Jan 21, 2020
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Trump Focuses on Economy at Davos, Seeking a Counter to Impeachment

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DAVOS, Switzerland — Before the Senate impeachment trial began in earnest on Tuesday, President Trump was more than 4,000 miles away from Washington, in this glitzy Alpine village, driving a competing narrative — one that had nothing to do with pressure on Ukraine, abuse of power or obstruction of Congress.

In his first appearance on the international stage since Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent articles of impeachment to the Senate, before the senators who will decide his fate even arrive at the Capitol building, Mr. Trump addressed the World Economic Forum, focusing on the success of the global economy — and taking credit for it.

“America’s economy was in a rather dismal state,” Mr. Trump said. “Before my presidency began, the outlook for many economies was bleak.” In fact, the economy’s recovery after its plummet was central to President Barack Obama’s legacy.

But Mr. Trump called the growth under his leadership a “roaring geyser of opportunity,” and proclaimed that “the American dream is back bigger better and stronger than ever before.”

In his 30-minute address in front of a global audience, Mr. Trump did not mention the impeachment trial back home. But he delivered what amounted to a version of his campaign speech minus the red meat to his base, speaking little of international alliances other than touting America’s supremacy in the world.

Mr. Trump highlighted the first phase of his trade deal with China and another with Mexico and Canada, accomplishments he thinks are being overshadowed by a focus on an impeachment trial he is trying to dismiss as a “hoax.” And the audience appeared receptive — to his face, at least — having warmed to him over the past two years because they have benefited from his policies.

“Lev Parnas is not a topic of conversation at Davos,” said Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group, a political research and consulting firm.

Mr. Parnas, an associate of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, has been on a nonstop media tour over the past week, asserting that Mr. Trump was fully aware of the pressure campaign to force Ukraine to investigate Mr. Trump’s political rivals. Democrats have not ruled out trying to call him as a witness.

The open question, as always with Mr. Trump, was how much he would stray from his script and the escape offered by the world stage, and vent his grievances about his legal and political predicament at home. But in his morning address, he stuck largely to his prepared remarks, claiming that his approach was “centered entirely on the well-being of the American worker.”

The president also took a swipe at people demanding action on climate change, the lead agenda item at this year’s conference. Mr. Trump announced that the United States would join the 1 trillion trees initiative launched at the World Economic Forum. But he also declared that “we must reject the perennial prophets of doom.”

Former Vice President Al Gore, who attended Mr. Trump’s speech, declined to comment on his remarks.

It was not clear whether Mr. Trump would try to stage a surprise meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, who is also attending the international forum, even though officials said the optics of such a meeting would be unhelpful to Mr. Trump.

In Davos, however, Mr. Trump may find the right audience for support if he sticks with efforts to counter the impeachment narrative at home. There was less anxiety rippling through the one percent set about him on Tuesday than there had been when he first arrived at the annual forum two years ago, fresh off an “America First” campaign filled with promises to rip up international agreements and alliances.

This time, there’s more concern about some of the progressive Democrats running to replace him. Through regulatory rollbacks, tax cuts and the success of the global economy, the president who ran as a populist has benefited many of the chief executives gathered here, even those who have taken public positions against some of his policies.

“There are lot of masters of the universe who think he may not be their cup of tea, but he’s been a godsend,” Mr. Bremmer added. “It’s interesting to hear Mike Bloomberg saying he would fund Bernie Sanders’s campaign if he won the nomination. Very few people here would say that.”

Mr. Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, who is himself running for president, has said he is open to spending $1 billion to defeat Mr. Trump, whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee.

During Mr. Trump’s colorful career in New York real estate, entertainment and business, he never cracked the Davos set, whose Fortune 500 chief executives dismissed him as something of a gaudy sideshow.

But the balance of power has shifted. And with progressives like Mr. Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts emerging as top-tier candidates in the Democratic primary, a crowd that once rejected Mr. Trump is now more willing to consider him one of their own.

Mr. Trump has happily embraced them back. When he signed an agreement at the White House for the United States-China trade deal, for instance, Mr. Trump credited himself with helping big banks and business.

“I made a lot of bankers look very good,” he said, and told attendees to send his regards to Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase.

There are however, still major points of contention ahead during the love-to-hate-it conference for Mr. Trump, who plans to spend almost two days here in bilateral meetings with leaders of Iraq, Pakistan and the Kurdish regional government, as well as sitdowns with corporate chieftains. (The forum is also Mr. Trump’s first trip abroad since the drone attack that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s most important military official.)

Global warming and climate change top the agenda items for the conference. A star speaker on Tuesday, alongside Mr. Trump, is the 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has said she wouldn’t “waste her time” speaking to Mr. Trump about climate change.

Mr. Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, and his administration has expanded the use of coal, downplayed concerns about climate change and rolled back environmental protections.

The president mocked Ms. Thunberg, who has Asperger’s syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum, after she was chosen as Time magazine’s Person of the Year. “So ridiculous,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Greta must work on her anger management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!”

Attendees at the conference said they fully expected Mr. Trump to take another whack at her while she was here.

In 2018, Mr. Trump was the first sitting president to attend the forum since President Bill Clinton did so in 2000. Last year, he abruptly canceled his plans to attend, citing a partial government shutdown.

This year, the administration delegation includes Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, as well as Robert Lighthizer, the trade representative. Other members of the administration who were expected to attend the forum were Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary; Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary, and Eugene Scalia, the labor secretary.

Mr. Trump was also expected to be joined in Davos by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his daughter Ivanka Trump, both senior White House advisers.

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