'We're both outsiders': Trump casts himself and Italy's populist prime minister as kindred spirits
President Trump with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in the Oval Office on Monday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post) July 30 at 4:57 PM Email the author
President Trump on Monday praised Italyâs populist Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte for striking a hard line on immigration and used his visit to the White House to reiterate a threat to shut down the federal government over border-control funding.
Trump and Conte, who was installed last month to lead an anti-establishment coalition government, expressed camaraderie on a range of issues, billing themselves as kindred spirits in their bids to upset the status quo.
During a joint news conference, Trump said he is the âmost closely alignedâ with Conte over any of the other five leaders in the Group of Seven nations, which include U.S. allies France, Germany and Britain. The two first met at the G-7 summit in Canada last month, where Trump disrupted what had typically been a close-knit economic dialogue by abruptly yanking support for a joint statement after the conference.
âWeâre both outsiders to politics â" can you believe it?â Trump said, standing next to Conte in the East Room.
Trump said his counterpart was doing a âfantastic jobâ in his efforts to curb immigration levels, as Italy and other European nations have struggled to deal with a spike of migrants from northern Africa and the Middle East in recent years.
Trump emphasized at the news conference that he would have âno problem doing a shutdownâ if Congress fails to support border-control measures backed by the White House, including billions of dollars for his proposed wall at the U .S.-Mexico border.
âWe agreed that border security is national security â" they are one and the same,â Trump said. âLike the United States, Italy is under enormous strain as the result of illegal immigration, and they fought it hard. .â.â. Italy got tired of it; they didnât want it any longer.â
Trump, who first threatened a potential shutdown over the weekend in a tweet, said he has âno red lineâ and would leave room for negotiations over his demands.
But the president added: âI would certainly be willing to consider a shutdown if we donât get proper border security.â
Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have sought to avoid a shutdown, which could come in October, just ahead of the midterm elections in November. Republicans are worried about the potential of losing control of the House amid polling that shows Democrats holding an edge in general support among registered voters.
âItâs disgraceful â" we have laws that don ât work,â Trump said. âWeâre working around those laws. Itâs unfortunate.â
[Trump berates NATO allies and then asks them to double their defense spending goals]
Conte, a soft-spoken lawyer with no previous political experience, was a consensus choice after two populist political movements came out ahead in Italyâs March 4 election. The election planks that led to Europeâs only fully populist government sound familiar â" promises to crack down on migration, suspicion of collective decision-making and regulation in Europe, a desire for better relations with Russia, and an easing of sanctions on Moscow.
The common ground is a rare example of transatlantic cooperation at a time when Trump has strained alliances by imposing tariffs, criticizing the leaders of Germany and Britain, and railing against what he considers freeloading by NATO allies who do not meet targets for defense spending.
Ahead of Conteâs visit, Trump had cheered the Italian premierâs role as the lone supporter of Trumpâs public desire to invite Russia back into what was previously the Group of Eight leading economies. (It became the G-7 when Russia was suspended in 2014 over its annexation of Ukraineâs Crimea region.)
At their news conference, Conte appeared to endorse Trumpâs decision to meet with Russian President VladiÂmir Putin in Helsinki two weeks ago, agreeing with him that âif you want to solve a problem, you cannot choose your counterparts.â
Conteâs government has suggested it would be willing to support easing some economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the European Union. Asked about that position, he said that âit is unthinkable to lift those sanctions overnight.â
But he added that he remains âopen to dialogue with Russiaâ and that the sanctions âcannot represent an endâ to relations with that nation.
Trump has drawn intense criticism from Democrats and some Republicans for his relati onship with Putin, including failing to warn him directly in public over Russiaâs efforts to interfere in U.S. elections.
Trump jumped in after Conte finished talking at the news conference to declare that âsanctions against Russia will remain â" as is.â
On the issue of NATO defense spending, Italy is among the countries that do not meet the collective target of 2 percent of gross domestic product per member nation, something Trump has repeatedly denounced as unfair to the United States, which does meet the goal.
Conte sought to convince Trump that he understood the criticism, stating that it was a âreasonable position.â
âI will be the carrier of that message,â Conte said, âand I will try to make others understand his positions, as well.âSource: Google News Italy | Netizen 24 Italy