DAVOS, Switzerland — When asked Tuesday what he would say to President Trump if he were seated across from him, former U.S. secretary of state John F. Kerry hemmed and hawed a bit.
The audience of mostly elite business, academic and government leaders from around the world initially laughed at Kerry’s comment, and then many clapped and cheered.
Trump was supposed to attend the World Economic Forum to deliver an address Tuesday, but he pulled out because of the partial government shutdown that is now the longest in U.S. history. Davos is widely viewed as an annual retreat for champions of globalization. Trump’s “America First” message is viewed as at odds with calls in Davos for a more integrated world.
“He doesn’t take any of this seriously,” Kerry said on the panel, adding that he doesn’t think Trump has the “ability” to have deep conversations.
The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment, but Trump had bashed the media for not understanding him and his approach to Davos.
“Last time I went to Davos, the Fake News said I should not go there. This year, because of the Shutdown, I decided not to go, and the Fake News said I should be there. The fact is that the people understand the media better than the media understands them!” Trump tweeted Tuesday shortly before Kerry’s call to resign.
A year ago, Trump received a warm welcome from the global elites at the World Economic Forum after legislation slashed business taxes and he scaled back regulations, moves that were heralded as pro-growth by many executives. But this year, the vast majority of executives are frustrated by Trump’s tariffs, which they see as a major threat to the global economy. They are calling on Trump to end the trade war with China as a world economic slowdown appears to be getting worse.
More than a dozen members of Trump’s Cabinet were supposed to be in Davos this year to meet with other world leaders and clarify his administration’s views on trade and foreign policy, but all of them stayed home because of the partial government shutdown that has left 800,000 workers without pay.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared briefly via teleconference to address the crowd at Davos. Pompeo noted that it’s colder in Washington than in Switzerland and stressed that the Trump administration is not backing down from pushing for 21st century trade deals and security measures.
“Sometimes leadership and asking hard questions drives others to be a little concerned,” Pompeo said. “Perhaps they’re not quite ready to stare these problems in the face, but we are; President Trump is.”
Pompeo argued that voters around the world want change, and this is how progress is made.
“Disruption is a positive development,” he said.
Kerry made his comment on a CNBC panel on the future of the oceans. Kerry and former vice president Al Gore are spending this week urging business and government leaders to address climate change.
In addition to calling for Trump’s resignation, Kerry said the president’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord would cost lives.
"People will die because of the president’s decision,” Kerry said.