Today, President Donald Trump spent thirty minutes in the Oval Office with the press and the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison.
Here are some of the highlights from what the President discussed:
President Trump tackled Iran’s recent attacks on Saudi Arabia, detailing new sanctions on the Iranian central bank.
“These are the highest sanctions ever imposed on a country. We’ve never done it to this level. And it’s too bad what’s happening to Iran. It’s going to hell. Doing poorly… They could solve the problem very easily. All they have to do is stop the terror.”
“They have a tremendous potential, an incredible potential… we’d like to see them do well… But it looks to me with what’s happening maybe they want to keep going at it. And when they go at it with us, there’s no way they win. No way they win in any way or in any capacity.”
On the Whistleblower
There has been much coverage in recent days of the whistleblower who reportedly exposed Trump for an inappropriate promise to a foreign leader. Here’s what the President had to say:
“It’s a ridiculous story. It’s a partisan whistleblower. They shouldn’t even have information. I’ve had conversations with many leaders, they’re always appropriate. I think Scott [leaning towards the Australian Prime Minister] can tell you that, they’re always appropriate, at the highest level always appropriate. Anything I do, I fight for this country. I fight so strongly for this country. It’s just another political hack job, that’s all it is.”
“I don’t know the identity of the whistleblower, I just hear it’s a partisan person… but I can say that it was a totally appropriate conversation. It was actually a beautiful conversation… the press has had a very bad week with Justice Kavanaugh, you’ve had a very bad week, and this will be better than all of them, so keep playing it up… I guess I’m about 22-0, and I’ll keep it that way.“
Later, they circled back to the issue, and Trump reiterated who was to blame.
“It’s another media disaster. The media has lost so much credibility in this country. Our media has become the laughingstock of the world. When you look at what they did to Justice Kavanaugh and so many other things last week, I think this is one of the worst weeks in the history of the fake news media. You’ve been wrong on so many things. And this one will be, I wouldn’t say it will top the list, because I think you can’t do worse than some of the stories you missed over the last week or two. But the media of our country is laughed at all over the world now. You’re a joke.”
On New National Security Advisor
President Trump discussed who would be replacing John Bolton as the permanent National Security Advisor.
“Yeah, I have a great new person, you know, Robert O’Brien. A lot of people wanted Robert very badly… He’s a great friend of Australia, Scott was telling me he was very happy with the choice. Robert is going to be outstanding… essentially, he’s already on the job. He did a tremendous job as [a] hostage negotiator.”
President Trump then confirmed he’d discuss options on Iran with O’Brien, adding “but also with [the] Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, we’re discussing with everybody. And, you know, the early move today was the Central Bank of Iran.”
The conversation turned to America’s space program.
“So we’re doing a great program… Vice President Pence is very much involved, and we have a tremendous space program… we’re going to Mars, we’re stopping at the moon. The moon is actually a launching pad, that’s why we’re stopping at the moon. I said, ‘hey, we’ve already done the moon, that’s not so exciting.’ They said, ‘no, sir, it’s a launching pad for Mars.’ So we’ll be doing the moon, but we’ll really be doing Mars… we’re making tremendous progress.”
“In addition, rich people like to send up rocket ships, so, between Bezos and Elon Musk and others, we’re leasing them our launch facilities… in Texas and Florida we’re leasing them our facilities so they can send up whatever they want to send up, it’s okay with us. And they’ve actually done very well. They’ve had great success, but, rich people in this country, I don’t know about your country [referring to Prime Minister Morrison], but they like building rocket ships and sending them up. And it’s okay with us.”
Trump then elicited his biggest laugh of the press conference. When a reporter asked him if an Australian escort would be on board of the space mission, Trump responded: “well, I think Scott and I would rather take a pass… I’m not sure, but I know him pretty well, and I think he and I will take a pass. But there are a lot of people who want to go up and I have great respect for the astronauts.”
On a Coalition for Iran
The conversation returned to Iran, one of the hottest subjects of the day. The President clarified that while he would prefer a coalition of nations, he’s willing to work alone.
“Well, I would always like a coalition. Sometimes you find that people have made a lot of money [with Iran] that didn’t want in the coalition… When President Obama made that deal, not only was it a bad deal, but the United States didn’t partake in a business sense and other countries, Germany, France, Russia, many other countries made a lot of money with Iran… That was just one of the many bad parts about the deal, everyone else was making money and we’re not.”
“The United States is in a class by itself. We have the most powerful military in the world by far. There’s nobody close. As you know, we’ve spent tremendous… we’ve totally renovated and bought new nuclear… The nuclear now is at a level that it’s never been before… we all hope and we all pray that we never have to use nuclear. But there’s nobody that has anywhere close to what we have.”
“The easiest thing I could do, in fact, I could do it while you’re here, we’d say ‘go ahead fellas, go do it.’ And that would be a very bad day for Iran. That’s the easiest thing I could do. And for all of those that say ‘oh, they should do it. It shows weakness,’ actually, in my opinion, it shows strength. Because the easiest thing I can do, ‘okay, go ahead, knock out fifteen different major things in Iran.’ I could do that… it’s all set to go, but I’m not looking to do that if I can. And I think I’ve changed a lot of minds… I think it shows far more strength to do it the way we’re doing it.”
“Whether it’s now or in three weeks, doesn’t make any difference. But I think he strong person’s approach and the thing that does show strength would be showing a little bit of restraint. Much easier to do it the other way. Iran knows if they misbehave they’re on borrowed time… They’re having a lot of problems right now… I think restraint is a good thing. I think it’s a good thing.“
On China Trade
One reporter asked Trump if his standoff with China is entirely trade-related, or if he saw them as a geopolitical threat. Trump responded:
“Well, obviously China is a threat to the world, in a sense, because they’re building a military faster than anybody, and frankly, they’re using U.S. money. Presidents before me… have allowed China to steal our intellectual property and property rights. And I’m not doing that.
“And we were actually very close to having a deal, we were very close… then at the last moment… they said ‘we cannot agree to this.’ I said, ‘that’s alright, we’re charging you 25 percent tariffs and then it’s going up, and it’ll continue to go up. …Frankly, we’re making so many hundreds… the numbers that we’re taking into our treasury, and you’ll see it… we’re taking hundreds of millions potentially over a short period of time… from China that never came in before.”
“China wants to make a deal, I think we want to make a deal, we’ll see what happens. But I view China in many different ways, but right now I’m thinking about trade.”
On Justin Trudeau
A reporter asked the President for his response to Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada who became ensnared in scandal after photos surfaced of him wearing black and brownface makeup. The President, who seemed sincerely introspective, said:
“I was hoping I wouldn’t be asked that question. It’d be you that asked it, of course, you had to ask me that question… Justin… I’m surprised, and I was more surprised when I saw the number of times… You know, I’ve always had a good relationship with Justin. I was surprised by it, actually.”
This was actually one of the President’s tamer interactions with the press. He addressed questions calmly and seemed to enjoy the presence of Scott Morrison, referring to him lightheartedly several times.
The President’s shining moment was in his explanation of Iran. He balanced diplomacy with strength, making clear that while he could easily take military action, he would prefer to avoid it if possible. He had a similar balance on China.
Beyond that, we didn’t get much more on the whistleblower story, which we should have expected. But the President remained calm and redirected scrutiny towards the media, one of his strongest tactics.
All told, it was a valuable insight into his frame of mind at this chaotic moment. The President always has many topics on his plate, but this week, it seems heightened. But the Commander in Chief seems calm and affable, which is probably best for all of us.