WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Donald Trump denied Tuesday that his White House was struggling to recruit talented staff, insisting a wealth of potential hires “want a piece of the West Wing.”
During a news conference with his Swedish counterpart, Trump also promised his proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum will be applied in a “very loving way,” declared the North Koreans were “sincere” in their renewed push for talks and insisted the US would rebut Russian efforts to interfere in the 2018 congressional contests.
His comments come amid a chaotic stretch for his administration. Dozens of aides have seen their top secret security clearances stripped and advisers are at odds over the decision to impose new tariffs on steel and aluminum. Meanwhile, morale has plummeted as special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation appears to be heating up.
Trump on Tuesday dismissed the notion his team was unraveling, saying he likes conflicts among his aides and that he has his pick of top talent for West Wing jobs.
“I like conflict. I like having two people with two points of view,” Trump said alongside Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. “I like watching it, I like seeing it.”
Trump said “there will be people — I’m not going to be specific — that change,” but that he wouldn’t have any trouble replacing staffers. He declined to offer support for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who he has openly lambasted for his decision to recuse himself on Russia-related matters.
“Believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House,” Trump said. “They all want a piece of the Oval Office, they want a piece of the West Wing.”
Despite disagreements among his advisers over the wisdom of slapping new tariffs on steel, Trump declared the move necessary to protect important American industries and to balance global trade deficits.
“The United States has been taken advantage of by other countries, both friendly and not so friendly,” Trump said, singling out the European Union in particular, saying barriers on trade made it difficult for US goods to enter the bloc.
Löfven was the first European leader to visit the White House since Trump announced he would apply stiff new tariffs on steel and aluminum last week. The European Union has vowed to take reciprocal action, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker discussed the matter with Löfven before he arrived in Washington, according to Swedish news agencies.
Trump said over the weekend that attempts by the EU to take reciprocal steps would prompt him to apply new tariffs on automobile imports. The remark alarmed European automakers, including Sweden’s Volvo.
Final details of the tariff plan aren’t yet known, and foreign allies have been lobbying Trump over the phone to narrow the scope of his trade decision. Trump will meet with Swedish business representatives midday Tuesday before his news conference.
Trump downplayed the risks of a trade war on Tuesday, and said his proposals wouldn’t be draconian.
“We will straighten it out. We’ll do it in a very loving way. It will be a loving, loving way. They’ll like us better and they’ll respect us much more,” he said.
As has become his practice, Trump called on reporters from right-leaning outlets — Fox News and the Daily Caller — for his two questions. It fell to a Swedish journalist to ask about Russian election meddling, which has caused concern among European governments.
“The Russians had no impact on our vote. Certainly there was meddling. Probably there was meddling from other countries,” Trump said. Asked whether he was concerned Russia could have an effect on the midterms, Trump insisted the US would prevent any election interference efforts.
“No, because we’ll counteract whatever they do,” Trump said, going on to encourage states to include an analog backup to avoid attempts to hack electronic systems.
“You have to be very vigilant. One of the things we’re learning, it’s always good to have a paper back-up system of voting. Called paper. Not highly complex computers. Paper,” he said.
The news conference also provided Trump an opportunity to weigh in on upcoming talks between North Korea and South Korea, which were announced Tuesday. Trump has said talks between the US and North Korea must only begin after Pyongyang agrees to denuclearization, but on Tuesday said he believes North Korea is being sincere in its attempts to broker peace with the South.
“I really believe they are sincere. I hope they are sincere. We’ll find out,” Trump said.
He attributed the recent momentum toward talks to strict new sanctions applied by the United States.
“I think they’re sincere also because the sanctions and what we’re doing with respect to North Korea, including the great help that we’ve been given from China. They can do more but I think they’ve done more than they’ve ever done for our country before,” Trump said.
Unlike the United States, Sweden has a diplomatic relationship with North Korea. Löfven said he was open to helping end the nuclear crisis.
“If the President decides, and the key actors decide they want us to help out, we’ll be there,” he said.
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