WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump pushed Tuesday for paper ballots in upcoming U.S. elections for security reasons, and said the country was ready for any Russian attempts to meddle in the midterm elections.
"We’ll counteract whatever they do, we’ll counteract it very strongly and we are having strong background systems," he said at a White House news conference with Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven. "We haven’t been given credit for this, but we’ve actually been working very hard on the ’18 election and the ’20 election coming up."
But beyond making the case for backup ballot systems — "it’s called paper, not highly complex computers, paper" — Trump's suggestions on combating future Russian meddling have been rare and short on specifics.
Though the president has agreed with intelligence assessments that lay the blame on the Kremlin for meddling efforts in the 2016 presidential election, he still maintains other countries could have also been responsible and said again Tuesday that meddling efforts did not affect any votes in 2016.
Questions about Russian meddling and alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin were only part of the latest maelstrom engulfing the Trump administration — plagued by infighting on newly announced tariffs on steel and aluminum while a steady stream of top aides continue to depart Trump's service.
Trump previewed more staffing changes to come, but demurred Tuesday when asked for specifics on who could be involved in the next staff shuffle.
"Believe me," Trump said, "everybody wants to work in the White House. They all want a piece of that Oval Office, they all want a piece of the West Wing, and not only in terms of it looks great on their resume, but it’s a great place to work."
But, said Trump, it's also tough. "I like conflict, I like having two people with two different points of view, and I certainly have that, and then I make a decision," the president said, in a week that's featured coverage of the competing tariff views of National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. "I like watching it, I like seeing it and I think it’s the best way to go."
Faced with the prospect of a global trade war, Trump seemed unfazed, reasoning that "when we're behind every single country, trade wars aren't so bad."
"The trade war hurts them," Trump said, it "doesn't hurt us." The tariffs, however, would be imposed in "a very loving way," he said.
Löfven — who warned Tuesday that tariffs would "hurt us all in the long run" — shuffled papers on his lectern as he listened to his counterparts' remarks that the European Union could "do whatever they'd like" in retaliation to his announced tariffs.
"If they do that, then we put a big tax of 25 percent on their cars. Believe me, they won't be doing it very long," Trump said. He called the U.S. trade relationship with the E.U. "very, very unfair."
Trump also expressed optimism on recent developments out of the Korean Peninsula, where North Korea signaled it was open to talks with the United States, during which time the regime said it would suspend its nuclear tests.
The president said he believed overtures from Pyongyang were "sincere," attributing them to "very, very strong" sanctions and increased pressure from China.
In a meeting before the joint news conference, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that North Korea was "acting positively, but we're going to see" if that holds.
"I want to see what happens," Trump said noting that progress — "at least rhetorically" — had been made with North Korea and if talks could halt the DPRK's continued nuclear march "it would be great thing for the world ... for North Korea ... for the peninsula."
Asked if he would talk with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, Trump told reporters "we'll see."
The door to "candid talks" between North Korea and the U.S. opened Tuesday after South Korean officials returned from meetings in Pyongyang. The regime also said it was willing to suspend nuclear tests during these talks.
Trump has previously left all options on the table in dealing with North Korean provocations, including vague but tension-raising warnings that the alternative to peace could be devastating to the regime.
After leveling what he called the "heaviest sanctions ever" against Pyongyang last month, Trump said "if the sanctions don’t work, we’ll have to go phase two."
"Phase two may be a very rough thing, may be very, very unfortunate for the world. But hopefully the sanctions will work," he told reporters at the White House at the time.