Trump to Mingle With Elites in Davos as Impeachment Trial Opens

Josh Wingrove

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Donald Trump is heading back to Davos, poised to hail his economic record as vindication of an “America First” agenda to the world’s elite while lawmakers back home weigh his impeachment.

Barring a last-minute change of plans, Trump is scheduled to deliver opening remarks at the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, his second visit to the annual gathering of business chieftains, central bankers and foreign leaders. The president, who has increasingly embraced the elites he chided in his rise to power as a populist, will celebrate his trade deal with China while warning against socialism -- likely a welcome message at the world’s foremost capitalist confab.

But the backdrop of this year’s speech will be the U.S. Senate’s trial on two articles of impeachment, set to open Tuesday as Trump meets with other leaders in Davos. The Republican-led chamber will almost certainly acquit the president, but the trial may produce surprises and will thrust impeachment into Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.

Trump has sought to highlight his trade and economic victories in a bid to drown out impeachment, and Davos will give him another stage to do that, if only briefly. The visit is not without risk -- he skipped it in 2017 out of concern that the well-heeled Davos crowd was the wrong fit for a man elected on a nationalist, anti-elites message. Trump has tried to bridge the discord by saying he’s soliciting investment.

“We have tremendous world leaders and we also have great business leaders and we want those business leaders all to come to the United States,” he said Thursday at the White House. He said he’d meet with business executives and other government leaders in the Swiss ski resort.

“We have tremendous, powerful room for growth,” he said.

Trump’s signing of a China trade deal last week presaged his Davos playbook, as he hobnobbed in the East Room of the White House with prominent executives, billionaires and campaign donors. At one point, he asked a JPMorgan Chase & Co. executive to thank him for their robust earnings. Cheering on the success of mega-firms, along with a signature tax-cut law that handed a $32 billion windfall to big banks, hasn’t stopped Trump from casting himself as a champion of the everyman. His political base remains as loyal as ever.

The White House has signaled Trump’s Davos speech will echo his emerging re-election narrative -- celebrating recent trade deals, the strength of the stock market and Trump’s push for increased defense spending by NATO allies. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also hinted he’ll draw a contrast with the field of Democrats vying to challenge him this year.

“He’s got a lot to talk about it, to really take on the perils of socialism right there in Davos,” Conway said Thursday. “A lot of the world’s economy can exhale now that China and the U.S. have completed phase one of the trade deal.”

The U.S. has not said which leaders and executives Trump will meet on the sideline of the forum. Other “world-class speakers” the WEF promoted in advance of the conference included teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, whom Trump has insulted on Twitter. She’ll attend a pair of panels the day the president is set to speak.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- whom Trump has complained does too little in Ukraine and Iraq is too soft on Iran’s regime -- will be the highest-profile world leader in attendance other than the president. Trump will return to Washington on Wednesday, an official familiar with the plans, leaving the rest of the forum to a U.S. delegation led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who is at the center of the scandal that led to Trump’s impeachment, is scheduled to attend, but may cancel as he continues to grapple with fallout after Iran shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet. It’s unknown if the two will meet.

Trump’s first Davos appearance in 2018 oscillated between a vintage, raucous version of Trump in meetings with national leaders and business executives and more subdued remarks in his formal speech. He touted his agenda but added: “America First does not mean America alone.” Trump pulled out of last year’s forum, citing a government shutdown.

--With assistance from Mario Parker.

To contact the reporter on this story: Josh Wingrove in Washington at jwingrove4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, Justin Blum

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