In fundraising speech, Trump says he made up facts in meeting with Trudeau
President Donald Trump boasted in a fundraising speech Wednesday that he made up facts in a meeting with the leader of a top U.S ally, saying he insisted to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the United States runs a trade deficit with its neighbor to the north without knowing whether or not that was the case.
"Trudeau came to see me. He's a good guy, Justin. He said, 'No, no, we have no trade deficit with you, we have none. Donald, please,' " Trump said, mimicking Trudeau, according to audio obtained by The Washington Post. "Nice guy, good-looking guy, comes in - 'Donald we have no trade deficit.' He's very proud because everybody else, you know, we're getting killed. ...
"So he's proud. I said, 'Wrong Justin, you do.' I didn't even know. ... I had no idea. I just said, 'You're wrong.' You know why? Because we're so stupid. . . . And I thought they were smart. I said, 'You're wrong Justin.' He said, 'Nope we have no trade deficit.' I said, 'Well in that case I feel differently,' I said, 'but I don't believe it.' I sent one of our guys out, his guy, my guy, they went out, I said 'check because I can't believe it.'
'Well, sir, you're actually right. We have no deficit but that doesn't include energy and timber . . . And when you do, we lose $17 billion a year.' It's incredible."
The United States trade representative office says the United States has a trade surplus with Canada.
Trump launched a blistering attack against major U.S. allies and global economies, accusing the European Union, China, Japan and South Korea of ripping off the United States for decades and pillaging the American workforce. He also described the North American Free Trade Agreement as a disaster and heaped blame on the World Trade Organization for allowing other countries to box the United States in on trade.
He also seemed to threaten to pull U.S. troops stationed in South Korea if he didn't get what he wanted on trade with Seoul, an ally. He said the country had gotten rich but United States politicians never negotiated better deals. "We have a very big trade deficit with them, and we protect them," Trump said. "We lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military. We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea. Let's see what happens."
"Our allies care about themselves," he said. "They don't care about us."
Trump's rare comments that laid bare his approach to arguing trade facts with foreign leaders show how he might try to engage with numerous other heads of state in the coming weeks. Trump has said he will impose tariffs on steel and trade imports as soon as next week, a steep increase in duties that could impact some of the U.S. government's biggest trading partners.
Trump said countries can request exemption from these tariffs but only after direct negotiations with him. And the audio from the fundraiser shows how difficult these discussions might prove.
In his 30-minute speech to donors in Missouri, Trump heaped praise on himself while ticking through a list of U.S. allies that he said were actually taking advantage of the United States.
The president did not mention his abrupt firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by tweet, or the personnel turmoil that is swirling in Washington, or special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation into Russian interference, or reports of his affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels - and his lawyer paying her off.
While his White House picked up the pieces after a Republican lost a special election in a western Pennsylvania congressional district that Trump won by 20 percent in 2016, and pollsters said the results showed how Trump was dragging down the Republican party, Trump took none of the blame. He said that the candidate, Rick Saccone, would have lost even bigger without him. And he said the Democrat, Conor Lamb, won the seat because he was "like Trump" but that he would vote with Pelosi.
Trump was in Missouri to fundraise for Josh Hawley, who is taking on incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. He called McCaskill "bad for Missouri, and bad for the country." But he barely spoke about Hawley. Instead, he talked about Trump - even bragging about his 2016 election win.
Trump described his decision to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un through the prism of making history and besting his predecessors while lamenting his media coverage, questioning the United States allies and labeling his presidency as "virgin territory."
"They couldn't have met" with Kim, he said, after mocking former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. "Nobody would have done what I did."
"It's called appeasement, please don't do anything," he said of other presidents.
"They say, maybe he's not the one to negotiate," he said, mocking a voice of a news anchor. "He's got very little knowledge of the Korean Peninsula. Maybe he's not the one . . . Maybe we should send in the people that have been playing games and didn't know what the hell they've been doing for 25 years."
The through-lines of his meandering speech were simple: Trump was tougher than all the rest, and the United States was not going to be laughed at or taken advantage of.
He accused Japan of using gimmicks to deny U.S. auto companies access to their consumers, said South Korea was taking advantage of outdated trade rules even though its economy was strong, and said China had single-handedly rebuilt itself on the back of its trade surplus with the United States.
"It's the bowling ball test. They take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and drop it on the hood of the car," Trump said of Japan. "If the hood dents, the car doesn't qualify. It's horrible," he said. It was unclear what he was talking about.
He said he didn't even want Japan to pay the tariffs but to build more automobiles in the United States, which he said Japan would do if tariffs were imposed. There is no evidence of such a possibility as of now.
His comments were among his most protectionist to date and didn't identify a single benefit the United States receives from its trading relationships.
The so-called free-trade globalists, he said, are against his trade moves because "they're worldly people, they have stuff on the other side." Gary Cohn, the president's top economic adviser, recently quit over the tariffs and was derisively labeled by his critics as a "globalist."
Trump mocked other politicians for wanting to keep the NAFTA, calling Mexico "spoiled" and saying that Canada had outsmarted the United States. "The best deal is to terminate it and make a new deal," he said.
Above all, he cast his presidency in historic proportions, saying he was attracting so much media criticism because he was doing so well. He seemed fixated on his media coverage, with much of his story-time about North Korea focused on how the media covered it, even talking about a specific CNN segment with Erin Burnett.
He said the news media was criticizing him for "conceding" a meeting with Kim.
"They were afraid of being blown up. Then all of a sudden, they say, let's not meet," he said of reporters.
While Trump said some decry his rhetoric and think his bellicose and mercurial tendencies could bring the United States into a war, Trump explained why he taunted the North Korean president as "Little Rocket Man." He said the South Koreans told him Kim Jong-Un was agreeing to meet because of the tough United States sanctions and that they promised to not do any nuclear tests or missile launches until a meeting occurred. That comment could not be verified.
"He's going to get us in a war," he said, again mocking a news anchor. "You know what's going to get us in a war? Weakness."
He said Republicans needed to run on their tax bill this year, but he was determined to not call it "tax reform," as many other Republicans have done. He said Democrats would not appoint judges that Republicans like while reversing tax cuts and taking away guns, an unproven claim.
He implicitly rebuked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for not changing the rules of the Senate where only 51 votes were needed on all legislation, saying more Republicans were needed because the current leadership would not act and no one could explain why the current status quo made sense.
Trump criticized judges in the Ninth Circuit, saying that his presidency would reshape the judiciary and change courts such as that one. He said he planned to pick 145 judges and gave a "thanks" to Obama for leaving so many vacancies.
At the end of the day, the event, like it usually is with Trump, was about marketing. He said Republicans needed to run on tax cuts because they were very "popular."
"Do me a favor, don't call it tax reform, it hasn't worked in 45 years," Trump said he told others. "You say, you're reforming taxes, that means taxes could go up."
"I actually said, let's call it the Tax Cut Cut Cut plan," Trump said. "I actually did."
He added: "They thought it sounded a little hokey and called it something else. I liked the first one better."
Authors Information: Damian Paletta is White House economic policy reporter for The Washington Post. Before joining The Post, he covered the White House for the Wall Street Journal. Josh Dawsey is a White House reporter for The Washington Post. Erica Werner has worked at The Washington Post since 2017, covering Congress with a focus on economic policy.