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What the Hell, This Is a Big Celebration': Trump Touts Trade Deal at White House

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01/15/2020 | 08:38pm EST

By Michael C. Bender

WASHINGTON -- President Trump took to the podium in the East Room of the White House Wednesday morning to introduce the new trade deal with China but rather than focus on the contents of the 90-plus pages, he concentrated instead on the more than 80 people he wanted to thank for helping make it happen.

For a politician who thrives on making politics and diplomacy personal and on grabbing the nation's attention with personal attacks on Twitter, Wednesday's event was a tour-de-force of back-patting. It featured shout-outs, inside jokes and ad hoc riffs at lawmakers, administration aides and business executives -- each one described with a complimentary adjective or regaled with a story about a recent interaction -- as a delegation of Chinese officials stood nearby for nearly one and a half hours.

After a Marine Corps band entrance and with hands planted on both sides of the podium, Mr. Trump noted it was a "very important and remarkable occasion" and identified a dozen members of his administration, each one "fantastic," an "incredible guy," or a "legend."

"Our brilliant Jared," he said to Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser. "This is harder than real estate in New York."

"A lot harder," Mr. Kushner replied.

Continued Mr. Trump: "This is something that is going to be so special to our manufacturers, farmers, our bankers, our service people -- nobody has ever seen anything like it. This is the biggest deal there is anywhere in the world by far."

The deal leaves hundreds of billions of U.S. tariffs in place on Chinese imports but will lead to a rise in sales of U.S. goods and services to China, provide protections for intellectual property and open Chinese markets.

In a nod to history, Mr. Trump singled out, at the front of the audience, Henry Kissinger who, with President Nixon, helped open China itself to the world in the early 1970s. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, the chief negotiator for Beijing, and other Chinese officials applauded Mr. Kissinger's presidential shoutout.

That extended to Republican members of Congress who, with Mr. Trump's permission, were dismissed early to take House impeachment-related votes.

Mr. Trump noted that no Republican member voted in favor of the impeachment articles he will now stand trial on in the Senate. "What a job you've done, so I just want to thank you."

In all, he called out two dozen Republicans -- governors, senators and House members -- and nearly four dozen executives. He called out as "great people" Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, the casino owners and Trump donors who privately urged him to end the trade war. Stephen Schwarzman, the president said, was so interested in the deal that Mr. Trump feigned shock that the chairman of private-equity giant Blackstone Group Inc. had confined himself to the audience. "I'm surprised you're not actually sitting over here on the ledge of the stage," Mr. Trump said.

The president introduced Lou Dobbs, the Fox Business anchor, as "a man who always liked me, because he's smart, so smart," noting Mr. Dobbs had compared Mr. Trump favorably to President Ronald Reagan. Mr. Trump added that he regretted the absence at the ceremony of Rupert Murdoch, co-chairman of Fox Corp.

Fox and News Corp, which owns the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, share common ownership.

Plenty of other CEOs received the presidential treatment. Mr. Trump reminisced with Dan DiMicco, the former CEO of Nucor Corp., a steel company, about the decades of complaints about U.S. trade policy. He razzed new Boeing Co. chief David Calhoun for not standing up quickly enough when he called his name, and took a dig at Boeing's recent travails in the process.

"Where's David? Stand up David. See? He didn't want to stand up," Mr. Trump said. "Let me tell you, it's not your fault. You just got there."

Mr. Calhoun nodded and pointed his finger at the president, who asked him to "straighten it out quickly, please."

"We will," Mr. Calhoun told him.

Mr. Trump gave his own rationale for the bonanza of good wishes: "We have tremendous numbers of people here and I'm saying, do I introduce them? But I think I sorta should because, what the hell, this is a big celebration."

It was a slightly bizarre spectacle for some. "Obviously, it is a show," said one Chinese reporter covering the event. To Mr. Trump's allies, it was a familiar performance.

"This is the way Trump does business, and I know there are people out there laughing and snickering, but there is a real genius to it," Sen. Lindsey Graham, who attended the East Room event, said in an interview afterward. "Each and every one of those businessmen he named are going to remember that, their families and friends are going to hear about it, and this president understands that."

From there, it was off to a lunch of cauliflower and thyme-roasted Dover sole with the Chinese delegation.

Write to Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com

Stocks mentioned in the article
ChangeLast1st jan.
BOEING COMPANY (THE) -0.60% 336.28 Delayed Quote.3.85%
FOX CORPORATION -2.63% 37.03 Delayed Quote.-0.11%
NEWS CORPORATION -0.44% 14.545 Delayed Quote.2.86%
NUCOR 0.29% 47.85 Delayed Quote.-14.98%
THE BLACKSTONE GROUP INC. -0.49% 62.45 Delayed Quote.12.19%
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