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Trump Heads Into 2020 Election in Search of a Blockbuster Deal

In 2016, President Trump ran as the ultimate deal maker. But his unfinished business is starting to stack up.

The backlog raises questions about whether voters will reward him with a second term if he couldn’t complete most of these deals in his first.

Mr. Trump defends his negotiating style and insists he isn’t in a rush. But while his approach can prove effective—and has been endorsed by his supporters—some Republicans would like to see the president resolve some of these issues before Election Day.

“Trump is slowly running out of sand in the hourglass to complete his largest foreign policy initiatives,” said

Dan Eberhart,

a Republican donor and energy company executive. “Donors are increasingly concerned that President Trump hasn’t completed several of his key policy proposals and won’t before the election.”

The president is in New York City this week where he will address some of these issues with world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly. He will be shadowed by accusations that he pushed the Ukranian president to investigate Democratic rival

Joe Biden,

a reflection of the tumult that can distract from Mr. Trump’s deal-making efforts.

The trade war with China is putting a strain on the U.S. agriculture industry. WSJ’s Jason Bellini sat down with a group of farmers from the corn, beef, soybean, and dairy industries to hear how tariffs are affecting their businesses.

Mr. Trump defended himself last week. He said he was intentionally going “very slowly on guns” during an interview on Fox News and told reporters the U.S. was doing well on Iran. He also expressed optimism for a House vote soon on the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement and declared during a White House news conference that he wasn’t interested in a “partial deal” with China.

“I don’t think I need it before the election,” Mr. Trump said of a China deal. “I think people know that we’re doing a great job. I’ve rebuilt the military.”


What do you think of Donald Trump’s record with dealmaking as president? What deals do you hope to see from him and Congress? Join the conversation below.

During his 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump portrayed himself as the ultimate negotiator, proclaiming in his speech at the Republican National Convention that “I alone can fix it.” At times, he has also said new deals would be easy, tweeting last year that “trade wars are good and easy to win.”

Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said GOP voters still view Mr. Trump as fighting for results.

“I actually think his reputation as a deal maker is still very much intact,” Mr. Kaufmann said. “We have a president that’s willing to jump in and negotiate with anyone.”

The White House pointed to the president’s work on the USMCA with Mexico and Canada, as well as a trade deal with South Korea and an in-principle deal recently unveiled with Japan. Aides praised the president’s process on guns and stressed his tough posture toward China.

“President Trump is the first President to stand up to China and send a clear message that the United States will no longer tolerate unfair trade practices,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

Tim Murtaugh,

a spokesman for the president’s re-election campaign, also cited Mr. Trump’s efforts on North American trade and China. On the USMCA, he blamed House Speaker

Nancy Pelosi,

(D., Calif.) for holding it up, saying “she can’t bear to give President Trump what she perceives to be a political victory.”

But Republican consultant Rick Tyler, who worked for Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, warned that Mr. Trump’s approach to trade deals carries risks. “If the economy takes a hit, he’s clearly going to suffer the burden of that,” Mr. Tyler said.

Critics cite Mr. Trump’s hot-and-cold relationships with world leaders and congressional counterparts and his predilection for changing his mind as reasons why some deals sputter or stall. As he has reshaped his White House with supportive aides, he is also increasingly emboldened to go it alone.

None of the negotiations at hand are simple.

Mr. Trump’s trade war with China has contributed to a global economic slowdown with both sides unfurling a series of increasingly punishing tariffs. Another round of talks between senior officials are planned for next month. It isn’t clear if China will make the kind of concessions the U.S. wants.

On Iran, the president has been pushing for a consensus to increase international pressure on Iran following Tehran’s alleged attack on Saudi oil facilities. Mr. Trump angered allies when he withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear accord, a key accomplishment of his predecessor. The U.S. has increased sanctions to punish Iran, but so far no new deal has been reached.

At the U.N. on Monday, the leaders of France, Germany and the U.K. joined the U.S. in blaming Iran for the attacks and called on Tehran to begin talks on a new and more comprehensive nuclear agreement. But they have yet to back all of Washington’s demands for a new deal and they didn’t signal that they would join in pressing tougher sanctions.

A meeting between Mr. Trump and Iranian President

Hassan Rouhani

appears off the table at the UNGA in the wake of the attack in Saudi Arabia, but aides previously said Mr. Trump was prepared to meet without preconditions. Mr. Trump has met twice with North Korea’s

Kim Jong Un

without reaching a nuclear deal—though his defenders argue that any show of diplomacy is a sign of progress.

While Mr. Trump struck a deal last year with Canada and Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, the president must still win approval in Congress. Democrats say the deal needs more work. Negotiations are under way, but Mrs. Pelosi hasn’t been moved to speed things up.

On guns, Mr. Trump has shown renewed interest in new reforms since mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, but has offered mixed messages for several weeks, floating expanded background checks, but also vowing to protect gun owners. Aides have been meeting with lawmakers on various proposals, but Republicans have made clear they aren’t making a move without the president.

Chris Ruddy, a Trump ally and CEO of Newsmax Media, argued that the president was “being smart by not rushing to get agreements done for the sake of closing.”

Still he added: “I do think he needs a couple foreign policy and domestic wins heading into 2020.”

Write to Catherine Lucey at

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