Hours after President Donald Trump admitted to having “second thoughts” about escalating the ongoing trade conflict with China, the White House issued a statement asserting the president’s remarks had been “greatly misinterpreted” ― and that he’d actually been expressing regret at “not raising the tariffs higher.”
Speaking to reporters ahead of a Sunday breakfast meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the G-7 summit, Trump was asked if he was rethinking his recent decision to again escalate tariffs on Chinese goods.
“Yeah, sure, why not?” the president responded.
“Might as well. Might as well,” he said, when asked again. “I have second thoughts about everything.”
The Washington Post reported that Trump’s remarks represented the first time that the president had expressed regret over the worsening trade war ― a clash that has escalated dramatically in recent days, prompting fears of an impending global recession.
But according to White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, Trump actually had no regrets about the trade dispute and had only “responded in the affirmative” because he wishes he had slapped even higher tariffs on China.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin later repeated this assertion, saying the president did not “have second thoughts.” Mnuchin also denied the suggestion that he was “cleaning up” for Trump. “We’re not cleaning up anything,” he told CNN’s Jim Acosta.
Grisham’s statement did not mention Trump’s walking back of his earlier threat to force U.S. businesses to cut ties with China.
Trump told reporters on Sunday that he has “no plans right now” to follow through with this threat ― though he stressed that he has the “right to” declare a national emergency if he would want to make it happen.
Experts have noted, however, that forcing American companies to leave a foreign country is likely beyond the scope of Trump’s presidential authority.
Trump disputed suggestions that he’d faced pressure from other G-7 leaders to ease tariffs against China.
“Nobody’s told me that. Nobody would tell me that,” he said, according to The Guardian.
Moments later, however, Johnson ― who was seated with Trump ― contradicted the president’s claim.
“Just to register a faint sheeplike note of our view on the trade war: we’re in favor of trade peace on the whole, and dialing it down if we can,” Johnson said. “We think that, on the whole, the U.K. has profited massively in the last 200 years from free trade, and that’s what we want to see … we don’t like tariffs on the whole.”
On Saturday, as the G-7 summit kicked off in the French town of Biarritz, European Council President Donald Tusk and French President Emmanuel Macron both warned of the dangers posed by trade wars.
Macron said he hoped to “to convince all our partners that trade tensions are bad for everyone,” AFP reported.
“Trade wars will lead to recession, while trade deals will boost the economy,” Tusk said.
This story has been updated to include Steve Mnuchin’s remarks.