WASHINGTON: After what he called a “very productive” first 100 days, President Donald Trump is vowing to roll out a new health plan and to completely renegotiate the NAFTA continental trade pact.
His remarks, in a CBS interview broadcast on Sunday (Apr 30), touched on daunting challenges domestic and foreign, from his vexed effort at healthcare reform to a controversial new tax-cut plan to the rising threat from North Korea.
But they followed his assurance at a raucous rally on Saturday in Pennsylvania that the “great battles” ahead would be won.
Trump insisted, even after two failed efforts to see an Obamacare repeal vote through Congress, that Americans will get a health-care package that preserves key protections, like coverage of pre-existing medical conditions.
And as Republicans scramble for ways to pay for Trump’s promise this week of major tax cuts – the White House had hoped to use savings from the Obamacare repeal – the president vowed that the money would not come through savings on the huge and popular Medicare programme.
“I’m not going to touch it,” he said, except to eliminate “waste, fraud and abuse.”
Trump, who is not known as particularly self-reflective, shared some of the frustrations he has encountered in his young presidency.
He lambasted “unfair” media coverage; said Congress operates by “unbelievably archaic and slow-moving” rules; and called Democrats “totally obstructionist.”
But he will need some Democratic support to pass some of his more ambitious legislative objectives.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday that Democrats looked forward to working with Trump on issues like infrastructure spending and affordable child care. But so far, she said on ABC, “he hasn’t really proposed anything.”
In a week when Trump dropped a threat to cancel the NAFTA trade agreement following what he called “very nice” phone calls from the Mexican and Canadian leaders – instead ordering a six-month review of all trade deals – he made clear that US security took priority over even trade.
If China can help ease the nuclear tensions with Pyongyang, “that’s worth making not as good a trade deal,” he said.
“Trade is very important,” Trump added. “But massive warfare with millions, potentially millions of people being killed? That, as we would say, trumps trade.”
He scheduled the Pennsylvania appearance after snubbing an invitation to the traditional White House correspondents’ dinner on Saturday, where he had risked being roasted by comedians.
Instead, he declared himself “thrilled” to be far from “the Washington swamp” and its “fake news” journalists.
The black-tie affair in Washington was headlined by veteran investigative journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame.
Woodward rebuffed the president’s relentless barbs against news outlets. “Mr. President, the media is not fake news,” he said. “Whether the media is revered or reviled, we should and must persist, and I believe we will.”
Some of Trump’s animosity stemmed from US media evaluating his 100-day record as meager and mixed.
They have noted embarrassing setbacks for the Republican on healthcare and a travel ban, and his own reversals on China and NATO – while also recognising campaign pledges he has met, like appointing a conservative Supreme Court justice and pulling the country out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.
In his speech, Trump presented his record so far as “very exciting and very productive.”
“We are keeping one promise after another,” he asserted, adding that he was preparing for “the great, great battles to come and that we will win in every case.”
Trump also highlighted his tough approach to immigration.
Stepped-up law enforcement was removing “drug dealers, gang members and killers” from the country, he said, though he did not acknowledge his difficulty in finding money to start work on the wall he has promised on the Mexican border.
Trump said the US economy had surged since he took office, reinvigorating America’s construction, manufacturing and energy sectors, as well as its declining coal and steel industries – a key message for the crowd in rust-belt Pennsylvania.
On the North American Free Trade Agreement, he said, “If we can’t make a fair deal for our companies and our workers we will terminate NAFTA.”
He said he would be making a decision on the “one-sided Paris climate accord” in the next two weeks. He described the pact, meant to curb global warming, as an impediment to US economic growth.
On CBS, Trump – holding the only elective office he has ever sought – was asked about an earlier comment that he thought the job of the presidency would be easier. “Well, it’s a tough job,” he said. “But it’s something that I really love and I think I’ve done a very good job at it.”