Trump seeks to shift spotlight from impeachment to economy in NY speech

Trump seeks to shift spotlight from impeachment to economy in NY speech
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpWith VP pick, Biden can't play small ball in a long ball world Coronavirus hits defense contractor jobs Wake up America, your country doesn't value your life MORE on Tuesday sought to shift the focus to his economic track record with a marquee speech in New York City one day before the first public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry.

The president delivered remarks to a gathering of Wall Street executives and business leaders at the Economic Club of New York in Manhattan in what amounted to a victory lap for his administration’s stewardship of the economy.

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Trump mostly used the speech as a laundry list of his administration’s economic credentials as he spoke to a largely supportive audience. He rattled off statistics about low unemployment rates for certain minority groups, an increase in manufacturing jobs and his efforts to roll back government regulations.

“Today I’m proud to stand before you as president of the United States to report that we have delivered on our promises and exceeded our expectations by a very wide margin,” Trump said, later concluding that “the best is yet to come.”

Trump claimed credit for record lows in unemployment and a brief surge in economic activity that began shortly after he inherited a rebounding economy from former President Obama in 2017.

While Trump boasted that efforts to cut taxes and regulations helped save the U.S. from “a future of American decline,” his remarks come as the economy slows toward the path expected before he took office.

Tuesday’s speech came at a critical juncture politically for Trump. He is staring down an impeachment inquiry that goes public on Wednesday with the first televised testimony from witnesses who have raised concerns that he pressured a foreign government, Ukraine, to investigate a political rival.

The president is also still in search of a landmark trade deal with China to bolster his case for reelection and faces signs that an economic slowdown may be on the horizon.

The U.S. and China were initially expected to sign off on "phase one" of a trade agreement during a summit in Chile this weekend. But the gathering was scrapped amid unrest in Santiago, and Trump offered no specifics on when the deal might be finalized.

Questions about the scope of the deal with Beijing are also lingering over negotiations. While Chinese officials have said the U.S. has agreed to lift some tariffs on the nation's goods, Trump said last week that he has not committed to repealing any import taxes.

“We’re the ones that are deciding whether or not we want to make a deal,” he said. “We’re close. A significant phase one trade deal with China could happen. Could happen soon. But we will only accept a deal if it’s good for the United States and our great companies.”

Trump is under growing pressure to strike a trade deal with China before the 2020 election. The president has already imposed tariffs on roughly $350 billion in Chinese imports, and is scheduled to levy import taxes on another $110 billion in goods.

Economists expect costs to spike for essential consumer goods with Trump's next round of tariffs, which could strain budgets and dampen strong household spending. A slowdown in consumer spending could quickly lead to declines in employment, raising fears of a recession.

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The year-plus trade war between the world’s largest economies has also cratered U.S. business investment and manufacturing. U.S. farmers and ranchers have also suffered under crushing tariffs from Beijing on crops and livestock, which make up the majority of U.S. exports to China.

Trump on Tuesday, however, was largely dismissive of fears that his trade war was hindering the U.S. economy.

While the president nodded to his efforts to subsidize the losses of “patriot” U.S. farmers, he insisted that “the real cost would be if we did nothing” to counter China’s trade practices.

His speech in New York and the subsequent question-and-answer session also veered into campaign territory at times. Trump at various points highlighted his pace of appointing federal judges, complained of “loopholes” in immigration law and boasted of the recent mission that killed the leader of ISIS.

Trump and his allies are likely to try and harness the strength of the economy, barring a downturn, as a key selling point for his 2020 reelection campaign. While the president's overall approval ratings have remained mired around 40 percent, he tends to get higher marks on his handling of the economy.

But Republicans lamented during the 2018 midterm election that Trump did not focus enough on the economy and instead pivoted to more divisive issues like immigration, and it’s unclear whether the president will be more disciplined in 2020.

He faces a number of potential obstacles that could detract from his economic message, most pressingly the impeachment fight that has engulfed his presidency.

Trump made only a passing reference to the impeachment inquiry during Tuesday’s speech, as he accused Democrats of slow-walking a vote on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), an update to the North American Free Trade Agreement, to “pursue outrageous hoaxes and delusional witch hunts that are going absolutely nowhere.”

House Democrats and Trump trade officials are negotiating over labor, environmental and pharmaceutical provisions in the USMCA. While Trump and his GOP allies have pressure the House to take up the trade deal immediately, Democratic negotiators and the White House urged patience as what they call productive negotiations continue.