Peter Navarro, director of the National Trade Council, pauses during a Bloomberg Television interview outside the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Navarro Apologizes for Saying Trudeau Has a Place in Hell

(Bloomberg) -- White House trade adviser Peter Navarro apologized for suggesting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deserved a “special place in hell” for a perceived breach in protocol against U.S. President Donald Trump.

“My job was to send a signal of strength,” he said at a Wall Street Journal CFO Network conference in Washington on Tuesday. “The problem was that in conveying that message I used language that was inappropriate.”

Citing Chinese philosopher Confucius, Navarro said “if you make a mistake and don’t correct it, that’s a mistake.”

Navarro, a supporter of tariffs to help reduce the U.S. trade deficit and a longtime critic of China, turned his anger at Canada over the weekend as a Group of Seven meeting hosted by Trudeau ended in disarray and trade threats. After leaving the summit early, Trump tweeted he was pulling U.S. support from a joint statement and he accused Trudeau, the summit’s host, of being weak and dishonest during a news conference.

Navarro took the attack a step further on Sunday.

“There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door,” Navarro said on “Fox News Sunday.”

The criticism was echoed by White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, who joined Trump at the G-7 meetings. He called on Trudeau to apologize to Trump. Kudlow was hospitalized after suffering a mild heart attack when he returned to Washington. He’s expected to make a full recovery.

Navarro’s willingness to walk back his outburst marked a departure from the Trump administration’s never-say-you’re-sorry approach to political crises. Trump often hurls personal insults, without apology, from calling some Mexican undocumented immigrants “rapists” and criminals to mocking a reporter with a disability on the campaign trail. Trump denied he made fun of the journalist.

Navarro’s apology could ease tensions after Canada’s parliament condemned the personal attack on Trudeau and as Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland gets ready to meet with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday in Washington.

Bob Corker, the committee’s Republican chairman, said on Tuesday that he’s “glad” that Navarro admitted that he misspoke. “The comment was a bit over the top,” said Corker.

Insulting Tariffs

At his closing G-7 press conference on Saturday, Trudeau called U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs “insulting” and pledged to proceed with previously announced retaliatory tariffs. Canadians are “polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around,” Trudeau said.

G-7 leaders jumped to the defense of Trudeau and reiterated their support for their joint statement. European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: “There is a special place in heaven" for Trudeau.

Trudeau has declined to directly respond to Trump’s criticism of him.

“I think we have to stay cool. I think we have to continue to defend Canadian interests,” Canadian Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr told reporters Tuesday in Ottawa.

Trump said on Tuesday in Singapore, after he met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, that Trudeau has “learned” from the experience.

“He learned,” Trump said. “That’s going to cost a lot of money for the people of Canada.”

Speaking at the same forum as Navarro on Tuesday, White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Kevin Hassett said the U.S. and Canada need to “take a deep breath.”

“There’s been a lot of emotional action on all sides. And I think what people need to do at this moment is take a step back,” Hassett said. “Politicians can get into disagreements and they can have heated disputes, but you have to think about where does this go, how bad could it get and the disputes are over a really, really small share of GDP.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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