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tv   Profile Interview - Raj Shah  CSPAN  April 30, 2018 7:30pm-8:00pm EDT

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nation's top lit gator, floyd abrams -- lit gators and a former solicitor-general under george w. bush. watch tonight on c-span and join the conversation. our #is landmarkcases and follow us at c-span. we have resources on our website for background on each case. the landmark cases companion book, link to interactive constitution centers and podcast at next, a profile interview with white house principal deputy press secretary, raj shah. part of the interview with trump administration officials. he talked ability his life growing up in connecticut and early interest in politics and what it's like working for the president.
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>> raj shah this is principal deputy white house press secretary. we're seeing you behind the podium on occasions. how do you prepare for that? >> we have a preparation process i actually used to oversee in a previous role here. you go through the news of the day. our staff gets assigned individuals who focuses on specific policy areas and introduce our answers and have a briefing prep session. the person going behind the podium, usually that is sarah and she will go through the answers and back and forth and make changes before things get revisited one more time and prepare the book that the individual gets sent out with. usually, it's her and her voice. when i've done it, reflected the talking points and answers we have there. >> do you anticipate most of the
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questions? where most of the questions you anticipate usually asked? >> most of the questions we anticipate are not asked. i think we do anticipate most of the questions. we get a lot of viewpoints, people joining the prep session and saying, you know what, have you thought of this way or that way, coming at it in a different angle. we cover the bases in terms of what is likely to get asked and sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. >> in the times you've done it or watched sarah sanders do it, what's been the toughest questions? >> routinely questions we're not at liberty to answer or the information is classified or the information is not satisfying to the reporters asking the question, the answer is not satisfying to reporters asking the questions.
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when you're not able to put the issue to bed that becomes difficult to navigate. >> how often do you get input from the president or questions you have for him? >> obviously, if you're doing the press briefing you should meet with him and run specific questions by him. it's as needed. i think the press officials will interact a lot more when we're traveling. >> what has this job been like for you? >> it's been interesting. i find it surreal to see yourself on television. unusual. i saw my career behind the scenes. i had never done a live television interview until last december. it's unique and different and not something i expected. it's been fun. it's been interesting, very engaging.
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>> let's talk about your career. born in connecticut. >> that's right. >> what did your parents do? >> my mother was a dentist. she's retired. my father was an engineer by training and later became an owner of a chain of retail stores in connecticut and new jersey as well. they came here from india. in many ways, lived the american dream. a success story in many ways. raised myself and my sister, who now lives in north carolina, with a lot of high hopes and a lot of opportunities. >> where in india is your family originally and do you still have relatives there? >> my father's brother and sister still live in india and have moved -- his sister moved to houston and lived there a few years and moved back to india. my father's side of the family definitely has a lot of relatives there. my mother's side lives mainly in the united states now.
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>> do they see you in this news or newspapers or on the web? >> they do. it's actually kind of unusual. the indian press in india covers me rather extensively. it's a little bizarre. my grandmother in india has seen coverage of me in the news over there. >> you're a big deal for the indian american population, right? >> i suppose so. there's a lot of coverage in the indian american press. the indian -- the press in india actually like local newspapers, not even local the national newspapers out of delhi and mumbai have covered my career movements. a little unusual but, you know, all press is good press, i guess, right? >> what were you like in high school and what did you do? >> i went to high school in connecticut. i never anticipated a career in
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politics, in public policy and these issues. i actually, in connecticut -- none of my family members were political at all. i was there and 9/11 happened my senior year of high school. i could not understand why human beings would do something so barbaric, so terrible. it just got me reading, watching the news and paying attention in a way i never had before. i was pretty much a voracious reader overnight. articles, books, anything that could inform me about this issue and many others. i kind of developed a real interest in public policy issues and took a whole different track what i was planning to do with my life. >> why cornell university? >> i actually was thinking about becoming pre-med at the time. that didn't really last past freshman year bio-class. it was the best school i could
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get into. >> what did you study? >> i ended up becoming a government major, so the equivalent of political science. >> was there a class or teacher or maybe even a book that really influenced you growing up? >> that's a good question. there was, i would say, a lot of influences. you know, everything from reading the looming tower from david frum, right after 9/11, to stuff about constitutional law. there was actually a collection of dissenting opinions -- i'm forgetting the name -- it could be scalia dissents. anthony scalia's dissenting opinions and his views became what is originalist, jurisprudence and intent today. they weren't very popular views
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when he wrote them. i remember reading a lot of that book thinking, this guy makes a lot of sense. >> do you remember the first time you came to washington, d.c.? >> i came as a child. my parents took me here to look at, you know, the museums and national monuments and that sort of thing. but i couldn't tell you exactly. i was very young. >> but you came back in 2005 as an intern. >> uh-huh. >> in the bush white house. >> that's right. >> what did you do and what was that like? >> i actually -- i worked in a scheduling office that did vetting, opposition research, the people the president would shake hands with when he went to x, y, z op, local state senator, local businessman, supporter, and actually sparked a career in opposition research. >> explain what that is. how do you do that?
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>> opposition research, i think, in many way, communication -- political communication is information driven and fact-driven. you don't make the case, this person will vote to raise your tax, you say, this person voted for higher taxes 327 times, for example. the people who get you the number 327 is your industry of opposition researchers, going through votes, quotes, video clips, what have you, old interviews to try to find information to build a case communications teams will build a positive case on behalf of the candidate or what you do a lot of, what i was trained to do was the negative case of the opponents. >> you came to this at the cusp of social media and youtube and facebook and others. how has that changed the job you
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do in opposition research for a president or a candidate? >> it is a very very different business and a different piece of politics than used to exist. what used to happen -- there's two ways to look at it. first, you know, from like a technical perspective, the amount of information that exists need to review is just exponentially larger. video clips exist. what is a pretty standard practice today, they call tracking footage. young folks, volunteers have a video camera at events and watch the footage to see what's useful and not useful. everything in multimedia. all these new mediums exist. it creates a new volume of information that didn't exist before and requires more staffing and more organization to go through. the other piece of it is that people get their news in much different ways than they used to. this is the first twitter
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presidency, right. social media, video, cable television didn't have the reach and power it does today so long ago. there are nowadays so many fractious sources of information, you have to feed the beast and you have to provide information on not even like a daily basis or an hourly basis, sometimes minute by minute. for example, if somebody said something that's inaccurate, the only way to get in edge-wise is to tweet something immediately, point it out. 20 minutes later we're talking about something else. >> based on that daily briefing, is it still relevant or is that a relic of the past? >> that's a good question. i think in some ways -- i think reporters have to be a part of that conversation as well. i think that the daily televised briefing the way it's presented today has certain deficiencies. i think a lot of times because
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it's on camera, you have reporters and other actors kind of acting out, so to speak. making themselves part of the news cycle and the story. also, because it's on camera, we have to sometimes modulate or operate, disclose what we're saying in different ways. it's a little bit of theater that goes on there. i've spoken to predecessors, talked to other folks prior to the cable news age, it was a different environment, a give-and-take where people got real information. with that being said, it's a tradition that has real value. it does exist for a reason. getting a presidential spokesperson or white house on tape on a daily basis or close daily basis has value and it does provide voice, our perspective, in like a scrutinized way. these days, there are other ways to get that.
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people have been talking about changes. that's an appropriate conversation. >> if you were to change it, based on conversations with reporters, what would change moving ahead? what are your thoughts? >> that's a good question. i think i might have more routine content-driven discussions off camera, right, where instead of formalizing the process and having something that's really scrutinized as a result of being really scrutinized, not as free flowing, which is kind of what we get sometimes at the briefs today, have something less formal and more candid and straightforward. that type of setting could happen off camera in some ways. that might be an approach we're mixing that in with more frequency. i think -- i think in other times, you know, sometimes when there's not a whole lot of news going on, the value of a
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briefing isn't all that high. the press will focus on issues that aren't germane. the only time you can make news there is if you make a mistake. those are some things that have been considered, that i would consider. right now, the process we have, people are pretty aware of its strengths and weaknesses. >> if you watch cable news, there is a lot of coverage on a lot of issues beyond policy issues, salacious details, porn stars and playbook playmates. when you see that on cnn or fox or msnbc, what do you think? >> we're frustrated with the coverage. we look at the president's record on issues the american people really care about. what is the president and his policies doing to make it's easier to get a job? to, you know, make it's easier to provide opportunities for their children, to make schools safe, make communities safer,
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protect them from foreign threats. we think his record is stellar. i have no bones about defending pretty much everything from a policy perspective this president has either advocated for or accomplished. that doesn't seem to be the focus of the press. i don't think the public is concerned with every single minute leaked potential detail about this or that controversy covered almost wall to wall on some of the outlets you just mentioned. with that said, we don't get to pick and choose what folks get to cover, but we think more focus on policy and on the things that actually impact people's lives would be a benefit to the country. i think it would be a benefit to the organizations that are covering. >> based on that, how do you define fake news. what is it? >> i think i would say fake news, and the term can mean different things to different
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people, it's stuff not true or so misleading it might as well not be true. often times, you take three or four facts that may be partially true or have a kernel of truth and there's headline in a story that extrapolates all sorts of conclusions that have no bearing on reality. other times they take instances, i have situations i have been in the room for a conversation and the reporter saying this conversation happened. we have four sources that were there or that were aware of it that projected something that is just -- i was sitting there and i know that's not the case. i would say at the end of the day, i know what's going on in the white house to a greater degree than probably any reporter will ever have an understanding. what they choose to cover and print routinely is not a reflection what i see on an ongoing basis. not all the time. there are folks that get it right. i know a lot more are trying to get it right than get credit for
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sometimes. i do think that the level of krauks a accuracy and level of fairness and coverage is just not there. >> we'll go back to that in a moment. back to your career. an intern in 2005. then, what did you do? >> i graduated college. i got my first job at the rnc, republican national committee. my job was to wake up at 4:30 or so in the morning to pull news clips for this building, the white house and political officials at the rnc and elsewhere. i would do the news clipping service for the party organization at the time. >> you stayed at the rnc? did you work on campaigns? >> i worked on campaigns. i worked on a few statewide elections. i did several -- did the last basically three election cycles, last three presidential election cycles at the rnc in opposition research and used monitoring
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shop. >> one said you worked for jeb bush, is that the case? >> no. not the case. respect for jeb bush but did not work for him. >> how did that get out there? >> i couldn't tell you but. is a good example of fake news. >> you were one of the first people to come to this white house january 27th, entering the building? >> i was in a van with 10 other people, five attorneys and national security staffers, one-half set up to keep the government running and the other to keep the country safe. i was to send press releases out at the president's inauguration and the like. very cool. my parents were on the capitol mall, on the national mall listening to the inaugural address. i was sitting at the upper press, one of the desks, while
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people are pulling the television off of the wall, trying to hit send, i wasn't sure who was getting it or receiving it, all a bit of commotion. yeah. it was very exciting the first day or first few days. >> if you were to do an oral history of the first 24 or 48 hours you being here in this white house, seeing the transition of power, what would you say? what stood out? >> it was amazing, an incredible thing. i would say that there are a few observations that seemed kind of -- i don't know how important they are, but the architect of the building itself has, you know -- it's old, traditional, the architecture stood out to me immediately. i hadn't spent any time in the west wing in the previous eight years. i wasn't accustomed, didn't know what a lot of things looked like, getting lost walking around. the architecture of the west wing, in some ways it's office
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space, how it's structured spatially. it's old. it was built centuries ago feel to it. not quite centuries but well over 100 years. that was you know, the other thing is that i don't think there's any other place in government, any other place really in civilized society where you have such an important institution stood up and then it's basically emptied out overnight. not even overnight. in a matter of minutes. and when i was walking in, i saw denis mcdonough, who was president obama's chief of staff, leaving with a bag and a box and other things. he hugged somebody and left. right as i was walking in. that was, i think, the last political official in the obama administration. and i was learning how to send out press releases in the first few minutes. i mean, you know, where would everybody sit? all these things, i think that our transition operation handled a lot of big questions, but a lot of the granular how do you
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get to work every day, how do you wave somebody in through secret service? all these very basic details we had no visibility and understanding of. and just that process was given the gravity of what we're doing, the security situation placed around us, the logistical challenges that we didn't have a lot of insight into, and the fact it was on a friday, and saturday and sunday were weekends where every other government agency was closed, it was a pretty huerculean task. >> how did you move from that to your current position? >> i worked in communications, i was in the white house. with that was helping the briefing prep process for sean spicer when he was the press secretary. that kind of led to when sarah was promoted into the press secretary role, obviously, her previous role as the deputy was empty. and she thought i would fill it
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just well. and in terms of handling the press, the content, understanding how to answer questions and deliver questions, i had a lot of experience. but the kind of on the record forward facing spokesperson role is something i hadn't done previously. so that got pretty interesting. >> were you nervous the first time you were behind the podium? >> i was. we actually happened to have a pretty hectic news cycle and news day that day. and there were a lot of moving parts that made that a very difficult briefing, and under i think normal circumstances, for that to be the first briefing was a little challenging. but you know, it was definitely a little nerve-racking, but i found it to be, once you're kind of up there and you start kind of free flowing with the back and forth, the q&a, kind of settle in. >> did you say, sarah, thanks for taking the day off? >> she was at disney with her kids. i called her.
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and i told her, oh, yeah, any last words. this and that. she said she had, i think, probably the only other -- the only other day to start a news briefing that i can recall that was tougher than mine. because of the subject matter. she said, well, good luck, but you're not going to get a whole lot of sympathy from me. >> you mentioned that donald trump is the first twitter presidency. is that the first thing you read in the morning and the last thing you check before you go to bed? >> i have an alert set up, as do many people in the building. so in case the president tweets anything at any time, we're obviously made aware of it. but he has an ability to drive the news by speaking directly to the public with twitter. and it's incredibly effective in delivering the message he wants to deliver at any given moment. it's something that just never existed before for a president. it's his brand. and it's, i mean, it will change
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a news cycle like that. >> does he tell you when he's going to tweet something? >> sometimes he'll tell us and he'll ask for opinions and feedback on specific topics. sometimes he will. sometimes he won't. it just depends. >> this is probably an often asked question by your friends, but what is the private donald trump like, the one-on-one? >> i think the private donald trump is very much like the public donald trump. i think this president ran and won in many ways because he's real. he's unvarnished. he tells people what he's thinking. and sometimes you're invited into the decision making process in some ways. he's candid, straightforward, and he's an outsider. sometimes you'll see and hear him scoff at institutions in d.c. you'll see him talk about the kinds of things that the public is talking about because he's raised on twitter and elsewhere. so the private donald trump is really just the donald trump,
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right, the president that you see publicly is very much a reflection of just the individual who was elected and who talks to his staff and everybody else privately. >> based on what you know in working with him, finish this sentence. president trump's view of the media is what? >> well, that's a tricky question. i think it's one generally speaking of disappointment. i think disappointment, sometimes you could say disdain. i do -- i think he has the view that i have, which is that they have an ability to get it right more often than they do. a lot more often than they do. and he has said, and i have seen, you know, you see a lot of things in the press and kind of are inclined to believe them. then you see the same writers write things about this white house, and he knows way more than i do about what's going on here, and he's frustrated because i saw a totally
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different thing happen. and it's not reflective of the experience that i have here and what i know. so it's, i would say one of disappointment in some instances disdain. >> does he get angry? >> of course. i think when he tweets and it seems like he's angry, he's probably angry. and you know, he'll express frustration from time to time. it's pretty clear that i don't think the president kind of hides how he's feeling about specific topics, individual things, often. i think the public gets that and appreciates that. >> i realize you're focused on this job, but any thought about what's next for raj shah? >> not really. i think that we all at the white house and particularly in the press operation, have our hands full with all the news going on and everything that we're dealing with. i'll figure out the future when it arrives. >> your day begins at what time
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and ends when? >> never really ends until you fall asleep. that phone call at midnight about whatever issue may be percolating. and yeah, i usually get in the office between 7:00, 7:30, that kind of thing. >> what do your parents think about what you're doing? >> they think it's pretty cool. it wasn't until i got this job that my mom didn't want me to go to law school finally. she was pretty adamant that i needed to get a higher degree in something. no, i think that they get calls from extended members of the family, friends, that kind of thing. i saw your son on tv. i think they get a kick out of it. >> final question. when you have a day off or some vacation time, what do you like to do? how do you relax? >> i don't really relax. you know, i kick back and watch sports. that's kind of my thing. so getting a little bit of the tournament in right now.
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>> raj shah, thank you very much for your time here at the white house. >> thanks a lot. >> c-span's "washington journal" live every day with news and policy issues that impact you. coming up tuesday morning, american enterprise institute's danielle plett caw discusses challenges such as the iranian nuclear deal and upcoming talks with north korea. then amy and jonathan talk about the paperback edition of their book which includes new information about hillary clinton's failed 2016 presidential run. be sure to watch c-span's "washington journal" live at 7:00 eastern tuesday morning. join the discussion. >> connect with c-span to personalize the information you get from us. just go to and sign up for the e-mail. the program guide is a daily
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