Trump ran through economic statistics with a salesman's delivery, crowing about growth during his three years in office that he said bested his predecessors and defied his skeptics.
“America is thriving, America is flourishing, and, yes, America is winning again like never before,” he told an audience of billionaires, world leaders, and figures from academia, media and the kind of international organizations and think tanks for which his “America First” nationalism is anathema.
But as the impeachment trial began in the Senate during Trump’s long day of activity here, the president repeatedly pivoted away from his broader economic message to lash out against his domestic political foes and the effort to remove him from office.
“READ THE TRANSCRIPTS!” Trump tweeted shortly after meeting with a group of global business leaders representing industries including energy, telecommunications and finance. Before the meeting, he decried the impeachment process in remarks to reporters — repeatedly calling it a “hoax.”
Trump is making his second visit to the World Economic Forum, which for its 50th anniversary this year is focusing on climate change and sustainability. A sign at the entrance to the news center notes that paint for this year’s installation was made from seaweed and carpets from recycled fishing nets.
Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, did not directly address the theme during his 30-minute address here, although he did call for rejecting “the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse” and went out of his way to urge Europe to “use America’s vast supply” of oil and natural gas.
“This is not a time for pessimism; this is a time for optimism. Fear and doubt is not a good thought process because this is a time for tremendous hope and joy and optimism and action,” Trump said.
In an apparent back of the hand to critics who say he is allowing massive backsliding on U.S. environmental progress, Trump said the United States has its cleanest air and water in 40 years. And in remarks outside the hall, Trump said he is “a very big believer in the environment.”
In his speech, Trump made no mention of impeachment or U.S. politics, although he took a swipe at “radical socialists,” his term for Democrats and ideas about expansion of the government’s role in health care, education and other issues.
Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the forum, thanked Trump “for injecting optimism” into the discussion.
“We have many problems in the world, but we need dreams,” he said.
Trump skipped an onstage question-and-answer session with Schwab that had been expected following his address.
Trump received a polite but not enthusiastic reception in the hall.
Even as Trump faces an impeachment trial, his trip to Davos offers him an opportunity to focus on his economic message. The U.S. economy has continued to notch solid growth and maintain a low unemployment rate, and the stock market has reached record highs in recent days. Trump signed a partial trade deal with China last week, easing global tensions over his use of tariffs.
But the president faces continued questions about his approach to foreign affairs. His decision to order a strike that killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani this month — and his threat to impose a 25 percent tariff on European cars over a foreign policy dispute — created more tumult in the Middle East and in the transatlantic relationship between the United States and its closest allies.
Trump was billed as the keynote speaker for the annual business-themed confab in this Alpine ski town, but the main attraction was Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 17, who has sparred with Trump on Twitter.
“Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour,” she told conference attendees Tuesday. “And we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else.”
In December, Trump insulted the teenager and Time magazine “Person of the Year” as “so ridiculous” and suggested that she “work on her anger management problem.”
Thunberg was quick to respond, updating her Twitter biography to describe herself as “a teenager working on her anger management problem.”
Trump had not yet arrived in Davos when Thunberg gave her first address Tuesday morning, saying that “without treating this as a real crisis, then we cannot solve it.” He did not attend her main speech later in the day, although she was in the audience for his.
Trump is an outlier at the forum for his views on climate change. The president has publicly criticized global efforts to combat rising temperatures and has made ridiculing energy-efficient products a key part of his reelection stump speeches.
Ahead of Trump’s address, Schwab told the gathering that “the world is in a state of emergency” and that the window to address climate change is closing. He also reminded the audience that “every voice” heard at the forum deserved respect.
Although climate change and environmental stewardship lead the agenda here, a survey of chief executives released Monday shows that they do not count climate change as among the top 10 threats to business growth.
Trump was accompanied here by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, and a delegation including national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien, Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Also present was adviser and speechwriter Stephen Miller, whose hard-line stance on limiting immigration and denunciations of “globalism” infused Trump’s address to the United Nations in September.
“This is the wreckage I was elected to clean up,” Trump said Tuesday of the “bleak” economic landscape he inherited.
He praised himself repeatedly, saying that his actions saved the global economy from the brink of recession, rescued the U.S. manufacturing industry and reshaped the rules of international trade to reflect a fairer system.
He occasionally strayed from the facts as he tried to paint a picture of an economy in shambles before his election.
He described the 4.7 percent unemployment rate before he took office as “reasonably high,” even though it was well below the average rate in the United States over the past 70 years. He also took credit for additional funding that has been approved for historically black colleges and universities, saying inaccurately that the funding “saved” the schools from ruin.
He took a swipe at the Federal Reserve for its interest rate policies, saying his economic achievements came despite the rate-setting body. Although his attacks on the Fed have become common, the once-taboo practice seemed to startle some in the audience here.
Some in the audience laughed and rolled their eyes at Trump’s claims he has created an “inclusive economy” that should be a global model. But many business leaders here believe Trump is likely to be reelected and are opting to praise him on topics they agree on.
“I think he glossed over some of the more controversial issues on the environment,” said Steven Collis, chief executive of AmerisourceBergen, but he called it a “surprisingly well-met” speech overall.
Marc Benioff, chief executive of Salesforce, has donated to several Democratic candidates for president, but he applauded Trump’s announcement that the United States will join the Trillion Tree Campaign to plant more trees to help reduce carbon emissions.
“I’m very excited that the United States has joined the Trillion Tree initiative,” Benioff said as he left the speech.
Trump is using his day-and-a-half-long visit to lobby corporate chieftains for greater U.S. investment and meet with leaders including Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Iraqi President Barham Salih and Kurdish leader Nechirvan Barzani.
Trump largely steered clear of discussing domestic political issues during his speech to the forum in 2018, instead using his remarks to tout his accomplishments and encourage business leaders to invest in the United States. He did take a brief swipe at “the opposing party,” pointing out that “some of the people in the room” supported Democrats over him in 2016. He also drew a smattering of boos when he attacked the news media as “fake.”
More than 100 billionaires are on the official attendee list for the World Economic Forum, and Trump plans to meet with the heads of several multinational companies while in Davos.
During a dinner with foreign business executives Tuesday, Trump had a simple message.
“Around the table tonight, we have the greatest businessmen in the world,” he said. “This is a great time to promote what you want to promote.”
Heather Long contributed to this report.