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Trump boasts other countries pay the bill for his priorities

Josh Wingrove, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Whether it's an immigration deal with Mexico, a new base for U.S. soldiers in Poland or tariffs on Chinese imports, what's important to Donald Trump is that some other country will pay the bill.

The U.S. president has repeatedly boasted this month that the costs of various agreements he's struck will either be born by foreigners or will be dramatically less expensive for taxpayers than expected -- all thanks to his leadership.

He announced that 1,000 additional U.S. soldiers would rotate through Poland, though at a base built at that government's expense. Mexico, he said, will pay to dispatch 6,000 of its national guard troops to stop migrants from entering the U.S., and he's repeatedly asserted that tariffs on Chinese imports are paid by China, not U.S. consumers -- in defiance of the consensus of economists.

He's also said Mexico "has agreed to immediately begin buying" more goods from U.S. farmers, a claim Mexico denies, and boasted about a discount he says he negotiated on a new version of Air Force One. He again claimed that NATO countries are paying more for their own defense thanks to him.

It's an approach to be expected of a president who regularly describes the U.S. as a "piggy bank" raided by foreigners and who regards trade deficits as an outright financial loss, rather than an exchange of money for goods. Trump's transactional notions about foreign relations and trade augur a bumpy road ahead for the U.S. and China, with Trump aiming to meet President Xi Jinping this month at the Group of 20 summit to get trade talks back on track.

"That's very, very important for the president -- whether you're negotiating a deal or working with somebody, they have to demonstrate that commitment by demonstrating they have skin in the game," said James Jay Carafano, vice president of the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group.

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Citing dollars and cents is "just his shorthand way of describing it."

In public comments, especially as he ramps up his 2020 reelection campaign, Trump often highlights other countries paying bills and says tariffs are a "beautiful thing" that bring in more dollars to the U.S.

Trump is signaling to his supporters that "he's doing great things and the other country is paying the price. He likes that political angle," said Gary Clyde Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. "There is precedent for it, but Trump has raised the game to a new level and I don't think any president, pre-war or postwar, has had this fixation."

With Poland, Trump on June 12 pledged 1,000 new soldiers, but not the base or infrastructure. "The Polish government will build these projects at no cost to the United States, the Polish government will pay for this," he said, while also celebrating Poland's purchases of fighter jets and natural gas.


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