Politics

Trump Sets the Tone: Won’t Take Salary

In '60 Minutes' interview, president-elect sets personal example in effort to 'drain the swamp'

In his first interview since winning the presidential election, a subdued Donald Trump suggested Sunday on “60 Minutes” that he is open to minor modifications of some of his signature issues in order to effect real change and promised to work for the people — for free.

The victorious Republican, who sat for the interview on Friday, sounded very much like a man who wants to unite the country after a long and bitter campaign. He praised his vanquished opponent, Hillary Clinton, and demurred when correspondent Lesley Stahl asked about his promise to appoint a special prosecutor.

“They’ve let them down on the job front. They’ve even let them down on the war front. We’ve been fighting this war for 15 years.”

Despite the conciliatory tone, however, Trump make clear he has not changed his basic commitment to break the current system that has served elites of both parties.

“It’s a moment in time where politicians for a long period of time have let people down,” he said. “They’ve let them down on the job front. They’ve even let them down on the war front. We’ve been fighting this war for 15 years.”

Trump acknowledged that his transition team includes lobbyists but said he has not changed his mind on reforming the way Washington works — in his words, phasing out the corrupt system. He said he would release his tax returns at the “appropriate time” and added he would not be “very big on vacations.” And for the first time, he pledged not to accept the $400,000 annual presidential salary.

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“I think I have to by law take $1, so I’ll take $1 a year,” he said.

Trump vowed to act presidential but also said he will not shy away from a fight when the circumstances demand it.

“I’ll conduct myself in a very good manner. But it depends on what the situation is. Sometimes you have to be rougher,” he said. “When you look at the world and you look at how various places are taking advantage of our country — and I say it, and I say it very proudly — it’s going to be America first. It’s not going to be what we’re doing. We’re losing this country.”

Trump’s best-known campaign promise is to build a wall along the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it. He recommitted to the wall on Sunday but expressed an openness to compromise — such as fencing in some areas where a brick-and-mortar wall would be impractical, as some Republican leaders have suggested.

“For certain areas, I would [accept fencing]. But [for] certain areas, a wall is more appropriate,” he said. “I’m very good at this. It’s called construction.”

Trump also avoided absolutist language on deportations, telling Stahl the immediate focus would be on incarcerating and removing criminals, gang members and drug dealers. He suggested that might include two million to three million people.

“We’re getting them out of our country. They’re here illegally,” he said. “After the border is secured, and after everything gets normalized, we’re going to make a determination on the people that you’re talking about, who are terrific people.”

Trump said three major areas of consensus emerged from his meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other GOP congressional leaders last week — repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, reforming immigration, and cutting and simplifying taxes.

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Trump reiterated his pledge to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court with a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment justice. But he said gays have nothing to fear from his presidency.

“It’s irrelevant, because it was already settled,” he said when Stahl asked his views on same-sex marriage. “It’s law. It was settled in the Supreme Court. It’s done … I’m fine with it.”

Trump said he was saddened to hear reports of harassment committed by some of his supporters.

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“I would say, don’t do it. It’s terrible,” he said, later adding, “I’ll say it right to the camera, ‘Stop it.’”

Trump seemed to be looking for ways to heal wounds created by a campaign that included his vows on the debate stage to imprison Clinton and chants of “Lock her up” at his rallies. He said he had not decided whether to seek a special prosecutor to investigate corruption allegations. He said he did not want to hurt the Clintons.

“I’m going to think about it. I feel that I want to focus on jobs. I want to focus on health care,” he said. “I want to focus on the border and immigration — and doing a really great immigration bill. We want to have a great immigration bill.”

Trump also acknowledged the enormity of the moment.

“I’ve done a lot of big things,” he said. “I’ve never done anything like this. It is so big. It is so enormous. It’s so amazing.”

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