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Analysis: Australian Leader Hits Trump With Charm Offensive

Turnbull eager to repair strained relations, boost economic cooperation

Before a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, President Donald Trump addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort in Oxon Hill, Md., on February 23, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Before a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, President Donald Trump addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort in Oxon Hill, Md., on February 23, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

ANALYSIS | Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull went with flattery, lavishing Donald Trump with praise and using the U.S. president’s own rhetoric as he tried to repair a once-strained relationship.

Turnbull delivered his message about U.S.-Aussie “mateship” during a joint press conference at the White House during which Trump revealed he will delegate a final decision on whether his son-in-law will continue to get classified information, despite his inability to qualify for a security clearance. He also said he detects a “movement” among lawmakers to pass legislation to prevent future school shootings.

During their first trips to the White House for meetings with Trump since he was sworn in last January, some leaders — including British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel — have doled out tough love and even tried to outflank Trump.

Turnbull, however, opted to join the ranks of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who used their turns with Trump at the executive mansion to praise the U.S. chief executive’s policies, tough diplomatic style and even his golf game.

[Trump at CPAC: ‘Lock Her Up,’ ‘The Snake’ — and Hiding the Bald Spot]

“We have been inspired, I have to say, by your success in securing the passage of the tax reforms through the Congress,” Turnbull told Trump, saying he has gotten some of the same back home, but “we’ve got more work to do.”

The Australian leader praised Trump because of the “economic stimulus that your reforms have delivered here in the United States,” calling the GOP tax overhaul “one of the most powerful arguments that we are deploying to persuade our legislature to support reducing business tax.”

At several points, Turnbull spoke Trump’s language on tax cuts — in fact, he could have been reading remarks prepared for his American counterpart when he said: “Because … as we all know, when you cut company tax, most of the benefit goes to workers. It produces more investment. And, when you get more investment, you get more jobs.”

As part of his pitch to increase economic collaboration, Turnbull said of Trump and the country he leads “you are our most important strategic and economic partner.”

Especially as a candidate, Trump bragged about his “stamina” and resilience. Turnbull let the American commander in chief know that his countrymen share what Trump perceives as one of his own best qualities.

“We have the same values. We share a deep well of trust and spirit based on those enduring values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, enterprise, ingenuity, the spirit of having a go and, if it doesn’t work out, dust yourself off and have another go,” he told Trump. “That is a core American and Australian value. That spirit of enterprise is what leads us on.”

A telling moment that showed just how badly the Australian prime minister wants to repair a relationship strained by Trump’s initial disgust with a U.S.-Australian refugee deal came near the conclusion of the joint press conference.

Turnbull was asked what his country’s move toward stiff gun laws might teach Trump — who has called himself a “true friend and champion” of the Second Amendment that provides Americans the right to own guns — as he grapples with a spate of deadly shootings. The Australian leader demurred, saying he would allow Americans to work out their own internal gun debate.

The remark aligned with Trump’s desire for other countries to let America handle its own affairs in keeping with his “America first” philosophy.

[Trump: Deputy Who Stayed Outside During Florida Shooting a ‘Coward’]

On that very matter, Trump said there is “a movement” among lawmakers he has spoken to since last Wednesday’s Parkland, Florida, high school shooting to pass legislation addressing background checks.


“We’re going to do a lot, but we’re going to be very strong on background checks,” he said. Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are supportive, Trump said.


The president again reiterated a need to arm teachers and school staff to build some “offensive” capabilities inside schools — and he signaled he wanted to prioritize military and Coast Guard veterans who are now employed inside schools to get training and weapons.


Meantime, Friday is the date on which Kelly was slated to begin revoking interim security clearances for West Wing aides. Kushner is among those that do not yet have a permanent clearance.


Trump announced he has given Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly final say over whether Kushner will continue receiving classified information. But Trump said Kushner is “doing some very important work for our country,” specifically trying to help broker a Middle East peace deal.


The president also put part of the blame for Kushner’s clearance situation on a “broken system” that he and Kelly “inherited.” He also suggested Kushner’s business dealings and financial history might make it too difficult to untangle enough to qualify.


On North Korea, Trump said he hopes a peaceful solution can be brokered. But, if not, “something will have to happen.” As he has for months, he did not elaborate on the definition of “something.”


Turnbull stood alongside, nodding slightly.


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