RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump is back at our nation's capital. He returned yesterday after spending the holidays at his private club in Florida where he predicted that 2018 is going to be, quote, "very special." The president has not yet specified where he's going to focus his energies as he gets back to work this week. Lucky for us, NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro has some ideas. He joins us in our studio. Good morning, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.
MARTIN: All right. From your reading of this president and this White House, what are the Trump administration's top priorities in 2018?
MONTANARO: Well, there are really six places that they talk about, two that are foreign, four domestic, as the White House puts it. North Korea - they're looking at containment. Iran - they're really encouraging protests through Twitter support at this point. We're not sure tangibly what that will mean, you know, even further to sort of enact change. But we'll be watching that. And then the four domestic areas - immigration, which they see as tied to national security, welfare, health care and, you know, that - those are some key, big places that they want to watch for.
MARTIN: Those are big.
MARTIN: I mean, welfare reform as they're billing this, immigration - some kind of comprehensive immigration reform. Is this likely to happen in this upcoming year?
MONTANARO: Right. And when you throw infrastructure in there, as the other big area, you know, Democrats at this point are not looking like they want to jump on board so easily. And when you look at the midterms, not much gets done traditionally in midterm years. Opposition parties have a very high bar to walk when it comes to working with the majority. Democrats will seek major concessions if they have to work with Republicans, especially in the Senate, on anything related to immigration or infrastructure.
MARTIN: So the story - one of the many stories, political stories, this past year has been about the growing rift between the president and his partners in the GOP. What do we expect to happen on that front? I mean, how do the president's priorities, as you just outlined them, how do they jibe with congressional leaders?
MONTANARO: Well, they got a big thing done when it came to taxes - the tax overhaul. Without that, there might have been an even bigger rift that was exposed. You know, President Trump and Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, seem more aligned than with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Ryan and Trump both want to attack welfare entitlements and health care. But McConnell has said that he's not quite ready to walk that plank, and Democrats certainly aren't getting ready to, you know, get to the edge of that ship anytime soon to help McConnell out.
MARTIN: Right. McConnell just came out and said I want to turn the page on health care.
MONTANARO: Right. He said he's ready to move on from health care, and he doesn't think entitlements can get done unless it's bipartisan.
MARTIN: I also want to ask you about what is unfolding in Iran. You mentioned that President Trump up until now has just refrained from doing anything more than weighing in on Twitter, which is a big deal in and of itself considering. But he tweeted again this morning, throwing in a knock on the Obama administration's Iran policy. How might that translate into policy for the Trump administration, if at all? Or is this just rhetoric?
MONTANARO: I think that's the big question because what can he do to enact change tangibly I think is the real question here. You know, when it comes to 2009, President Obama was dealing with a much more hard-line leader in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This time around, there is a more pragmatic leader in Rouhani, someone who Obama was able to strike that Iran nuclear deal with. So these are very different types of people. So if President Trump and Vice President Pence are calling for change, well, what does change look like in Iran?
MARTIN: Right. Like is Rouhani the moderate that is going to be as good as you can get from an American government perspective?
MONTANARO: Right. Because it certainly doesn't appear that people in the streets are going to be able to take down the supreme leader anytime soon.
MARTIN: Meanwhile, the threat from North Korea still looms. I mean, is there any kind of - have you been able to discern a cohesive American strategy when it comes to North Korea?
MONTANARO: Well, the president's tried to saber rattle a bit more. But if anybody thought that that saber-rattling approach was going to, you know, make Kim Jong Un a little bit more cowed, that certainly didn't seem to be the case because over the New Year's holiday, he came out and said that they've become a nuclear power and that he has a nuclear button on his desk ready to launch at any time. So, you know, China is key to containing North Korea, and yet, the president has criticized them. China is feeling emboldened, and one Chinese professor, for example, told The New Yorker that they see Trump as the biggest strategic opportunity, and clearly American leadership has declined in the last 10 months. So when President Trump says that he's been the most well-received leader ever in China's history, it might be for a different reason than President Trump thinks.
MARTIN: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks so much, Domenico.
MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.