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In Davos, Trump Plays Salesman To Global Elite


President Trump took a shot at selling himself to the global elite today.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You are national leaders, business titans, industry giants and many of the brightest minds in many fields.


That's how the president described his audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, today. He was in Davos to say the U.S. is open for business. His overseas trip comes while there are new revelations back here at home about how firmly the president may have resisted the special counsel investigation into his campaign and possible links to Russia. The New York Times reported this this morning. And that may have been on his mind today.


TRUMP: And it wasn't until I became a politician that I realized how nasty, how mean, how vicious and how fake the press can be - as the cameras start going off in the back.


MARTIN: That phrase about fake news, it's a line he used often in the 2016 campaign. And just as in 2016, the cameras remained focused on the president, just like they did before.

INSKEEP: Just as they did before. There is much to discuss here, and we'll talk it through with NPR's Gregory Warner, who's in Davos.

Hi there, Gregory.


INSKEEP: Also NPR's Tamara Keith, who covers the president. She's here in Washington. Tam, good morning to you once again.


INSKEEP: Greg Warner, we heard a little polite laughter there when he made his remark about the press turning the cameras away. What was it actually like in the room overall?

WARNER: Well, there was threats of some kind of protest, some kind of walkout. That definitely didn't happen. The one moment of audience response other than the one you mentioned was a few boos, but it wasn't boos for the president. It was boos for the introductory speech. When the speaker, Klaus Schwab, said, your strong leadership can be open to misconceptions and misinterpretations - people didn't like that.

INSKEEP: Oh, this is someone addressing the president of the United States and trying to give him a friendly interpretation, and people didn't like that.

WARNER: The most friendly possible, you know, opener. And it's very much the reception that this has been about. It's, you know, the community here has bent over backwards to say, look, don't worry what was said in the past. We want to hear from you now. We want to hear a message.

INSKEEP: Although our colleague Scott Horsley, who's also there in Davos, noticed that one of the introductory videos to this event included images of Women's March in Washington, D.C., protests against the president.

WARNER: You know, that has been the fundamental contradiction. I think when I talk to people here, nobody really wants to say anything - most people don't say anything positive about President Trump. They want to express their anti-Trump bona fides. However, when you look at how he's treated and how he's talked about, other than directly, I mean, there's, you know, stories - sessions will stop. Panelists will stop mid-sentence. People will queue up an hour and a half just to get a selfie with him. And, I mean, the reason is the incredible boost in the global economy.

I mean, the record attendance here, which - the price of a membership ticket has now gone from $500,000 to $750,000. There was no blink in that. There is a lot of credit that people give Trump for the stock market boom. So you know, it's funny. In the speech, he said the stock market is smashing. We added 7 trillion in new wealth. But a lot of that 7 trillion went to the people in this conference, the global elite.

INSKEEP: So a mix of resentment and appreciation and some contradictions that had to be managed within the president's speech as well. And let's listen to some of that. Of course, President Trump has said that he favors a policy of America First. He's attacked other nations for unfair trade and sending too many immigrants. But here he is at Davos reaching out to the world, and he tried to harmonize those two ideas. Let's listen.


TRUMP: America is the place to do business. So come to America, where you can innovate, create and build. I believe in America. As president of the United States, I will always put America first, just like the leaders of other countries should put their country first also.

But America First does not mean America alone. When the United States grows, so does the world. American prosperity has created countless jobs all around the globe. And the drive for excellence, creativity and innovation in the U.S. has led to important discoveries that help people everywhere live more prosperous and far healthier lives.

INSKEEP: President Trump speaking today in Davos, Switzerland. Tamara Keith is with us here listening in Washington. And Tamara, as I listen to that, well, I'm thinking about a bit of history. I'm thinking about the Marshall Plan, the idea of enlightened self-interest, that the U.S. said that helping other nations will ultimately help the United States. Is this the opposite idea being promoted by the president?

KEITH: You could argue that, certainly. And...

INSKEEP: Other countries are being told, help us. It'll be good for you.

KEITH: Right, that what's good for America is good for the world. And one fascinating thing that's happened during the president's time at Davos is, you know, one of the first actions he took as president of the United States was to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, this multi-nation trade deal. And at Davos, he's been saying, well, you know, I'd be open, if it was a better deal, to maybe renegotiating it. You know, we could do, you know, one-on-one deals. Or we could maybe just renegotiate with everybody - which is fascinating and definitely a change from what he had said before.

INSKEEP: Because there was this long process that resulted in an agreement that the president pulled out of.

KEITH: Yeah. But here's the thing - the rest of the world has kind of moved on. It's like a relationship. There's a breakup. And now President Trump is like, America is back. We'd be game for this relationship. And the rest of the world is like...

INSKEEP: You want to get dinner? You want to get coffee?

KEITH: ...We've moved on.

MARTIN: Yeah. I mean, clearly, he said that explicitly. He actually talked about the fact that America had pulled out of the TPP. And now he's like, well, actually, if these individual countries want to make a deal, we'd consider that bilaterally - but even as a group, which is essentially what he walked away from with the TPP.


WARNER: What I think is so interesting about this open-for-business kind of message - I mean, here at Davos, people think of it as panels talking about shared global - climate change and shared futures and things like that. But if you go outside, just outside the panels about globalism, you find a promenade where, one after another - India house, Ukraine house, Indonesia pavilion - everybody is saying we're open for business. We're the best place to invest.

And President Trump's language was exactly that - we are competitive. Again, now is the time to bring your business to the United States. We have the best colleges. He sounded like somebody out on the street in Davos, not somebody inside - you know, up on the magic mountain. I think what's so different is that's not how American presidents usually speak here.

INSKEEP: Although he did add some tough language as well, and let's listen to just a little bit more of that.


TRUMP: We cannot have free and open trade if some countries exploit the system at the expense of others. We support free trade, but it needs to be fair. And it needs to be reciprocal because, in the end, unfair trade undermines us all. The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to unfair economic practices.

INSKEEP: Gregory Warner, when you're in Davos hearing people from around the world, do you hear a lot of willingness from other nations to give the United States better trade terms?

WARNER: I mean, I think there's the contradiction you're exactly talking about. I mean, trade - what the president said is - you can't argue with it. When you trade with somebody, you should try to make sure that you get a good deal. And his statement, America First does not mean America alone, you know, when the U.S. grows - that's what people did want to hear.

But the fact is that, you know, fair and reciprocal trade, when he's talking about that, that's a contradiction with what he's asking for when he asks for support with Iran sanctions and ISIS and a de-nuked Korea. Because what I'm hearing from ambassadors here is that they are already building up their defense systems. Canada filed a WTO case against the United States - and the TPP partnership, of course.

So there's a sense in which the ship is moving without America, and we need to figure out how to make it alone without America. And that means less influence for America in the world.


KEITH: And, you know, what's not clear is what the president really, truly means by fair and reciprocal trade because it hasn't been tested yet. There are negotiations going on regarding NAFTA, the free trade agreement, right now in North America. And we don't know the result.

INSKEEP: So I want to make sure that we talk about the awkwardness underlying this, which is a New York Times story that we mentioned a few moments ago - a New York Times story stating that back in June of 2017, President Trump gave the order to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel who's investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. And he was only dissuaded from that because his White House counsel said no, I'm not going to pass on that order. I will resign first. And the president backed away, according to the Times. How's the president responding to this, Tamara Keith?

KEITH: According to the Times and some other publications - NPR has not confirmed it ourselves.


KEITH: The way the president responded is the way he responds to a lot of things. He said that it's fake news, that The New York Times is fake news. And so you know, the president has in the past said that a lot of things are fake news that aren't actually fake. But this is a remarkable moment.

INSKEEP: How much pressure - having covered this White House from the beginning, how much pressure is the White House, is the staff, perhaps the president himself - under at this moment? How much do they feel it?

KEITH: Well, here are some numbers. Twenty White House staff have been interviewed by Robert Mueller's team. That's a lot of people. So you know, every few days, you're going to have one of your colleagues going in to talk to investigators. And of those people, eight of them are in the White House counsel's office. And the White House counsel is the one who, according to these reports, refused to fire Mueller.

INSKEEP: Don McGahn. OK. Tamara, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

KEITH: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. We also heard from NPR's Gregory Warner in Davos.

Thanks to you.

WARNER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And Davos, of course, is where President Trump told the world the United States is open for business today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.