Trump, UK prime minister emphasize ‘special relationship’ at White House
Trump : WASHINGTON — President Trump put the “special relationship” with the United Kingdom on full display Friday, hosting Prime Minister Theresa May for cordial meetings at the White House while highlighting a partnership built from their converging political fortunes.
May’s visit began something of a foreign policy weekend for Trump, as he pivots from issues of trade and immigration in North America to similar issues in Europe and the Middle East. Trump is lining up Saturday phone calls with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The arrival of the British prime minister as the first foreign leader to visit the new president was a clear signal of the pre-eminence of the alliance.
“The special relationship between our two counties has been one of the greatest forces in history for justice and peace — and, by the way, my mother was born in Scotland,” Trump told reporters after the hourlong meeting in the Oval Office.
That press conference — Trump’s first as president — lasted just 18 minutes, setting a get-down-to-business tone from the beginning. Trump gave short answers to questions on Russia and Mexico and deflected a multi-part question on abortion. And May seemed to take her cues from Trump, careful not to upstage the president in his new home.
Trump declined to say whether he supports a reduction in sanctions against Russia in advance of his scheduled call with Putin on Saturday, saying he hoped to “have a great relationship with all countries, ideally.” May went further, saying Russia needed to live up to its commitments in a 2014 ceasefire agreement.
Trump’s ‘high energy’ presidency, week one
Trump also said he had a “very, very friendly” hourlong call with Mexican President Enrique Peña-Nieto on Friday, just a day after they canceled a planned meeting next week over tensions arising from Trump’s executive order to commence building a wall on the Mexican border.
“They out-negotiated us and beat us to a pulp,” Trump said. “The United States cannot continue to lose vast amounts of business, vast amounts of companies, and millions and millions of people losing their jobs. That won’t happen with me.”
But the day seemed mostly focused on the U.K. relationship and all its trappings. Trump met the prime minister’s car at the West Wing, performing a duty usually reserved for the chief of protocol. May gave Trump a basket full of British delicacies and a quaich, a cup traditionally given by Scottish clan chiefs as a sign of hospitality.
The prime minister added that she had extended an invitation from Queen Elizabeth for Trump to make a state visit to London this year, “and I’m delighted to say he has accepted.”
And in a photo opportunity in the West Wing, Trump showed off the bust of Winston Churchill, whose disappearance to a private study during President Barack Obama’s tenure generated a buzz across the Atlantic.
To highlight Churchill’s return, Trump even asked that a lamp be moved to get a better view of the bust.
“This is the original in many ways,” Trump said of the mid-century British prime minister. “It’s a great honor to have Winston Churchill back.”.
“It’s a great honor to be here,” May said in response.
The Trump*-May meeting focused, the two leaders said, on topics that included trade, the British withdrawal from the European Union, the future of the NATO military alliance and Russia. Trump spoke about those issues in generalities; May was a little more specific, lauding U.S.-U.K. cooperation on trade, defense and terrorism.
The cast had changed since the U.S. president and U.K. prime minister last met, and the changes of policy on trade were starkly different. At a press conference with then-Prime Minister David Cameron in London last year, President Obama urged Britons not to vote to leave the European Union.
Britons did so anyway — with some cheer-leading from Trump* she praised Trump* for his “stunning” election win and said the president made a “100% commitment” to NATO. The prime minister also dismissed a question about skepticism of Trump* in Great Britain and Europe, telling reporters she had a constructive talk with him: “I’ve been listening to the president, and the president has been listening to me.”
When May called on a British reporter who asked Trump* a sharp-edged question about abortion, Trump* deflected with humor.
“This was your choice,” Trump* told May. “There goes that relationship.”
Though they have spoken on the phone, the American and British leaders do not know each other well. (Also, an initial version of Trump’s Friday schedule misspelled May’s name, leaving off the “h” in Theresa; it was corrected in a revised version.)
The personal chemistry is of particular interest to Britons, and a British reporter asked the two of them about how they get along behind closed doors.
“Actually I’m not as brash as you might think,” Trump* said. “And I can tell you that I think we’re going to get along very well. You know, it’s interesting because I am a people person. I think you are also, Theresa. And I can often tell how I get along with somebody very early, and I believe we’re going to have a fantastic relationship.”
But May suggested a deeper philosophical kinship, suggesting that the anti-globalist movements that brought them both to power came from the same vein of working-class populism.
“One of the things we have in common is we want to put the interests of ordinary working people up there on center stage,” she said. “I think we both share that.”