By KEVIN FREKING Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — President Donald Trump got away from the impeachment inquiry in Washington on Wednesday and celebrated tech behemoth Apple keeping its Mac Pro computer manufacturing plant in the Texas state capital.
Trump’s visit follows Apple’s announcement in September that it would continue manufacturing the latest generation of the Mac Pro in Austin — a move that came once the Trump administration agreed to waive tariffs on certain computer parts made in China.
“When you build it in the United States, you don’t have to worry about tariffs,” Trump said, with Apple CEO Tim Cook standing by his side.
U.S. tariffs are set to take effect Dec. 15 on an additional $160 billion in Chinese products — a move that would extend sanctions to a wide range of consumer goods, including clothes, toys and iPhones.
Cook has argued to Trump that competitor Samsung would not be subject to the same tariffs, and Trump said Wednesday he was “looking at” the possibility of exempting Apple from the tariffs.
“The problem we have is, is you have Samsung,” Trump said. “It’s a great company, but it’s a competitor of Apple, and it’s not fair. … We have to treat Apple on a somewhat similar basis as we treat Samsung.”
Even in the middle of the country, Trump couldn’t completely get away from ongoing impeachment inquiry hearings. He falsely declared that European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony in Washington earlier in the day exonerated him.
“Let me tell you: It’s a hoax, it’s a disgrace, it’s an embarrassment to our country,” Trump said of the impeachment inquiry.
Sondland told investigators that Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani explicitly sought a “quid pro quo” with Ukraine, leveraging an Oval Office visit for political investigations of Democrats. His testimony directly disputed Trump’s repeated declarations that there had been “no quid pro quo.”
The quick visit to Texas gave Trump a chance to highlight job growth in a state crucial for Republicans in 2020, both in terms of campaign contributions and votes.
As he left Washington, Trump called the Austin plant a “fantastic facility” and said he’d been pushing Cook since before he was elected to locate facilities in the U.S.
Cook, for his part, had pitched Trump on the problem that higher tariffs would pose for Apple, particularly its iPhones. Trump said following an August meeting that “it’s tough for Apple to pay tariffs if they’re competing with a very good company that’s not.”
Cook led Trump, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, on a tour of the plant.
The president put Cook on the spot as they stood before reporters and asked him to gauge the health of the U.S. economy.
Cook responded that he believed the U.S. economy was the “strongest in the world.”
The president and tech leader have had frank discussions during Trump’s nearly three years in office despite their differences on policies such as immigration and climate change.
Trump told reporters last summer: “The reason I speak to Tim Cook: He’s the one that calls me. The other ones don’t call. They go out and hire — for millions of dollars — consultants that have less power than you do.”
Trump heard firsthand from employees about how products are assembled at the plant. The White House said that maintaining production in Austin was made possible through the president’s “pro-growth and pro-business economic policies.”
Still, not all manufacturers are thriving under the president’s tariff policies. Twelve of 18 manufacturing industries contracted in October, led by primary metals, clothing and textile mills.
The tariff war between China and the U.S. has prompted some manufacturers to delay purchases and investment. The two countries have been working on a “Phase 1” deal that was announced Oct. 12 but still isn’t final.
Apple is deeply rooted in Austin, where it has built its largest campus outside its Cupertino, California, headquarters. The company says about 6,000 of its employees work in Austin, and it has plans to create an additional 5,000 jobs as part of a $1 billion expansion announced last year. The Mac Pro assembly plant is run by Flex Ltd.
“What I wanted Apple to do from Day One, from before I got elected, I said, ‘Someday, we’re going to see Apple building plants in our country and not in China,'” Trump said.