Trump Heads to France, Embracing a Post-Election Presidential Tradition

Trump Heads to France, Embracing a Post-Election Presidential Tradition


PARIS — President Trump left Washington on Friday en route to France to join other world leaders marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, leaving behind an American capital roiling over the midterm election results and the dismissal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Accompanied by Melania Trump, the president took off on Air Force One heading over the Atlantic for a short stay in Paris, his first overseas trip since July when he met with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Helsinki. The two at one point had expected to meet again here in Paris, but Mr. Trump said this week that they had nothing on the schedule.

The president is set to spend just about 48 hours on the ground but will have the chance to interact with Mr. Putin and other world leaders at several events hosted by President Emanuel Macron of France. While in France, Mr. Trump plans to sit down for a formal meeting with Mr. Macron, who initially sought to forge a friendly relationship with the American president only to see it fall out over trade and other disputes.

While long scheduled, the trip gives Mr. Trump the opportunity to try to briefly escape the domestic controversies dominating Washington. Democrats are preparing to take control of the House after the midterm elections and critics are lashing out at the president’s decision to fire Mr. Sessions, seeing it as an effort to impede the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into any ties between Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia.

Other presidents have promptly left the country after midterm election defeats. Bill Clinton headed to the Philippines and Indonesia the weekend after his party lost both houses of Congress in 1994. George W. Bush traveled to Russia, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia a week after losing both houses in 2006. Barack Obama traveled to India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan the weekend after losing the House in 2010.

Mr. Trump’s one-country trip, by comparison, is far less ambitious (and, oddly, he will be the only one of the four not to go to Indonesia immediately after a midterm setback). But it demonstrates the traditional ability of a president to turn to foreign policy — where he has more latitude even when his domestic reach is constrained.

The president is scheduled to land in Paris on Friday night and has no public events scheduled in the evening. On Saturday, he will meet with Mr. Macron at the Élysée Palace and then visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery at the foot of the hill where the Battle of Belleau Wood was fought. He will attend a dinner hosted by Mr. Macron at the end of the day.

On Sunday, he will join about 70 world leaders for the ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe marking the armistice that ended World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Afterward, he will join the leaders for lunch and separately head to the Suresnes American Cemetery outside Paris before leaving for home in the afternoon.

He will not stay for the Paris Peace Forum, a gathering Mr. Macron is inaugurating to bring together governments and private organizations to improve international coordination and examine ways to avoid the sort of tensions that led to World War I and other conflicts.

Initially called the Great War, the clash inaugurated a new era of global struggle for power as Britain, France, Russia and their allies fought Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire starting in 1914. The United States joined what was dubbed “the war to end all wars” in 1917, helping to defeat the German-led coalition by November 1918. Tens of millions were killed or wounded, although only a small fraction of them American.

The historical memories aside, the weekend will be watched to see whether Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin talk. Mr. Trump last month sent his national security adviser, John R. Bolton, to Moscow to arrange for a meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of the official events in Paris, but since then the two sides have issued confusing and conflicting accounts of whether they will talk.

No official meeting is scheduled and the two sides now say they will wait for a more formal session during an international summit meeting in Buenos Aires later this month. But the two will be in the same room together for this weekend’s events and could speak informally.



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