Trump’s 6 month mark overshadowed by Times interview and Russia testimonies

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Donald Trump was sworn in on Jan. 20. Between that day and today, he has referred to the New York Times as "failing" in no fewer than 17 tweets.

Which begs the question: Why, on Wednesday, did Trump give three New York Times reporters nearly an hour of his time for a sit-down interview in which he touched on everything from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to French President Emmanuel Macron's penchant for hand-holding to his theories about the cold-weather attributes of Russian soldiers?

If the New York Times is, indeed, "failing," a "joke," and "fake news" -- all of which Trump has called it this year -- why acknowledge they even exist much less spend an hour with them?

Or, in the words of Anderson Cooper: "Why on God's green earth does the President of the United States gives this interview today of all days when the focus is supposed to be on health care and this is also Buy American Week?"

The answer is simple: Donald Trump doesn't think the New York Times is failing. Or a joke. Or fake news. Far from it.

Trump grew up in New York City. Prior to being elected president, he's lived his entire life there. He not only reads the Times but he understands its power to drive agendas and validate public figures. As such, he cares how he is portrayed in it -- deeply.

It's why he's given interviews to the Times repeatedly since winning the White House -- even as he kept up the "failing" drum beat on Twitter. In a visit to the Times headquarters two weeks after he won the election, Trump described the Times as "a great, great American jewel, world jewel."

Trump knows that beating up on the Times, CNN and The Washington Post -- his three most consistent targets in the media -- is good politics for him. His supporters not only deeply distrust the media but believe journalists are all thinly-veiled liberals who are out to get conservatives at every turn.

And, even as president, Trump makes clear with his actions -- not his words -- his real views on the Times. You don't spend an hour with three New York Times' reporters in the midst of a desperate attempt to revive health care legislation in the Senate unless you care about what they and their publication think. And he does.

GOP senators dismayed at Trump's criticism of DOJ officials in Times interview

A group of Republican senators criticized President Donald Trump after the President rebuked top law enforcement officials in an interview with The New York Times.

"The attorney general is America's top law enforcement official," one GOP senator said. "It's unclear if he understands that, and that's pretty disturbing."

The senator was referring to Trump's comment in the Times' interview that he would not have hired Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Sessions would go on to recuse himself from investigations related to the 2016 campaign. The senator said Trump seemed to be thinking of the law enforcement heads as his personal employees.

"One gets the impression that the President doesn't understand or he willfully disregards the fact that the attorney general and law enforcement in general -- they are not his personal lawyers to defend and protect him," one GOP senator told CNN. "He has (his) own personal lawyers, and of course, the White House has the White House counsel's office."

That Republican senator and two others spoke on background with CNN to avoid prompting a fight with the President. Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins was the only one of the four to speak on the record in response to Trump's comments about Sessions, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and former FBI Director James Comey as well as his venting about the special counsel investigation into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election.

A second senator vouched for Sessions' integrity and backed Sessions' recusal decision, and a third senator said, "If you're Jeff Sessions, it's gotta be tough to come to work the next day."

Sessions said Thursday that he would stay on the job despite the President's public criticism.

Trump's anger with Sessions in the Times' interview appeared to stem in part from his belief that Sessions' recusal had led to Sessions' deputy, Rod Rosenstein, appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller to lead a special counsel investigation into any alleged collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia. In the interview, Trump claimed it would be a "violation" for Mueller to look into his family's finances as part of the investigation into his associates' potential contacts with Russians and left open the possibility of trying to fire Mueller.

Who approves?

Trump's approval ratings have flirted with and, more recently, crossed into historic lows. A recent Washington Post/ABC News survey put the number at 36%, with ABC News calling it "the lowest six-month approval rating of any president in polls dating back 70 years."

Two more polls released in the last few days show approval ratings of 40% (Bloomberg) and 39% (Monmouth) -- for an average slightly north of 38%.

But it's not all bad news for the White House.

Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that in counties Trump won in the 2016 election, he is still breaking even, with a 50% approval rating. (In counties where he outperformed 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney by at least 20 points, the number jumps to 56%.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump finishes his first six months -- yes, months -- in office.

It has been an uneven debut for the corporate executive and reality TV star turned commander-in-chief, marked most notably by clashes with political rivals and the press, a failed promise to repeal and replace Obamacare and the persistent drip of new details about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But Trump scored high marks with the Republican conservative base with his Supreme Court pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch, and the party rank-and-file has stuck by his side through the early turbulence, many delighting in his constant attacks on the mainstream media. Still, the durability of their faith could be tested if the second half of the year passes without any major legislative achievements.