White House

For Trump, little gained this week from all-or-nothing negotiating style

‘You just can’t do things this way if you want to succeed,’ former U.S. official says

President Donald Trump, here in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in January, is refusing to budge on a range of issues. And he'll head into the weekend with little ground gained on any one of them. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images file photo)

ANALYSIS — Donald Trump’s my-way-or-the-highway negotiating style was on full display this week. But the president is set to end the week with little gained on some big campaign promises.

From stalled trade talks with China to a new immigration reform plan to his legal battle with House Democrats over the special counsel’s Russia election meddling report and their desire to hear from his advisers, the president and his team again showed how they often take a position and hunker down. The message is clear: Adhere to the Trump way or prepare for war — be it one of the global trade variety or one over the Constitution.

As his administration’s years-long talks with Beijing over a new trade agreement went from highly possible to a longshot, the president on Friday morning struck a Trumpian tone as he increased tariffs from 10 percent to 25 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese-made goods.

He fired off a series of tweets in which he attempted to redefine success by claiming — again without providing supporting data — the new tariffs will be more beneficial to American workers and the U.S. economy than the very trade pact he has promised since he was a presidential candidate.

“Tariffs will bring in FAR MORE wealth to our Country than even a phenomenal deal of the traditional kind,” Trump wrote, claiming import fees are “much easier & quicker to do.” He also claimed, without providing supporting evidence that U.S. farmer would “do better” and “starving nations can now be helped” with the new tariffs in place.

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The president then sent a message to Beijing, letting them know he isn’t likely to budge on his demands for the talks, warning in the tweet thread that “China should not renegotiate deals with the U.S. at the last minute. This is not the Obama Administration, or the Administration of Sleepy Joe, who let China get away with ‘murder!,’” referring to former Vice President Joe Biden, the 2020 Democratic presidential frontrunner.

Then there was his White House’s rollout of a new immigration overhaul plan that is being crafted by his son-in-law and policy adviser Jared Kushner.

“The meeting today was met with a lot of positivity and got a lot of positive responses from people, I think, pretty unanimous and positive,” a senior administration official told reporters Tuesday after a meeting with lawmakers to discuss the coming plan.

“I think [President Donald Trump] was very happy with the meeting today. I think we got a very positive reaction from a lot of people whose opinions … he wanted to seek,” the senior administration official said. “And I think it was a good step forward to validate a lot of his instincts on what he wanted to produce.”

That same senior official also described a White House negotiating strategy that reveals much about how Team Trump goes about trying to make deals and craft legislation - in short: achieve the president’s goals.

“I think what we're trying to do is make sure we have a really defined position, and that it will be ideal position, and that it’'ll be a rational position. I think it will be a pro America position,” the senior official said. “And then, once we have finalized what we believe is the right position, we will try to unify as many the Republicans around that as possible. And then we'll see. Maybe the Democrats will like it.”

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A Roll Call reporter pressed that official on, given the Democrats’ control of the House and a 60-vote threshold in the Senate that will require at least a handful of Democratic votes, the White House is only focusing on mustering GOP support. “Relax,” was the response, without even an acknowledgement of the White House’s math problem.

And when it comes to allowing lawmakers to see the full, unredacted report crafted by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III and allowing current and former White House aides mentioned in it to testify, Trump says he is fighting “all the subpoenas.”

Trump could negotiate with House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, and other Democratic-run House panels to allow the Judiciary Committee more access to what’s behind the blacked-out portions of Mueller's 448-page report. He could try to negotiate terms of public or private testimony from individuals cited in it, like former White House Counsel Don McGahn. But, once again, Trump is making clear he is hunkering down and fighting. 

“Two years I’ve been going through this nonsense. And now we have a good report. And now guys like Jerry Nadler, who I fought for many years — successfully, I might add — back in New York, in Manhattan,” Trump said, referring to real estate spats he had with the longtime congressman. “I beat him all the time. And I come to Washington and now I have to beat him again — over nothing.”

In short: There’s no deal to be had because Nadler won't accept his terms.

On the China talks, Fox News personality and conservative commentator Stuart Varney on Friday morning said Trump “is not backing down,” adding: “I want to see President Trump in our negotiating chair.”

But will his hardline tactics work?

Senior Democratic aides say they do not take the White House seriously on actually trying to come up with a border security and immigration overhaul plan. And they point to its all-or-nothing style, saying they don’t view the Kushner-led effort as a real negotiation.

One former U.S. official who has been involved in high-level negotiations, including in Asia, sees major flaws in the Trump deal-making style.

“You simply have to be able to give something to get something. There’s really no other way, be it a trade deal or the nuclear talks with North Korea or when you’re trying to write domestic legislation that has a chance in Hell of passing,” said the former U.S. official, granted anonymity to speak candidly. “I don’t care what it is that you want at the end of the day, you just can’t do things this way if you want to succeed.”

But Trump is showing no signs of changing his approach. In fact, he doubled down on it at his latest campaign rally Wednesday night in Florida, a key swing state.

“You are going to have to vote them out of office, Congress, the Senate. You’re going to have to vote them out of office come … Nov. 3 next year,” he said, referring to congressional Democrats. “You are going to have to vote them out of office because otherwise you can't make it change. We need the votes. We have to go through Congress.”

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