As a political journalist, Peter Baker has observed many presidents, but none like President Donald Trump.
“We’ve never seen a president in real time give us all and any of his point of views on all subjects,” Baker said in an interview with The Daily Texan.
Baker covered former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for The Washington Post and The New York Times. Today, he regularly covers Trump as the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times.
Baker visited the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library on Wednesday for a book signing and guest talk. His newest book details Obama’s time in the White House. He said covering Obama is starkly different from covering Trump.
“Both presidents are interesting in different ways,” Baker said. “If Trump is the guy who doesn’t hold anything back, then Obama is the guy who doesn’t show us a lot.”
While previous presidents stuck to daily agendas, Baker said Trump’s Twitter communications are unpredictable.
“From a journalist’s perspective, it’s great because we have a window into his mindset that we’ve never had with any of his predecessors, but it also means that you never know where the news is going to go,” Baker said.
Trump created unexpected headlines by calling Jerusalem the capital of Israel on Wednesday. Baker, who has covered the Middle East extensively and was the first American newspaper journalist to report from rebel-held northern Afghanistan after 9/11, explained that this is the first time a U.S. president has declared this. Trump’s statement could create more tensions in the region, Baker said.
“Both the Israeli and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital,” Baker said. “Just declaring Jerusalem the capital without saying anything about what Palestinians may do is a very volatile act.”
But within the White House, Baker said, tensions have also grown with the FBI investigation about the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor, plead guilty of lying to FBI investigators. Baker, who has also previously written about Putin and Russia, said this could be a turning point in the months-long investigation.
“A guilty plea by a national security advisor is a big deal,” Baker said.
Baker said the news has definitely shaken up the White House.
“It’s almost a paranoid atmosphere,” Baker said. “There are White House aides that will tell you they are worried their colleagues are wearing wires.”
Dealing with the dramatic Russia investigation and political polarization may prevent the White House and Washington, D.C., from addressing policy issues like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Baker said.
“I don’t think President Trump wants DACA to go away,” Baker said. “I think he would just assume there would be a law he can sign that puts a DACA-type program into place, but the Democrats and Republicans aren’t working very well together right now.”
Trump’s critiques of news-media, including The New York Times, have become well-known. But Baker said past presidents have also disliked journalists’ coverage of the White House.
“It’s not our job to be popular,” Baker said. “But you know, in the end, I’m not worried about name-calling. … Our job is to be professional, independent observers and reporters.”