President Donald Trump, speaking to the very global elite he often skewered during his presidential campaign, used an address before the World Economic Forum to balance his “America First” rhetoric with a pitch to the international business community to invest in the United States.
“There has never been a better time to hire, to build, to invest, and to grow in the United States,” Trump said to the crowd of international leaders from business and government in Davos, Switzerland. “American is open for business and we are competitive once again.”
The speech took place amid drama back in Washington: the New York Times, followed by other news outlets, reported that Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller in June, but that White House Special Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry it out. Trump called the reports “fake news” when asked by journalists in Davos on Friday.
During a Q&A after his speech, Trump got boos when he told the crowd, “It wasn’t until I became a politician that I realized how nasty, how mean, how vicious and how fake the press can be.”
Trump’s speech focused heavily on his administration’s accomplishments, including tax cuts and slashing regulations, and cited ever-encouraging economic news. He also tempered some of his campaign rhetoric, which often cast the international community as exploiting the U.S. in trade and other pacts.
“Like all nations represented at this forum, America hopes for a future in which everyone can prosper, and every child can grow up free from violence, poverty, and fear,” he said.
One of Trump’s first actions in office was to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade agreement among a dozen countries that included provisions, among other things, designed to bring equity between countries in copyright laws. More recently, though, Trump has expressed openness to rejoining the pact, albeit he told CNBC that the provisions would have to be more favorable to the U.S.
In his speech, he signaled that his administration would be open to bilateral and multilateral Pacific Rim countries “if it is in the interests of all.”
“We cannot have free and open trade if some countries exploit the system at the expense of others,” he said. He pointed to “massive intellectual property theft” and state subsidies as examples of unfair practices.
Trump also talked about changing the U.S. immigration system to a merit-based system, one that judges prospective immigrants based on their talent and job skills.
A Trump administration proposal, outlined to Congress on Thursday, would provide a path to citizenship for “Dreamers,” those undocumented immigrants that come to the United States when they are children. But it was immediately rejected by immigration activists and even hard-liners. Pro-immigration groups noted that the White House proposal would drastically scale back legal immigration, while those advocating more restrictive policies object to the idea that undocumented immigrants will get “amnesty” and a way to become citizens.
The president’s speech only touched on the issue, and he instead tried to frame his “America first” slogan in the context of working with the international community.
“As president of the United States, I will always put America first, just like the leaders of other countries should put their countries first,” he said. “But America first does not mean America alone.”