President Donald Trump, in his first trip back to New York City as commander in chief, held diplomatic talks with the prime minister of Australia on Thursday, while steering clear of the protesters who rallied against his return.
Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull met aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on Thursday evening, before headlining a gala to commemorate a key World War II battle fought by U.S. and Australian allied forces.
“We’ve been allies for 99 years. Can you imagine that? Ninety-nine years, and never a bad time,” Trump told reporters as he appeared side-by-side with Turnbull.
It was the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since a reportedly heated phone exchange in January, where Trump criticized a refugee resettlement agreement reached between the United States and Australia under the Obama administration.
Trump downplayed reports of the call, telling reporters Thursday that he and Turnbull “get along great. We have a fantastic relationship, I love Australia, I always have.”
“We had a great telephone call . . . We’re not babies,” Trump said, adding that media coverage of the call “a big exaggeration.”
Turnball replied jokingly that they were both “young at heart.”
Speaking at a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea, Trump told the audience of nearly 700 people gathered aboard the decommissioned U.S. naval carrier that “Americans have had no better friends than the Australians.”
“The armed forces are fighting side by side to defeat ISIS and the scourge of terrorism, and we will eradicate terrorism,” Trump said of U.S. and Australian forces.
Turnbull said the two countries would continue to “condemn and resist the reckless provocations of North Korea . . . today Australians and Americans stand shoulder to should defending our freedoms.”
Trump was introduced at the black-tie affair by media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, actor John Travolta and country singer Kellie Pickler, were among the attendees at the charity gala hosted by the American Australian Association.
As the Queens-born President hailed the longstanding friendship between the United States and Australia, hundreds of local protesters outside banged on pots and pans in the hopes of drowning out Trump.
Most of the protesters along Manhattan’s West Side had waited hours for the president’s arrival, after he delayed his departure from Washington, D.C. by three hours to hold a victory rally on the White House lawn with GOP House members who voted in favor of a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Trump thanked Turnbull for waiting, describing the vote as a “big day.” He later told reporters he believed Senate Republicans, who currently hold a 52-seat majority, would rally behind the health care replacement plan.
“It could change a little bit,” Trump said if the Senate might amend the plan. “It could be maybe even better. It’s a very good bill right now.”
Trump arrived at Kennedy Airport shortly after 6 p.m. Decked out in a tuxedo, he disembarked Air Force One joined by daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner and his White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.
The president was initially slated to arrive at 3p.m. and was scheduled to meet with Turnbull at the Peninsula Hotel in midtown Manhattan just a block south of Trump Tower, where protesters had gathered behind police barricades anticipating his arrival.
Trump’s long awaited homecoming was a brief affair — 107 days after leaving the city where so many skyscrapers bear his name, the homegrown president was only expected to remain in the city for a matter of hours, before departing to his estate at the Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, New Jersey, for the weekend.