Trump calls on China to investigate Bidens


President Donald Trump speaks to the media. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Ensnarled in an impeachment investigation over his request for Ukraine to investigate a chief political rival, President Donald Trump Thursday called on another nation to probe former Vice President Joe Biden: China.

“China should start an investigation into the Bidens,” Trump said in remarks to reporters outside the White House. Trump said he hadn’t directly asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to investigate Biden and his son Hunter but said it’s “certainly something we could start thinking about.”

Trump and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani have also tried to raise suspicions about Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China, leaning on the writings of conservative author Peter Schweizer. But there is no evidence that the former vice president benefited financially from his son’s business relationships.

Trump’s requests for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to dig up dirt on Biden, as well as Giuliani’s conduct, are at the center of an intelligence community whistleblower complaint that sparked the House Democratic impeachment probe last week.

Trump’s comments came as he publicly acknowledged that his message to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other officials was to investigate the 2020 Democratic presidential contender. Trump’s accusations of impropriety are unsupported by evidence.

“It’s a very simple answer,” Trump said of his call with Zelenskiy. “They should investigate the Bidens.”

Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.

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Consumer spending drops as Trump increases tariffs

A shopper walks past a sales sign. (REUTERS/Steven Saphore)

America’s economy runs into a major speed bump Sunday as new tariffs increases between president Donald Trump and China began and economic experts expect prices to rise on many retail goods and drive down spending by consumers.

Many U.S. companies warned Trump that the 15% hike in tariff taxes on goods from China forces them to raise prices on items imported.  At present, America buys 87% of textiles and clothing from China, along with 52% of shoes.

Trump is threatening to raise even more import fees of 15% more on Dec. 15 to cover any and all items from China.

China, of course, is targeting items from America for import penalties and tech company executives say that will give the orientals an advantage because the government there subsidizes the tech items that compete with U.S. products.

Trump lies to Americans with his claim that China pays the tariffs he imposes but economic research shows the costs of those taxes falls on American businesses and consumers.

A new study by J.P. Morgan says Trump’s tariffs costs the average American household at least $1,000 a year, which means Americans have less money to spend in our own economy.

“The data indicate that the erosion of consumer confidence is now well underway,” says Richard Curtin, who heads the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index.

Some retailers say they will try to absorb the tariff increases without raising prices but that trend won’t last long, say economic analysts.  Consumer spending is dropping, the Michigan study warns, and latest data shows the most drastic drop since December 2012.

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China fires back at Trump tariff threat

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

China on Friday threatened retaliation if U.S. President Donald Trump’s planned tariff hikes go ahead, while the renewed acrimony between the two biggest global economies sent stock markets tumbling.

China’s government accused Trump of violating his June agreement with President Xi Jinping to revive negotiations aimed at ending a costly fight over Beijing’s trade surplus and technology ambitions.

Trump rattled financial markets with Thursday’s surprise announcement of 10% tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese imports, effective Sept. 1. That would extend punitive duties to everything the United States buys from China.

If that goes ahead, “China will have to take necessary countermeasures to resolutely defend its core interests,” said a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chuying.

“We don’t want to fight, but we aren’t afraid to,” Hua said at a regular news briefing. She called on Washington to “abandon its illusions, correct mistakes, and return to consultations based on equality and mutual respect.”

Washington and Beijing are locked in a battle over complaints China steals or pressures companies to hand over technology. The Trump administration worries American industrial leadership might be threatened by Chinese plans for government-led creation of global competitors in robotics and other technologies. Europe and Japan echo U.S. complaints those plans violate Beijing’s market-opening commitments.

Washington earlier imposed 25% tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese products. Beijing has retaliated by raising import duties on $110 billion of U.S. goods.

Beijing is about to run out of American imports for retaliation due to their lopsided trade balance.

China imported U.S. goods worth about $160 billion last year. But regulators have extended retaliatory measures to include slowing down customs clearance for American companies and putting off issuing license in insurance and other fields.

Beijing also is threatening to release an “unreliable entities” blacklist of foreign companies that might face restrictions on doing business with China. Plans for that were announced after Washington imposed crippling restrictions in May on sales of U.S. technology to Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Ltd.

Trump’s announcement surprised investors after the White House said Beijing promised to buy more farm goods. It came as their latest trade talks ended in Shanghai with no sign of a deal. Officials said they would resume next month in Washington.

The announcement “is likely to put a comprehensive deal further out of reach,” said Fitch Solutions in a report.

Tokyo’s main stock market index fell 2.5% by midday and Hong Kong’s benchmark lost 2.3%. Markets in Shanghai, Sydney and Seoul also declined.

Earlier on Wall Street, the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 fell for a fourth day, losing 0.9% to 2,953.56.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 1% to 26,583.42. The Nasdaq composite ended 0.8% lower at 8,111.12.

Also Friday, China’s yuan fell to its lowest level this year against the dollar after Trump’s tariff threat fueled concerns about slowing economic growth, coming close to breaking the politically sensitive level of seven to the U.S. currency.

The yuan tumbled to 6.9520 to the dollar, its weakest since December, but recovered slightly by midday.

Trump’s threat “will likely put more depreciation pressure” on the currency, said Tao Wang of UBS in a report. She said Beijing is likely to “tightly manage” the exchange rate “to avoid any significant depreciation.”

The currency’s weakness is helping to fuel Washington’s trade complaints. The U.S. Treasury Department declined in May to label China a currency manipulator but said it was closely watching Beijing.

The level of seven yuan to the dollar has no economic significance but could revive U.S. attention to the exchange rate.

Trump’s earlier tariffs were intended to minimize the impact on ordinary Americans by focusing on industrial goods. But the new tariffs will hit a vast range of consumer products from cellphones to silk scarves.

China’s foreign minister criticized the move.

“Imposing tariffs is definitely not the right way to resolve trade frictions,” Wang Yi told reporters in Bangkok, where he was attending a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Trump has long said he was preparing to tax the $300 billion in additional Chinese tariffs. But he had suspended the threat after meeting Xi at a gathering of the Group of 20 major economies in Osaka, Japan.

The president accused Beijing of failing to follow through on stopping the sale of fentanyl to the United States or on purchasing large quantities of farm goods such as soybeans. Speaking to reporters Thursday at the White House, Trump complained Xi is “not moving fast enough.”

Talks broke down in May after the United States accused the Chinese of reneging on earlier commitments.

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Trump keeps lying in Japan

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at Akasaka Palace, Monday, May 27, 2019, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump dismissed the hard realities of his trade dispute with China as mere foolishness Monday and told people to expect humans on Mars “very shortly,” which isn’t happening.

Here’s a look at some of his statements in a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and how they stack up with reality:

TRADE

TRUMP: “You know, foolishly, some people said that the American taxpayer is paying the tariffs of China. No, no, no — it’s not that way. They’re paying a small percentage, but our country is taking in billions and billions of dollars.”

THE FACTS: That’s not true. U.S. consumers and the public are primarily if not entirely paying the costs of the tariffs, as his chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, has acknowledged. That’s how tariffs work: Importers pay the taxes and often pass on the cost to consumers. The U.S. is not “taking in” billions from China as a result.

A sustained trade dispute is not painless for China, either. Its goods become pricier and therefore less competitive. But China is not paying a tab to the U.S. Treasury in this matter.

As Kudlow said, accurately: “Both sides will suffer on this.” But in his view, “this is a risk we should and can take.”

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MARS

TRUMP: “Prime Minister Abe and I have agreed to dramatically expand our nations’ cooperation in human space exploration. Japan will join our mission to send U.S. astronauts to space. We’ll be going to the moon. We’ll be going to Mars very soon.”

THE FACTS: Not very soon. The U.S. will almost certainly not be sending humans to Mars in his presidency, even if he wins a second term.

The Trump administration has a placed a priority on the moon over Mars for human exploration (President Barack Obama favored Mars) and hopes to accelerate NASA’s plan for returning people to the lunar surface. It has asked Congress to approve enough money to make a moon mission possible by 2024, instead 2028. But even if that happens, Mars would come years after that. International space agencies have made aspirational statements about possibly landing humans on Mars during the 2030s.

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TRUMP on Iran: “If you look at the deal that Biden and President Obama signed, they would have access — free access — to nuclear weapons, where they wouldn’t even be in violation, in just a very short period of time. What kind of a deal is that?”

THE FACTS: That’s a misrepresentation of what the deal required . Iran would not have access to nuclear weapons capability in a “very short period” without violating the terms of the 2015 accord. The U.S. withdrew from the multinational agreement last year.

During the 15-year life of most provisions of the deal, Iran’s capabilities were limited to a level where it could not produce a nuclear bomb. Iran was thought to be only months away from a bomb when the deal came into effect.

After 15 years, Iran could have an array of advanced centrifuges ready to work, the limits on its stockpile would be gone and, in theory, it could then throw itself into producing highly enriched uranium. But nothing in the deal prevented the West from trying to rein Iran in again with sanctions. The deal included a pledge by Iran never to seek a nuclear weapon. In return, partners in the deal eased sanctions on Iran.

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Republicans scramble from fallout of Trump’s trade war

Vice President Mike Pence, left, talks with Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., as they enter a Senate Republican policy luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Donald Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill are scrambling to soften the blow from his trade war with China amid mounting anxiety from farm-state lawmakers that the protracted battle and escalating tariffs could irreparably damage their local economies.

Vice President Mike Pence met privately Tuesday with Senate Republicans for a second week in a row and urged them to stick with the White House. Senators were working with the administration to craft a relief package for farmers and ranchers, some $15 billion that Trump announced this week would be coming soon. Details of the package remained in flux.

“One thing I think we all agree on is that nobody wins a trade war,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the private lunch meeting.

McConnell said there was hope that the tough negotiating tactics being used by the administration “get us into a better position, vis-à-vis China, which has been our worst and most unfair trading relationship for a very long time.”

Pence heard an earful from senators last week as uncertainty mounted.

The administration on Friday launched a fresh round of tariffs on some $250 billion of Chinese goods; China retaliated this week with tariffs on $60 billion on American goods on top of those already hurting U.S. markets.

The tariffs risk spiking prices for U.S. consumers while leaving growers with commodities they cannot sell to the Chinese markets. Already soybean and hog farmers are among those home-state interests senators say are struggling under Trump’s trade policies. With China talks stalled, senators pushed the White House to wrap up the negotiations and resolve the standoff.

“There’s a lot of concern,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of GOP leadership.

“If this is what it takes to get a good deal, I think people will hang in there, but at some point we’ve got to get it resolved,” Cornyn said. “If this goes on for a long time, everybody realizes it’s playing with a live hand grenade.”

On Tuesday, though, senators appeared more reserved, and largely held their fire as they tried not to undermine the president’s negotiating hand and worked to shore up their home-state communities with a new round of federal aid.

Pence told them that talks on another trade front, a new U.S.-Mexico-Canada deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, were progressing. Senators said they were hopeful those talks were at the finish line and would open new markets for commerce, but the deal would need approval from Congress, which remained uncertain.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., the chairman of the agriculture appropriations subcommittee, is working with the administration on the latest aid package. Last year, Congress gave the Agriculture Department some $30 billion annually that can be tapped to provide up to $15 billion Trump wants to offer as aid. Congress could advance some of the money by tucking it into a disaster aid package that’s expected to be voted on next week.

The federal aid could go toward existing government programs, including those that provide market payments for certain agricultural producers or that fight hunger in poorer or war-torn countries abroad. Last year, the Trump administration made some $12 billion available to domestic producers of soy, corn, dairy, hogs and others hit hard by the retaliatory tariffs.

“We’re stepping forward with more assistance,” Hoeven said. “The goal is to get a trade agreement.”

Senators said they were hopeful that talks would resume before the latest Chinese tariffs kick in on June 1. Trump is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in late June at the G-20 summit in Japan.

Trade is the rare issue in Congress that cuts across party lines. Several top Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, want the president to stay tough on China.

Schumer said that while Trump’s tariff fights with other countries “make no sense,” he thinks the president should work with U.S. allies to confront China. “We have to have tough, strong policies on China,” he said.

Other Democrats, though, doubt Trump’s ability to negotiate a good deal for Americans. “The president is essentially betting the farm — somebody else’s farm,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

GOP Sen. Ron Johnson said agricultural and business interests back home in Wisconsin “really feel a lot of short-term pain.” But he said they also “really want the president to succeed on this.”

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Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
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A relatively quiet foreign trip for Trump

President Donald Trump listens to questions from members of the media during his meeting with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

If there has been a constant to President Donald Trump’s tumultuous first two years in office, it has been that his foreign trips have tended to be drama-filled affairs — the president barreling through international gatherings like a norm-smashing bull, disrupting alliances and upending long-standing U.S. policies. But at this year’s Group of 20 summit, Trump appeared to settle in among his global peers.

A brisk two days in Argentina saw Trump reach a trade ceasefire with China and sign a three-way trade deal with Mexico and Canada. With little public spectacle, he joined the leaders of the other member nations on the traditional group statement. He buddied up with traditional allies and largely avoided controversial strongmen. Faced with Russia’s spiking aggression in Ukraine, he canceled his sit-down with Vladimir Putin. And when former President George H.W. Bush died, Trump gave respectful remarks and canceled what would likely have been a raucous press conference.

All told, for the often-undisciplined leader, the whirlwind trip was an unusual moment of Zen.

Trump’s election forced the world to reckon with sweeping populist movements and the impact of globalization. In the first two years of his presidency, he has brusquely rejected international engagement for what he views as a single-minded focus on U.S. national interests.

Public and private interactions with world leaders over his 48 hours in Argentina demonstrated Trump does have the capacity for restraint. And other world leaders, for their part, showed grumbling acceptance of Trump’s untraditional stylings.

It’s hardly as though Trump has suddenly abandoned his “America First” world view. But rather than challenge him at every turn, other leaders appear to be adapting to Trump, mindful that multilateral deals are weaker without the United States. Delegation “sherpas” worked through the night to revamp the joint communique so that it would be amenable to Trump, and allies knew to butter Trump up with over-the-top praise.

“From the outset, I would like to congratulate you on your historic victory in the midterm election in the United States,” declared Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the start of their meeting Friday. He made no mention of the big electoral gains that Democrats notched in the U.S. House. Abe has long proved to be the world leader most adept at keeping on Trump’s good side, but even more challenging relationships appeared to find firmer ground. Trump’s meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel was outwardly all smiles, handshakes and praise.

The G-20 joint statement included U.S.-preferred language on reforming the World Trade Organization — something Trump demanded — and made note that the U.S. opposed the Paris climate agreement, which the president has announced plans to exit.

French President Emmanuel Macron called it a victory that the U.S. signed onto the statement at all, given the tensions going into the talks. He said, “With Trump, we reached an agreement. The U.S. accepted a text.”

American allies did express mild frustration with Trump at times. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at the signing of the revised North American Free Trade Agreement, needled “Donald” over U.S. tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel.

But Trump, for his part, played the role of gracious victor, proclaiming that he and Trudeau, along with outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, were battle-tested friends. The new trade accord was a long-sought win for Trump, who as a candidate had promised to reform NAFTA, and he embraced its arrival as vindication of his abrasive negotiating tactics.

Most notably, Trump largely kept his distance from Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He made small talk with the two strongmen but toed the line on a Western freeze-out of the pair — the former over Russia’s recent seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews, and the latter over the murder two months ago of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In previous global summits, the shock factor invariably came from Trump. There was his speech lecturing NATO allies over defense spending in spring 2017. The surprise tete-a-tete with Putin at a G-20 dinner in Germany that summer. And the G-7 meeting earlier this year in Canada, where Trump agreed to a group statement on trade, only to withdraw from it on Twitter while flying to Asia, insulting Trudeau in the process.

This time, the viral moment of the weekend came when Putin and the crown prince, the two relative outcasts of the summit, exchanged an enthusiastic handshake.

Trump also showed control when word came during the summit of Bush’s death. While Trump has struggled to strike the right tone during moments of national loss, he sought to meet this one with grace. He followed the scripted playbook for the state funeral he wishes for himself when that day comes, swiftly declared a day of national mourning and ordered American flags to be flown at half-staff for 30 days. He lauded Bush as a man of “sound judgment, common sense and unflappable leadership.”

For Trump, the Bush family has been a longtime punching bag. He dubbed Jeb Bush “low energy” when they faced off during the 2016 Republican presidential primary. He has been highly critical of George W. Bush’s presidency. And he mocked George H.W. Bush’s signature phrase about a “thousand points of light” during his campaign rallies just this year.

Those insults were put aside Saturday as Trump spoke to reporters about his respect for the late president.

“We’ll be spending three days of mourning and three days of celebrating a really great man’s life. So we look forward to doing that, and he certainly deserves it. He really does. He was a very special person,” Trump said.

The president’s decision to cancel the planned news conference in the wake of Bush’s death helped keep him on a disciplined track. Those affairs can easily go off the rails, as did Trump’s news conference after a July summit with Putin in Helsinki, where Trump drew widespread criticism for failing to publicly denounce Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election and appearing to accept Putin’s denials of such activity.

The president arrived back in the United States early Sunday, with a week of mourning for Bush ahead, a government funding fight on the horizon and more to come from the Russia investigation. The question now, as always, is just how long can this moment last?

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Catherine Lucey has covered politics and the White House for the AP since 2012. Zeke Miller has covered the White House and politics in Washington since 2011. Miller reported from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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