President Trump Lauds U.S. Economy as He Opens World Economic Forum



Speaking in Davos, Switzerland, President Trump touted recent trade wins and a strong U.S. economy. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains that his remarks were directed to U.S. voters, as well as senators who are kicking off the impeachment trial in Washington. Photo: Jason Alden/Bloomberg News

DAVOS, Switzerland—President Trump touted what he described as a “blue-collar boom” transforming the American economy and hailed the U.S. trade agreement with China in a speech to global business and government leaders, hours before his impeachment trial was set to begin.

Over 30 minutes on Tuesday, Mr. Trump ticked off a list of accomplishments from low unemployment to increases in foreign investment. The campaign-style address appeared aimed as much at a U.S. re-election audience and the 100 senators who will act as jurors in his impeachment trial as at the other heads of state and business executives attending the World Economic Forum in this Swiss mountain resort.

“The American dream is back, bigger, better and stronger than ever before,” Mr. Trump said. “No one is benefiting more than America’s middle class.”

Before the Davos crowd of several hundred global business and political leaders, he took a shot at his domestic political opponents, saying, “We will never let radical socialists destroy our economy, wreck our country, or eradicate our liberty.”

The president also reiterated his administration’s promise for a middle-class tax cut. He told The Wall Street Journal it would be subject to his re-election and GOP gains in the House, where Democrats now hold a several-dozen seat majority. Administration officials have been talking for months about another round of tax cuts they would layer on top of those Mr. Trump signed in 2017, but the White House hasn’t released a detailed proposal.

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In a remark in his speech widely understood as referring to climate-change activists, he urged the world to “reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse,” whom he described as “the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortunetellers.”

After Mr. Trump’s speech, Axel Weber, chairman of Swiss bank UBS Group AG , said it “was a typical sales pitch of the CEO in Davos overselling the company’s achievements and underreporting on some of the risks that are there.”

David McKay, chief executive of Royal Bank of Canada, said that, based on his meetings in Davos so far, business leaders shared Mr. Trump’s optimism. “There’s a general positivity about economic opportunity in the U.S.,” Mr. McKay said.

Year-over-year growth cooled to 2.1% in the third quarter of last year from 3.2% in the second quarter of 2018. The U.S. has been in a period of uninterrupted growth since 2009.

As Mr. Trump crisscrossed a conference hall for the event, he was surrounded by crowds, with attendees jostling to get a look at him.

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Mr. Trump had bilateral meetings with world leaders throughout the day, but he was particularly interested in what business executives he spoke with thought about his speech, according to people familiar with the matter.

Some in Davos disagreed with Mr. Trump, but attendees at a dinner Tuesday night took turns praising him one at a time.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino, compared Mr. Trump with the world-class athletes he often interacts with. “President Trump is made of the same sort of fiber. He is competitive,” he said, adding, “He wants to win.”

White House aides said the president remained focused throughout the day on his meetings at Davos. In the interview with the Journal, Mr. Trump paused several times to comment on Fox News segments playing on a television nearby. At one point, he pointed out a pro-Trump banner in the crowd at a pro-rights rally in Virginia that flashed across the screen.

The six-hour time difference in Davos gave Mr. Trump plenty of time to watch the Senate trial from his hotel. During his motorcade back to the hotel Tuesday night, he tweeted “READ THE TRANSCRIPTS,” indicating that the impeachment proceedings were very much on his mind.

Tuesday was Mr. Trump’s second appearance at the summit as president. In 2018, he sought to reassure world leaders and business executives that there was a place for global cooperation in his nationalist worldview. “‘America First’ does not mean America alone,” he said at the time.

His speech at the summit coincides with the first day of a trial in the U.S. Senate to determine whether he should be removed from office. In a legal filing Monday, Mr. Trump’s legal team urged the Senate to swiftly reject the articles of impeachment, calling the case frivolous and dangerous.

More From the World Economic Forum

Mr. Trump’s remarks focused on the vibrancy of the American economy and the benefits he said he had delivered for people left behind in earlier booms, emphasizing employment gains by people without college degrees, African-Americans and military veterans.

In his interview with the Journal, the president said the administration was preparing a proposal for a middle-class tax cut to be unveiled in the next 90 days.

“Very much of a workers’ tax cut,” he said. He said its passage would come after the 2020 election and would depend on his winning a second term and Republicans holding the Senate and retaking the House.

While the president and his allies will tout the promised middle-class tax cut during the 2020 campaign, it has little chance of passing a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. Democrats favor some tax cuts for middle-income and lower-income households, but they also want to roll back pieces of the 2017 law that benefited high-income taxpayers and corporations.

In his speech, the president addressed the issue of inequality, saying that wages for low-income Americans have been growing faster than those of the richest. “For the first time in decades, we’re not only concentrating wealth in the hands of a few,” he said.

The U.S. labor market is in a strong spot, with the unemployment rate having held at a 50-year low of 3.5% in December.

Wages for rank-and-file workers have been rising at the quickest pace in more than a decade, even faster than for bosses, a sign that the labor market has tightened sufficiently to convey bigger increases to lower-paid employees. Pay for the bottom 25% of wage earners rose 4.6% in December from a year earlier, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Wages for the top 25% of earners rose 3%.

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Write to Andrew Restuccia at [email protected]

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