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Trump, top officials play down recession risks

Amid economic indicators signaling a potential recession, White House advisers were bullish discussing the economy on the Aug. 18 Sunday shows. (Video: The Washington Post)
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President Trump and two of his senior economic advisers on Sunday played down the risk of a recession after a tumultuous week in the markets suggested that the economy is heading onto shaky ground.

In an exchange with reporters in Morristown, N.J., shortly before taking off for Washington on Sunday evening, Trump dismissed the notion that the nation is headed toward a downturn, saying, “I don’t see a recession.”

“I mean, the world is in a recession right now — although that’s too big a statement,” he added, in a remark that appeared to undercut his effort to calm fears.

Earlier Sunday, Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, and White House trade director Peter Navarro between them appeared on all five morning talk shows to defend the president’s economic record and argue that his trade offensive against China isn’t harming American producers or consumers.

Their push came days after bond market investors sent a powerful signal that they see a potential downturn looming, and economists from Wall Street and beyond further whittled growth forecasts for a record-length economic expansion that appears to be slowing.

“I don’t see a recession at all,” Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday.” On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he urged Americans, “Let’s not be afraid of optimism.”

“Consumers are working at higher wages,” Kudlow said. “They are spending at a rapid pace. They’re actually saving also while they’re spending. That’s an ideal situation. So I think actually the second half, the economy’s going to be very good in 2019.”

On ABC News’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” Navarro maintained that a recession could be staved off if the Federal Reserve stops raising interest rates and banks in Europe and China make similar moves.

“The Federal Reserve’s precipitous interest rate hikes actually cost us a full point of growth,” Navarro told host Martha Raddatz. “All we need, Martha, is to reverse that, have Europe do what they need to do, China do their fiscal stimulus, and the global economy will — will have a bullish cycle going through 2020 and beyond.”

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Navarro dismissed research indicating that American businesses and consumers are shouldering the bulk of the tariff burden Trump has imposed on Chinese imports.

“That dog won’t hunt,” Navarro said of findings by economists at Harvard University, the University of Chicago, the International Monetary Fund and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston that the tariffs are effectively tax increases on Americans. “They’re not hurting anybody here. … They’re hurting China. They’re slashing their prices.”

The White House announced Tuesday that it is delaying until December new tariffs on popular consumer goods, including cellphones, laptops and strollers, that were set to take effect next month. Trump framed the decision as a gift to American shoppers heading into the Christmas season.

But Navarro rejected the suggestion that the move amounts to an acknowledgment by the administration that the import duties are raising prices for Americans. Instead, he said it was “a goodwill gesture that the president made to the Chinese. It was a wise decision to delay the tariffs to December 15, and in the meantime half of those tariffs are actually going on September 1. The tariffs are working.”

Democratic presidential hopefuls on Sunday painted a bleaker picture of the economic outlook and blamed Trump’s trade policies.

“There’s a big debate going on right now about whether we’re on the cusp of a recession. I think we probably are,” Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., said on CNN. “But the more important thing is, even during an expansion, most Americans haven’t been able to get ahead. … And the president has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t care. When it comes to rural America, I think, to him, it’s just the scenery that he sees out the helicopter window on the way to his golf course. And when it comes to American consumers, he is completely out of touch on the impact it’s going to have on the prices we pay for our goods as the result of a trade war in which both sides will lose.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), appearing on ABC, said she worries that the pending trade agreement to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement will end up exacerbating economic woes.

“I’m concerned because I think NAFTA 2.0 is a disaster,” she said. “I think it was a giveaway to drug companies in Mexico. It’s going to harm our jobs. President Trump said no bad trade deals. Not only has he entered into them, but he’s started a trade war with China.”