Despite crippling stalemate in DC, Tillerson and Pence push Trump’s agenda overseas

A government shutdown does not mean the Trump administration isn't knocking things over in Europe and the Middle East

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talk at the end of the inaugural meeting of the National Space Council at the National Air and Space Museum, October 5, 2017 in Chantilly, Virginia. CREDIT: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talk at the end of the inaugural meeting of the National Space Council at the National Air and Space Museum, October 5, 2017 in Chantilly, Virginia. CREDIT: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Although the government shutdown might have you thinking that the administration of President Donald Trump is now focused solely on trying to pass a deal that includes a border wall with Mexico, that’s not the case. There’s, in fact, no movement as of Sunday afternoon on any kind of deal that might reopen the government.

But chaos in Washington does not mean that officials are refraining from traveling the world to promote Trump’s agenda. For instance, Vice President Mike Pence is in Jordan on Sunday, defending Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

President Trump’s December 6 announcement on Jerusalem set off a chorus of protest among allies and foes alike in the region, with Jordan being vocally opposed to it. King Abdullah II urged Pence “to rebuild trust and confidence” and adding that the region has a “major challenge to overcome, especially with some of the rising frustrations” over the Jerusalem decision.

Jerusalem is part of the disputed territory subject to long and painful negotiation between Palestinians and Israelis, and Trump’s decision, which included eventually moving the U.S. embassy to that city from Tel Aviv, triggered weeks of protest as well as emergency meetings at the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly, both of which voted in favor of a non-binding resolution nullifying President Trump’s decision.

Vice President Pence largely heard the same line on Saturday from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who reminded him that he disagreed with Trump’s decision.

Meanwhile Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has kicked off a European tour on Sunday. Among his mandates: To meet with EU counterparts and talk them into moving ahead and renegotiating the Iran nuclear deal in alignment with President Trump’s vision for the 2015 deal.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed between Iran and the U.S., U.K., China, France, Russia and Germany, sees Iran eliminating 98 percent of its enriched uranium stockpile and allowing for strict inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency in exchange for sanctions relief.

On January 12, President Trump granted sanctions waivers — as he must, in order to comply with the terms of the deal — but indicated that he would not do so again. Trump demanded that the European partners in the deal renegotiate the deal, which essentially goes on for another 13 years, into a permanent deal, the likes of which do not exist.

The president did not mention the role of the Russians and the Chinese, and indicated that Iran would not be party to any direct negotiations, ostensibly locking out the very subject of the agreement in some sort of diplomatic time out.

How Secretary Tillerson is supposed to get French and British partners — who have already indicated their reluctance to tamper with a deal they say is working — to fall in line in unclear. And even if he had a clear path, one of Tillerson’s key challenges in leading any diplomatic effort is not so much opposition from foreign states, but being undercut, often in public fashion, by Trump himself.

Nonetheless, Tillerson will make the rounds until he joins President Trump — and his entourage — at the the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland next week, where Trump is expected to give a speech on what his idea of a good free trade deal is.

The thing is, the forum’s experts published a paper that challenges Trump’s “America First” stance and essentially states that the president doesn’t really understand trade deficits. While they don’t name Trump, they pointed out that saying that all deficits are bad is not just an overly simplified way of thinking — it’s just wrong.

Reuters, who saw a draft of the paper, reports that the authors “set out seven examples of sloppy thinking on trade, illustrated by graphs showing that the relationship between imports and U.S. domestic employment had been ‘overwhelmingly positive’ and that larger U.S. trade deficits had been associated with faster jobs growth,” and that, “it was wrong to think [as President Trump does] that imposing a tax on imports would create manufacturing jobs.”