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. 

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Nebraska)
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Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Nebraska)
Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) questions Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 18: Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., talk as Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Full committee hearing on 'Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice' on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 10: Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., listens as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies during the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee joint hearing on 'Facebook, Social Media Privacy, and the Use and Abuse of Data'on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 25: Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., helps his daughter Alexandra, 14, with algebra homework during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled 'Global Challenges and U.S. National Security Strategy,' featuring testimony by former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, on January 25, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 528 -- Pictured: (l-r) Senator Ben Sasse during an interview with host Seth Meyers on May 15, 2017 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 13: Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., right, and Ben Sasse, R-Neb., arrive for a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing titled 'The Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to Congress,' featuring testimony by Fed Chair Janet Yellen in Dirksen Building on July 13, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 12: Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., listens as Secretary of Defense nominee James Mattis testifies during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
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UNITED STATES - MAY 8: Sens. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, attend a Senate Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee hearing in Dirksen Building titled 'Russian Interference in the 2016 United States Election,' featuring testimony by former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on May 8, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
US Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, speaks during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) 2016 at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, outside Washington, March 3, 2016. Republican activists, organizers and voters gather for the Conservative Political Action Conference at a critical moment for the Republican Party as Donald Trump marches towards the presidential nomination and GOP stalwarts consider whether -- or how -- to stop him. / AFP / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) asks a question as former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifies about potential Russian interference in the presidential election before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., U.S. May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) (L) is ceremonially sworn in by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden with Sasse's wife Melissa Sasse, son Augustin Sasse and daughter Elizabeth Sasse in the Old Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol January 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. The 114th Congress convened on Tuesday, restoring control of both the House and Senate to the Republicans for the first time in eight years. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 07: Ben Sasse, republican congressional candidate from Nebraska, is interviewed by Roll Call. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 13: Freshman GOP Senators pose for a group photo with Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., in front of the Ohio Clock in the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015. From left are Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., David Perdue, R-Ga., Michael Rounds, R-S.D., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Steve Daines, R-Mont., Ben Sasse, R-Neb., Dan Sullivan, R-AK, Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Bill Cassidy, R-La., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and James Lankford, R-Okla. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

"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.

A history of the Trans-Pacific Partnership
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A history of the Trans-Pacific Partnership
US President Barack Obama smiles during a meeting with leaders from the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the US embassy in Beijing on November 10, 2014. Top leaders and ministers of the 21-member APEC grouping are meeting in Beijing from November 7 to 11. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump holds up an executive order withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership after signing it in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, January 23, 2017. Trump signed the decree Monday, effectively ending US participation in a sweeping trans-Pacific free trade agreement negotiated under former president Barack Obama. / AFP / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama (C) waves as he joins Trans-Pacific Partnership leaders before their meeting in Manila, Philippines, November 18, 2015. Pictured are: Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (L-R), Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Chile President Michelle Bachelet, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Malaysia Prime MInister Najib Razak, U.S. President Barack Obama, Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, Peru President Ollanta Humala, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
People pass an advertisement protesting the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Washington, DC on July 23, 2015. Expectations that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an accord that would encompass 40 percent of global trade, would be sealed this year increased after US President Barack Obama was last month given fast-track authority by Congress to negotiate such deals. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Demonstrators protest against the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement outside the Senate office buildings on Capitol Hill June 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed an important proceedural vote on the trade bill, which would grant President Barack Obama enhanced negotiating powers to complete a major Pacific trade accord, clearing the way for final passage as early as Wednesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Demonstrators protest against the legislation to give US President Barack Obama fast-track authority to advance trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), during a protest march on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, May 21, 2015. The US Senate advanced the legislation on Thursday to give Obama fast-track authority to forge a huge Asia-Pacific trade accord, setting up a final vote in the chamber for later this week. The measure would allow the Obama administration to conclude negotiations with 11 other Pacific Rim nations and bring a trade accord to Congress for an up or down vote, with lawmakers not permitted to make changes. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan visit the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, District of Columbia, U.S., on Monday, April 27, 2015. Prime Minister Abe is in the Nation's Capital to discuss a range of economic, security, and global issues, including progress on the Trans Pacific Partnership, Japan's expanding role in the Alliance, and climate change. (Photo by Pete Marovich/WHITE HOUSE POOL (ISP POOL IMAGES)/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
Representatives of members of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal: Brunei's Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs Erywan Dato Pehin, Chile's Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz, Australia's Trade Minister Steven Ciobo, Canada's International Trade Minister Francois-Phillippe Champagne, Singapur's Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang, New Zealand's Minister for Trade and Export Growth David Parker, Malaysia's Minister for Trade and Industry Datuk J. Jayasiri, Japan's Minister of Economic Revitalization Toshimitsu Motegi, Mexico's Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, Peru's Minister of Foreign Trade and Tourism Eduardo Ferreyros Kuppers and Vietnam's Industry and Trade Minister Tran Tuan Anh, pose for an official picture after the signing agreement ceremony in Santiago, Chile March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido
Japan's Minister of Economic Revitalization Toshimitsu Motegi (R) and Vietnam's Industry and Trade Minister Tran Tuan Anh shake hands after they attended a news conference on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Ministerial Meeting during APEC 2017 in Da Nang, Vietnam, November 11, 2017. REUTERS/Kham TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Farmers shout slogans at a rally against Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks in Tokyo November 10, 2010. Thousands of Japanese farmers rallied on Wednesday to demand their government steer clear of a U.S.-led free trade initiative which would open the heavily protected agricultural sector to fierce competition. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (JAPAN - Tags: BUSINESS AGRICULTURE CIVIL UNREST POLITICS IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A woman from the Muong ethnic tribe works on her green tea hills which produce black tea for export in Tan Son, outside Hanoi, October 4, 2015. A dozen Pacific nations closed in on a sweeping free trade pact on Sunday in Atlanta after a breakthrough over how long a monopoly pharmaceutical companies should be given on new biotech drugs. The trade pact, the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, would lower tariffs and set common standards for 12 economies led by the United States and Japan, which together account for 40 percent of global output. REUTERS/Kham TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 25: Delegates hold up signs that read 'Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)' on the first day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 11: U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) (R) speaks as Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) (L) listens during a news conference January 11, 2016 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. House Democrats held a news conference 'to stand against the Trans-Pacific Partnership.' (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Former U.S. Secretaries of State meet with President Barack Obama to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) at the White House in Washington, November 13, 2015. From left are Colin Powell, James Baker, Obama, Henry Kissenger and Madeleine Albright. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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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