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Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with President Donald Trump and CNBC’s Joe Kernen that aired on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” (6-9AM) today, July 20. Following is a link to the full video on CNBC.com: https://www.cnbc.com/video/2018/07/20/watch-cnbcs-full-exclusive-interview-with-president-donald-trump.html?play=1.
All references must be sourced to CNBC.
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JOE KERNEN: Mister President, thank you for having us.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you, Joe.
KERNEN: We’re sitting in a pretty historic place. It’s really something to be right outside the Oval Office. Last time we met was in Davos. We talked about a lot of different things. One of the things that I asked you towards the end of the interview was, as a businessman and a problem-solver, someone known for that, what are we going to do about education? I don’t know if you remember that, because we talked about a lot of other things, the economy, and you sort of gave me a foreshadowing of what I think you’re talking about today with… it was vocational skills, but I think it’s been honed now, and it’s much more… the details are ready to come out now on what we’re… you’re calling is The Pledge to America’s Workers, right? And re-skilling workers?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: That’s right, which we have to do.
KERNEN: Spearheaded by your daughter, Ivanka.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Ivanka is very much involved, and she’s been involved. We have tremendous numbers of people who really are phenomenal in every way, but they’re not trained, and they’re not qualified to take some of the jobs. You report on it all of the time. All of the companies that are pouring back into our country. So we have Chrysler... we have so many companies. And we have companies expanding. Look at what’s happening with Apple, where they’re going to be spending $350 billion, and I can go on and on. And we need people with skill. We need people who are trained. It’s much different than it was 30 years ago and 40 years ago. We need people that can go out there and do it, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. And in front of you is a list that’s going to create almost 4 million jobs. These are a list of companies. They’ll be creating a tremendous number of jobs, and they’re going to be skill jobs. And these are people that will be trained, really trained and trained well.
KERNEN: The Co-Chairman, Co-Chairwoman along with Wilbur Ross for the initiative, as we mentioned was Ivanka, and when I spoke to her she mentioned that the pledge, or that the goal was for five hundred thousand and she said it was much greater than that but she didn’t tell me. Three point seven million—that’s individuals that will benefit from skills training.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: That is right. Training, and if you look at the companies, those are the great companies—
KERNEN: But this is all private sector funded too, so that—this is an example of public private partnership.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Absolutely. Walmart, so many great companies. They’re going to be here at three o’clock today. They’ll be, they’re going to be having a big conference, everybody’s here. And we’re talking about almost 4 million jobs.
KERNEN: The, currently things are, the economy’s pretty hot. Running pretty hot. Hopefully not too hot—
PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, but I think it’s maybe as good as it’s ever been ever. I mean companies… What I really am happy about is, a lot of cash is coming back in through the billions and trillions of dollars as you know that was overseas where companies were locked and they couldn’t get it back. Now it’s coming back hundreds of millions of dollars at a clip, and also, companies are coming back to our country. We have record numbers of companies coming back in, they’re coming back—they’re pouring back in. And they’re going to Michigan, and they’re going to Ohio and Pennsylvania and so many different states. And people can’t believe what’s happening, we’re really doing well.
KERNEN: Wage gains. Do you worry that – is it time for the Fed to be doing what it’s doing? Just to get a policy question in. Should they be raising rates on the trajectory that is indicated right now, in your view?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I put a very good man in the Fed. I don't necessarily agree with it because he's raising interest rates, I'm not saying I agree with it, and I don't necessarily agree with it, I must tell you I don’t. I'm not thrilled because we go up and every time you go up, they want to raise rates again. I don’t really - I'm not happy about it. But at the same time I'm letting them do what they feel is best. But I don’t like all of this work that goes into doing what we're doing you look at the Euro, you look at what’s going on with the EU and they are not doing what we are doing and we already have somewhat of a disadvantage although I am turning that into an advantage. You know last year and for years we have been losing $150 billion dollars with the EU nations with the European union and they are making money easy and their currency is falling. In China their currency is dropping like a rock and our currency is going up and I have to tell you it puts us at a disadvantage. Now I’m just saying the same thing that I would have said as a private citizen. So somebody would say, Oh, maybe you shouldn’t say that as a President. I couldn’t care less what they say because my views haven’t changed. I don’t like all this work that we are putting in to the economy and then I see rates going up, I see China where, I mean look at what’s happening with their currency, it is dropping like a rock.
KERNEN: Partly because some of the trade…
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well it’s also because I think I’m helping, OK. You want to know the truth, because I’m doing something, we’re going to you know, we’re going to level out the playing field.
KERNEN: Well can we talk about, in the context of the stock market after the election, well documented, it was up at one point 40% or so. It’s consolidated those gains and held onto the lion share of those gains –
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Right.
KERNEN: Does that go into your thinking in terms of if we’re ever going to address some of these –
PRESIDENT TRUMP: This is the time.
KERNEN: This is the time to do it.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: This is the time.
KERNEN: Is there a time when you –
PRESIDENT TRUMP: You know the expression “We’re playing with the bank’s money,” right? We’re up almost 40%.
KERNEN: Is there a time when you say, “God things are going so great with the economy, I’m worried about the headwind of trade,” given that we have a tailwind with tax reform, and deregulation and all these great things happening. Do you look at it as, “Well, we’ve got all these tailwinds we might as well have one headwind,” or does there come a time when you say look, “I need to pull back a little and get what I can, but maybe not everything I want”?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: So Joe I could have a much easier life if I wanted to do it incorrectly. It would be much easier for me. Sitting here I could just let all of these countries continue onward with these massive deficits. I mean, honestly, I don’t want to use the word because it’s a highly-respected show, but they are taking advantage of us ok? I’ll use a different set of words. They are taking advantage of us.
KERNEN: It’s cable though, if you really want to.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I know, but it’s not as good as the other word. You know what the other word is.
KERNEN: You can get away with it on cable.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We are being taken advantage of and I don’t like it. And I haven’t liked it for many years. China, with China, $507 billion a year in deficits. With the EU $151 billion. With Mexico, $120 billion. Mexico. Who would think Mexico? Mexico’s making a fortune. Plus they have a tax, we don’t have a tax. They have a tax on top of that, and the tax is almost 17%. A VAT tax. And you look, I could go through every country. I could talk about Japan, I could talk about – they’re very good allies, but no wonder they’re good. I mean, their deficits, the money they’re making off the United States. Now, I would have a higher stock market right now, it’s already up almost 40%, as you know, since the election. It could be 80% if I didn’t want to do this, but ultimately, what I’m doing is making it so it’s right.
KERNEN: Are you –
PRESIDENT TRUMP: And we’ll also start cutting expenses, by the way.
KERNEN: Are you seeing some signs, some glimmers of success, of hope from some of these trading partners? That they’re starting to –
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Tremendous hope.
KERNEN: I mean but are they starting to, what you think is, come around?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: 100%.
KERNEN: Let me just mention one thing. Yesterday we had our Delivering Alpha Conference, CNBC. Bannon, Steve Bannon, spoke and he was talking about China. And he said some very positive things, by the way, about your presidency.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: He should.
KERNEN: Said, “For the first time in decades we’re winning against China, they’re so scared they don’t know what to do.” And Kudlow at this point was on as well, who said, “The guy that may be holding things up is President Xi at this point.”
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yeah. I don’t want them to be scared. I want them to do well. I really like President Xi a lot, but it was very unfair, so I raised 50. We’re down 500. Now some people would say $375 billion. I’m not talking about million. I’m not talking about pennies. I’m talking about – we’re down $375 billion, but other estimates could say 507, it doesn’t matter. So it’s in between there, or it’s there. We’re down a tremendous amount. I raised 50, and they matched us. I said, “You don’t match us. You can’t match us because otherwise we’re always going to be behind the 8-ball.”
KERNEN: Would you ever get to 500, though? We’ve got the –
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I’m ready to go to 500.
KERNEN: With the midterms on the horizon.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: So, I think it is –
KERNEN: What if the stock market were to go down?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I actually think that’s – well, if it does, it does. Look, I’m not doing this for politics.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I’m doing this to do this right thing for our country. We have been ripped off by China for a long time and I told that to President Xi. I said, “How did this ever happen?” And you know what their answer is? Because I deal with the highest echelons of China. One of the great people of China said, “There was never anybody to talk to in the United States. We would put on a trade barrier, where you couldn’t sell cars, or you couldn’t sell beef, or you couldn’t sell your farm products. We would put it on, and nobody would talk to us in the United States, so we said, ‘Hey, that’s great!’ Then we’d put on another one. We’d put on a tariff on cars – 25% - and you’d charge us virtually nothing – 2.5%. But they don’t pay it. So we would do this and nobody would talk. We’d start off at a lower number. We’d raise it, we’d raise it. Nobody would ever complain until you came along.” Me. And they said, “Now you’re doing more than complaining. We don’t like what you’re doing.” You know, they think I’m doing maybe too much, but of course they’re going to think that. But for many years – and I’m not just saying Obama. I’m saying Bush, and I’m saying long before, they had nobody. And it’s very interesting because I actually asked them the question, “So we’re down 507 – recently – we’re down $507 billion in trade deficits. How did it happen?” And they told me, “Nobody ever complained. Nobody ever talked to us.”
KERNEN: This morning you tweeted – interesting tweet – second meeting, potentially, with -- with Vladimir Putin.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yeah.
KERNEN: Is that in the works? Is it planned? Has it been talked about?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We – yeah, I would say it’s in the works. Look, we had a tremendous discussion on many things: terrorism, Syria, the Middle East overall, Iran. We talked about, as an example, nuclear proliferation. There’s nothing – to me, there’s nothing more important than that. We had a tremendous meeting. We had a – I think it was a very good press conference. I mean, except for the fake news, I really think I did really well at the press conference. Hey –
KERNEN: But about a second meeting –
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Second meeting. Yeah.
KERNEN: -- was broached. You – you’ve broached the subject with – with President Putin?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We got along very well. Look, the fact is we got along very well. We, I think could do great things for his country, but for our country. I’m interested in our country. I’m also interested in the world. I’d like to see peace. And I think we could do great things for the world. I think we can do -- now, that includes China. That includes others. I’m doing very well, getting along with countries. Getting along is a good thing, not a bad thing. But, I think I’d have a good relationship with Putin.
KERNEN: And – and – you, you have a personal relationship with people that I’ve seen --
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I do. I do.
KERNEN: -- for many, many years. Alright? And I understand how that works. Looking at what your –
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Even you, which is almost impossible, right?
KERNEN: And – and as far – thank you. As far as the end game with Russia, there’s lots of things that you think we can do in terms of making the world safer with Russia. So, the personal relationship --
PRESIDENT TRUMP: And by the way, that’s good for everybody.
KERNEN: But the relationship you have with Putin, the tone, which was relativity conciliatory –
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Right.
KERNEN: -- for what some people say is an enemy or an adversary. Can that tone totally be explained by you wanting to do the best things for the country –
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Sure. Sure.
KERNEN: -- or is there some – some under –
PRESIDENT TRUMP: OK –
KERNEN: – is there something underlying that?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: No. I have nothing to do with Russia. I never did.
KERNEN: So it’s totally just –
PRESIDENT TRUMP: That other deal is a big hoax. It’s a hoax. It’s a Russia…
KERNEN: In your view – in your view --
PRESIDENT TRUMP: -- It’s called the Democrat hoax. It’s a big fat hoax. I have nothing to do with Russia. And I think you know that. You would know. You’ve known me for a very long time.
KERNEN: I know how you are with people and I could see that knowing—
PRESIDENT TRUMP: You think I’m dealing in Russia?
KERNEN: -- Knowing what you want to accomplish, in foreign policy and domestically—
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yeah.
KERNEN: I could see, I could see that tone not necessarily having anything to do with, other than wanting the best thing for the country —
PRESIDENT TRUMP: So I had a meeting that lasted for more than two hours. It wasn’t always conciliatory in that meeting.
KERNEN: Right. That hasn’t come out. Did you --
PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, but we discussed many of the points I just said.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I mean, basically that’s what we discussed. We discussed lots of great things for both countries, frankly. But there are things that we can do for both countries that are very good. Now, we then go to a news conference. I mean I had these -- some of these fools from the media saying, “Why didn’t you stand there, look him in the face, walk over to him, and start shouting at him?” I said, “Are these people crazy? I want to make a deal.” I want to make a deal. You can’t do that. And we’ve been having a bad relationship with Russia for many years. And you know, that may be wrong. I -- it may be that you can’t do anything and -- that’s very possible. But I’m different than other president’s. I’m a dealmaker. I’ve made deals all my life. I do really well. I make great deals. You know it because you’ve covered them for a long time Joe. And I think if we can get along with Russia and other countries….
KERNEN: Does it help with China to have Russia as almost as a -- to set them…
PRESIDENT TRUMP: It doesn’t hurt, okay. It doesn’t hurt.
KERNEN: And that was in your mind as well?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Maybe, in the computer. I mean maybe. It’s -- probably doesn’t hurt you know. But I’m not even looking at it that way. I’m just saying if we can do certain things on terrorism, as an example… we found out that in St. Petersburg a little more than a year a ago there was going to be a very major terrorist attack. St. Petersburg, Russia.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We called them and let them know. They were able to nab this very vicious gang of terrorists. They got them. I assume they’re some place right now that maybe you don’t even want to know about. I don’t know what they did with them. Okay? And I don’t care.
KERNEN: Look, I know…
PRESIDENT TRUMP: -- But wait a minute…
PRESIDENT TRUMP: They thanked us profusely. This was gonna be a major attack. We found out about it and we gave them that information. That's a good thing. And Putin, called me up. President Putin called me up and he said "I wanna thank you very much. That would've been a major attack in St. Petersburg." We informed them. I don't think anybody even knows about that. These are good things. They inform us. They can inform us. Getting along is a good thing, not a bad thing. The fake news they want to make it like where there's like a big confrontation. I don't want to play that game. I don't want to go into that game.
KERNEN: Any timeline on the next meeting, Mr. President?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Let me just say this –
KERNEN: OK, go ahead.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: With that being said, I have been far tougher on Russia than any president in many, many years. Maybe ever. Even, even the big fight I have with Germany over the fact that they're taking natural gas –
PRESIDENT TRUMP: They're taking energy from Russia. Paying them billions of dollars. I said, “Wait a minute - we're supposed to be protecting you from Russia, and you're paying them billions of dollars. What's that all about?” Now, do you think that's a positive for Russia? I'm talking them out of things that they – where they're giving billions of dollars. It's ridiculous, by the way, that that's happening. And then on top of that Germany pays a fraction of what they should be paying for defense. We're supposed to defend them. So they're paying Russia and we're supposed to defend them from Russia. So just - you just look at that point. But look at the sanctions I've put on. Look at the diplomats I threw out. Look at all of the things that I've done. Nobody else did what I've done. Obama didn't do it. Obama was a patsy for Russia. He was a total patsy. Look at the statement he made, when he thought the mics were turned off, okay? The stupid statement he made. Nobody does a big deal about that. Getting along with President Putin, getting along with Russia is a positive, not a negative.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Now, with that being said, if that doesn't work out, I'll be the worst enemy he's ever had. The worst he's ever had.
KERNEN: I don't want to end it on that note -- but we – we do have to end it – but --
PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, no, no. I think – I think he knows that though.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: But I think he knows that -- I'll be his worst nightmare. But I don't think it'll be that way. I actually think we'll have a good relationship.
KERNEN: Well, I think it’d be, you know, it – it’s obviously in the – the two last nuclear Super Powers, or at least the two largest –
PRESIDENT TRUMP: 90%.
KERNEN: Think we – yeah.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: 90% think of it, the two countries.
KERNEN: Alright. Mr. President –
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you very much.
KERNEN: Thank you. I appreciate it very much. Thank you.