President Donald Trump has directed his top trade and economic advisers to take a fresh look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement he withdrew from in his first week in office, Republican senators said Thursday.
"He said he's going to deputize (National Economic Council Chairman) Larry Kudlow and (US Trade Representative) Robert Lighthizer to look at re-entering the TPP negotiations," Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said Thursday after meeting with Trump at the White House.
"Clearly, it's a deliberative process and the President is a guy who likes to ... entertain a lot of different ideas," said Sasse, who has been critical of the administration's withdrawal from the trade deal and other protectionist moves. "But he multiple times reaffirmed the point that TPP might be easier for us to join now once the TPP-11 is aligned and we might be the 12th party to those negotiations, as opposed to the long process that it took to get to TPP."
Sasse said Trump looked directly at Kudlow during the meeting and told him to "get it done."
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters confirmed the senators' accounts of Trump's comments.
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"Last year, the President kept his promise to end the TPP deal negotiated by the Obama administration because it was unfair to American workers and farmers. The President has consistently said he would be open to a substantially better deal, including in his speech in Davos earlier this year. To that end, he has asked Amb. Lighthizer and Director Kudlow to take another look at whether or not a better deal could be negotiated," Walters said in a statement.
Trump's pick to be the next secretary of state, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, was asked about the President's comments during Pompeo's confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill.
"That news was news to me," he said.
The move could mark the beginning of a stunning shift for Trump, who railed against the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the campaign and made withdrawal from the pact a priority during his first week in office. He did so over the objections of Republicans who disapproved of his protectionist approach to trade.
Beyond his opposition to the trade deal, Trump has continued to support a move toward bilateral trade agreements rather than multilateral deals involving groups of countries.
But in recent months -- even as he has erected tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and against China -- the President has also begun to signal a willingness to reassess his stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In January, he said he would be open to reconsidering the deal if the US could strike a "substantially better" agreement.
Other countries in the pact, including Australia and Japan, have moved forward on the trade agreement, recently signing the TPP-11, which didn't include the United States.
Trump is also reconsidering his stance on the behemoth trans-Pacific trade deal as he inches closer to a trade war with China. Critics of the President's decision to pull the US from the deal have argued that the US would have more leverage in a trade dispute with China if the US had remained in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.