After months without a visitor from overseas, President Donald Trump welcomed Poland’s President to the White House on Wednesday in another attempt to demonstrate his vision – refuted by reality – that coronavirus is waning.
Trump remains hopeful for an economic rebound by November’s elections and believes returning to a normal schedule of events will help demonstrate the country’s readiness to reopen. Both he and Polish President Andrzej Duda suggested the coronavirus pandemic currently raging in the United States was in the rearview as in-person diplomacy resumed in the Oval Office.
“This is the first after Covid, after the start of the plague, as I call it, and it’s an honor to have you here,” Trump told his visitor, as they began talks at the White House.
Duda, who faces a tight reelection in four days, said it was an honor to be Trump’s first invitee after an extended period of pandemic-forced lockdown.
“It’s a privilege and honor to be here with you in the White House, the first president of state after the lockdown at the end of the coronavirus,” he said.
Confidence aside, the resumption of in-person diplomacy can hardly mask the still-raging effects of the global pandemic. Cases continue to spike in states across the United States, and the European Union – of which Poland is a member – is considering barring Americans from entering because of the continued contagion.
Duda and his delegation all received coronavirus tests ahead of their visit to Washington on Wednesday, as did US officials joining afternoon meetings between Duda and Trump in the Oval Office.
The two men, both nationalist leaders whose actions have caused concern for human rights and democracy, have forged a tight relationship since Trump visited Warsaw in 2017.
Trump has often remembered back to that trip and the large crowd that gathered in a central square to listen to him deliver a speech on US-European relations. Duda, meanwhile, has sought to curry favor with the President by seeking to name a military base in Poland Fort Trump.
“I have a very good personal relationship with the President,” Trump said in the Oval Office.
On Wednesday, Duda was expected to raise the issue of relocating some US troops from Germany – where Trump is planning to cut troops numbers by 9,500 – to Poland. Senior administration officials declined to speculate on the number of US troops who would relocate to Poland ahead of the visit, saying final determinations haven’t yet been made.
“We will probably be moving them from Germany to Poland,” Trump said when discussing his planned drawdown of troops from Germany. He said he wanted to bring US troop levels there to 25,000. “Some will be coming home and some will be going to other places and Poland would be one of those places.”
Duda said he “wouldn’t dare say to the President of the United States of America where he would send his soldiers,” but warned of a complete withdrawal of American troops from the region.
“I would not deny that I requested to the President that he not withdraw forces from Europe,” Duda said, indicating US presence there was an important security guarantee.
Trump last held a meeting with a foreign counterpart in March when Ireland’s leader visited the White House. Days later, Trump announced restrictions on travel from the European Union, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
While Trump once hoped to welcome fellow leaders for a G7 summit in Washington at the end of June, he postponed the gathering to at least September after German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested it was too early to travel to the United States.
Trump invited Duda to the White House four days ahead of a closely contested election in Poland. Duda, who has been accused of veering into autocracy, faces several challengers.
Trump has shown a willingness to lend political support to his global allies facing tough contests, including when he hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in close proximity to Israeli elections earlier this year.
In defending the timing of the visit, Duda said it was a “long-planned meeting.”
“We are looking for a win-win situation,” he said, adding both he and Trump were “fulfilling obligations and duties as presidents.”
Trump was less circumspect about the political overtures.
“The people of Poland think the world of him,” Trump said. “I don’t think he needs my help. He will do very well with or without us.”