WASHINGTON — It’s not President Donald Trump who is shifting positions; it’s everyone else who is “evolving,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday.
Trump this week said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is “no longer obsolete” and the Chinese are “not currency manipulators” — two of several recent policy shifts from his campaign themes.
Spicer said it’s the president who has inspired the change.
“If you look at what’s happened, it’s those entities or individuals . . . evolving towards the president’s position,” he said. “On NATO in particular, he talked about the need of countries to pay their fair share. . . . He talked about the need for NATO to focus more on terrorism. NATO has done just that.”
At the daily press briefing, Spicer punted on a question about why Trump spoke amicably about China in a Wall Street Journal interview Wednesday, after vowing on the campaign trail that he would immediately label the country a currency manipulator.
“That’s a very, very complex issue and . . . I’m going to leave it to the president to specifically answer that,” Spicer said.
The press secretary offered a similar response when asked about the U.S. Export-Import Bank that Trump, as a candidate, called “unnecessary.” The president told the Journal he now believes the federal agency to be a “very good thing.”
“It’s a very complex issue, and I would like to get back to you,” Spicer told the reporter who asked the question.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who met with Trump on Wednesday, told CNN on Thursday that the alliance has always been relevant, but he declined to criticize the president.
“He has helped by having such a strong focus on the importance of burden sharing and defense spending,” Stoltenberg said. “At the same time, this has been something many NATO leaders have been advocating in favor of.”
Meena Bose, director of Hofstra University’s Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency, said Trump’s apparent flip-flops may be part of governing with no previous political experience.
“The policy agenda seems to be very much in flux,” she said, calling Trump’s “a presidency that’s very much still developing.”
Also Thursday, in an event that was closed to the media, the president signed legislation that allows states to deny federal funding to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.
The action nullifies a rule finalized in former President Barack Obama’s last days in office to prevent the defunding of family-planning services solely because a facility performs abortions.
Vice President Mike Pence, as president of the Senate, cast the tiebreaking vote last month in favor of the rollback.
The Planned Parenthood Action Fund tweeted Thursday: “Congress & Trump admin removed #TitleX rule without debate, without a majority & signed [it] behind closed doors.”
Trump left Washington on Thursday afternoon for a long weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.