President Donald Trump and his staff reversed or walked back at least six campaign positions on Wednesday.
Ranging from monetary to budget to defense policy, the reversals culminated at an afternoon press conference with North Atlantic Treaty Organization secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, where Trump said he no longer believes that the landmark defense pact is “obsolete.”
NATO has retooled itself to place greater emphasis on terrorism, the president explained. “I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete,” he said
“I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism,” Trump claimed as White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon and senior adviser Stephen Miller, stalwarts of Trump’s brand of America First populism, looked on from the audience.
The president appeared to be referring to NATO’s creation last summer of a new intelligence-sharing office, which experts at the time described as not a particularly significant shift and NATO officials insisted was wholly unrelated to Trump’s campaign rhetoric.
NATO placed significant emphasis on terrorism prior to last summer, most notably in its response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, the only time in the alliance’s history that its Article 5 mutual defense provision has been invoked.
NATO troops subsequently served in Afghanistan for more than a decade.
Trump ignored that record during the campaign as he railed on NATO’s supposed obsolescence. But late in the race, he appeared to walk back that position, citing the creation last summer of its Joint Intelligence and Security Division.
“I’m all for NATO,” he insisted in September.
Still, Trump’s remarks on Wednesday, in which he heaped praise on NATO even as he called for member nations to step up their defense budgets, marked a departure from his often dismissive attitude towards the alliance on the campaign trail.
That reversal came just after the Wall Street Journal published an interview in which the president completely reversed his position on Chinese currency manipulation.
Trump vowed declared the campaign that he would officially declare China a currency manipulator on “day one” of his presidency. On Wednesday, he told the WSJ simply, “they’re not currency manipulators.”
He also reserved some praise for Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, whom he criticized during the campaign for creating a “false market” by keeping interest rates low “because she’s obviously political and doing what Obama wants her to do.” Yellen, he said at the time, “should be ashamed of herself.”
He changed his tune on Wednesday. “I like her, I respect her,” Trump said of Yellen when asked whether he would renominate her next year. As for the Fed’s interest rate policies, he told the Journal, “I do like a low-interest rate policy, I must be honest with you.”
Still in the same interview, he completely reversed his position on the U.S. Export-Import Bank, a federal agency criticized by many free market conservatives and that Trump had ripped early in his presidential campaign.
“It turns out that, first of all, lots of small companies are really helped, the vendor companies,” Trump said on Wednesday. “But also, maybe more important, other countries give [assistance]. When other countries give it we lose a tremendous amount of business.”
The Ex-Im comments came shortly after White House Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney, who’d been a fierce critic of the institution while he served in Congress, told CNBC it would “continue to exist,” but that the administration would ensure it “sticks to its knitting and doesn’t experience some of the mission creep that many of our critics have seen.”
In a separate interview Wednesday, Mulvaney announced an end to the administration’s federal hiring freeze designed, the White House said when it was unveiled last month, “to stop the further expansion of an already bloated government.”
The freeze was a key campaign promise, featured prominently in a series of policy proposals that Trump dubbed his “Contract with the American Voter” and in which he also promised to reform the tax code, repeal Obamacare, and spend $1 trillion on infrastructure projects in his first 100 days in office.
Wednesday was day number 83.