns. What do you think about that?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I don't know who did that. I mean, I don't care who did that. These are the people, you know, the great obstructionists.

DICKERSON: So you're not buying that deal.

THE PRESIDENT: Look where they are. Look where the Democrats have ended up. Hey, John, they had everything going. Now they don't have the presidency, they don't have the House, they don't have the Senate, and Schumer's going around making a fool out of himself.

DICKERSON: You said yesterday on FOX that Russia is a phony story. Which part of it is phony?

THE PRESIDENT: The concept of Russia with respect to us is a total phony story.

DICKERSON: Meaning the Trump campaign?

THE PRESIDENT: Of course, it's a total phony story. In fact, I just heard where General Flynn got his clearance from the Obama administration.

DICKERSON: But you don't mean--

THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me. I didn't realize this, when he went to Russia, it was 2015 and he was on the Obama clearance. When General Flynn came to us, as you now know, he already had the highest clearance you can have. I think the same clearance as the president of the United States would have. He had this really high clearance. And, by the way, they're so devastated because this only came up two days ago.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you this, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Why wasn't this reported months ago?


THE PRESIDENT: But I watched one of your other competitors, and they were devastated--


THE PRESIDENT: --by this news, because you know what? That kills them. That's the end of that subject.

DICKERSON: You don't think it's phony that they, the Russians, tried to meddle in the election? You believe that?

THE PRESIDENT: That, I don't know. I don't know.

DICKERSON: That you don't know or you do know?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I have a problem. You have Podesta, who, by the way, I understand has a company with his brother in Russia. Hillary's husband makes speeches in Russia. Hillary did a uranium deal with Russia. Nobody ever talks about that. But I don't know--

DICKERSON: You don't--

THE PRESIDENT: --because the F.B.I. was not allowed by Podesta to go in and check all of the records on their servers and everything else that you would normally have to check. That's number one.

Number two, knowing something about hacking, if you don't catch a hacker, okay, in the act, it's very hard to say who did the hacking. With that being said, I'll go along with Russia. Could've been China, could've been a lot of different groups.

DICKERSON: So President Donald Trump is ambivalent--

THE PRESIDENT: But it could've--

DICKERSON: --about or not ambivalent, you're not just not sure?

THE PRESIDENT: No. We have to find out what happened. I'd love to find out what happened.

DICKERSON: But you don't think it's the Russians--

THE PRESIDENT: I can tell you one thing. Had nothing to do with us. Had nothing to do with this, and everyone knows it. And by the way, even my enemies on your show said, "We haven't found anything that the Trump campaign did wrong."


THE PRESIDENT: Do you agree with that?

DICKERSON: But there is agreement in the intelligence communities and other places and investigative communities on the Hill that Russia was--

THE PRESIDENT: I'm okay with it.

DICKERSON: --involved in the election.

THE PRESIDENT: Honestly, John, I'm okay. But why didn't Podesta and the Democrats, why didn't they allow the F.B.I. to eject the server? They hired some company who somebody said some pretty bad things about, to go and check their server and give the information. So they were hacked. Why didn't they -- the Democrats allow the F.B.I.? They told the F.B.I., "We are not going to allow you to do it." Why did they do that? Why did they do that, John? Why wouldn't they let the F.B.I. go in and check? And by the way, why didn't the F.B.I. complain about it?

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. President, I think we're going to have to end it there.


Donald J. Trump, Interview with John Dickerson of CBS News Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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