AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
President Trump says he's considering sending U.S. troops to help secure the country's border with Mexico until a wall can be built. Trump made this disclosure during meetings at the White House today with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Now, in a moment we'll hear from Lithuania's foreign minister. We'll start, though, with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. She's at the White House.
And, Mara, in this news conference with the Baltic leaders, President Trump was asked about an idea that he had thrown out earlier in the day about sending troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Here's his response.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We are preparing for the military to secure our border between Mexico and the United States. We have a meeting on it in a little while with General Mattis and everybody. And I think that it's something we have to do.
CORNISH: Tell us more about this policy, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: We don't know a whole lot more about this policy. We know that presidents in the past have used the National Guard at times to help Border Patrol agents when there has been a big surge of illegal immigrants across the border. We're not sure if a similar surge is happening right now. But this proposal from the president comes in the context of criticism that he's been getting from his base because he failed to secure funding for his wall in the omnibus spend - big spending bill that he signed. And he's been trying to show his base voters ever since that he is fulfilling his promises on stopping illegal immigration, on building the wall. So sending the military to the border is the kind of big, tough action that shows he really is cracking down on illegal immigration.
CORNISH: Now, the president also spoke about pulling troops out of Syria. But any decision to do that has serious consequences, right?
LIASSON: It certainly does. The president said he'll be talking with our allies in the Middle East before he makes a decision, but he made it pretty clear what he wants to do.
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TRUMP: I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation.
LIASSON: This is a very familiar theme from the president. He said that if Saudi Arabia, for instance, wants us to stay in Syria, well, they have to pay. He's kind of a hawk and a noninterventionist at the same time. He tends to see U.S. foreign policy as a kind of protection racket. But military experts are warning that if the U.S. does pull out our troops - several thousand of them in Syria - it could create a vacuum. And that vacuum could be filled by Russia and Iran and the Syrian regime. And perhaps it would also allow ISIS to regroup.
CORNISH: Now, in terms of the Baltic countries, leaders there, they're concerned about Russian aggression. But President Trump has been criticized for sending mixed messages when it comes to Russia. What did he sound like today?
LIASSON: Well, he had two basic messages. One is nobody's tougher than I am on Russia. We're becoming energy independent. We're building up our military. Certainly that's not something that Russia likes. On the other hand, he says, there's nothing wrong with having a good relationship with Russia. Only stupid people wouldn't agree with that. But at the same time, the president has invited or at least discussed the possibility of Vladimir Putin coming to a meeting at the White House, something that Putin would consider a great success, at the same time that the United States and its allies have concluded that Putin probably personally directed a nerve gas attack on British soil.
CORNISH: Mara, before I let you go, reports about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, whether he's on shaky ground with the White House - anything to that?
LIASSON: The president had a very cryptic comment today about Pruitt. He says, I hope he's going to be great, but I haven't talked to anyone at the White House who doesn't think Pruitt is on thin ice. His ethical problems are mounting about his travel, his expenses, his living arrangements at a below-market rent with a lobbyist whose clients Pruitt rewarded with favorable decisions. So Pruitt is making it look like Donald Trump is populating the swamp, not draining it. And that's usually a recipe for getting fired in this administration.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.