Top Republican senator: Trump wants to jump back in the massive trade deal he once called 'a rape of our country'

  • Sen. Ben Sasse told reporters that President Donald Trump told two of his advisers to look into getting the US back into the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

  • Trump pulled the US out of the TPP just two days after taking office.

  • The move would be a reversal of Trump's recent protectionist trade rhetoric.

President Donald Trump appears to be reversing course on a major multilateral trade deal.

GOP Sen. Ben Sasse, a staunch free-trade advocate, told reporters Thursday that during a White House meeting on Thursday, Trump directed two top economic advisers to reenter negotiations to get the US into the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The TPP was crafted most extensively by President Barack Obama's administration. The agreement spans 11 countries around the Pacific Rim, including Japan, Australia, Mexico, and Canada. Despite Obama signing the deal in February 2016, Trump yanked the US out of the agreement just two days after his inauguration.

Sasse told reporters that Trump directed National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to look into getting the US back into the TPP.

"The best thing the United States can do to push back against Chinese cheating now is to lead the other eleven Pacific nations that believe in free trade and the rule of law," Sasse said in a statement after the meeting. "It is good news that today the president directed Larry Kudlow and Ambassador Lighthizer to negotiate US entry into TPP."

The other 11 countries signed a new agreement, called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, in March.

Trump originally trashed the TPP during the 2016 campaign, calling it "a rape of our country." But in January, the president suggested that the US could get back into the deal if terms were improved. But many TPP nations said the White House never engaged in serious talks regarding the deal.

The free trade move comes in contrast to a rash of recent protectionist measures Trump has imposed, including tariffs on imports of steel, aluminum, and $50 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Despite Trump's fiery rhetoric and crackdowns, Kudlow also suggested late last week that the president was attempting to find a "coalition of the willing" to take China on over trade. Some lawmakers and experts speculated that the "coalition" could be the TPP nations.

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