French President Emmanuel Macron, even as he gently swiped at some of President Trump's policies, used his visit to Washington this week to strengthen his country's bond with the U.S. -- and in doing so, may have nudged out the British for Trump's affections.
Macron capped his visit with an address Wednesday to a Joint Session of Congress, after a series of meetings and dinners where he and the U.S. president appeared chummy and playful even as they discussed weighty issues like the Iran deal behind closed doors.
Macron was applauded by both Democrats and Republicans as he talked up the relationship between the two countries, praising Congress as a "sanctuary of democracy." He spoke of their common cause against terrorism in the fight for freedom.
"We have encountered constant rendezvous with death because we have this constant attachment to freedom and democracy," he said.
Awkwardly for Trump, Macron called to "make our planet great again" in tackling climate change, calling for a low carbon economy and expressing hope that Trump would re-enter the Paris climate deal.
"There is no planet B," he said, to whoops and cheers by Democrats.
He also continued to argue for the preservation of the Iran nuclear deal, saying: "We should not abandon it without having something substantial and more substantial instead. ... France will not leave the [agreement] because we signed it."
Macron, however, is opening the door to improvements on the deal that Trump may yet consider. And if the two leaders' public appearances this week -- including Trump's first State Dinner, for the French first couple -- is any gauge, Trump and Macron are in a cooperative mode.
Tuesday's appearances were marked by hand-holding, smiles and even the occasional kiss as Trump and Macron teased one another, and vowed to work closely on key foreign policy issues such as Syria (where both the U.K. and France joined America for recent strikes).
"We have a very special relationship, in fact I'll get that little piece of dandruff off," Trump said, before brushing the shoulder of Macron -- who later referred to Trump as “cher Donald” (Dear Donald).
Certainly, the days of Republicans calling for French fries to be renamed “Freedom Fries” in response to French uncertainty about the war in Iraq appear to be long gone. This week's visit marks the latest diplomatic push by Macron -- who won Trump’s approval in July by making him the honored guest at the Bastille Day parade in Paris.
Yet as Trump honored his French counterpart on Tuesday, a bust of scowling former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill looked on from the side -- perhaps sharing the attitude of officials at Downing Street likely to be concerned at Trump’s use of the phrase “Special Relationship” to describe the U.S.-French bond rather than the U.S.-U.K. alliance. Macron also used the phrase in his address to Congress, and was met with applause from lawmakers.
“With Macron, he’s very skillfully handled the Trump relationship and has successfully extended the hand of friendship to Trump without reservation,” Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation, told Fox News. “It’s a very bold move for a French president and a game changer but it’s paid off for him.”
Ideologically, the two leaders are quite different. Macron is closely aligned with the European Union, which Trump has been battling on the question of not only the Iran deal but steel and aluminum tariffs. Even on Tuesday, Trump criticized the union that Macron has been defending in the face of a nationalist-populist wave sweeping the continent.
In his remarks Wednesday, Macron warned of the dangers of "extreme nationalism," which he described as an illusion and a "temporary remedy to our fears" and urged the embrace of international institutions such as NATO and the United Nations.
“The reality remains that while Trump does have a personal affinity for Macron, Trump is pro-Brexit, anti-E.U. and a eurosceptic politician and he’s a big believer in national sovereignty so the ideological differences between Trump and Macron are deep seated,” Gardiner said.
Which is what makes the dynamic with Britain so curious.
Trump had initially seemed more receptive to British advances at the beginning of his presidency, meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May and calling for a trade deal between the two countries once the U.K. leaves the European Union. Trump, who regularly boasts of his Scottish heritage, has taken partial credit for Brexit and has repeatedly expressed skepticism about the European Union.
But days later, May was under pressure after Trump announced his controversial travel ban, which she ultimately condemned as “divisive and wrong.”
May, who was weakened by a 2017 general election result which saw her Conservative Party barely cling to power, has been facing a constant beating from the hard-left and even some moderates in her own party over her outreach to the president.
While a state visit to the U.K. was proposed in January 2017, the resultant controversy and threat of mass protests from left-wing activists appears to have nixed that plan. In January this year, Trump nixed a February visit to open the U.S. Embassy, purportedly due to the cost of the building.
Sky News reported Wednesday that an announcement is coming in upcoming days about a working visit by Trump to the U.K., possibly in July.
There have also been positive signs for the relationship. In Davos in January, Trump dismissed concerns of strained ties between the two.
“[May] and myself have had a really great relationship, although some people don't necessarily believe that. But I can tell you it's true,” Trump told reporters. “I have a tremendous respect for the prime minister and the job she's doing. And I think the feeling is mutual from the standpoint of liking each other a lot.”
“We are very much joined at the hip when it comes to the military. We have the same ideas, the same ideals,” he said before turning to speak to May directly. “There's nothing that would happen to you that we won't be there to fight for you.”
May was similarly glowing in her praise of what she called a “really special relationship between the U.K. and the United States.”
But controversies have peppered the U.S.-U.K. relationship, particularly Trump’s retweeting of videos of alleged crimes by Muslims tweeted out by a far-right U.K. group -- a move that sparked a hubbub and another scolding from May.
Trump has also clashed with London Mayor Sadiq Khan on the subject of terrorism -- with Khan celebrating Trump’s canceled visit by bragging that Trump had “got the message.”
The criticism has stung the British Government, with Foreign Minister Boris Johnson reacting to Khan’s anti-Trump sentiments by responding: “We will not allow US-UK relations to be endangered by some puffed up pompous popinjay in City Hall.”
Hard-left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also not made things easy for May, blasting Trump at every opportunity. When the U.S., U.K., and France joined forces to bomb Syria this month, Corbyn accused May of bowing to “the whims of a U.S. President.”
But Gardiner asserted that the Anglo-American alliance is a stronger, more deep-rooted relationship that is more likely to last over the long term.
“There’s a certain sort of superficiality to the Macron-Trump friendship because at a time of international crisis or when the U.S. really needs a friend, I think the phone call still goes to London other than Paris for real action,” he said.