LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
He regularly blasts it as the failing New York Times, but President Trump could not resist an impromptu, sit-down interview with one of its reporters. NPR's senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins me now to offer some insight on to what that interview revealed and what battles the president will be fighting in the New Year. Hello, Ron.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Always good to hear your voice, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: Thank you. The president constantly lumps the Times in with other media outlets he perceives to be critical of him as fake news. So why does Times reporter Michael Schmidt get so much of his time?
ELVING: This was something of an accidental interview. It wasn't on anybody's schedule, but it just happened because Schmidt had been invited down there by a Trump confidant who set it up. The president, after all, let's remember, is a born New Yorker. He's a longtime Manhattanite. So his personality kind of needs the oxygen of The New York Times every day. He does read a lot of other things for affirmation or to gauge public sentiment and information, but he still looks to the Times to gauge his own stature. It's important to be in the paper, to be on page one. And when he is, he is affirmed. He is the most important person in the world.
WERTHEIMER: Well, what was the takeaway for you from that interview?
ELVING: You know, it was full of potential quotations and news bits. This is what the president does. As a media star, he dominates the daily news cycle. But you had to be struck by his repeated self-exoneration in the probe of Russian election interference about every other minute in this interview. Literally 16 times by several people's count in a 30-minute interview, he said there was, quote, "no collusion," unquote - the same words over and over - no collusion between his campaign and the interfering Russians. Just an assertion. He just repeated it. He never gave any evidence to that effect. This is a kind of ad technique - repeating a phrase like lowest prices or free shipping. And there's also that line from Shakespeare, if I may paraphrase, doth the gentleman protest too much?
WERTHEIMER: (Laughter) Now, Ron, the president and the Congress are facing a deadline to get a budget deal done two weeks from now and to avoid a government shutdown. The measure that passed before Christmas was a stopgap. What do you think the chances are that the government will shut down?
ELVING: Well, we may get another stopgap. That's what usually happens. And we should probably avoid a shutdown in any event because it really isn't necessary. And neither party sees a shutdown as a big help going into an election year. But there really are sticking points, too, between the parties and between the factions of the Republican Party, which has been the problem leading up to this point. They are, of course, the majority in Congress in both chambers.
And one big issue, too, between the president and Democrats in trying to get cooperation from the minority party is that we have the question of the DREAMers, the young people who grew up in this country after being brought here illegally by their undocumented parents. What's going to happen to them? And there's talk of a deal by which they would be allowed to stay in exchange for the Democrats caving in on financing the president's wall on the Mexican border. But up to now, the Democrats have said, no way. So we'll be watching that one.
WERTHEIMER: The president's also talked about an infrastructure bill - not the wall, but more in the sort of roads and bridges line - to come to Congress in the New Year. Is there any chance of the Democrats buying into that?
ELVING: A funny thing happened on the way to the construction site. The trillion-dollar national investment in infrastructure that the president talked about in the 2016 campaign has now become a $200 billion - that's one-fifth as much - bill and talk of about what may come next. And this is not official yet, but this is what people are talking about. And that much smaller amount would be aimed at encouraging private construction, which would, of course, involve private profit making. And here, again, that is not likely to get much Democratic support.
WERTHEIMER: Before I let you go, what about Roy Moore, the unsuccessful Republican candidate for Senate from Alabama? The state certified the Democrat Doug Jones as its new senator. Does that mean we've seen the last of Roy Moore?
ELVING: That would seem to be the way to bet. He really got snubbed by party officials in his attempts to claim voter fraud in that special election. So this would seem to be the end of the line. We don't expect them to get anything from a very disappointed President Trump. And if I may be allowed to quote the line that the judge himself closed with, "to God be the glory."
WERTHEIMER: NPR's senior Washington editor, correspondent Ron Elving. Happy New Year, Ron.
ELVING: Happy New Year to you, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.