After 10 day vacation, Trump pushes back on whether U.S. economy faces recession

/ CBS/AP

Trump returns to Washington after 10 days

President Trump returned to Washington on Sunday after spending 10 days at his New Jersey golf club. Before boarding Air Force One, the president made a point to push back on the risks of a recession facing the U.S. economy. Mr. Trump said the economy is "doing very well" and dismissed concerns of recession, offering an optimistic outlook after last week's steep drop in the financial markets.

"I don't think we're having a recession," Mr. Trump told reporters Sunday afternoon before heading back to the White House. "We're doing tremendously well. Our consumers are rich. I gave a tremendous tax cut and they're loaded up with money."

President Trump speaks to the press before boarding Air Force One in Morristown, N.J., on Sun., Aug. 18, 2019. Getty

Larry Kudlow, Mr. Trump's top economic adviser, also played down fears of a looming recession and predicted the economy will perform well in the second half of 2019. In Sunday television interviews, he said that consumers are seeing higher wages and are able to spend and save more — despite a tumultuous week on Wall Street.

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"No, I don't see a recession," Kudlow said. "We're doing pretty darn well in my judgment. Let's not be afraid of optimism."

Kudlow also explained that strong retail and low unemployment are signs that the U.S. economy remains strong.

A strong economy is key to Mr. Trump's reelection prospects. Consumer confidence has dropped 6.4% since July. The president has spent most of the week at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club with much of his tweeting focused on talking up the economy.

Kudlow acknowledged a slowing energy sector, but said low interest rates will help housing, construction and auto sales.

Kudlow also defended the president's use of tariffs on goods coming from China. Before he joined the administration, Kudlow was known for opposing tariffs and promoting free trade during his career as an economic analyst. Kudlow said Mr. Trump has taught him and others that the "China story has to be changed and reformed."

"We cannot let China pursue these unfair and unreciprocal trading practices," Kudlow said.

Trump backs down against tariffs on Chinese imports

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke said the U.S. needed to work with allies to hold China accountable on trade. He said he fears Mr. Trump is driving the global economy into a recession.

"This current trade war that the president has entered our country into is not working," O'Rourke said. "It is hammering the hell out of farmers across this country."

Last month, the Federal Reserve reduced its benchmark rate — which affects many loans for households and businesses — by a quarter-point to a range of 2% to 2.25%. It's the first rate cut since December 2008 during the depths of the Great Recession. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell stressed that the Fed was worried about the consequences of Mr. Trump's trade war and sluggish economies overseas.

"Weak global growth and trade tensions are having an effect on the U.S. economy," he said.

Breaking with historical norms, Mr. Trump has been highly critical of Powell as he places blame for any economic weakness on the nation's central bank for raising interest rates too much over the past two years.

Peter Navarro, who advises Mr. Trump on trade policy, shared that sentiment during his appearance on Sunday's "Face the Nation" with Margaret Brennan.

"The Federal Reserve chairman should look in the mirror and say, 'I raised rates too far, too fast, and I cost this economy a full percentage point of growth,'" Navarro said.

White House trade official Peter Navarro downplays consumer impact of Chinese tariffs

Navarro also said U.S. consumers are not affected by the administration's trade war with China, though tariffs are taxes paid by U.S. importers, not by China, and are often passed along to U.S. businesses and consumers through higher prices.

Kudlow himself told Fox in May that U.S. consumers and businesses ultimately end up paying the tariffs that the administration imposes on billions of dollars of Chinese goods.

Mr. Trump acknowledged at least a potential impact when he paused a planned 10% tariff hike for many items coming from China, such as cellphones, laptops, video game consoles, some toys, computer monitors, shoes and clothing.

"We're doing (it) just for Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs could have an impact," the president told reporters in New Jersey.

Navarro would not go even that far, saying Sunday "there's no evidence whatsoever that Americans consumers are bearing any of this."

Kudlow was interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press" and "Fox News Sunday." O'Rourke spoke on NBC, and Navarro also appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" and CBS News.

Mr. Trump's trade war with China has been a target of criticism by Democrats vying to challenge him in 2020.

"There is clearly no strategy for dealing with the trade war in a way that will actually lead to results for American farmers or American consumers," said Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, a Democratic presidential candidate. He said on CNN that it was "a fool's errand" to think tariff increases will compel China to change its economic approach.

Dem candidate Andrew Yang defends plan to give every American $1,000 a month

Another 2020 candidate, Andrew Yang, insists Mr. Trump's approach isn't working.

"We need to curb some of the abuses on the Chinese side," Yang told Brennan on "Face the Nation," adding, "But the trade war is leading the global economy in the wrong direction."

Mr. Trump insists the U.S. economy is poised for growth after the trade deals are done, but after months of negotiations between China and the U.S., there is no trade deal in sight.

Paula Reid contributed to this report.

First published on August 18, 2019 / 8:24 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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