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


DAVOS, Switzerland — President Trump swept into this glitzy Alpine village on Tuesday, full of flattery as he schmoozed with global business leaders, as if there were no talk of removing him from office and no impeachment trial unfolding 4,000 miles away in Washington.

Mr. Trump appeared to relish the escape offered by the World Economic Forum and the friendly — to his face, at least — crowd of elites in the snow-covered Alps. He was in a jovial mood, according to people who spoke with him, engaging in animated conversations with chief executives like Brian Moynihan of Bank of America, Sundar Pichai of Alphabet and Marc Benioff of Salesforce.

He congratulated them on their companies’ stock performances and joked that he should have bought shares but that he had been forced to sell his holdings when he took office. As Mr. Trump and his family members darted between meetings in makeshift pavilions, they studiously avoided questions about the drama back home, where the Senate was expected to begin a fierce partisan squabble over the rules for putting the president on trial.

Mr. Trump’s trip to Davos was his first appearance on the international stage since Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Before he arrived in the Swiss town, the open question, as always with Mr. Trump, was how much he would stray from his script and vent his grievances about his legal and political predicament.

But Mr. Trump stuck to his prepared remarks, making inflated claims about his role in a global economic recovery and touting a message of America’s supremacy. When reporters asked him about the impeachment trial, he swatted it away as “just a hoax.”

“America’s economy was in a rather dismal state,” Mr. Trump said during his 30-minute speech. “Before my presidency began, the outlook for many economies was bleak.”

Although the economy’s recovery after its plummet was central to President Barack Obama’s legacy, Mr. Trump said that his administration had created a “roaring geyser of opportunity” and proclaimed that “the American dream is back bigger, better and stronger than ever before.”

Addressing a global audience, Mr. Trump delivered what amounted to a version of his campaign speech, speaking little of international alliances and touting America’s supremacy in the world.

At a conference that has dedicated itself this year to the issue of global warming, Mr. Trump also took a swipe at those demanding action. He announced that the United States would join an initiative to plant a trillion trees that was launched at the event, but he also declared that “we must reject the perennial prophets of doom” and that it was “not a time for pessimism.”

Former Vice President Al Gore, who was seen leaving Mr. Trump’s speech, declined to comment on the president’s remarks.

Mr. Trump arrived in Switzerland on Tuesday morning, taking a ride in Marine One over the Alps, from Zurich to Davos. The altitude increased the sense that the bitter partisan fight that would take place in the Capitol was a world away.

As his motorcade made its way through twisty, snow-covered streets to the Davos Congress Centre, a group of nine Swiss tenors entertained the crowd with a version of “Ranz des vaches,” a mellifluous song for calling home cows.

It was a more peaceful serenade than the songs that typically precede Mr. Trump’s entrance onstage, like “Macho Man” by the Village People and “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones.

Mr. Trump was also a more mellow version of himself.

He highlighted the first phase of his trade deal with China and another with Mexico and Canada. And the audience appeared receptive, having warmed to him over the past two years as they have benefited from his policies.

“Lev Parnas is not a topic of conversation at Davos,” said Ian Bremmer, the 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 media tour over the past week, asserting that the president was fully aware of the campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate Mr. Trump’s political rivals. Democrats have not ruled out trying to call Mr. Parnas as a witness in the impeachment trial.

In Davos, however, television screens were filled with the face of a different Trump antagonist: the teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, who was the other star speaker of the day. In a speech there, she warned that “our house is still on fire” and that “inaction is fueling the flames by the hour.”

Mr. Trump did not mention Ms. Thunberg by name in his speech. But when he talked about the importance of clean water and clean air, he added that “fear and doubt is not a good thought process.”

His speech also included inflated or false claims that seemed, at times, disconnected from the concerns of an international audience.

“I saved HBCUs. We saved them,” Mr. Trump claimed, referring to historically black colleges and universities. “They were going out and we saved them.” While the administration has increased investment in the schools 14.3 percent, and although a number of them have struggled financially, there is no evidence that they were on the verge of extinction. In the past six years, one has closed and about 100 remain.

Hanging over the conference was also the question of whether Mr. Trump would try to stage a surprise meeting there with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, even though officials said the optics of such a meeting would be unhelpful to Mr. Trump.

In Davos, however, Mr. Trump may have found the right audience for support to counter the impeachment trial that is dominating the news at home. There was less anxiety about him rippling through the 1 percent set on Tuesday than when he 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 was 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 at the event, 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,” said Mr. Bremmer, of Eurasia Group. “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 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 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 its own.

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump happily embraced them back. After his speech, he met with the International Business Council, where he greeted every chief executive personally, according to attendees.

The meeting was less about substance and more about socializing, one attendee said, as Mr. Trump grilled corporate leaders about whether they liked his speech. His daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also worked the room.

There were however, still points of contention during the conference for Mr. Trump, who planned to spend almost two days there 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.)

And topping the conference’s agenda was climate change, an issue where Mr. Trump’s agenda is far out of line with the rest of the attendees. He was preceded onstage by Klaus Schwab, a founder of the Forum, who proclaimed that “the world is in a state of emergency,” and Simonetta Sommaruga, the president of the Swiss Federation, who said that “the world is on fire.”

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

The president mocked Ms. Thunberg after she was chosen last month as Time magazine’s Person of the Year. “So ridiculous,” he tweeted. “Greta must work on her anger management problem, then go to a good old-fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!”

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 were Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary; Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary; and Eugene Scalia, the labor secretary. Mr. Trump was also accompanied by Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, and Stephen Miller, his policy adviser and speechwriter.

Keith Bradsher contributed reporting.


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