WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump called stalled trade talks with America's biggest economic rival, China, just "a little squabble," even as Congress and the markets are increasingly unnerved by it, and, touching on another foreign policy hot spot, suggested he would send more than 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East to confront Iran.
The remarks came after The New York Times reported the administration is considering sending troops to the Middle East. The president already has ordered a carrier strike group and bomber wing to the region.
The commander in chief on Tuesday both dismissed the report and used it for saber rattling toward Tehran.
"We would send a hell of a lot more troops than that," Trump told reporters as he left the White House for an energy event and fundraisers in Louisiana.
Democrats like Senate Intelligence member Dianne Feinstein say the president and aides like national security adviser John Bolton have "raised tensions" to a point that their moves are "pushing us closer to another Middle East conflict."
"The president should reconsider his bellicose posturing and instead search for a diplomatic solution," the California Democrat said in a statement late last week. White House policies such as exiting a multicountry nuclear pact with Tehran and other moves are the reasons the Iranian government "expanded its hostile behavior," making it "clear the president's approach is failing," Feinstein said.
Republican members, as they have on so many hot-button issues, continue to stand by the GOP chief executive on Iran. They say his actions, including increased economic sanctions toward Iran, are justified and meant to get Iranian leaders to the negotiating table.
After months of focusing largely on the 2018 midterm elections then the special counsel's Russia election meddling report, Trump is juggling not only Iran but other foreign policy challenges.
That includes high-stakes trade talks.
"We're having a little squabble with China because we've been treated very unfairly for many, many decades. ... I think it's going to turn out extremely well," Trump said.
The president on Monday signaled he is considering slapping new tariffs on more than $300 billion of additional Chinese goods if Beijing fails to seriously re-enter the yearslong talks, which broke down a week and a half ago. He seems to be betting big on his friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"The relationship I have with President Xi is extraordinary, it's really very good. But he's for China and I'm for the USA," he said.
Senate Republicans, especially from farm states, have consistently warned the administration against a trade war, but as of Tuesday it remained unclear where any of the conversations might lead.
Sen. Jerry Moran, for instance, told CQ Roll Call that he and others were being "very vocal at every opportunity in Congress and at the White House about the need to get this resolved, and the consequences of not."
But the Kansas Republican did not know whether the conversations would improve the situation. He did, however, suggest another path that Congress might take.
"While we're focused on tariffs and China, one of the things we could do is get USMCA approved, and that's something that could happen here," Moran said.
However, that new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico would require the buy-in of the Democratic-led House of Representatives, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has insisted on changes.
In recent days Trump has also hedged about a deal with China ever being reached. On Tuesday he touted his tariffs on billions of Chinese-made products saying there is "a lot of money being made by the United States" from the tariffs — even though his chief economic adviser, Lawrence Kudlow, on Sunday acknowledged U.S. consumers and business will foot the bill.
The president also was asked about Attorney General William P. Barr appointing a Connecticut prosecutor to investigate the origins of what became special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's Russia probe. He claimed he did not order Barr to launch that probe despite publicly advocating for it for months.
"I didn't know it. I didn't ask him to do it," the president said.