As his impeachment trial consumes Washington, Trump heads to Davos

The president landed Tuesday at the Swiss mountain summit of the world's elite, addressing the gathering hours before his Senate trial is scheduled to begin.

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By Shannon Pettypiece

LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland — On the first full day of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in Washington, he was again counterprogramming domestic political woes with the projection of presidential power on the global stage, this time jetting off to the Swiss mountains for the annual gathering of the world’s elite.

Trump landed Tuesday morning in Davos, and will speak before a group of executives, financiers and foreign dignitaries at the World Economic Forum just hours before the Senate is set to begin the first full day of his impeachment trial. He is also expected to hold a series of meetings with world leaders over the next two days, where he can respond to the impeachment developments in real time from across the Atlantic Ocean.

The platform will give Trump the chance to tout U.S. economic growth and recent trade deals with China and Mexico, elements his campaign views as key to his re-election bid. The approach mirrors a strategy used by President Bill Clinton during his own impeachment two decades ago, though he did not hold events overseas until after the impeachment process had ended.

But as past foreign trips have proven, Trump will likely have a hard time leaving politics at the water’s edge, with his overseas journeys often overshadowed by controversies playing out back home.

When Trump showed up at the Davos gathering in 2018, his visit was overshadowed by reports he had attempted to have former special counsel Robert Mueller fired in the middle of his investigation into Russian election meddling. Last year, the partial government shutdown caused by a fight over border wall funding forced him to skip the event.

During Trump’s last overseas trip, in December to the NATO leaders summit, he continued attacking Democrats, calling House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a “deranged human” and “maniac” while seated next to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trump later got into a back-and-forth with Trudeau during the gathering after Trudeau was caught on a hot mic appearing to mock Trump.

While the Davos trip was planned before the beginning of the impeachment trial was set, Trump has increasingly scheduled events specifically to compete with his Democratic rivals. He held a rally on the night of the last Democratic debate, and is scheduled to hold a rally in Iowa days before the state's Democratic caucuses there on Feb. 3. He's also expected to hold a campaign event in New Hampshire the night before that state's presidential primary vote, according to a person familiar with the plans.

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Trump is likely to get a mostly warm welcome at the gathering of business leaders, many of whom have benefited from his tax breaks to corporations and the recent de-escalation of his trade war with China. But Europeans are likely to be on edge, after recent U.S. action against Iran was followed by Tehran's threat to stop abiding by the terms of the nuclear agreement that Trump himself withdrew from in 2018.

He could come under pressure over his inaction on addressing climate change, which is a major focus of the summit — shortly after Trump’s address, teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who the president has attacked on Twitter, will take the stage for a panel titled “averting a climate apocalypse.”

Trump has also pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement and rolled back numerous regulations aimed at trying to curb carbon emissions.

But even with the tension over foreign policy and climate change, the environment in the Swiss mountains is likely to mark a respite from the pressure the president has faced in Washington, with House impeachment managers scheduled to formally begin making their case against the president this week in the Senate.

It's likely to be a brief break: With the president scheduled to spend less than 48 hours on the ground in Switzerland, he should be back in Washington in time for his team to present their defense.

Trump was the first U.S. president in 18 years to attend the Davos gathering when he went two years ago. At the time, Trump's decision to go to a forum that caters to world leaders, global financiers and chief executives appeared to be a surprising move, given the protectionist, populist rhetoric that propelled him into office.

But the president has continued to try to ingratiate himself with the business community and Wall Street, regularly inviting CEOs to the White House.

At a White House event last week for the signing of the first phase of a trade deal with China, Trump spent 10 minutes thanking business executives on hand, saying he had “made a lot of bankers look very good” and telling executives from investment bank JPMorgan Chase that they should be thanking him.

“They just announced earnings and they were incredible,” he said as he greeted Mary Erdoes, who heads asset and wealth management for JPMorgan Chase, the biggest bank in the U.S. “They were very substantial. Will you say, ‘Thank you, Mr. President,’ at least, huh?”