DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Let's get started in China this morning.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
All right. We will start there because that's where President Trump is. And he's on what the Chinese are calling his state visit-plus...
GREENE: Not just...
MARTIN: The plus apparently...
GREENE: ...A state visit.
MARTIN: State visit-plus, David - plus apparently means more time on the ground and a whole lot more fancy, ceremonial stuff. Today the Chinese leader Xi Jinping greeted Trump at the Great Hall of the People with a military band, even some cannon fire. Later, the two leaders delivered remarks side by side. President Trump addressed what has been a key issue for him for a long time, American trade imbalance with China
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Right now, unfortunately, it is a very one-sided and unfair one. But - but I don't blame China.
TRUMP: After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit.
MARTIN: China's president responded that China already buys a lot of American goods.
GREENE: OK. Well, we have this story well-covered. NPR's Anthony Kuhn and also our co-host Steve Inskeep are in Beijing. And they're sitting - you guys are side by side, I'm imagining.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Yes. Hi, guys.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hey, guys.
MARTIN: Good morning.
GREENE: So Anthony, was - tell me about that comment that Trump made. I mean, he seemed to be giving China praise but also saying that they're taking advantage of the United States. What do the Chinese make of that?
KUHN: Well, at the end of the day, he said he doesn't blame China for the trade deficit. And of course, China doesn't like to be blamed especially by, you know, visitors. As far as trade deficits are concerned, I think they're perfectly aware that you get trade deficits because you consume more than you produce. And then you, in the U.S.'s case, borrow from China to make up the difference.
But you know, President Trump really did have some very personal sort of praises for Xi Jinping. I think the nicest thing he said was - to Xi Jinping - you know, your people are proud of you. And that's something you might not usually hear from a visiting head of state. And so - you know, I don't know how sincere they thought it was, but I think it went over well.
GREENE: Steve, what do you make of this? Is this President Trump actually putting pressure on China or not?
INSKEEP: I think he's sending mixed signals at best, David. He did say that trade practices between China and the United States are unfair. But he's also said over the course of this year he'd be happy to - give away the store, in effect - give better trade deals to China if he could just get help with North Korea.
And observers on the outside trying to figure out the Trump administration's strategy are not as certain what that strategy is. So there has been a wide mixture of remarks from the president, a mixture of results and not a lot of clarity as to how he wants to change the relationship.
GREENE: I mean, speaking of changing the relationship or not, Anthony, China signed these business deals worth over $250 billion with U.S. business leaders who are in Beijing with President Trump. Is that - what does that mean? Is China really offering much to the United States here?
KUHN: Well, $250 billion is not insignificant.
KUHN: And China is trying to increase its imports from the U.S. And real interest, I think, is natural gas. China is probably going to become the biggest consumer of that, and the U.S. produces it. But - let's face it - these deals are one-off things. They're not structural issues. U.S. companies also want more market access to China. And, you know, China says - we're going to open our economy more to the world. But Xi Jinping did not give a lot of details about that.
INSKEEP: And let's remember, David, Xi Jinping, in his remarks today with President Trump sitting there listening, emphasized - China already buys a lot of things, a lot of cars and other goods, from the United States. And the implied message there is, you've already got a good trading relationship. It's fine. He didn't explicitly say that, but that is what his remarks effectively meant.
GREENE: Guys, when you get away from the joint appearances by leaders and the cannon fire and the military music, do you get a feel for how people in China view President Trump?
INSKEEP: Yeah. We've been talking with people on the streets. And I want to play a little bit of tape of a couple of the people we've met in the last few days around Beijing. Here's a woman named Mo Song. She works in a very internationalized area of Beijing. She works for a foreign company. And she compared the two presidents of the two countries as representatives of their nations.
MO SONG: Chinese people tend to be, like, very formal. And Americans, they are very freestyle (laughter).
SONG: Yeah. I think Trump is the representative of freestyle. He just speaks what he thinks. And he's not a very typical politician.
INSKEEP: Which she sort of liked, even though she didn't like a lot of his policies - and then there's Oliver Wong, who was a bit more biting.
OLIVER WONG: Very interesting and weird man - one of the richest persons in the world wanting to represent the poorest.
INSKEEP: So some people with mixed views of his style - they also think a lot about President Trump's policies like climate change. Chinese media have been emphasizing that China is still in the Paris climate accord - President Trump wants to get out.
But we also encountered a Chinese woman today who said she likes President Trump because he wants to crack down on Muslims, and she agrees with that sentiment.
GREENE: Oh, wow - just said that she agrees with that very bluntly.
GREENE: Anthony, what about Chinese media? I mean, obviously, I guess very close to the state, which can represent what message the state wants to get out. But how do they treat Trump in general?
KUHN: OK. Well, just to give you an example, I've got a copy of The People's Daily, the most official paper in China here. On the front page...
GREENE: Right up to date, right in front of you - I like that.
KUHN: Right in front of us. And right up on the front page is a big, formal picture of the two first families, Trump and Xi, in the Forbidden City. And basically, this one, which is on all the major papers today, says what an assiduous and grateful student of Chinese culture the Trumps are, how dazzled by the splendor of Chinese traditional culture they were during their visit to the Forbidden City.
INSKEEP: It's complimenting Trump by way of saying China is great, in effect. That's the message.
KUHN: Of course. And only in the last paragraph does it mention, you know, that they talked about affairs of state. And here's another one from a slightly more nationalistic tabloid which says, you know, the Western media has been unfair to Trump - he's a straight talker; he's a pragmatist; he doesn't hassle China about human rights. And so basically, the Western and American press has stiffed us. He's really a nice guy.
INSKEEP: Huge flattery of the president of the United States.
GREENE: And a story...
KUHN: That's right.
GREENE: ...That Trump would probably love (laughter), saying that the media doesn't treat him well. That's a message he likes to pound.
All right, NPR's Beijing correspondent Anthony Kuhn and our co-host Steve Inskeep, both in Beijing - thanks so much to both of you.
INSKEEP: Glad to do it.
KUHN: You bet.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GREENE: All right, so back here in Washington, Capitol Hill is consumed by talk of a possible tax overhaul.
MARTIN: Senate Republicans are likely to unveil their tax plan today. Their colleagues in the House are continuing to try and move their own plan out of committee. Remember, there's not a whole lot of time here. President Trump challenged lawmakers to complete this thing by Christmas.
GREENE: All right, NPR's Scott Detrow is here.
Hey there, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Morning, David.
GREENE: All right. So the Senate is expected to unveil something today. They have been keeping this pretty much under wraps. Do we know anything?
DETROW: Well, we're waiting on a lot of the details. But we know there will be one big difference. The House bill that the Ways and Means Committee will likely approve later today is estimated to cost $1.7 trillion over the coming decade. The Senate plan has to be less than that because of the rules Senate Republicans need to use to pass it. It can only cost a maximum of $1.5 trillion in terms of the amount that it adds to the deficit.
One way to close that gap would be eliminating more loopholes. And one way the Senate could do that would definitely get voters' attention. And that would be going back to this idea of eliminating deductions for state and local taxes.
GREENE: Which has been a big point of debate within the Republican Party. So this feels like movement. The House Ways and Means Committee has spent days debating their bill. Now we have the Senate coming out with something. Is it looking likely that, the president's Christmas goal, that the party could meet it?
DETROW: Publicly, Republican leaders are still committed to that. But one big theme over 2017 has been one deadline or another to do this stuff has slipped. Remember, the initial plan was to pass an Obamacare repeal by something like April.
DETROW: It didn't happen.
GREENE: That didn't happen. And getting so close on votes - and then it didn't happen.
DETROW: That's right. And one thing that Republicans in Congress have publicly complained about is these arbitrary deadlines the White House has put, saying - we want a vote by Thanksgiving, we want a vote by Christmas. But the fact is when it comes to a big tax overhaul, sooner is better than later. And Republicans realize this. If this kicks into next year, it gets into a primary season. Everyone in the House is running for re-election. A lot of the Senate is up as well. They want this done in an odd-numbered year as much as possible. So still on course - we'll see whether everyone's going to be celebrating Christmas in the Capitol or not.
GREENE: (Laughter) Well, let me ask you about the politics of all this. I mean, this is something that Republicans will say themselves. They have to get it done to show that they are moving forward with an agenda. Overhauling the tax system was one of the party's big, big promises. Are the stakes even higher now after the party, you know, had a bad day at the polls?
DETROW: Yeah, absolutely. It's very clear that the Democratic voters - the Democratic base is very energized, is willing to show up and vote. And right now, there are a lot of indications that the Republican base is just not that energized. And one reason is Republicans have not gotten much done with the total control they have of the federal government. Leaders are convinced a big tax cut could change that dynamic, give them a boost with the base and something to sell and say - hey, here's what we did for you in Washington this year.
GREENE: NPR's Scott Detrow hosts NPR's Politics podcast and covers basically everything in Washington. Scott, thanks.
DETROW: Thanks, David.
(SOUNDBITE OF EVIL NEEDLE'S "LOUNGIN")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.