Poll: Trump Needs To Choose Between Presidency And His Business | KERA News

Poll: Trump Needs To Choose Between Presidency And His Business

Dec 9, 2016
Originally published on December 9, 2016 8:15 am

Donald Trump was elected president promising to use his business-world experience and negotiating skills to help boost the American economy. Now that he's about to take office, a lot of people hope he'll leave the business world behind.

Two-thirds of those responding to a Bloomberg News poll said they think Trump needs to choose between being president and being a businessman, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

"They want him to be president, and they want that to be a full-time job," says Ann Selzer, who carried out the survey, which was conducted Dec. 2-5.

"He's running the country. That should be first, second, third and fourth priority," says Christian Duval-Phelps, an unemployed upstate New Yorker who says he supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary but didn't vote last month.

Since winning the election, Trump has faced numerous questions about the conflicts of interest posed by his vast business interests.

He first promised to play no role in the running of the companies, saying he would leave day-to-day operations up to three of his grown children. More recently he has vowed to separate himself from the operations altogether, although it's not clear what that means.

Ethics experts have said the cleanest way for Trump to extricate himself from the conflicts would be to sell off his businesses and put the proceeds in some kind of neutral assets such as Treasury bills.

But some 69 percent of those responding to the Bloomberg survey say forcing Trump to sell off his business holdings "goes too far," Selzer says. Twenty-six percent want him to sell his businesses.

But in a potential warning sign for the president-elect, only a slight majority of Americans are confident Trump will put the country's interests ahead of his own when dealing with foreign leaders. Forty-seven percent say they're mostly or very skeptical he will do the right thing.

"There's no doubt in my mind this is treacherous territory for Donald Trump," says Larry Jacobs, professor of political science at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Americans aren't paying a lot of attention to Trump's conflicts right now, but that could quickly change if he or his family is seen to benefit financially from the presidency.

"Americans care about corruption and conflict of interest when they see it," Jacobs says. "As an abstract matter it doesn't usually rise to the top of the agenda. They've got so many other things they're thinking about."

"While Americans, I think, are giving him the benefit of the doubt at this moment, before he's inaugurated, once he's sworn in and he's in the White House, I think there's going to be more scrutiny," Jacobs says.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some world leaders have multiple titles. Britain's Queen Elizabeth, for example, is Elizabeth II but also Head of the Commonwealth and Defender of the Faith. Donald Trump, too, will have multiple titles.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

He will soon be president of the United States. And he will also be Donald Trump, executive producer of "The Apprentice." He will keep that credit and the financial stake that comes with it.

INSKEEP: The president-elect has said that next week he will reveal what steps he's going to take to separate his presidency from his business operations in multiple countries. It's not clear how far he's going to go. But we do know that an overwhelming majority of voters say they want a clear line between his presidency and his financial interests. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Donald Trump was elected as a businessman, someone whose commercial savvy could help the economy grow more quickly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I'm really rich. I'll show you that in a second.

(LAUGHTER, CHEERING)

TRUMP: And, by the way, I'm not even saying that in a brag - that's the kind of mindset - that's the kind of thinking you need for this country.

ZARROLI: Trump supporters, such as Andrew Favro (ph), a firefighter in the upstate New York town of Plattsburgh, say his business experience is one of the things they like about Trump.

ANDREW FAVRO: I'm glad that he is a business person and not just someone who's just a politician.

ZARROLI: But now that Trump has been elected, a lot of people want him to switch gears. Two-thirds of those answering a recent Bloomberg survey say Trump needs to choose between being a businessman and being president. They're people such as Christian Duval-Phelps, who's unemployed and says he supported Bernie Sanders.

CHRISTIAN DUVAL-PHELPS: He's running the country. That should be his first, second, third and fourth priority.

ZARROLI: People are less clear about what Trump should do with those businesses. Former government ethics officials say the cleanest way for Trump to address the conflicts of interests would be to sell off his huge network of companies and put the proceeds in neutral assets such as treasury bills. But pollster Ann Selzer, who did the Bloomberg survey, says 69 percent of those who answered think forcing Trump to sell all of his assets goes too far.

ANN SELZER: They want him to be the president. And they want that to be a full-time job. In order to do that, does he need to completely sell off everything? Well, that feels a bit much.

ZARROLI: At the same time, Selzer says, nearly half of the respondents are skeptical that Trump will put the country's interests ahead of his own when he meets with foreign leaders. And that suggests this could be a big issue for him down the road.

LARRY JACOBS: There's no doubt in my mind that this is treacherous territory for Donald Trump.

ZARROLI: Larry Jacobs, professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, says so far, at least, Americans may not be paying a lot of attention to the issues raised by Trump's businesses.

JACOBS: Americans care about corruption and a conflict of interest when they see it. As an abstract matter, it doesn't usually rise to the top of their agenda. They've got so many other things they're thinking about.

ZARROLI: But, he says, if people start to hear more stories about, say, Trump's children sitting in on meetings with foreign leaders or Trump's hotels being used for government functions, the issue could quickly gain more traction.

JACOBS: Well, Americans, I think, are giving him the benefit of the doubt at this moment, before he's inaugurated. Once he's sworn in and he's in the White House, I think there's going to be more scrutiny.

ZARROLI: During the campaign, Trump said he would turn over his businesses to three of his grown children. But critics say that wouldn't solve the problem because Trump would still own the company. More recently, Trump said he would take steps to separate himself from his business operations.

He will announce details at a major press conference on December 15. The challenge for Trump is to convince Americans he can put the issue behind him before it becomes a liability. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.