Putting into action his campaign’s tough talk on trade, President Trump signed an executive order Monday that formally withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal.
Mr. Trump could end the U.S. participation with 11 other Pacific Rim nations with the stroke of a pen because Congress had not ratified the ambitious accord despite strong support from business groups and President Obama. Nevertheless, the withdrawal put Capitol Hill and foreign governments on notice that the president would demand better deals on a one-on-one basis.
After signing the document, Mr. Trump declared that it was a “great thing for the American worker.”
The president’s populist stance on trade shook up alliances in Washington. Mr. Trump got a round of applause from union leaders during a meeting at the White House, but prominent Republican lawmakers vowed to defend their party’s traditional support for open markets and free trade.
“We’re going to stop the ridiculous trade deals that have taken everybody out of our country and taken companies out of our country, and it’s going to be reversed,” Mr. Trump told the labor leaders, including some representing ironworkers and sheet metal workers. “Companies that left are going to come back to our country, and they’re going to hire a lot of people.”
His focus was on the economy and jobs for his first full day in the Oval Office. He began with a breakfast meeting with prominent business leaders, outlining a plan for massive reductions in taxes and federal regulations to spur economic growth.
Mr. Trump also took action on thorny social issues and the federal workforce.
He signed executive orders freezing nonmilitary federal hiring and reinstating the Mexico City Policy that effectively limits federal funding for abortions abroad.
The abortion rule has routinely been adopted by Republican administrations and canceled by Democratic administrations since President Reagan enacted it in 1984. By carrying on the tradition, Mr. Trump gave a nod to his evangelical and pro-life supporters in the run-up to the March for Life rally Friday in Washington.
It also added fuel to the fiery opposition from liberal and pro-choice groups, hoping to build on the momentum from large anti-Trump rallies led by women’s groups in Washington and other cities over the weekend.
In an email to supporters, the liberal Center for American Progress proclaimed that Mr. Trump was “already threatening women worldwide.”
The three executive orders signed Monday and the orders signed after the inauguration Friday, including one blocking Obamacare regulations and another delaying all pending Obama administration regulations, fell short of the more than dozen actions that, as a candidate, Mr. Trump promised to take on Day One.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the administration was pacing its executive actions.
“There’s a way that we can do this to make sure that we’re getting all of those things that he promised the American people done in short haste and doing it in a way that doesn’t just jam them out in a fire hose,” he said at his first press briefing.
Keeping a promise
Getting the U.S. out of the TPP, which Mr. Trump had described as a “bad deal” and a “death blow for American workers,” was a top campaign promise and part of the America-first agenda that he says will create jobs.
With many Democrats also having come to oppose the Asian trade agreement, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, dismissed the formal withdrawal from the deal as meaningless.
“TPP was dead long before President Trump took office. We await real action on trade,” Mr. Schumer said.
But Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said trashing the TPP was “a serious mistake that will have lasting consequences for America’s economy and our strategic position in the Asia-Pacific region.”
“This decision will forfeit the opportunity to promote American exports, reduce trade barriers, open new markets, and protect American invention and innovation,” he said. “It will create an opening for China to rewrite the economic rules of the road at the expense of American workers. And it will send a troubling signal of American disengagement in the Asia-Pacific region at a time we can least afford it.”
But the move got applause from Sen. Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent who emerged from his presidential run as a leader of the Democratic Party’s liberal wing.
“I am glad the Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead and gone,” he said. “If President Trump is serious about a new policy to help American workers, then I would be delighted to work with him.”
Mr. Trump is expected in coming days to sign an executive order to begin renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. Mr. Trump has blamed NAFTA for the massive exodus of manufacturing jobs from the U.S. since it went into effect in 1994.
At the breakfast meting with business executives, Mr. Trump said he wanted American firms to “make our products here again.”
“We don’t want to bring them in. We want to make them here,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t trade because we do trade. But we want to make our products here again.”
Seated around the conference table were the top executives from Dell Technologies, Ford Motor Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., Dow Chemical Co., Under Armour Inc., Whirlpool Corp., Johnson & Johnson, U.S. Steel Corp., SpaceX, International Paper and Corning Inc.
Mr. Trump said he planned to reduce corporate tax rates from the current 35 percent to as low as 15 percent. But he said rolling back federal regulations that impede business growth would have a bigger impact.
“The problem with the regulation we have right now is you cannot do anything,” he said, adding that he intends to reduce the federal regulatory burden by 75 percent.
Mr. Trump said he also plans to cut income taxes for middle-class families.
He stressed that fewer regulations didn’t mean increased dangers for consumers or the environment.
“I’m a very big person when it comes to the environment. I’ve won awards on the environment. But some of that stuff makes it impossible to get anything built,” he said.