Trump begins making overtures to Democrats amid skepticism it will lead to any deals

President Trump, facing a Congress that will become dramatically more antagonistic toward him in January, has begun courting Democrats who could determine whether his next two years are spent scoring legislative deals or staving off an onslaught of congressional investigations.

Trump’s charm offensive was on display Monday when he hosted Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) at the White House for a meeting that the two men had spent days trying to schedule. Over a lunch of chicken, green beans and mashed potatoes, Manchin preached bipartisanship — urging the president to work with lawmakers on ending a pension crisis affecting tens of thousands of coal miners nationwide, said Jonathan Kott, Manchin’s spokesman.

During the hour-and-a-half lunch, Manchin also suggested that Trump take a look at a comprehensive immigration bill the Senate passed in 2013 as another area of potential cooperation with Democrats — even though Trump has vehemently opposed the legislation and pursued tougher immigration policies while in office. Trump and Manchin were joined at the beginning of the meeting by Vice President Pence and the president’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump.

.. In recent days, Trump has invited the top Democratic congressional leaders to the White House amid a pressing government funding battle and privately told a Democratic senator he would consider legislation to help stem the loss of auto manufacturing jobs in Ohio.

The overtures are a signal that Trump and his White House are at least feeling out whether the self-professed dealmaker can find common ground with Democrats next year even as he faces pressure from Republicans to keep the opposition party at arm’s length.

.. “I’ve seen him when others advise not to make a deal and he moves ahead,” said Marc Short, the former White House legislative affairs director.

But others cautioned that Trump’s bipartisan urges can be episodic and fleeting — a dynamic of which lawmakers and his aides are well aware.

“When he thinks he needs to be bipartisan, he does it for a while,” one adviser said.

.. Trump had requested that Pelosi and Schumer meet with him at the White House this week. Aides said the White House did not specify any agenda, but the meeting has been put off until next week, after memorial services are held for former president George H.W. Bush, who died Friday.

.. In previous interactions with Trump, the two Democratic leaders have shown they can push the president toward their desired policy outcomes — and quickly set the narrative. Last year, Pelosi and Schumer left a White House dinner and eagerly put out word that Trump had agreed to a deal that would combine permanent protections for young undocumented immigrants with border security measures, only to have the administration dispute that any agreement had been reached.

Pelosi and Schumer would often skip the staff and try to meet with Trump, who would welcome a deal and emphatically support one.

“The president would learn the details and then would realize it was a bad deal,” a former administration official said.

Trade is another area that could be ripe for cooperation between Trump and congressional Democrats — leaving GOP leaders increasingly uneasy about Trump’s tendencies.

.. Lighthizer has spoken encouragingly of Pelosi — who has repeatedly bucked presidents, including Barack Obama, on trade — to GOP lawmakers since her views are more likely to align with Trump’s and she could be willing to work with the administration, according to two Republicans briefed on those exchanges.

Last week, Pelosi — joking that the new North American pact “has some kind of gobbledygook name” — said the trade deal “formerly known as Prince” was still a work in progress.

.. Pelosi said. “But what isn’t in it yet is enough enforcement reassurances regarding provisions that relate to workers and to the environment. There also has not been a law passed in Mexico in terms of wages and working conditions in Mexico.”

.. The notion still has plenty of skeptics in the West Wing, with questions over how to pay for new projects. Yet Shahira Knight, Short’s successor as Trump’s main liaison to Capitol Hill, has told one key House Democrat that the president wants to pursue an infrastructure deal and acknowledges that it’ll take real money. 

.. The notion still has plenty of skeptics in the West Wing, with questions over how to pay for new projects. Yet Shahira Knight, Short’s successor as Trump’s main liaison to Capitol Hill, has told one key House Democrat that the president wants to pursue an infrastructure deal and acknowledges that it’ll take real money.

The White House outreach has only gone so far — particularly when it concerns committees and lawmakers more likely to be investigating the administration than cutting deals.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Md.), the likely incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has heard “not a word” from the White House as he prepares to lead a panel that plans to scrutinize the administration’s immigration directives and response to natural disasters.

.. Last Wednesday, Trump phoned Sen. Sherrod Brown after the Ohio Democrat requested a call to discuss General Motors’s recent decision to shutter several auto plants, including one in northeastern Ohio. During the call, Brown, who also talks trade with Lighthizer, urged Trump to get behind legislation he drafted that would get rid of tax provisions that could incentivize companies to ship auto manufacturing jobs abroad.

.. Trump said he liked the bill, according to Brown’s retelling, and his office rushed a copy of the legislation over to the White House. But Brown has tried to negotiate with the White House before — notably on the tax legislation last year — only to find that Trump ultimately decided to shun bipartisan dealmaking and go toward a Republican-only approach.

Brown hopes that this time it’s different.

In Nafta Rewrite, Canada Took Cue From Mexico: Make a Big Concession

As Trump’s deadline for the negotiation neared, Canadian negotiators struggled to make the U.S. give ground

Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo offered advice: Make a key concession to the U.S. to break the logjam. Mexico had bent to U.S. pressure on policies aimed at shifting auto production from Mexico back north, opening the way for Mexico and the U.S. to strike a broader deal a month earlier.

.. For Canada, the equivalent of Mexican cars was dairy. Canadian negotiators had already been thinking along the same lines, and the next day, Canada sent the U.S. a document that included detailed plans for easing curbs on American milk and cheese products, a Canadian official said.

.. Two sectors drew outsize attention in the talks—auto and dairy—that came to be dubbed by some the “cars and cows” negotiations. The path to the deal had plenty of twists and gambits that backfired over the 13 months of meetings, as Mexico and Canada at times accused each other of betraying their early oath to present a united front.

The tone for the Nafta talks was set in October 2017, when Mr. Lighthizer made a number of controversial demands that would recast the pact, such as injecting a “sunset clause” making it easier for a country to terminate the pact and weakening the mechanisms allowing challenges to American trade penalties.

Among the most controversial proposals was one requiring that half the content of cars built in North America come from the U.S. Both Canada and Mexico quickly rejected that as incompatible with the core principles of an agreement designed to tighten integration of a continentwide bloc.

.. But behind the scenes, Canadian officials thought they could work with the idea. They asked a longtime trade bureaucrat to find a creative way to satisfy U.S. goals without capitulating to U.S. demands. He put together a plan that would change the criteria for what qualifies as “North American content,” in a way that would emphasize higher-value input such as software.
.. “It became clear at that stage that Lighthizer wasn’t going to give us anything at all until he knew the outcome of negotiations for the auto sector,”
.. At the end of August, Messrs. Trump and Peña Nieto announced a deal that included the requirement that 40% to 45% of North American auto content be made by workers paid at least $16 an hour.
.. Though the Nafta dairy market is worth a fraction of the auto industry—and the U.S. runs a dairy surplus with Canada—it became an important issue for Mr. Trump after he got an earful during an April 2017 visit to Wisconsin. The president made Canadian dairy a staple of stump speeches and tweets complaining about how Canada took advantage of the U.S.
.. Mr. Kushner had come to play a behind-the-scenes role in the Nafta talks, and Canada’s negotiators wanted him to see right away a document that included Canada’s formal offer on dairy. The key concession had been made and the U.S. soon responded by giving in to some of Canada’s key demands.

Trump’s trip to Europe was a complete disaster, and not because he acted like a boorish bully

On his recent visit to Europe, he managed to convey once again his contempt for America’s European allies, and to demonstrate that he places more value on his own personal comfort than on the sacrifices that US soldiers have made in the past.

The trip itself cost millions of taxpayer dollars, yet Trump chose to skip a key ceremony honoring US war dead at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery because it was raining.

The White House offered up a cloud of unconvincing excuses for Trump’s absence, but other world leaders were not deterred by the fear of a few raindrops, and neither were past presidents ObamaClinton, Bush, or Kennedy back in their day.

By choosing to stay warm and dry in his hotel room while other world leaders acknowledged the heroism of those who fought and died for freedom, Trump gave the concept of “American exceptionalism” a whole new meaning.

Overall, Trump seemed intent on proving that while the obligations of being president might force him to go on such trips, he doesn’t have to behave himself while he’s there.

For example, Trump is correct to accuse China of engaging in a variety of predatory trade practices and of failing to live up to its World Trade Organization commitments. He is also right when he complains that Europe has neglected its own defenses and relies too much on American protection (though he still seems to think NATO is a club with membership dues)..

He is hardly the first US official to criticize European defense preparations but being unoriginal doesn’t make it wrong.

Trump is also correct in his belief that Europe, Russia, and the United States would be better off if the divisions that presently divide them could be bridged or at least alleviated.

It would be better for Europe if Russia withdrew from Ukraine, stopped trying to intimidate the Baltic states, and stopped murdering former spies in foreign countries.

It would be good for Russia if Western sanctions were lifted and it no longer had to worry about open-ended NATO expansion. And it would be good for the United States if Russia could be pulled away from its increasingly close partnership with China.

For that matter, Trump wasn’t wrong to see North Korea’s nuclear and long-range missile programs as a serious problem that called for creative diplomacy.

The real problem is that Trump has no idea what to do about any of these issues, and he seems incapable of formulating a coherent approach to any of them. To the extent that he does have an actual policy toward Europe, for example, it is the exact opposite of what the United States ought to be doing.

Trump’s broad approach to Europe is one of “divide and rule.” He’s called the European Union a “foe” of the United States, and he has backed a number of the political forces that are now roiling the Continent and threatening the EU’s long-term future.

He endorsed Brexit, expressed his support for Marine Le Pen in France, and thinks well of illiberal leaders like Viktor Orban of Hungary and Andrzej Duda of Poland. Why? Because he thinks dividing Europe into contending national states will allow the larger and more powerful United States to bargain with each European state separately rather than face all of them together, and thus secure better deals for itself.

This approach might be termed “Neanderthal realism.” Playing “divide and rule” is a good idea when dealing with real enemies, but it makes no sense to sow division among countries with whom one has generally friendly relations and close economic ties, and when their collective support might be needed in other contexts.

This approach also runs counter to Trump’s stated desire to reduce US security commitments to Europe and to get Europe to take on greater responsibility for its own defense.

If you really want the United States to get out of the business of protecting Europe, you should also want Europe to be tranquil, capable, prosperous, and united after the United States withdraws. Why? So that Washington doesn’t have to worry about developments there and can focus its attention on other regions, such as Asia.

A Europe roiled by xenophobia, resurgent hyper-nationalism, and persistent internal wrangling wouldn’t be to America’s advantage; it would be just another problem area we’d have to keep an eye on.

Nor would a divided Europe be of much use in addressing any of the other problems on America’s foreign-policy agenda.

Why doesn’t Trump see this? Possibly because he is reflexively relying on the same tactics that brought him to the White House.

It has worked tolerably well here in the United States, because a lot of Americans are still angry or fearful and Trump is both shameless and adept at fueling those emotions. This same instinct leads him to behave abominably abroad: Insulting British Prime Minister Theresa May and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, deriding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada as “Very dishonest & weak” or derisively tossing Starburst candies to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a meeting of G-7 leaders.

.. The problem, of course, is that the boorish behavior and conflict-stoking policies tend to backfire on the world stage.

.. Trump’s bullying bluster didn’t win big trade concessions from Canada, Mexico, or South Korea; the shiny “new” trade deals Trump negotiated with them were nearly identical to the old arrangements and in some ways inferior to them.

And given how Trump has treated America’s allies, why would May, Merkel, Macron, Abe, or Trudeau do him (or the United States) any favors? The declining US image abroad compounds this problem, as foreign leaders know their own popularity will suffer if they help Trump in any way.

.. Trump’s personal conduct is not even the biggest problem. Arguably, an even bigger issue is the strategic incoherence of his entire transactional approach. His overarching objective is to try to screw the best possible deal out of every interaction, but this approach instead makes it more difficult for the United States to achieve its most important foreign-policy goals.

.. Threatening trade wars with allies in Europe or Canada makes little sense from a purely economic perspective, for example, and it has made it harder for the United States to address the more serious challenge of China’s trade policies.

If Trump were as worried about China’s trade infractions as he claims to be, he would have lined up Europe, Japan, and other major economic actors and confronted China with a united front. Similarly, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and threatening allies with secondary sanctions not only raises doubts about America’s judgment (because the deal was working, and the Europeans know it); it just fuels further resentment at America’s shortsighted bullying.

.. It is increasingly clear that Trump was never the brilliant businessman he claimed to be; he got most of his wealth from his father using various shady tax dodges, and the Trump Organization may have been heavily dependent on illegal activities like money laundering.

.. We should focus less on his personal antics and inadequacies and focus more on his inability to formulate effective policies, even on issues where his instincts are in fact mostly correct.

.. Sadly, the 45th US president possesses a world-class ability to get things wrong, even when he’s right.