Sarah Huckabee Sanders called reporters to the White House on Tuesday for a rare press briefing. Though it was the only time this month the press secretary has held an on-camera briefing, she didn’t even answer questions for 15 minutes. Instead, Sanders ceded the bulk of the press conference to National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and National Security Adviser John Bolton, who took turns attempting to convince anyone listening that President Trump knows exactly what he’s doing and that everything is going to be just fine.
First up was Kudlow, who began by addressing President Trump’s upcoming sit-down with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit in Argentina. It will take place over dinner, and Kudlow is optimistic that the two world leaders will be able to work out a new trade deal. It’s pretty damn imperative that they do so, as the United States and China have been tariffing the crap out of each other since Trump decided to go ahead and pursue a trade war earlier this year. In September, he took it up a notch by announcing a 10 percent tariff on an additional $200 billion in Chinese imports, noting that it will jump to 25 percent on January 1st if an agreement is not reached. China reciprocated by levying a similar tax on American goods. Though both Trump and Kudlow seem to believe an agreement is imminent, there’s been no actual indication this will be the case. When John Roberts of Fox News pointed this out, Kudlow vaguely touted the good relationship Trump has developed with Xi.
Meanwhile, the tariffs Trump has already imposed on hundreds of billions in Chinese good are hurting the American consumer, who has been forced to shoulder the additional cost. The president understands this, Kudlow says. He also made clear that any failure to come to an agreement would be the fault of the Chinese, not Trump.
REPORTERS: Tariffs are in effect a tax paid by Americans consumers. Does Trump realize that?
KUDLOW: "Look, he realizes the ramifications." pic.twitter.com/THxrOtOv9Z
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 27, 2018
Though both Trump and Kudlow are optimistic about a deal, they’ve also argued that if one isn’t made and Trump is forced to ramp up tariffs, it’s not the end of the world. “We’ll see what happens,” Kudlow said. “Our economy is in very good shape right now. When you multiply through whatever numbers you want to use — $250 billion, or tack on another truancy, which may or may not happen, at a 10 percent tariff rate or more, it’s really just a fraction of the economy.” Kudlow added that “it’s a complicated game.”
While speaking to the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Trump said that if a deal isn’t made, he’s going to place tariffs on the remaining $267 billion of yet-to-be-tariffed Chinese goods, which could very well include Apple products. Not to worry, though. “I mean, I can make it 10 percent and people could stand that very easily,” the president said. “Look, I happen to be a tariff person,” Trump added, a sentiment he made clear in September when he gleefully tweeted that if countries do not make “fair deals” with the United States, they “will be Tariffed!” It doesn’t appear, then, that Trump will hesitate to further “Tariff!” China should Xi not cow to his demands over dinner in Argentina on Saturday. Although Kudlow claims Trump “realizes the ramifications” for American consumers, the president also said last week that he believes an ID is required to purchase cereal.
The final question asked of Kudlow was about how oil prices may have factored into Trump’s decision not to hold Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman accountable for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “I’m going to let Ambassador Bolton handle that question,” Kudlow said before leaving the stage.
After quipping that he was excited to be fielding questions from the press, Bolton was quickly pressed about the administration’s response to the Khashoggi killing. When asked whether he heard the tape, he dismissed the question as irrelevant. “How many of you speak Arabic?” he said. “I guess I should ask you why you think I should [listen]? What do you think I would learn from it?”
He got an answer.
National Security Advisor John Bolton says he hasn't listened to the tape of Jamal Khashoggi's killing because it's in Arabic: "What do you think I'll learn from it?…Unless you speak Arabic, what are you going to get from it?" pic.twitter.com/SyUQEBUrUB
— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 27, 2018
“Well, you’re the national security adviser,” the reporter responded. “You might have access to that sort of intelligence.”
“How many in this room speak Arabic?”
“You don’t have access to an interpreter?”
“You want me to listen to it? What am I going to learn from it? If they were speaking Korean I wouldn’t learn anything more from it, either.”
“Well, an interpreter—”
“I can read a transcript.”
“So you don’t think it’s important to hear that as the national security adviser?”
This went on for a little while longer before Bolton ultimately managed to direct reporters to the statement released by the president last week affirming his support for Saudi Arabia despite overwhelming evidence that Prince Mohammad ordered the murder of Khashoggi. “The president has spoken to our position on this issue,” he said. “He’s spoken very clearly and that is our position.”
Bolton fielded questions for a few more minutes before leaving the stage. When Sanders retook the podium, a reporter pointed out that Bolton never addressed the question about oil prices that Kudlow said he would allow the national security adviser to field. “I think he’s already gone,” said Sanders.