President Trump will come face to face with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House Friday — after relentlessly mocking and criticizing her for months on end during last year’s presidential campaign.
The new U.S. president and the longtime German stateswoman are expected to discuss the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which Trump has criticized, and the West’s relationship with Russia.
The meeting has the potential to be awkward.
The former businessman frequently accused Merkel of having “ruined” Germany with “insane” policies that relocated hundreds of thousands of refugees to her country. According to Trump, the threat of terrorism renders the admittance of refugees a foolish and gullible action that would make a nation more vulnerable to attacks.
In January, during the week leading up to his inauguration, Trump told the Times of London and Germany’s Bild that Merkel made a “catastrophic mistake” and that the refugee crisis was the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” prompting the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.
“I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know, taking all of the people from wherever they come from,” Trump said.
Last August, on the campaign trail, Trump compared rival Hillary Clinton to Merkel while arguing that Clinton’s immigration policies would destroy the United States. He said Clinton wants to “be America’s Angela Merkel, and you know what a disaster the massive immigration has been to Germany and the people of Germany.”
He added, “Crime has risen to levels that no one thought they would ever, ever see. It is a catastrophe.”
Michael Roth, Germany’s European affairs minister, told Reuters at the time that this was incorrect and that the level of crime was mostly consistent. Roth said this statement was based on “fears, lies and half-truths” and that it’s important to correct it, given the United States’ influence throughout the world.
“I’m sorry that the Republican presidential candidate trumpets out things like that without any factual basis,” Roth told Reuters.
Around the same time, Trump bashed Merkel during a rally in Virginia: “You watch what happens to Angela Merkel, who I always thought of as a very good leader until she did this. I don’t know what went wrong with her.”
“What went wrong? Angela, what happened?” he added.
The New York real estate tycoon also bristled in December 2015 when Time magazine selected Merkel as “person of the year,” even though the title is not necessarily intended to be an honor. It is given to the person who “has done the most to influence the events of the year” — for better or for worse. Regardless, Trump was named “person of the year” in 2016.
I told you @TIME Magazine would never pick me as person of the year despite being the big favorite They picked person who is ruining Germany
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 9, 2015
For her part, Merkel has taken digs at the still new Trump administration, urging people to be skeptical of propaganda campaigns that perpetuate fake news at the expense of the truth.
“There needs to be an understanding of persuading people with facts instead of fakes,” she said in late January, according to a translation by The Local news site.
Trump signed an executive order barring citizens from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., and called for a freeze on accepting refugees. Merkel, on the other hand, has led Germany to accept an extraordinary number of refugees — an act that, in part, led to the Time magazine nod.
It’s still too early to determine how the Merkel-Trump relationship will play out. She had close relationships with Trump’s predecessors — former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama — and she has been known to stand up to political “strongmen” in the past, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, who brought a large dog to their meeting.
Their meeting had originally been scheduled for Tuesday, but was postponed following reports of a snowstorm set to hit the Eastern Seaboard.
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