President Donald Trump wanted to trumpet the new trade deal his administration struck with Canada and Mexico just hours before – but in the end, he couldn’t avoid the glare of the FBI investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Trump initially refused to answer multiple questions about Kavanaugh at his press conference Monday morning. He repeatedly cut off and berated reporters assembled in the White House Rose Garden, calling the press “loco,” and insisting he wanted to talk trade. But after several minutes, Trump relented and launched into an extended back-and-forth over the latest developments in the fight over Kavanaugh.
Trump said he has a “very open mind” as the FBI looks into allegations against Kavanaugh and said the FBI should be interviewing “anyone they want within reason.” But Trump wants the investigation to be limited to one week. “We don’t want to go on a witch hunt,” Trump said, using one of his favorite phrases for describing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into his campaign contacts with Russia.
Trump gave a rambling and occasionally lukewarm defense of Kavanaugh, calling him a “fine man,” but saying he was surprised to hear Kavanaugh discuss his beer drinking.
“I can honestly say I never had a beer in my entire life. It’s one of my only good traits,” said Trump. “Can you imagine if I had what a mess I’d be?”
Trump also delivered harsh broadsides against Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Dianne Feinstein of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee. Trump said they have treated Kavanaugh “horribly.” At one point the President said he’d seen a Democratic senator in “very, very bad” and “somewhat compromising” situations. He wouldn’t name the senator or elaborate on the allegation, joking that he would save it for a book.
Trump started out the press conference calling his deal with Canada and Mexico – which he dubbed the USMCA (United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement) – “the most important trade deal we’ve made by far.” The new terms, Trump said, will transform the U.S. “back into a manufacturing powerhouse” and “allow us to reclaim a supply chain that has been off shored to the world.”
The revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which governs more than $1.2 trillion in cross-border trading, Trump said, would give American farmers and ranchers cheaper access to markets in Mexico and Canada for selling poultry, eggs, dairy products and wheat, among other products. In order for cars to be sold in the U.S. without tariffs, the terms would require 75% of the automotive parts to be manufactured in North America, Trump said. He added that he also demanded that a large portion of every car to be made by “high wage workers.”
The new terms also encourage more drugs to be manufactured in the U.S., Trump said, “We don’t like getting them from foreign countries. We don’t know what’s happening with those drugs, how they’re being made – too important.”
The revised agreement will be signed at the end of November, Trump said, and will need to be approved by Congress. “But anything you submit to Congress, there’s trouble,” Trump said. Trump acknowledged Democrats may control at least one house in Congress after the midterm elections. “They might be willing to throw out one of the great deals for workers, for people, for political purposes,” Trump said. “They have 2020 in mind.”
Canada returned to the overhauled deal just before Sunday’s midnight deadline after weeks of acrimonious, high-stakes negotiations. Trump canceled a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week in New York City because the President didn’t feel Trudeau was ready to come to an agreement. “There was a lot of tension,” Trump acknowledged. “You know when it ended? About twelve o’clock last night.” Trump said Mexico’s outgoing president Enrique Peña Nieto has “done a good job” on trade.
On the campaign trail, Trump promised to terminate NAFTA if he didn’t get better terms. After threatening to get out of the pact entirely earlier this year, he’s made an effort to renegotiate the terms and rename it USMCA. “It’s not NAFTA redone, it’s a brand new deal,” Trump said. The deal may avert a trade war with Canada, avoiding escalating tit-for-tat tariffs with the U.S. neighbor that could have impacted American businesses.
Trump acknowledged he’s using the threat of trade barriers to get try to bring China, India, the European Union, and others to better trading terms as well. “We’re using tariffs very successfully to negotiate. If we are unable to get fair deal, when we’ll have tariffs,” Trump said.