AMERICA First, or America for sale? That’s the question that must be asked as President Trump prepares to host Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida this week at his private club. For months, ethics lawyers, good governance experts and members of Congress have warned the president that he is violating the Constitution by refusing to divest his business interests. Our Founding Fathers deliberately included a clause in that sacred document which forbids the president and other federal officials from receiving profits from foreign governments.
A recent decision by China to grant President Trump’s businesses nearly 40 valuable trademarks — after more than a decade of unsuccessful attempts to get them by businessman Trump — is the clearest sign yet that foreign governments can and will seek to curry financial favour with the president of the United States and his family. The president’s actions have created a crisis for our democracy. On any given day, America’s relationship with China is tested by difficult issues, including China’s currency manipulation, North Korea’s nuclear weapons, climate change, respect for human rights and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Our trade relationship with China has enormous consequences for both American workers and the price of products Americans buy every day. And so the American people have a right to know whether the president’s decision-making is being conducted in their public interest or in his private financial interest.
Indeed, the president has made a number of abrupt policy changes toward China lately. In February, he suddenly switched his stance on the key issue of Taiwan’s status — in favour of China’s preferred policy. When asked about the switch, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that when Trump negotiates, “the president always gets something.” The problem is that while it is clear China got something, the administration has refused to tell us what the United States got in return. The American people deserve to know whether President Trump’s and his children’s many lucrative businesses are the beneficiaries.
More recently, it was revealed that the real estate business owned by the Kushner family, including presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, tried to strike a $400 million deal with a Chinese enterprise with links to the Chinese government. The deal, which Bloomberg said some analysts considered unusually favourable for the Kushners, was belatedly called off when it became public and faced scrutiny. But the Kushner-China negotiations again underscore the need for Trump and his family to create clear, ethical boundaries between their public service and their private interests.
That Jared Kushner hosted the CEO of the Chinese business in question for a lavish dinner the week after the election, as he sought to close the deal, only added to the appearance of impropriety — not least because Kushner is also conveniently Beijing’s main point of contact at the White House. It is not how our Founding Fathers envisioned the proper functioning of America and its leaders. It is deeply troubling to think that China might be succeeding in exercising financial influence over the president of the United States. Despite Trump’s promise to drain the swamp, his dealings with China have the appearance of a rising, dark water of foreign influence and corruption. And the American people, American interests and American values are at risk of being drowned out.
By not divesting his business interests, Trump continues to cheapen the office of the presidency by mixing his public duties and his private business interests. It is imperative that American interests and values guide the president’s policies in dealing with Beijing — and nothing else. America’s security and prosperity depend on it. With President Xi’s imminent arrival in Florida, it is time for the president to act and divest his business interests. The writer, a senator from Maryland, is the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
— Courtesy: USA Today