CHARLOTTE — President Trump on Friday stood by disparaging remarks he made about Canada and its trade relationship with the United States, saying publication of comments he had deemed off the record was “okay because at least Canada knows how I feel.”
Trump, diverting attention from the focus of his scheduled event, Americans’ retirement security, said that Bloomberg News had “violated” an agreement not to report a portion of an interview with him in which he criticized Canada and said he did not intend to make any concessions in the final rounds of negotiations over a revised North American Free Trade Agreement.
Bloomberg did not initially report the remarks, which Trump had said were off the record. A Canadian newspaper, the Toronto Star, published the remarks early Friday, and Bloomberg did not dispute them.
The Star quoted Trump as saying he was not going to offer Canada any concessions. But the Star reported that Trump told Bloomberg he could not admit this publicly because “it’s going to be so insulting they’re not going to be able to make a deal.”
By the time of the event in Charlotte, Trump had confirmed the authenticity of the reported remarks in a tweet.
“Wow, I made OFF THE RECORD COMMENTS to Bloomberg concerning Canada, and this powerful understanding was BLATANTLY VIOLATED,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Oh well, just more dishonest reporting. I am used to it. At least Canada knows where I stand!”
In Charlotte, Trump criticized what he said was an “unbelievable” breach of conduct.
“These are very dishonorable people,” Trump said.
He did not distinguish between the Bloomberg reporters and editor who had interviewed him and the Star, which said it was not bound by any off-the-record pledge. The Star did not say how it obtained a transcript of Trump’s remarks.
“When we agree that something is off the record, we respect that,” Bloomberg said in a statement.
“In the end, I said it’s okay because at least Canada knows how I feel,” Trump said here.
Trade negotiations between the White House and Canadian leaders broke down Friday as Canadian officials expressed frustration with the administration’s demands. The White House officially notified Congress on Friday of its trade agreement with Mexico and said Canada could be added later.
Trump told the North Carolina crowd that he likes Canada, despite what he called grossly unfair tariffs: “I even love the national anthem. It’s called, very appropriately, ‘O Canada.’ Would you like for me to sing it?’”
The Charlotte event was scheduled to highlight Trump’s executive order directing the Treasury and Labor departments to consider changes to rules for retirement plans that could allow retirees to use saved funds over a longer period of time and small businesses to work together to arrange retirement plans.
Signing the order, Trump said the administration is focused on ensuring Americans can retire with “confidence, dignity and economic security.”
The event had a campaign flair, although it was not billed as political. Trump name-checked Republican lawmakers in the crowd and repeated his campaign-trail claim that Democrats support open borders and “don’t mind crime.”
Outside the conference center before Trump arrived, a group of about 20 anti-Trump demonstrators stood behind an inflated balloon rendering of the president as a giant chicken.
One protester, a former congressional candidate named Scott Huffman, 56, shouted “Lock him up” when a passing Trump supporter yelled “Trump 2020!” out the car window.
“You’re on the wrong side of history, buddy!” Huffman yelled.
The man responded with a vulgarity, gave Huffman a thumbs-down and drove off.
Kim Butler, 52, a real estate agent from suburban Mooresville, stood across the street holding a sign touting that suburban women “[heart] Trump.”
Her son, Jack, 20, was with her, wearing a matching “Keep America Great” T-shirt and hat.
Butler said she moved to North Carolina from Long Island last year because she was tired of paying high taxes and because of the presence of Latino gangs such as MS-13 on Long Island.
“I’m working hard and handing out my money,” Butler said. “I’m just here to show my support because I believe the media has done a poor job of showing that there are suburban, college-educated women out there who support Trump. The economy is doing great, he’s doing a terrific job, and I really hope he gets reelected.”
Trump revisited the Canada comments in remarks to supporters later Friday at Carmel Country Club here.
Speaking at a fundraiser for Republican candidates, Trump also addressed a federal court ruling that North Carolina Republicans had unconstitutionally gerrymandered the state’s congressional district lines.
“How unfair is that?” Trump said. “You have an election in a little less than 60 days and they change the district on you?”
A three-judge panel on Monday affirmed its earlier ruling that Republicans drew lines to effectively shut Democrats out of electoral power.
The ruling opens the possibility of redrawing districts by mid-September, in time to be used for November federal elections. Lines could also be redrawn after the election but before the next Congress takes office in January.
Gearan reported from Washington.