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Sunday Politics


President Trump is in France at the G-7 summit, where many of his counterparts are worried about what his trade policies could do to the health of the global economy and what his stance on addressing climate change could mean for the health of the planet. Trump's had meetings with the leaders of the U.K., Canada and Japan. And now he's softening his tone on China. Here's what he said after a breakfast meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson when reporters asked if he had second thoughts about escalating the trade war.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yeah, sure. Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Second thoughts, yes?

TRUMP: Might as well. Might as well.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: You have second thoughts about escalating the war with China?

TRUMP: I have second thoughts about everything.

FADEL: The White House is now offering a clarification on those remarks. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe joins us. Good morning.


FADEL: So what's the White House saying he meant?

RASCOE: So the White House is saying in a statement that Trump actually wants stronger tariffs on China and that he regrets not raising them even higher. That wasn't clear from his initial response from reporters, as we just heard. They were asking, did he regret escalating the trade dispute, and he was asked multiple times. He was given the opportunity to clarify, but he did not. So now you have the statement from press secretary Stephanie Grisham, which seems to walk back what the Trump - what the president was saying.

FADEL: Right. It's kind of hard to keep up with the shifting tone from the president. Take us back to Friday, right before he left for the summit. He was sending out some forceful tweets.

RASCOE: He was. And Trump really seemed to lash out after China retaliated against U.S. over tariffs - against U.S. tariffs by placing tariffs on $75 billion in U.S. goods. Trump responded by increasing tariffs already in place on Chinese goods and on those that are supposed to go into effect later this year. And not only was he fighting with China, he was also threatening France, which is hosting the G-7. He says he's unhappy with this digital services tax, which the White House says unfairly targets U.S. tech companies, like Amazon. And right before he left, he said that he would put tariffs on French wine like never seen before. Now European Council President Donald Tusk says the EU will respond in kind if Trump follows through on that.

FADEL: Now, another big area of disagreement between the U.S. and its allies is environmental policy. Walk us through how the Trump administration's making the U.S. an outlier here.

RASCOE: The administration does defend their environmental record. They say that the air is clean in the U.S. and that the water's cleaner than it was in the past. What they don't talk about, which is central, is climate change. While other countries are talking about climate as an existential threat that requires international action, Trump has cast doubt on man-made climate change. And the administration has rolled back or attempted to roll back policies to address carbon emissions. And, of course, Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate change accord.

FADEL: So I want to go back to another thing the president said on Friday, when he ordered via tweet U.S. businesses to immediately start looking for an alternative to China. And some are questioning whether the president has the authority to force businesses out of the China market. Does he?

RASCOE: He certainly doesn't have the authority to tweet out an order for companies to move operations out of a foreign country. It is possible that the president could declare a national emergency under the Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 and that would give him more latitude to intervene in commercial activities. This is basically what happened with Iran. So he could block certain business activities or business sectors, but that would be a huge move. U.S. companies have invested hundreds of billions of dollars in China over the years.

FADEL: And the president today - at the G-7, the president also seemed to walk back his intentions on this.

RASCOE: Yeah. So the president is saying that he's not intending to do that right now. So, once again, you're getting all these different messages from the White House on this.

FADEL: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe, thank you so much.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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