Trump rails against China during dinner with executives
The president also noted, without naming the country, that 'almost every student that comes over to this country is a spy.'
This story is published in a content partnership with POLITICO. It was originally reported by Annie Karni on politico.com on August 8, 2018
Over a dinner of beef tenderloin and lobster tail at his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J., President Donald Trump on Tuesday night unleashed a rant about China as corporate executives listened on.
The president entertained a group of 13 CEOs and senior White House staff at a dinner in the middle of his annual working vacation on Tuesday night. The dinner was billed as “an opportunity for the president to hear how the economy is doing...and what their priorities and thoughts are for the year ahead.”
But Trump spent a good portion of the dinner sharing his own thoughts, specifically about China.
Trump told the executives that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt One Road Initiative,” China’s economic plan that has the potential to disrupt trade worldwide, was “insulting” and that he didn’t want it, according to a person in the room. Trump said he had told Xi as much to his face.
Trump, who headed into vacation frustrated that China was retaliating against his tariffs, said it was going to be his priority to stop the rival world superpower from getting unfair trade advantages.
China has reacted to American tariffs on Chinese goods in kind, imposing new duties on $50 billion worth of American products. That retaliatory action has angered and surprised Trump, according to people familiar with his thinking.
Trump in April tweeted that "Xi and I will always be friends, no matter what happens with our dispute on trade," and that he saw a "great future for both countries!"
At one point during the dinner, Trump noted of an unnamed country that the attendee said was clearly China, “almost every student that comes over to this country is a spy.”
The White House declined to comment.
The 13 CEOs assembled included Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, Fiat Chrysler CEO Michael Manley, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, Ernst & Young CEO Mark Weinberger and Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky, among others. The group included some longtime Trump friends, like supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy and New York City real estate developer Richard LeFrak.
Over dessert — a “signature Trump cookie,” served with Tahitian vanilla ice cream and chocolate and caramel sauces — Trump entertained questions from the executives, many of whom pressed him on immigration policy.
The business world, which wants the administration to soften its hard immigration policies, was told, at least on Tuesday night, exactly what it wanted to hear.
Twice during the dinner, Trump yelled over to Chris Lidell, a deputy chief of staff in attendance, and told him to prepare an executive order for Monday that would allow top performers in schools, who he called “first in their class,” to stay in the country for at least five years on a visa, the attendee said.
Trump also grilled the CEOs about what reforms he could enact that would help them. At one point when he was taking questions, the attendee said, Trump asked several attendees for advice on how to fix the student loan crisis.
The senior staffers who promote the most hard-line immigration policies, like Stephen Miller, were not in attendance. Instead, the president’s son-in-law and daughter, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, attended the dinner, along with economic adviser Larry Kudlow and others. Ivanka Trump last week called the family separations that have been occurring under her father’s watch a “low point” in her time serving in his administration.
Overall, according to the attendee, the dinner was a friendly gathering. Trump, who last year this time alienated the corporate world after his comments on race after Charlottesville, received a positive reaction from the same crowd on Tuesday night.