CNN’s Dubious Claim of Rift Between Trump, Nominees

Network exaggerates policy separation between president-elect, Cabinet picks

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 13 Jan 2017 at 12:08 PM

CNN anchor Carol Costello on Friday claimed this week’s confirmation hearings have exposed “just how far the nominees are [from President-Elect Donald Trump] on major issues, and we’re talking about major issues.”

CNN correspondent Sunlen Serfaty introduced a montage of clips purporting to show the vast space between Trump and his choices to run the government.

“He’s not picking them to be parrots.”

“The big takeaways from the week of confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill is that Trump and many of his nominees are not in line on many key issues that the country is facing,” she said.

But the examples CNN cited included issues where Trump either has changed his position or where his views and those of his nominees are not as diametrically opposed as the network suggests. Here is a sample:

1.) As Serfaty put it, Trump’s “soft stance on Russia.”

As evidence, CNN aired a clip of Trump from his news conference this week saying, “If [Russian President Vladimir] Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset,” followed by Pentagon nominee James “Mad Dog” Mattis and Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson describing Russia as a threat.

"We're not likely to ever be friends," Tillerson said.

It is possible, however, for Russia to simultaneously to be an adversary and for U.S. policymakers to search for ways to improve relations and cooperation. At the very news conference CNN cited, in fact, Trump suggested he would be far tougher on Russia that Democrat Hillary Clinton would have been.

What's more, Tillerson — cast by CNN as a Russia hawk in contrast to Trump's dovishness — has run into trouble with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and other senators because of their concerns that the former ExxonMobil CEO is too chummy with Russia. Rubio specifically expressed concern that Tillerson would not call Putin a "war criminal."

CNN also aired a clip of Mike Pompeo, Trump's choice for CIA director, telling senators that aggressive action is needed to counter Russian hacking. That also does not appear to contradict Trump, who told reporters this week that he has demanded a cybersecurity plan from his top advisers within 90 days of taking office.

2.) Waterboarding.

Trump, at times, said during the campaign he would approve waterboarding — or worse — as an interrogation technique. CNN aired clips of Pompeo, Homeland Security Department nominee John Kelly, and soon-to-be Attorney General Jeff Sessions declaring that they would not support waterboarding and that it would not be legal.

But Trump in November told The New York Times that he was surprised after talking with Mattis that the general opposed waterboarding and hinted he would be willing to reconsider his position in light of the retired general's point of view.

3.) Building a wall along the Mexican border.

It is Trump's oldest and, perhaps, most prominent campaign promise. CNN tried to make the case that there is a great deal of daylight between the president-elect and Kelly.

"A physical barrier, in and of itself, is not going to do the job," Kelly said during his hearing. "It has to be, really, a layered defense."

But that hardly contradicts Trump. Kelly did not oppose a wall. He just said border security requires more than that. Trump undoubtedly agrees. He released a detailed and comprehensive plan to tackle dozens of aspects of the problem with illegal immigration. That includes more border patrol officers and different policies aimed at immediately sending border crossers home. He also has proposed stepping up deportations, beefing up interior enforcement, and requiring businesses to use the E-Verify system to ensure companies do not hire illegal immigrants.

Immigration experts contend that all of those measures are needed to prevent illegal immigration.

4.) A Muslim ban.

CNN aired clips of Sessions, Kelly, and Tillerson all disavowing the idea of banning Muslims from entering the United States.

But Trump abandoned that campaign idea — and a related idea of a Muslim registry — months ago. Instead, he has advocated "extreme vetting" in deciding whether to admit foreigners from certain "high risk" countries. That does not put him at odds with any of those nominees. Sessions, in fact, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that it is appropriate to question foreigners about their views before issuing visas.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on "The Laura Ingraham Show" Friday that Trump will not agree with his nominees on every issue.

"There's no question this a very strong Cabinet with very strong personalities … He's not picking them to be parrots," he said.

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