MANILA – President Donald Trump headed home Tuesday buoyed by an Asia tour he called “tremendously successful,” but he’ll face immediate challenges with the Republican tax overhaul and the party meltdown in Alabama over a Senate candidate accused of sexual misconduct.
Underscoring the sharp political stakes for Trump, who lacks a major legislative achievement after nearly 10 months in office, Trump will meet with House Republicans on Thursday ahead of an expected vote on the tax overhaul legislation.
Republican leaders in Congress view passage of the first major tax revamp in 30 years as imperative for the GOP to preserve its majorities next year. Trump has urged GOP leaders to make steeper cuts for the wealthy, even as a nonpartisan analysis of the Senate version of the legislation showed it actually would increase taxes for some 13.8 million moderate-income American households.
Also waiting Trump’s attention is a party crisis over the Alabama special election to fill former Sen. Jeff Sessions’ seat. GOP candidate Roy Moore is caught up in allegations of sexual misconduct, and many Republicans have said Moore should withdraw. Moore is backed by former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Trump was upbeat, however, as he ended his Asia trip. As Air Force One rolled down the runway in Manila, Trump told the reporters traveling with him that “it’s been a really great 12 days.” On trade, the president said confidently that U.S. trading partners “will be treating us much differently than before.”
“I think the fruits of our labor are going to be incredible, whether it’s security of our nations, whether it’s security of the world or whether it’s trade,” Trump said.
Trump teased a “major statement” on trade at the White House, where he also plans an in-person appeal to lawmakers as the tax overhaul proposal faces a crucial vote in the House.
Trump, who campaigned for office on a promise to tear up multilateral trade agreements that he said have harmed the U.S., insisted during the nearly two-week trip that multibillion-dollar deficits that favor U.S. trading partners will be reduced to zero, and that trade overall must be fair and mutually beneficial.
“The United States has to be treated fairly and in a reciprocal fashion,” he tweeted Tuesday. “The massive TRADE deficits must go down quickly!”
Trump pressed that point on every stop on the grueling tour of Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines, blaming his predecessors for yawning trade imbalances and declaring that the United States will no longer be taken advantage of under his watch.
“We’ve had a tremendously successful trip,” Trump told reporters before departing his third summit of the trip. “Tremendous amounts of work was done on trade.”
Trump said $300 billion in deals had been reached, a sum he predicted would more than triple in a short period of time.
“We explained that the United States is open for trade but we want reciprocal trade. We want fair trade for the United States,” he said.
The president also sounded a positive note about Vietnam, saying the country had changed direction and was now buying at least $12 billion worth of Boeing aircraft.
“The reason I like the Boeing is because it’s jobs for the United States,” Trump said.
Trump also spoke warmly of the “many good friends” he had made on the trip, including Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Trump praised and joked around Monday with Duterte, who has overseen a bloody crackdown on the illegal drug trade that has featured extrajudicial killings, earning the Filipino leader the condemnation of human rights groups.
Trump did not publicly take Duterte to task for the crackdown. Trump talked instead about their “great relationship.”
The White House later said they discussed the Islamic State group, illegal drugs and trade during a private meeting. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said human rights issues were “briefly” discussed. She was contradicted by Duterte’s spokesman, who said there was “no mention” of human rights.
Human rights advocates have been alarmed by Duterte’s war on drugs, saying it has allowed police officers and vigilantes to ignore due process and take justice into their own hands. Government officials estimate that well over 3,000 people, mostly drug users and dealers, have died in the crackdown. Human rights groups believe the total could be closer to 9,000.
Trump was in the Philippines to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations conference and the East Asia Summit. He sought during both gatherings to strengthen alliances with Pacific Rim nations over trade and a shared desire for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.