President-elect Donald Trump is becoming the negotiator in chief.
The celerity businessman turned politician held meetings Wednesday with generals, military procurers and two of the largest defense contractors in an effort to control costs in the massive Pentagon budget, Trump said Wednesday. The conversations followed tweets from the President-elect objecting to the price of a new Air Force One replacement and the estimated $1.5 trillion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
It’s unusual for a President, let alone one who has yet to take office, to become personally involved in defense-procurement negotiations. But it follows a pattern for Trump, who told TIME last month he intends to negotiate directly with companies in an effort to control costs and boost American manufacturing.
Eight generals and admirals, and the Pentagon’s top civilian procurer met with Trump for more than two hours Wednesday to discuss ongoing and future defense contracts. Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg also met with Trump.
“Trying to bring costs down — costs,” Trump told reporters after the meetings. “Primarily the F-35, trying to get the costs down. A program that is very, very expensive.”
The meetings at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., were not advised in advance by Trump’s team, which said he was only involved to be in “internal staff meetings” Wednesday.
Trump indicated that he has not yet secured cost concessions from Hewson. “We’re just beginning, it’s a dance,” Trump said. “It’s a little bit of a dance. But we’re going to get the costs down and we’re going to get it done beautifully.”
Hewson, who declined to speak with reporters after the meeting, said in a statement that she had a “productive” meeting with Trump.
“I appreciated the opportunity to discuss the importance of the F-35 program and the progress we've made in bringing the costs down,” she said. The F-35 is a critical program to our national security and I conveyed our continued commitment to delivering an affordable aircraft to our U.S. military and our allies.”
Trump has been critical of the Lockheed Martin program on Twitter, with his comments sending shares of the company temporarily down.
It followed a tweet days earlier by the President-elect claiming that the presidential-aircraft replacement would cost $4 billion and called for its cancellation. Trump’s meeting with Boeing CEO Muilenburg appeared to be more productive, as the airplane manufacturer guaranteed Trump that the project to replace the aging, heavily modified Boeing 747-200s that serve as Air Force One with more modern 747-800s would cost less than $4 billion.
“We’re going to get it done for less than that, and we’re committed to working together to make sure that happens,” Muilenburg told reporters. The new plane will almost certainly not be ready for Trump to fly unless he wins a second term. “We haven’t actually started the build of the airplane yet, but once we finalize the requirements and make sure that it’s affordable we’ll launch on building the aircraft,” Muilenburg said. “We’ve got a hot production line and we’re ready to go.”
Trump added later, “I think we’re looking to cut a tremendous amount of money off the program.”
Military officials brought scale models of the three F-35 variants as part of their presentation. General Carlton Everhart was holding a binder with a photo of Air Force One on the cover as he walked into the club.