These Are the Highlights of Trump’s First Day at the G-20

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s lighthearted request that Vladimir Putin refrain from meddling in the 2020 election was the highlight of his first full day at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

The U.S. president held a series of meetings with foreign leaders, including Japan’s Shinzo Abe, India’s Narendra Modi and Germany’s Angela Merkel, where he primarily discussed his various trade disputes. But as has become typical for Trump, his unofficial activities drew the most attention.

In their first meeting since Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report documented an alleged Kremlin campaign to interfere in the 2016 election, Trump was asked by a reporter whether he’d tell Putin not to meddle in the 2020 vote.

“Of course I will,” Trump answered. Turning to Putin, he said: “Don’t meddle in the election, president.” Pointing his finger, he repeated himself: “Don’t meddle in the election.”

Putin smiled at first, and turned to his translator. After she told him what Trump had said, he laughed. Trump looked at Putin, shook his head and smiled.

Here’s how Trump spent the rest of his day:

Sidestepping Tensions

Trump repeatedly sidestepped tensions with his foreign counterparts.

He and Abe, for example, made no mention of the president’s criticism, earlier in the week, of the more than 60-year-old defense treaty between the U.S. and Japan.

On his way to the G-20, Trump demanded in a tweet that India reverse “unacceptable” increases in tariffs on U.S. goods. But in their meeting, Trump praised Modi for his re-election and predicted a “very big” trade deal.

Merkel has subtly criticized Trump’s policies, and her country is a frequent target of Trump’s complaints about other countries’ trade practices and defense spending. But Trump called the German chancellor a “fantastic woman” and a “friend” in their meeting.

Early Morning Tweets

Well before dawn, local time, Trump issued a news-making tweet on the Supreme Court’s decision to temporarily block his government from adding a question about citizenship to the decennial Census. Trump said he’d asked government lawyers “if they can delay the Census, no matter how long” in response to the ruling.

In a tweet a few hours later, Trump cheered the House’s passage of a Senate bill providing $4.5 billion in emergency border funding.

Abe’s Map

Abe was Trump’s first meeting of the day. The Japanese prime minister, who has mastered the art of currying favor with the mercurial U.S. president, gave Trump a red, white and blue map labeled “Japanese Investment Update” that showed recent projects in the U.S. by Japanese automakers and other companies. Trump directed aides to show the document to reporters.

Eye on Debates

By mid-morning in Osaka, the second night of the Democratic presidential debates were under way in Miami. In between meetings with Modi and Merkel, Trump couldn’t resist a tweet.

Trump told reporters that he’d passed a television set on his way to the meeting with Merkel.

Photo Drama

The U.S. president walked into the G-20’s traditional “family photo” chatting with Putin, their first encounter since Mueller completed his probe. For the photo, Trump was positioned between Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, two leaders with deeply tarnished reputations in Washington.

Trump patted Prince Mohammed on the back and the two men shared a warm handshake, chatting as photographers shot pictures. Trump exchanged a brief greeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he’ll meet on Saturday in an effort to re-start trade talks.

‘Socialist Party’

Trump returned to domestic politics in a meeting with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. The U.S. president told reporters he “wasn’t impressed” with what he’d seen in two nights of debates by the Democrats seeking to replace him.

“I heard a rumor that the Democrats are going to change their name
from the Democratic Party to the Socialist Party,” Trump said, once again violating an old Washington tradition that American presidents don’t talk domestic politics on foreign soil.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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