Trump wants new NAFTA deal to cut trade deficit with Mexico

Published: Monday, July 17, 2017 @ 5:17 PM
Updated: Monday, July 17, 2017 @ 5:18 PM


            President Donald Trump tries on a Stetson hat during a
President Donald Trump tries on a Stetson hat during a "Made in America," product showcase featuring items created in each of the U.S. 50 states, Monday, July 17, 2017, at the White House in Washington. Stetson is base in Garland, Texas. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump vowed Monday to boost U.S. manufacturing by cutting the $64 billion trade deficit with Mexico as he showcased products made in all 50 states — everything from a fire truck to a baseball bat.

"No longer are we going to allow other countries to break the rules, to steal our jobs and drain our wealth," Trump said at a White House event that spilled from the East Room to the South Lawn.

Shortly after Trump's remarks, the U.S. trade representative released an 18-page report about its goals for updating the decades-old North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. In addition to reducing the trade deficit, the administration wants to insert a chapter on the digital economy into the deal. It also wants to strengthen labor and environmental obligations, as well as amending the rules of origin so that more of the products traded come from the United States and North America.

Facing an investigation into his campaign's ties with Russia and a tax and health care agenda struggling to make headway as quickly as promised, Trump is turning his focus to trade this week. Administration officials are to meet Wednesday with economic officials from China, a nation the president has accused of dumping steel on the global market to hurt U.S. steelmakers. The White House emphasis on trade follows a string of other recent theme weeks on energy, job-training and infrastructure that mostly failed to draw much attention away from the Russia inquiry.

The president took his time checking out products from all over the country: Trump donned a cowboy hat from Texas. He swung a baseball bat from Louisiana. And he even climbed into the cab of a Wisconsin-built fire truck and pretended to be a firefighter, saying, "Where's the fire? Where's the fire? Put it out fast!"

The new NAFTA objectives, a requirement to begin talks on updating the agreement in the next 30 days, contain the first specifics for a Trump administration that has made bold promises on trade. Trump has pledged to recover factory jobs and boost wages by crafting new trade deals. Supporters note that NAFTA enabled companies to charge cheaper prices for products that range from cars to vacuum cleaners, helping many U.S. consumers.

The president said he only seeks a level playing field for U.S. companies and workers, but "if the playing field was slanted a little bit toward us, I would accept that, also."

But the president has a conflicted relationship with global trade. His namesake clothing business depended on the work of low-wage workers living overseas, as does the fashion line of his daughter and White House aide, Ivanka Trump.

As of now, Ivanka Trump's firm continues to have its products made overseas. Her lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said in a statement Monday that the president's daughter "has resigned from the company, does not control its operations, and has been advised that she cannot ask the government to act in an issue involving the brand in any way, constraining her ability to intervene personally."

Trump has blasted trade deficits as hampering the economy by sending money abroad. But the trade deficit has actually improved from $762 billion in 2006 to $505 billion last year, a change brought about largely because U.S. consumers cut back spending during the Great Recession. His administration already is pursuing multiple trade cases on individual products and is weighing whether to impose tariffs and quotas on foreign steel in hopes of curbing production in China, even though that country represents a fraction of U.S. steel imports.

The Mexican government said in a statement that the administration's NAFTA objectives will give greater clarity to the negotiations.

Chrystia Freeland, Canada's minister of foreign affairs, said, "NAFTA supports millions of middle class jobs" across North America and Canada welcomes the opportunity to add "progressive, free and fair approaches" to the pact.

Despite the report, it's still not clear exactly how Trump will renegotiate NAFTA to reduce the trade deficit, said Phil Levy, a senior fellow for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a business professor at Northwestern University.

"There's no detail," Levy said. "There's nothing in there where you could say, this is how we get rid of the trade deficit."

When NAFTA went into effect in 1994, the United States ran a small trade surplus in goods with Mexico and a slight deficit with Canada. But the size of the deficits steadily began to increase afterward.

By last year, the United States ran a $64 billion trade deficit with Mexico and a nearly $11 billion gap with Canada. Neither trade deficit is near its peak level. The trade deficit with Canada hit a high in 2008, while the trade gap with Mexico nearly reached $75 billion in 2007.

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Donald Trump brands North Korea's Kim Jong Un with new nickname – 'Rocket Man'

Published: Monday, September 18, 2017 @ 3:30 AM

North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile Over Japan

President Donald Trump has never been shy about giving his opponents nicknames — “Crooked Hillary,” “Lyin’ Ted,” “Crazy Bernie,” “Goofy Elizabeth Warren,” “Low-energy Jeb” and “Little Marco” all immediately come to mind — and now North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has his own Trump moniker.

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“Rocket Man” is the latest of Trump’s derisive epithets.

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On Sunday morning, Trump launched Kim's new nickname into cyberspace.

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“I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night. Asked how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines in North Korea. Too bad!” Trump tweeted.

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The “Rocket Man” nickname is a clear jab at Kim Jong Un’s now semi-regular missile launching over Japan.

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The most recent launch happened Thursday. North Korea has fired at least 21 missiles since February 2017 in 14 missile tests.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin asked to use government plane for honeymoon

Published: Thursday, September 14, 2017 @ 11:39 AM

In this Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, file photo, then Treasury Secretary-designate Stephen Mnuchin and his then-fiancee, Louise Linton, arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington, for the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump. Linton responded to a social media critic on Aug. 21, 2017, telling the mother of three that that she was
In this Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, file photo, then Treasury Secretary-designate Stephen Mnuchin and his then-fiancee, Louise Linton, arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington, for the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump. Linton responded to a social media critic on Aug. 21, 2017, telling the mother of three that that she was "adorably out of touch."€ Mnuchin and Linton were married in June. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP, File)(Saul Loeb/AP)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin inquired about using a government jet for his European honeymoon after marrying Scottish actress Louise Linton in June, officials confirmed Wednesday in a statement.

The request was later deemed to be unnecessary, a Treasury Department spokesman said.

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Mnuchin asked about using a government plane in an effort to ensure that he had access to secure communications while on his honeymoon, according to the Treasury Department.

“We have multiple issues around the world where the secretary is directly involved in national security, notably North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, among others,” a department spokesman said. “It is imperative that he have access to secure communications, and it is our practice to consider a wide range of options to ensure he has these capabilities during his travel, including the possible use of military aircraft.”

Another way to provide Mnuchin with access to secure communications was instead found, and the Treasury Department deemed his request to be unnecessary, officials said.

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Critics slammed Mnuchin’s request, characterizing it as another example of the treasury secretary attempting to use tax payer dollars to fund personal travel. Also under scrutiny is a trip he and his wife made last month to Kentucky in which a government plane was used.

“You don’t need a giant rule book of government requirements to just say (to) yourself, ‘This is common sense, it’s wrong,’” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, told ABC News on Wednesday. “That’s just slap-your-forehead stuff.”

 Politico reported that requests to use military jets for personal travel are unusual, but not unprecedented.

“Such trips can cost tens of thousands of dollars to operate per hour,” according to the news site. “Treasury secretaries tend to fly on commercial airlines but have used government planes for overseas work trips.”

Mnuchin, a wealthy, former Goldman Sachs banker, was criticized last month after he and his wife took a government jet to fly to Kentucky. Linton posted a photo to Instagram after the trip in which she promoted the high-end designer brands she wore while disembarking the government plane.

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The Treasury Department is reviewing the flight to determine whether any ethical violations were made, The New York Times reported

A Treasury Department spokesperson told The Associated Press last month that Mnuchin and Linton are reimbursing the government for the cost of Linton’s travel and added that she was not given compensation for promoting the luxury brands on Instagram.

Some critics suggested Mnuchin and Linton traveled to Kentucky to get a better view of the solar eclipse, Politico reported, although Mnuchin has denied the allegation. He said that he was in the state, which was in the path of totality for the eclipse, for meetings on tax reform, according to Politico.

In a statement released to the Times, Richard Delmar, counsel to the inspector general, said, “We are looking at all requests for use of government aircraft.”

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U.S. Rep. calls Texas 'no' votes on Harvey relief 'unconscionable'

Published: Monday, September 11, 2017 @ 4:50 PM

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, left, speaks during a news conference with other members of the Texas delegation about the emergency funding bill for Harvey relief efforts, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, left, speaks during a news conference with other members of the Texas delegation about the emergency funding bill for Harvey relief efforts, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, on Monday described as “unconscionable” the vote last week of four Republican colleagues from Texas against a $15.25 billion initial aid package to help state residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

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“I don’t want to judge them,” McCaul said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I judge myself and my conscience and when I have people dying and hurting in my home state, it was my duty and my moral obligation to help them, and I felt that that vote was a vote of conscience to help people in my state and also now in Florida.”

“I think that’s what Americans do and I think it’s unconscionable to vote against something like that,” McCaul said.

The four Texans — Reps. Joe Barton, Jeb Hensarling, Sam Johnson and Mac Thornberry — were among 90 Republicans who voted against the House’s concurrence with the Senate’s larger relief package Friday. None of the four represents districts affected by Harvey.

Republican opponents complained that the aid was linked to a three-month lifting of the debt ceiling.

“I think having to raise the debt ceiling was the issue, and the fact is that Mick Mulvaney is the director of OMB and he was a Freedom Caucus guy when he served with us, and he told us point blank that you could not appropriate disaster relief if you didn’t raise the debt ceiling, so we were stuck with that choice,” McCaul said. “What do you (do) with that choice? Just stand on principle and vote ‘no?’ And I question that principle. Or do you vote to help people back in your home state who are hurting really badly?”

Asked if he expected a competition with Florida for federal disaster help because of Hurricane Irma, McCaul said, “I don’t think you’re going to see some Texas vs. Florida thing. This is going to be an American issue and, if anything, it will bring the Texas and Florida delegations together for that funding.”

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Microsoft pledges to protect 'dreamer' employees

Published: Tuesday, September 05, 2017 @ 5:18 PM

Microsoft President Announces Company's Plan To Support 'Dreamers'

Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer pledged in a blog post Tuesday to protect the company’s employees who were brought to the country illegally when they were children, even as federal officials announced the end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA.

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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that the program -- which protects, on a temporary basis, certain immigrants brought to the country illegally as children -- was an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.” The program was created in 2012 with an executive order by then-President Barack Obama in response to Congress’ failure to act on immigration reform.

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In a blog post shared shortly after Sessions’ announcement, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said that the company was “deeply disappointed by the administration’s decision.”

“We believe this is a big step back for our entire country,” Smith wrote.

He urged lawmakers to focus on solving the issue of what to do with the roughly 800,000 people who fall under the DACA program, writing that debates over tax reform should be pushed back in favor of addressing immigration reform.

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“We say this even though Microsoft, like many other companies, cares greatly about modernizing the tax system and making it fairer and more competitive,” Smith wrote. “But we need to put the humanitarian needs of these 800,000 people on the legislative calendar before a tax bill.”

He said the company is aware of 39 so-called “dreamers," named for the stalled Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act or “DREAM Act,” who work for Microsoft. The DREAM Act offered many of the same protections as DACA but was never approved in Congress.

“If Congress fails to act, our company will exercise its legal rights properly to help protect our employees,” Smith said. “If the government seeks to deport any one of them, we will provide and pay for their legal council. We will also file an amicus brief and explore whether we can directly intervene in any such case.

“In short, if Dreamers who are our employees are in court, we will be by their side.”

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Smith said that, as an employer, Microsoft recognized that DACA recipients “add to the competitiveness and economic success of our country and the entire nation’s business community.”

He highlighted that those eligible for the DACA program were brought to the country when they were children and grew up in America.

“They attended our local schools and count millions of American citizens as friends,” Smith wrote. “They obey our laws, pay taxes here and have registered voluntarily with the federal government for DACA relief. They are loyal to this country and contribute their time and money to local churches, schools and community groups. The Dreamers are part of our nation’s fabric. They belong here.”

In the wake of Tuesday’s announcement, lawmakers said they planned to again review the DREAM Act. The act passed the House of Representatives, but it stalled before the Senate in 2011.

Jeff Sessions Says Trump Administration To End DACA Plan