The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump
Laughter overshadows Trump's defiant UN speech
President Trump on Tuesday delivered a defiant rebuke of "globalism" at the United Nations, drawing silent stares and even laughter as he boasted of his accomplishments in office.
The president intended to use his annual address to the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) to sell the world on the notion that his "America First" policies have been successful at home and abroad.
But Trump's message was overshadowed shortly after he declared the U.S. economy and military have made great strides under his leadership. He made the bold claim that "in less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country."
The audience of world leaders and foreign dignitaries first reacted with chuckles and then erupted into full-blown laughter when Trump punctuated his argument by saying, "So true."
Trump paused and then smiled before acknowledging the laughter.
"I didn't expect that reaction, but that's OK," he said.
The president later said that his scripted comments were meant as a joke.
"Oh, it was great," Trump told reporters when asked how he felt about the laughter from world leaders "Well, that was meant to get some laughter, but it was great."
The awkward moment on the world stage highlighted the degree to which Trump has alienated foreign leaders with his willingness to go it alone to implement his nationalist policy agenda.
The president entered the annual meeting in New York amid an escalating trade war with China and while struggling to broker a revised North American Free Trade Agreement agreement with Canada. China and Canada are the biggest U.S. trading partners.
He has also angered Western allies with his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and the 2016 Paris climate accord.
"American Presidents used to set the global agenda at the UNGA. Now Trump gets laughed at," tweeted Ben Rhodes, who served as a top foreign policy adviser to former President Obama.
Trump has long argued that Obama, who championed international organizations, was a laughingstock to the global community, saying his predecessor's approach exuded weakness.
"We need a President who isn't a laughing stock to the entire World. We need a truly great leader, a genius at strategy and winning. Respect!" Trump tweeted in 2014.
Those tensions did not deter Trump from promoting a number of controversial actions his administration has taken over the past year, including leaving the U.N. Human Rights Council, refusing to sign a global migration agreement, moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and making threats against the International Criminal Court.
"America is governed by Americans," Trump said on Tuesday. "We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism."
Other nations, especially America's allies, have made the argument that Trump's policies have made the U.S. a less reliable partner in global affairs and eroded trust in international institutions.
French President Emmanuel Macron said in his General Assembly address that he would make future trade agreements contingent on whether potential partners belong to the Paris climate agreement. If Trump follows through on his promise to formally pull out of the international pact, the U.S. would be the only nation in the world that's not part of it.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned heads of state to avoid unilateralism, saying that cooperation is needed to solve the world's biggest problems.
"Multilateralism is under fire precisely when we need it most," he said during his opening address.
Hours later, Trump threatened to cut U.S. funding for U.N. peacekeeping missions and announced he has ordered the State Department to review all U.S. foreign aid and direct more funding toward allies.
Trump also drew a bemused reaction from German officials when he criticized that country's oil pipeline deal with Russia. And he caused a stir when he accused members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries of overcharging the U.S. for oil while they accept American military protection free of charge.
"We defend many of these nations for nothing," Trump exclaimed. "And they repay us by giving us high oil prices. Not good."
Trump dedicated the crux of his address to Iran, calling on other nations to join U.S. efforts to ramp up economic pressure on Tehran over its "aggression" in the Middle East and beyond.
The president noted his decision to withdraw from the Obama-era nuclear agreement between Iran and other world powers and stressed that many sanctions would be reimposed on Iran in early November.
"We ask all nations to isolate Iran's regime as long as its aggression continues," Trump said.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani later denounced the sanctions as a form of "economic terrorism." Trump and Rouhani are not expected to meet this week in New York, despite pre-General Assembly speculation that they could hold discussions.
The topic of Iran is expected to dominate a Trump-chaired U.N. Security Council meeting on Wednesday that's billed as a discussion on countering nuclear proliferation. National security adviser John Bolton previewed the administration's message during a Tuesday speech.
"If you cross us, our allies, or our partners; if you harm our citizens; if you continue to lie, cheat, and deceive, yes, there will indeed be hell to pay," Bolton told the group United Against Nuclear Iran, according to prepared remarks.
Despite the tough rhetoric, Trump expressed hope he can work out an agreement with Iran similar to how he cooled tensions with North Korea.
"I think that at some point we will have meaningful discussions and probably do a deal -- I don't see how it works for them otherwise," the president said of Iran during a meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque.
The president pointed to his efforts to use diplomacy to broker a nuclear agreement with North Korea as evidence his approach is working.
During last year's address to the General Assembly, Trump threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea if it continued with its nuclear ambitions. But this year, Trump thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for his "courage" to engage in nuclear talks.
Domestic politics hung over Trump's time at the General Assembly even as he sought to focus on his tightly scripted agenda for the week.
Trump repeatedly brushed aside questions about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whose job appears to be in jeopardy following reports that he discussed secretly recording the president and ousting him from office using the 25th Amendment.
But the president could not resist weighing in on the controversy surrounding Brett Kavanaugh, as his Supreme Court nomination hangs in limbo following allegations of sexual misconduct.
Trump laid into Deborah Ramirez, who accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her while they both attended Yale University as college students in the 1980s. Ramirez is the second woman to publicly accuse Kavanaugh of sexual impropriety.
"The second accuser has nothing," Trump told reporters during the meeting with Duque. "She thinks maybe it could have been him, maybe not. She admits that she was drunk. She admits that there are time lapses."
Trump claimed the allegations from Ramirez and Christine Blasey Ford, the first accuser, are part of a "con game" by Democrats to sink Kavanaugh's nomination.