RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Tonight, President Trump will deliver his State of the Union address. He himself has said that at least part of his speech will be about, quote, "unity." So what does that mean in this time of divided government? Let's ask White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, who joins us now on the line. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.
KELLYANNE CONWAY: It's a pleasure, Rachel. Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: How would you articulate the objective of the president's speech tonight?
CONWAY: Well, the president indeed is calling for unity. His speech is very visionary in that he is challenging members of Congress - but indeed all of us - to work on some big issues together. And as a sign of progress in that regard, you can look back to 2018 and some of the legislative successes that the president was able to sign into law. I would highlight two quickly - one is the historic criminal justice reform signed into law December 21 - huge bipartisan support, lot of outside support through these organic coalitions of Democrats, Republicans and then really nonpartisan people and individuals and organizations that work together to say, if you've paid your debt to society and you can re-enter society from prison, then we would like to make that happen. We'd like to help you assimilate into society - maybe education, employment opportunities.
CONWAY: And tonight, one of the first lady's guests will be Matthew Charles. And he is one of the first beneficiaries of the First Step Act. Also earlier in 2018, in about October before the First Step Back was signed, the president signed into law the most comprehensive single piece of legislation on any drug crisis in our nation's history. That passed with every single Democrat.
MARTIN: I'm sorry to interrupt you, but we have limited time. So I understand he's going to point to those - what he would frame as bipartisan successes. Is he going to articulate where he could see bipartisan cooperation moving forward because it is not happening currently on the border-security debate?
CONWAY: Indeed. Well, it should happen on border security because that should also be a nonpartisan issue with bipartisan solutions. Hopefully the conferees will complete their work soon and put something on the president's desk that he can sign into law that includes a physical barrier that you can't crawl under, climb over, walk around or drive through but also includes many of the other Republican and Democratic...
MARTIN: And I want to talk about border security in a moment. But just the question - will he point to any bipartisan possibilities?
CONWAY: Yes, yes.
MARTIN: What are they?
CONWAY: Drug pricing, for example, and no surprise medical billing, the transparency in drug pricing and separately drug pricing overall - we've seen a historic number of generic drugs that have been approved in this president's administration. And that has reduced the price of many, many drugs. But we need to do better. We need to do more. And he's going to call upon the Congress to work with him. Secondly infrastructure, which is another issue that Speaker Pelosi has said to the president...
MARTIN: Although we've been hearing about infrastructure for two years now.
CONWAY: Well, and we've been - and it's been crumbling and in disrepair for decades.
MARTIN: Well, why couldn't it be done when you had control of Congress?
CONWAY: But that would have been - that would've been a great idea. You're never gonna get an argument from me of all the things that didn't get done when Republicans were in charge. But, again, Democrats and Republicans can come together and say, we want more pipelines, or we want more responsible ways to repair our crumbling bridges and highways.
We want infrastructure - infrastructure also now means rural broadband. There are many things in our modern - in modern infrastructure that the Democrats and Republicans can also work on that really didn't exist five, 10, 20 years ago. So we're hopeful...
MARTIN: OK. So that's aspirational. There is no comprehensive infrastructure bill on the table right now which you'd submit.
CONWAY: Well, actually that's being discussed. And if you go and look at the president's tweet from last week, when he had a phone call last week with Speaker Pelosi, he highlighted in his tweet, Rachel, to the areas that the speaker noted they can work on together over drug pricing and infrastructure. So he is highlighting them in his address tonight.
MARTIN: OK. Let me ask you about the president's position going into this speech. Recent polls say that the disapproval rating for the president is at an average of 55 percent. That means more than half the country does not like the way he's leading. It's not exactly where you want to be going into a State of the Union address.
CONWAY: Well, that isn't what the question asked. It's an approval rating. And I've been writing about approval ratings for many, many decades. When they're up, when they're down...
MARTIN: Well, his approval rating is only 40 percent. So how does he reach out to people who used to support him, in particular before the government shutdown? They see him as being responsible. And now they've changed their mind. What's the message to them?
CONWAY: Well, that is an over - respectfully an overrun analysis of some very simple polling questions. But here's what he'll say to the American people, including those government workers for whom he has reopened the government, and they're back to work - that he wants Congress to do its job on border security. It's up to them. They failed for decades to secure the southern border. Secondly he's going to highlight for them what a great economy we have. And anybody who denies that is just being blinded and hyperpartisan. It's a fact that unemployment is down, and wages are up. It is a fact that some of these duplicative and burdensome, excessive, expensive regulations...
MARTIN: The economy is strong - the economy is strong. The job numbers are strong. That is true. And I understand the president wants to point to that. I want to ask you - the president and the first lady have invited a young man named Joshua Trump to attend the speech tonight because Joshua, who is in sixth grade has been bullied because of his last name. Is the president going to mention Joshua in his address? And in doing so, will he apologize for his own role in cyberbullying people with whom he disagrees?
CONWAY: Well, he will certainly - we're certainly happy that Joshua Trump is coming. His story is - really tugged at the heartstrings of anybody, but particularly those of us, like me, who have school-age children.
MARTIN: Will the president apologize for how he has used the Internet to bully people?
CONWAY: The president is - the president uses his considerable media platforms to cut through the middlemen, who don't always tell the truth about his record.
MARTIN: Are you denying that he uses the Internet to bully people?
CONWAY: The president is also a counterpuncher if you're talking about when he calls out a senator from Connecticut, who lied about being in Vietnam and never was. If you're talking about him calling out people who like to criticize him or if he's calling out the racist, abortionist governor of Virginia, who is a Democrat...
MARTIN: He's also called out his own intelligence chief, calling them naive, saying they should go back to school, calling Maxine Waters low-IQ Maxine Waters. There is though some hypocrisy that people have pointed out to inviting a young man who's been bullied - not to dismiss his claims - but to ignore the president's own role.
CONWAY: Anybody in the country who has school-aged children, who are - can be subject to this, really appreciate the president and the first lady highlighting it - especially the first lady's platform - her Be Best platform, which includes this as a major piece. Let me just say one thing about Maxine Waters - she's the incoming chairman of the Financial Services Committee. And in an interview over the weekend, she said that we're headed towards impeachment. How does that a responsible use of her chairmanship in the first - in the opening months? How is that...
MARTIN: That is...
CONWAY: ...Responsible? Well, but that's not - and you've got a speaker who said, we're not heading that way. I mean, the country doesn't want to hear that.
MARTIN: I understand that's not...
CONWAY: You talk about caring and unity. And you've got them out there making noises about impeachment. It's very irresponsible.
MARTIN: I have to leave it there. Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, we do appreciate your time.
CONWAY: Thank you, Rachel. Take care.
MARTIN: NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe was listening into that. Ayesha, there's a lot to unpack. What do you make of what we just heard?
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Yeah, when it comes to this question of, how are they going to find common ground with the Democrats? That is the question. Even on infrastructure, the Republicans do not support this idea of spending a lot of money - government money on infrastructure. The Democrats want to spend a lot of public money. And Trump has sounded open to that. But since he's been in office, he's gone back to saying that he wants more private money because that's what Republicans support.
RASCOE: So even in these areas that they're pointing out where there could be common ground, there's still a lot of distance between them.
MARTIN: NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe, thanks.
RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.