Saturday 22 July 2017

Trump's tweets force U-turn on ethics watchdog

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

David Lawler in Washington

Donald Trump yesterday derailed an attempt by his party to weaken an independent ethics watchdog on the first day of the new term of Congress, prompting a last-minute reversal from Republicans.

Republicans voted behind closed doors on Monday to strip the Office of Congressional Ethics of its independence and much of its authority, despite the objections of Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House, and protestations from senior Democrats.

The change was due to be passed yesterday after the swearing-in of the new Republican Congress as part of a broader rules package. But just hours earlier, Mr Trump took to Twitter, without warning, to share his disapproval.

"With all that Congress has to work out, do they really have to make the weakening of the independent ethics watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority?" he wrote. "Focus on tax reform, health care and so many other things of far greater importance."

Less than two hours later, Republicans huddled in an emergency conference to determine how to proceed. They eventually decided to leave the ethics board intact.

Mr Trump rallied supporters during his campaign with a pledge to "drain the swamp" in Washington and came under pressure after the initial vote on the watchdog, which could have shielded Congress from investigation.

It had initially appeared that he would accept the move and Kellyanne Conway, his senior adviser, even attempted to defend it yesterday morning, noting that many members felt the office was overzealous and unfair and that "there are many ways for constituents to make their voices heard".

The unexpected intervention seemed to strengthen Mr Trump's hand by showing his influence in Congress, while embarrassing his own party, to the delight of Democrats.

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Some Republicans said angry calls from constituents, rather than pressure from leadership or Mr Trump, caused them to change their minds about the ethics overhaul. Republicans had planned to focus on efforts to roll back President Barack Obama's signature health reforms during the opening day of the 115th Congress.

It is a high-risk process, as some 20 million Americans now have health coverage under the law, certain aspects of which have proved highly popular.

Mrs Conway said no one would lose coverage under Mr Trump's plan, which she admitted has yet to be fully formulated.

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Company is cancelling plans to build a $1.6bn (€1.5bn) factory in Mexico, and will invest at least some of the savings in new electric and autonomous vehicles to be built in the US.

The San Luis Potosi, Mexico, plant, which was announced last spring, was the subject of months of contention between the company and Mr Trump.

Ford had planned to move production of its Ford Focus small car to the plant from Michigan. Ford CEO Mark Fields said the company decided in recent weeks not to build the plant because of declining demand for small cars in the US.

It will still move production of the Focus to Mexico, but that will go to an existing plant in Hermosillo. The Michigan plant that currently makes the Focus will get new products next year.

Fields said Ford would invest $700m in the Flat Rock plant to make hybrid, electric and autonomous vehicles.

It will also hire around 700 workers. In announcing the Michigan expansion, Fields noted Mr Trump's promise to make the US more competitive by lowering taxes and easing regulations.

Mr Trump also launched a social media attack on General Motors, threatening to slap a tax on the US car giant for importing compact cars from Mexico. In a tweet, Mr Trump said the owner of Chevrolet, Cadillac and Vauxhall would have to stomach a "big border tax" if it failed to make cars in the United States.

GM makes the vast majority of compact Chevrolet Cruzes at a factory in Lordstown, Ohio, but imports hatchback versions of the Cruze from a plant in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.

Mr Trump said on his route to office that he would impose punitive tariffs of 45pc on goods from China and 35pc on goods from Mexico as part of a package of economic measures designed to boost US manufacturing industries. Writing on Twitter, Mr Trump said: "General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to US car dealers - tax free across border. Make in USA or pay big border tax!"(© Daily Telegraph London)

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