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NBC’s Andrewa Mitchell On French and British Elections, Rex Tillerson At State, Ric Grennell Not At NATO

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NBC’s Andrea Mitchell joined me this morning:




HH: So honored to have Andrea Mitchell, host of MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports. You can follow her on Twitter, @MitchellReports. I just call her the dean of everything foreign in the United States Capitol. She’s been covering international relations for longer than just about anyone there, and understanding it better than everyone there. Andrea, welcome to the program, it’s great to have you on.

AM: Thank you. Thanks for such a nice introduction, not deserved, but I love it.

HH: Well, I want to start with, I start every morning with the Times of London, because Americans don’t pay much attention to what’s going on, but we have these two major elections. And last night, they had a debate in France between Le Pen an Macron that was just a food fight. And I don’t know if you had a chance to watch it, yet. How important, I think Le Pen loses this thing. I’d like your assessment of this. I actually want her to lose this thing. How important is this French election, do you think?

AM: I think it is so critically important not focused enough here in America, because so much else is going on. But this is the Brexit vote for France. Now I agree with you that the polling shows Macron’s got about a 60% lead, and so you know, face off two weeks after the first round. But she’s been doing some smart things, and I don’t think any of us have tapped into the depth of the anger, the anti-immigrant anger, the migration issue over there as well as what we saw in our own election here, and the threat of terror. Look at what France has endured in Nice, in Paris, multiple times.

HH: Right.

AM: I just don’t think that any of us are figuring out how the polling works. And I would not be completely shocked at a crazy upset.

HH: You know, it was amazing last night. You and I both covered the debates between then-candidate Trump and Secretary of State Clinton. And it got ugly at times, but last night, Le Pen said to Macron France will be run by a woman. It will either be me or Ms. Merkel. I mean, and that was one of the nicer exchanges. It is genuinely ugly.

AM: Wow.

HH: Yeah.

AM: And that’s, you know, and that’s a shot at Merkel, too. I mean, it’s a shot at everybody. I don’t even know if you could get away with saying that here in the States, although we were, those debates were pretty rough.

HH: Oh, they were.

AM: And we reached a new stage in politics, and it’s not polite. Maybe that’s in some ways a good thing in that people are hearing it directly, you know what you’re getting. And people shouldn’t be surprised with what they get in an election.

HH: The other thing she did…

AM: …if they vote this way.

HH: And the other thing she did, Andrea, which is so similar, they clashed over his being an elitist, a banker, an investment banker, and Michael Barone this week wrote a piece on the countryside versus the capital, and he said this is a recurring theme in the West that goes back hundreds of years, and she is really representing the “French countryside” against Paris much in the way that Trump represented Middleton, Ohio and Warren, Ohio against Washington, D.C. Can she replicate that? Is that going on all over the world?

AM: I think, I’m not sure she can replicate it in this instance, because it would be so surprising. But boy, that is such an insight, and I don’t know if you recall, but a couple of weeks ago on Meet the Press on his daily, on his download, I guess, Chuck went through the data on rural voting versus urban voting, and it’s right there for all of us to see. That is where people are completely disaffected. And whether or not it’s serving their own economic interest, they feel this anger at the cities, at the coasts, at the elites.

HH: It’s sort of the Beauty and the Beast kill the beast moment. Theresa May yesterday, this is the second election we’re not paying much attention to, took out not against her liberal counterpart, Corbin, he’s kind of a sad sack case, but against the EU. She’s actually running against Brussels in this election, Andrea Mitchell.

AM: Well, she has completely transformed. She saw what happened with Brexit. She’s got to manage Brexit. And frankly, Brussels is running against her by saying that they’re not going to, you know, give her any of the benefits that she needs to extricate Britain from the EU. So that is a relationship gone really bad, and she’s playing to the nationalist popular tendencies in the UK. I don’t think she has any election problem. She called the election just to seize the advantage while she is this popular. And the other thing that happened, of course, today, and this is not political, but it’s kind of sentimental, is Prince Philip stepping down from his duties. I’ve had the privilege of you know, spending some time with Her Majesty and Prince Philip over these decades when they’ve come here for visits and for historic occasions in Williamsburg and all in 2007. He’s a hoot. And they are going out today doing you know, one official function that had been scheduled. But he’s not going to be going out. He’s 95. I know that’s not, you know, of note to Americans, but…

HH: I began the show with it, Andrea…

AM: It’s a big change, and…okay.

HH: …because I visited his birthplace in Greece last summer, and people don’t know that Prince Philip is Greek.

AM: Right.

HH: And he’s always discharged his duties with such extraordinary dignity, as has she even in the most difficult of times as depicted in The Queen when Helen Mirren played her. He is really a rock, and so it is sentimental today.

AM: Yeah, and it could presage that she will take, you know, fewer responsibilities herself, because she’s leaned on him. He’s always been two steps behind. And it’s an amazing record of public service in their context, in their political context.

HH: Well, let me talk compared to the very old hands of the Queen and the Prince, and Theresa May and this nastiness in France, let’s talk about Rex Tillerson for a moment. I am dumbfounded that Rick Grenell, who was first promised the UN then passed over, and then guaranteed the Ambassador to NATO, has had the rug pulled out from him and Kay Bailey Hutchison is going to go there at Rex Tillerson’s insistence. He’s, of course, a gay man, and Donald Trump, I’ve never believed, to have a homophobic bone in his body. But now the question arises, what is going on with Rex Tillerson in this appointment? Why did it happen, Andrea?

AM: I don’t have the backstory on this. I think it’s more foreign policy and politics, and wanting to rely on someone from Texas who has foreign policy chops from the Senate and whom he knows well who is a distinguished person as well. But I grant you, that’s a strange switcheroo, and I don’t know whether maybe it was just a personal thing. But I actually have talked to people in the past about Rex Tillerson. There’s a larger question of why there aren’t more appointments, and why there’s so many vacancies at the State Department. But I don’t think that there’s anything that’s gender related or sexual…

HH: Orientation. But I mean the Republicans…

AM: I’m thinking that, I really don’t…

HH: Trump has to worry about that, doesn’t he? He has to worry that people will attribute to him some sort of animus when the guy’s been up twice and knocked down twice. He’s a friend of mine, so I’m just amazed by this.

AM: Yeah, and I don’t understand why this happened, frankly. I don’t think it’s because he’s a gay man. I know people in the philanthropic community, gay leaders in the art community who say that Rex Tillerson has been, was in the private sector, an extraordinary board member and close colleague and raising money for the Ford Theatre, for instance. I just don’t think it’s that. But you’re right, I have to drill down, because Rick Grenell has been passed over twice, and, but there are others who are in the same boat. So this has been a rocky…

HH: What is going on at State? It’s just empty.

AM: Well…

HH: There’s nobody there.

AM: He, in his defense, he met with the workforce yesterday, gave a very long speech about what his intentions are. He’s launching a study. His view is if there’s going to be budget cuts, which there are, 28% has been proposed, though Mitch McConnell says that’s not going anywhere, but if there are going to be these budget cuts, why go through the process of filling these jobs if you don’t know how you’re restructuring the State Department. So he wants to do the study. Now the problem with that is that it takes so long to get people confirmed, that they won’t be in position in the key positions of assistant secretary, you know, for Europe, assistant security for the Middle East.

HH: Yeah, you may be the only person who can answer this.

AM: …for Nepal.

HH: When you don’t have an assistant secretary for Africa, what is the message you’re sending to Africa?

AM: Well, you don’t have any assistant secretaries right now, so you’re dissing the world.

HH: (laughing)

AM: But what you don’t have is anyone, I mean, the downside for the Trump administration is you don’t have anyone who is in tune with their philosophy, their goals, their vision. Now I believe that the State Department foreign service officers, the career people, are as loyal and dedicated and patriotic as a group to generalize, as anybody in government. They have, they serve, you know, whether the secretary of State is Condi Rice or you know, Hillary Clinton. They serve multiple administrations for decades. They have great experience in their field. And I think he needs people who are in tune with him if they want to put a different stamp on the State Department on the government. They need their own people, and they don’t them. So they have acting people who don’t have the clout and are not being clued in on the top decision making. And that leads to confusion as we had with the Iran letter that had to be rewritten by the White House, and the notification letter on that 90 day period, which wasn’t tough enough, according to some in the White House.

HH: And they need help. Andrea Mitchell, we’ll be watching at Noon today on Mitchell Reports. Thanks for joining me on a day of enormous, a week of enormous news abroad that is going to continue to get more, much, much viewing. You are my pre-nap view, because after I get done in the morning, I go home, get some stuff done, then it’s always Andrea at Noon on MSNBC. Thank you, Andrea Mitchell.

End of interview.


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