U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said the ongoing investigation into ties between Russia and President Donald Trump is a distraction from more important items on the White House agenda.
“We have to get on with it, get this over with. It's a sideshow,” Ross said on CNBC.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Wednesday named former FBI Director Robert Mueller as independent counsel amid calls by Republicans and Democrats for a special investigation of Russian meddling in the election after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey last week. Mueller oversaw the FBI during the 9/11 attacks.
“What the media forgets in the midst of this sideshow, this media frenzy, is: The president is running the country, getting ready to do an amazing trip to Saudi Arabia, to Rome, to Israel," Ross said. "This is an incredible movement on his part that's going to demonstrate once and for all that we're not retreating into isolationism.”
Trump will make his first overseas trip as president to Saudi Arabia in an attempt to repair strained relations with the U.S. under President Barack Obama. While campaigning, Trump accused the Middle Eastern kingdom of being behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The administration on Thursday was expected to send a final letter notifying Congress that it intends to open trade talks with Canada and Mexico in an attempt to renegotiate NAFTA in 90 days.
Ross said that trade deals with other regions are missing an element of fairness in response to a question about reciprocity.
“You mentioned the concept of reciprocity, and that frankly is one of the things that's missing from trade regimes. We're not in a reciprocal mode at all right now. Take autos: We only have a 2.5 percent tariff on autos. The EU has a 10 percent tariffs on autos. How do we get them to drop their 10 percent tariffs to get rid of our 2.5 percent? The status quo already is not balanced properly.”
Before officially starting talks with NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico, the Trump administration is required by law to notify Congress to begin 90 days of domestic consultations. Robert Lighthizer, who was sworn in as U.S. Trade Representative on Monday, has spent the past two days on Capitol Hill meeting lawmakers for required talks before he can give Congress the official notification.
Reworking the trade deal was a key campaign pledge by Trump, who said NAFTA was a “disaster” that inflated the trade deficit and cost millions of U.S. jobs, according to Bloomberg News. After threatening last month to withdraw from the 1994 agreement signed into law by President Bill Clinton, Trump later said he favored a re-negotiation and he’ll end U.S. involvement if talks don’t go his way.
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