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Trump Goes To Davos To Boast About U.S. Economy, But Avoids Climate Change


While senators in Washington debated the rules governing his impeachment trial, President Trump was enjoying higher altitudes today. He was hobnobbing with foreign leaders and corporate executives in the Swiss Alps. Trump is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Speaking to the international elite, he took the opportunity to boast about the strong economy back home.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The United States is in the midst of an economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Scott Horsley has been monitoring the Davos summit and joins us now not from Switzerland but here in the studio.

Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Fact-check the president's claim for us. He says, an economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before. Is it that unprecedented?

HORSLEY: No, although to be fair, the president certainly does have some bragging rights, particularly when it comes to unemployment. The U.S. jobless rate, at 3.5%, is the lowest it's been in half a century, and, of course, the stock market's been hitting all-time highs. Trump credits that to the GOP tax cut, deregulation and his own tough stances on trade, but the president exaggerates both how good the economy is now and how much it's improved since he came into office. The fact is the economy was pretty good when Trump came in, and most of those positive trend lines have continued. If you look at GDP growth, though, that's averaged 2.6% under President Trump. That's below its 50-year average and below his promise of 3% growth. And GDP growth has slowed a good bit in the last year partly as a result of the president's trade war.

SHAPIRO: One of the big themes this year at Davos is climate change. Has President Trump said anything about that in Switzerland?

HORSLEY: Not a lot. Of course, he's announced his intent to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. He has been trying to roll back climate regulations. Like a lot of his cabinet members, the president is skeptical of the established science behind climate change, and today he told his audience not to be swayed by those he calls the prophets of doom.


TRUMP: These alarmists always demand the same thing - absolute power to dominate, transform and control every aspect of our lives. We will never let radical socialists destroy our economy, wreck our country or eradicate our liberty.

HORSLEY: The president did get a smattering of applause, though, when he said the U.S. would join in a Davos climate initiative to plant a trillion trees around the world.

SHAPIRO: What kind of reception has he been getting generally at Davos?

HORSLEY: Polite but not exactly warm. A few people laughed at that over-the-top economic boast we heard a moment ago. Davos is traditionally a magnet for globalists - you know, people who believe in the free flow of commerce and ideas and even people across international boundaries. That's very much at odds with the kind of America-first approach that Trump campaigned on and that he's governed on for the last three years. Now, Trump defended his nationalist posture today just as he did on his first trip to Davos two years ago. He said, a nation's highest duty is to its own citizens. I don't think the Davos crowd disputes that nations have to look after their own people, but a lot of these people do have very different ideas than the president about the best way to go about that.

SHAPIRO: Last week, he scored a couple of trade victories, signing a Phase 1 deal with China. The Senate passed his updated trade deal with Mexico and Canada. Are there more trade fights on the horizon?

HORSLEY: There could be, but it does appear at least one possible trade skirmish may be moving to the back burner. The administration had been weighing stiff tariffs on imports from France, including champagne, bleu cheese and French handbags, among other things. That would be in retaliation for France's plan to tax digital services, a tax that would mostly hit U.S. tech giants like Facebook and Google. But yesterday, Trump and French president Emmanuel Macron spoke by telephone, and Macron said afterwards they had agreed to work together to avoid tariff escalation - so maybe a trade truce on the horizon there.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Scott Horsley, thanks a lot.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Horsley
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.