STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here's what President Trump is not doing at a summit of world leaders in Argentina. He is not meeting Russia's Vladimir Putin. That planned meeting fell apart around the same time that the president's former lawyer pleaded guilty to lying about President Trump's former business dealings in Russia. Here's one thing the president will be doing - he is expected to sign a trade deal with Mexico and Canada. What does this summit say about U.S. relations with the world's other large economies? NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is in Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires. Hey there, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi. How's it going?
INSKEEP: OK. So what is the signing ceremony supposed to be like, this trade deal?
KEITH: This is, in theory, the celebration of the completion of negotiations. This is the first chance that they've had with all three of these leaders in the same place at the same time to sign this new NAFTA, known as USMCA. But it's not a fully resolved situation. There's still questions sort of separate from it but not entirely separate about U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum. And also, it's really not a done deal yet because Congress and others need to sign off on it. And President Pena Nieto of Mexico is, like, literally has one foot out the door at this point.
INSKEEP: Although, we should note, this is fundamentally NAFTA again, right? This is changes to NAFTA, including to the title and some of the labor and other provisions. But the idea is to maintain, rather than eliminate, this free trade agreement the president has criticized for years.
KEITH: Yes. So the president says, I tore it up and we have a new one. In reality, it's really new NAFTA. It has the contours of NAFTA. It has some small changes around dairy, around labor, some modernization, but it is fundamentally the same thing. But it has a new name. So there may not be full agreement. It's not clear whether it's going to stick. But USMCA - the president keeps saying, at one point, recently he said, USMCA like YMCA and started singing.
INSKEEP: (Laughter) I'd actually been thinking of the Village People, Tam, but I wouldn't have brought it up had you not brought it up. How much does a guilty plea in the United States loom over this meeting for the president. Michael Cohen did plead guilty to lying about Trump Organization business contacts with Russia during the 2016 campaign while Russia was aiding the president's election in whatever way that it could. I guess canceling the Putin meeting tries to get that out of the picture for the G-20, but how much is it still there?
KEITH: Oh, It's definitely still here, in that President Trump still has a Twitter account. And he's been tweeting about it. He says, oh, I get it. I'm a very good developer happily living my life. When I see our country going in the wrong direction, against all odds, I decide to run for president. I continue to run my business very legal and very cool. And that was the first tweet of the day. But he - and that is, like, right before going to a meeting with President Macri of Argentina. So the president is still talking about it, thinking about it, was watching Fox News and Sean Hannity last night as soon as he got in and tweeting about that.
INSKEEP: What do you suppose it does to the president to have this news story looming over him as he prepares to, for example, have dinner with the president of China and talk about their trade difficulties?
KEITH: President Trump would never say that it's bothering him. So he does tweet about it a lot. And also, in his first meeting of the day with President Macri, he said something like, you know, back when I was a civilian and I did development projects. He was talking about his development projects even in this meeting with the president of Argentina.
INSKEEP: Tamara, thanks for the update. Really appreciate it.
KEITH: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: NPR's Tamara Keith is in Buenos Aires.