Speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference on Monday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recalled the scene at Mar-a-Lago on April 6, when the summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping was interrupted by the strike on Syria.
“Just as dessert was being served, the president explained to Mr. Xi he had something he wanted to tell him, which was the launching of 59 missiles into Syria,” Ross said. “It was in lieu of after-dinner entertainment.”
As the crowd laughed, Ross added: “The thing was, it didn’t cost the president anything to have that entertainment.”
Ross, a billionaire financier, is new to government service. In the lunchtime conversation with David Rubenstein, co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, Ross reflected on his first impressions of public service.
“I’ve been heartened,” he said. “I thought the quality of people in the government was not as high as it has turned out to be. There are actually quite a lot of very good, very serious, very intelligent people wanting to do their best. It’s just they’ve been trapped in a fundamentally dysfunctional system.”
The president’s tax cut proposal has been a hot topic among the business community at this year’s conference. Rubenstein asked Ross whether it was realistic to expect a tax plan to pass this year.
“I certainly hope so,” he said. “God knows Congress has debated the issue enough times. It’s really a question of, ‘Is there the willpower to do it?’ If the Republican side can get itself unified, then it will work, even if the Democrats remain as determined as they seem to be to block any kind of progress.”