ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump hosted French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House today, where the conversation ranged from their mutual respect for each other to the Iran nuclear deal. President Trump could not escape questions about one of his Cabinet nominees, Admiral Ronny Jackson, the White House physician Trump has tapped to run the Department of Veterans Affairs. Jackson's confirmation hearing was supposed to be tomorrow. That's been postponed so the committee can investigate allegations against Jackson. Elsewhere on the show, Senator Jon Tester described them to us.
JON TESTER: Well, they've fallen in three different areas - improper dispensing of prescription drugs, repeatedly drunk while on duty while traveling and creating a toxic work environment.
SHAPIRO: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson was at Trump and Macron's press conference earlier today and joins us from the White House. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Did it sound to you like President Trump was paving the way for Jackson to withdraw his nomination?
LIASSON: It certainly did. First of all, we don't know whether the allegations against Jackson are true. But the president said some nice things about Jackson. He's a fine person, a good man, and the decision to continue with the nomination was up to him. But he repeatedly said over and over again if it were up to him, he would not continue.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If I were him - actually, in many ways, I'd love to be him. But the fact is I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't do it. What does he need it for - to be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren't thinking nicely about our country? I really don't think personally he should do it. But it's totally his. I would stand behind him - totally his decision.
LIASSON: I really don't think personally he should do it. That's not a big vote of confidence.
SHAPIRO: Fixing the VA has been a priority for President Trump. Where would it leave him if Jackson were to withdraw his nomination?
LIASSON: He still wouldn't have a director. You know, the VA was one of his top priorities. Jackson was a very unusual choice. Instead of looking around for someone who had experience with large systems - and the VA is one of the largest health systems in the country - Trump turned to someone that he knew, who he was comfortable with. Trump himself today acknowledged that there was a, quote, "experience problem" with Jackson. And I think this whole episode tells you something about the vetting process or the lack thereof inside the White House. Did they know about these problems? If not, why not?
SHAPIRO: Another big issue that came up in the news conference is the Iran nuclear deal. President Trump has been threatening to pull the U.S. out of the deal. Macron is trying to convince Trump to stay in it. Did you sense any movement?
LIASSON: No, it didn't sound like Macron made any headway today, although he tried really hard. Trump blasted the Iran deal as he has many times before. He said it was insane, ridiculous, the worst deal ever. He's facing a May 12 deadline where he could essentially re-impose U.S. sanctions against Iran and blow up the deal. Here's what he said about that.
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TRUMP: Nobody knows what I'm going to do on the 12th, although, Mr. President, you have a pretty good idea. But we'll see. But we'll see also if I do what some people expect, whether or not it will be possible to do a new deal with solid foundations.
LIASSON: Sounds like he was saying he told Macron in their meeting that he would pull out of the deal on May 12. And Macron is not talking about a new deal. He is talking about something that would build on the existing agreement that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon for the next 10 years.
Macron wants to add three things to that deal to address President Trump's concern - one, somehow making the ban on Iran's nuclear weapons program longer than 10 years; two, dealing with Iran's ballistic missile program, which wasn't part of the original deal and, three, dealing with Iran's meddling in the region in Syria, Iraq, Yemen also. Those things weren't part of the deal. But what would happen if the U.S. pulled out of the deal completely isn't clear. You just heard Trump saying maybe we could do a whole new deal on, quote, "solid foundations." But Iran and the Europeans are not interested in a new deal.
SHAPIRO: As Trump often likes to say, we'll see.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson joining us from the White House. Thank you, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.