WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull put their “mateship” on full display Friday at the White House as they took turns praising each other’s approaches on immigration and taxes.
Relations between the two got off to a rocky start a year ago, but none of that was evident as they prepared to field questions from journalists in the East Room after an afternoon of talks, including a lot of discussion about jobs.
Trump congratulated Turnbull on “your immigration reforms and on Australia’s commitment to merit-based immigration.”
“Are my friends from Congress listening to that? Merit based,” Trump asked.
Trump has been arguing for changes to turn the U.S. immigration system into one that is more focused on merit and the skills immigrants can contribute to the U.S., and less focused on family ties. But Trump’s immigration demands have upset lawmakers, mostly Democrats.
“We want to do merit-based immigration also,” Trump said, adding that such a system “really protects the interest of Australia and its people.
“It’s the way to go. And you’ve been very successful with it,” Trump continued. “Here, we’re working very hard to do the same. In that sense, we’re going to, hopefully, follow in your footprints.”
When it was his turn to speak, Turnbull returned the favor by complimenting Trump’s tax decision to cut taxes, calling it “one of the most powerful arguments” he is using to persuade lawmakers to cut business taxes back home.
Trump signed a $1.5 trillion tax cut into law in December, significantly shaving taxes for corporations and the wealthy while providing more modest breaks for middle-class individuals. Trump and his economic advisers argue that workers will benefit from dropping the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, saying it will lead to greater investment in the U.S. and in those companies, and the creation of more good-paying jobs.
Turnbull, who was accompanied by the largest Australian political and business delegation ever to visit the U.S., said he and Trump spent a lot of time talking about jobs. He said Trump’s economic reforms are “one of the most powerful arguments that we are deploying to persuade our legislature to reduce business taxes.”
“When you cut corporate taxes, most of the benefit goes to workers. It procures more investment and, when you get more investment you get more jobs,” Turnbull said, echoing the arguments the Republican president made last year while campaigning for the sizeable tax cut, which no Democrat in Congress voted for.
Trump opened the news conference with a bit of good news for Turnbull, announcing that a still-to-be built U.S. combat ship will be named the USS Canberra to honor an Australian cruiser that was lost fighting alongside the U.S. Navy during World War II. Canberra is Australia’s capital.
Trump said the vessel will “be a worthy successor to both her Australian namesake and her American predecessor” and symbolize the “enduring friendship” between the U.S. and Australia as it sails the open sea. “There is no closer friendship,” Trump said.
Turnbull appeared elated by the announcement, and noted that the ship will be built by an Australian company based in Mobile, Alabama.
“What a great example of 100 years of mateship,” he said, a reference to when the U.S. and Australia first fought together in 1918 during World War I.
Relations between Trump and Turnbull got off to a tumultuous start within days of Trump taking office in January 2017 after they sparred by phone over a plan for the U.S. to accept hundreds of mostly Muslim refugees that Australia didn’t want to take in itself.
Trump had campaigned against immigration, including by Muslims, and was enraged by the deal, which had been agreed to by Trump’s predecessor in office, Barack Obama.
But Joe Hockey, Australia’s ambassador to the U.S., said the former businessmen “understand each other” now and enjoy each other’s company.
Both leaders dismiss speculation that their relationship had been damaged by that telephone call. Since then, Turnbull has met Trump in New York, but the Washington meeting was their first in the context of an official visit.
Trump has not been to Australia yet as president. Asked if he would like to visit when he and Turnbull appeared in the Oval Office, Trump said: “We will be there, yes. Great place.”