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WEF 2020: Donald Trump to join world leaders in Davos as impeachment trial heats up

Trump's two-day visit to Switzerland will test his ability to balance his anger over being impeached with a desire to project leadership on the world stage

twitter-logo Reuters        Last Updated: January 21, 2020  | 09:55 IST
WEF 2020: Donald Trump to join world leaders in Davos as impeachment trial heats up
Trump heads to Switzerland as just the third American president, after Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, to face a Senate impeachment trial

When President Donald Trump's historic impeachment trial is called to order in the Senate this week, he won't be watching from inside the chamber or on television from the White House. He'll be thousands of miles away at the Davos economic forum in the Swiss Alps, trying to charm global CEOs over dinner.

Trump's participation in the annual World Economic Forum will provide a conspicuous split-screen moment in a presidency familiar with them. His two-day visit to Switzerland will test his ability to balance his anger over being impeached with a desire to project leadership on the world stage.

Administration officials say Trump remains focused on serving the public.

"The president's work doesn't stop just because of the impeachment sham," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in an email.

Trump, who departs Washington on Monday night, said he's going to Davos to encourage businesses to invest in the US.

"We're now where the action is," he said at a farmers' convention Sunday in Texas.

Swooping in for what will be his second appearance at the annual Swiss economic forum, Trump was scheduled to arrive at the ski resort early Tuesday and jet back on Wednesday to a Washington that will be consumed by the impeachment trial.

Trump will give a speech at the forum and meet with world leaders and business executives.

The Democratic-controlled House impeached the Republican president last month for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress after it was revealed that he had pressed Ukraine's president to announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic political rival.

Trump withheld foreign aid that Congress had approved for the Eastern European nation and dangled the prospect of an Oval Office meeting as leverage.

Trump denies any wrongdoing and argues that Democrats want to remove him from office because they know they can't deny him reelection in November. Trump would be forced to leave office if convicted, but the Republican-controlled Senate is expected to acquit him.

Trump said he would attend the Davos forum despite the awkward timing because he wants to encourage businesses to come back to the US.

"Our country is the hottest country anywhere in the world," he said at the White House last week. "There's nothing even close. I'll be meeting the biggest business leaders in the world, getting them to come here."

The White House has not named any of the business leaders Trump is set to meet with. But he will hold talks with the leaders of Iraq, Pakistan, Switzerland and Iraq's self-governing Kurdish region, as well as the forum's founder, the White House said Monday.

Trump also will have his first meeting with the new European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, the first woman to hold the position.

That meeting could be the most significant, said analyst Matt Goodman, given Trump's many disagreements with Europe over tax and trade policy, like a new digital levy by the French that will force American tech giants such as Amazon and Google to pay up.

"She's new and she's formidable," said Goodman, who studies international economic policy as a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

He predicted a difficult year ahead for US-EU relations.

"It could either go very well or very badly," Goodman said. Trump has smarted over the French tax, and his administration has announced plans to impose retaliatory tariffs of up to 100 per cent on cheese, wine, lipstick and other French imports. France has threatened to fight back.

But after speaking to Trump on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that they had a "great discussion" about the digital tax and "will work together on a good agreement to avoid tariff escalation."

The US has also threatened to impose retaliatory duties on USD 7.5 billion worth of European airplanes, cheese, wine and other goods in a separate dispute over subsidies for Airbus, a competitor to Chicago-based Boeing Co.

Trump also has sought to wring trade concessions from the EU by threatening tariffs on German autos, including BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Trump heads to Switzerland as just the third American president, after Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, to face a Senate impeachment trial. Johnson and Clinton were both acquitted by the Senate.

There is precedent for international travel by an impeached U.S. leader.

During his impeachment over an affair with a White House intern, Clinton visited Japan, South Korea, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He traveled to Jordan for King Hussein's funeral in February 1999, just a few days before he was acquitted by the Senate.

Two days after acquittal, Clinton went to Mexico on a state visit.

Trump is planning to make his first visit to India at the end of February, probably after the conclusion of his impeachment trial. He also has talked about traveling soon to Beijing, although he has given no dates, to open a new round of trade talks with China.

Also read: Sunder Pichai backs temporary ban on facial-recognition, Microsoft disagrees

Also read: WEF 2020: Malaysia opens to Davos talk with India amid spat over palm oil import

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