WASHINGTON: Beset by challenges at home, President Donald Trump on Friday embarks on the longest trip to Asia by an American president in more than a quarter century, looking for help to pressure North Korea to stand down from a nuclear crisis.
Trump’s tour of Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines from Friday to Nov. 14 will take him out of Washington as is preoccupied with several issues.
These include an intensifying federal investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election, New York’s recovery from an attack that killed eight people and debate over a tax-cut plan that if approved by Congress would be his first major legislative victory.
The last time a U.S. president was in Asia for so long was in late 1991 and early 1992, when President George H.W. Bush became ill at a Japanese state dinner.
Trump’s extended absence has alarmed some allies who, after seeing a healthcare reform bid fizzle, worry the tax effort could suffer without him at close hand to keep momentum going.
“It is too long a trip and will only further hurt his most important priority, which is getting his legislative agenda through Congress,” said an outside adviser to Trump, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Going to Asia doesn’t do anything to advance his tax-cuts agenda or to help him in his re-election efforts.”
White House officials waved off concerns, insisting Trump can keep his focus on a multitude of issues wherever he is.
The trip comes just days after Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was indicted in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
While tweeting about developments vigorously this week, Trump told The New York Times on Wednesday that he was “not angry at anybody” over the case and there was nothing to suggest any collusion by his campaign and Russia.
Trump will fly on Friday morning to Hawaii, stopping for a briefing on U.S. military forces in the Pacific and a visit to Pearl Harbor.
Trump will then visit Japan and South Korea in search of a united front against North Korea before going to Beijing, where he will push Chinese President Xi Jinping to get tougher with Pyongyang.
Trump will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang, Vietnam, make a state visit to Hanoi and end his trip with the Association of South East Asia Nations summit in Manila.