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Trump, Turnbull praise each other on immigration and taxes

Last Updated Feb 23, 2018 at 9:00 pm PDT

President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull finish a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull put their “mateship” on full display Friday at the White House as they took turns praising each other’s approaches on immigration and taxes.

Their relationship got off to a rocky start a year ago, but none of that was evident as they prepared to field questions from journalists in the East Room after an afternoon of talks, including about jobs.

Trump congratulated Turnbull on “your immigration reforms and on Australia’s commitment to merit-based immigration.

“Are my friends from Congress listening to that? Merit based,” said Trump, who has been arguing for changes to turn the U.S. immigration system into one that is more focused on merit and the skills immigrants bring to the U.S., and less focused on family ties. His immigration demands have upset lawmakers, mostly Democrats.

“We want to do merit-based immigration also,” Trump said, adding that such a system “really protects the interest of Australia and its people.

“It’s the way to go. And you’ve been very successful with it,” Trump continued. “Here, we’re working very hard to do the same. In that sense, we’re going to, hopefully, follow in your footprints.”

When it was his turn to speak, Turnbull complimented Trump by calling the president’s decision to cut taxes “one of the most powerful arguments” he is using to persuade lawmakers to further reduce business taxes back home.

Trump signed a $1.5 trillion tax cut into law in December, significantly shaving taxes for corporations and the wealthy while providing more modest breaks for middle-class individuals. The Republican president and his economic advisers have argued that dropping the corporate tax rate from 35 per cent to 21 per cent will benefit workers through greater investment in the U.S. and in those companies, and through the creation of good-paying jobs. No Democrats voted to cut taxes.

Turnbull, who was accompanied by the largest Australian political and business delegation ever to visit the U.S., said he and Trump spent a lot of time talking about jobs. Turnbull told Trump that Australians have been “inspired, I have to say, by your success in securing the passage of the tax reforms.”

Turnbull said some corporate taxes in Australia have been cut, “but we’ve got more work to do.”

“The economic stimulus that your reforms have delivered here in the United States is one of the most powerful arguments that we are deploying to persuade our legislature to support reducing business tax,” the prime minister told Trump. “Because, as you are demonstrating and as we all know, when you cut company tax, most of the benefit goes to workers. It produces more investment. And, when you get more investment, you get more jobs.”

Trump opened the news conference with good news for Turnbull, announcing that a still-to-be built U.S. combat ship will be named the USS Canberra to honour an Australian cruiser that was lost fighting alongside the U.S. Navy during World War II. Canberra is Australia’s capital.

Trump said the ship will symbolize the “enduring friendship” between the U.S. and Australia as it sails the open sea. “There is no closer friendship,” he said.

Turnbull appeared elated by the announcement, noting that the ship will be built by an Australian company in Mobile, Alabama.

“What a great example of a hundred years of mateship,” he said, referring to when the U.S. and Australia first fought together in World War I.

Relations between Trump and Turnbull got off to a tumultuous start within days of Trump taking office in January 2017 after they sparred by telephone over a plan for the U.S. to accept hundreds of mostly Muslim refugees that Australia didn’t want to take in itself.

Trump had campaigned against immigration, including by Muslims, and disliked the deal, which was arranged by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

But Joe Hockey, Australia’s ambassador to the U.S., said the former businessmen now “understand each other” and enjoy each other’s company.

Both leaders dismiss speculation that their relationship had been damaged by that telephone call. Since then, Turnbull has met Trump in New York, but Friday’s meeting in Washington was their first in the context of an official visit.

Trump has not been to Australia yet as president. Asked if he’d like to visit when he and Turnbull appeared in the Oval Office, Trump said: “We will be there, yes. Great place.”

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Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap