The White House is sending mixed signals about a report that President Donald Trump blasted Germany over its auto exports to the United States, the first major dustup during his inaugural foreign trip.
“The Germans are bad, very bad,” President Trump allegedly said, according to German news magazine Der Spiegel, citing sources who were in the room. “See the millions of cars they sell in the U.S., terrible. We will stop this.”
The comments reportedly came during Trump’s meeting with top European Commission officials, including its president, Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk. Both allegedly voiced support for Germany.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer fired off a tweet calling the report “not true,” and pointing to comments Juncker made also denying Trump blasted Berlin’s trade practices.
— Sean Spicer (@PressSec) May 26, 2017
But minutes later, chief economic adviser Gary Cohn told a pool reporter that Trump was critical of Germany.
“He said they’re very bad on trade but he doesn’t have a problem with Germany,” Cohn said. “He said his dad is from Germany. He said, ‘I don’t have a problem Germany, I have a problem with German trade.’”
Further confusing the situation: Juncker also denied it.
“He did not say that the Germans were behaving badly,” Juncker reportedly said Friday in Sicily, where Trump and others are gathered for a G7 summit. “He was not aggressive at all and anyway we have taken the defense of the Germans.”
Trump did not respond about whether he made the comments when U.S. reporters traveling with him shouted a question later Friday, according to a press pool report.
But to be sure, Trump and his team are looking to change America’s trade relationship with other countries. Cohn reiterated that policy shift Thursday evening while briefing reporters aboard Air Force One.
During the meeting of leaders from the world’s richest countries, Trump will describe to them what essentially is the “Trump Doctrine” on trade. Notably, the other G7 members perennially are among America’s top trading partners.
“What the president means by free and open is: We will treat you the way you treat us, meaning if you don’t have barriers to trade or you don’t have tariffs, we won’t have tariffs. If you have tariffs, we should have tariffs,” Cohn said.
“Our objective is not to create tariffs in the United States. Our objective is to get other countries that restrict our goods from going in to get rid of [or] to lower their tariffs down to where our levels are,” he said. “Our objective is to level the playing field, flatten the playing field, and let it be fair for everyone to compete on a level playing field.”
The Trump administration also is frustrated by other G7 countries’ economic growth rates, a topic the president and team intend to bring up during the two-day summit.
“We’ve got countries in the G7 with GDP as low as sort of a half a percent,” Cohn told reporters. “So there’s going to be a large discussion [during the summit] on stimulating economic growth, which is going to lead us to trade.”
The German row was the first major kerfuffle during Trump’s first foreign trip, which concludes Saturday after the G7 summit adjourns. The president did raise eyebrows on Thursday when he called out 23 of the 28 NATO members in person for failing to live up to their pledges to devote 2 percent of their respective GDPs to the alliance. And he appeared to shove Montenegro’s prime minister, Dusko Markovic, out of the way so he could get to the front of a group of NATO leaders.
But, otherwise, the unpredictable president had remained on message during his swings through the Middle East and Europe. The reported comments about Germany could revive tensions with the European powerhouse’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, who became perhaps the closest partner of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.
Perhaps in an attempt to change the narrative, Trump’s personal Twitter account fired off a series of tweets as the German criticism matter picked up steam.
In one, he called the trip “very successful,” claiming to have “made and saved the USA many billions of dollars and millions of jobs” — but without providing any data to back it up.
Just arrived in Italy for the G7. Trip has been very successful. We made and saved the USA many billions of dollars and millions of jobs.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2017