Democracy Dies in Darkness

WorldViews | Analysis

U.S. presidents have always spoken at the end of the G-20 summit. Trump didn't.

By Amanda Erickson

July 8, 2017 at 5:32 PM

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center left, President Trump and other U.S. and Russian officials in Hamburg. (Michael Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool)

As the Group of 20 summit wrapped up Saturday in Hamburg, some attendees stepped up to address the news media.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stood beside French President Emmanuel Macron, answering questions. Russian President Vladimir Putin used his time to suggest that President Trump "agreed" that Russia had not meddled in the 2016 U.S. election. Leaders from Turkey, Great Britain, Canada and Spain also stepped up to the microphone.

Conspicuously absent: Trump. He offered no formal remarks at the program's end and took no questions from the media.

The White House did not respond to an email asking for comment on Trump's absence.

Since 2008, 11 other G-20 summits have been held, and those who were president at those times had spoken to reporters at the close of each, according to our review of White House archives.

In St. Petersburg, President Barack Obama discussed a way forward on Syria. In Antalya, Turkey, he spoke about the terrorist attacks in Paris and international efforts to curb extremism. At his last G-20 summit, Obama made a case for the U.S. bank bailouts, saying "we came to Seoul to continue the work that has taken us from London to Pittsburgh to Toronto. We worked together to pull the global economy back from catastrophe. To avoid the old cycles of boom and bust that led to that crisis, we committed ourselves to growth that is balanced and sustained, including financial reform and fiscal responsibility. The actions we took were not always easy or popular. But they were necessary."

President George W. Bush also spoke at the end of the inaugural G-20 meeting in Washington. In his comments, he defended the government bailout of foundering banks.

Not every leader attending the G-20 summit addresses the media, but many do. As Heribert Dieter, a senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, explained, leaders often use this time to defend key decisions and offer up their narrative of what happened. "Leaders seem to have a strong interest to tell their story," he wrote in an email. "Of course, they are doing that for domestic consumption," he added, not for an international audience.

Dieter suggested that Trump's decision not to hold a presser fits in with a broader theme of the G-20: Trump's intentional, defiant isolation from the rest of the world. "Trump seems to think that his voters are not interested in international conferences anyway," Dieter writes. Indeed, at the normally staid G-20, Trump clashed with world leaders on issues such as climate change and trade.

"The discussions are very difficult. I don't want to talk around that," Merkel said. She also rejected Trump's skepticism about the value of sweeping free-trade agreements and suggested that we need trade that is free and fair. European leaders have warned of a "trade war" if the Trump administration moves to change rules about importing steel.


Amanda Erickson writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Previously, she worked as an editor for Outlook and PostEverything.

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