LONDON: President Donald Trump will huddle with NATO leaders as House Democrats resume their impeachment inquiry probing whether he abused his presidential authority by urging a foreign leader to open an investigation of his political rival.
Trump is set to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on the sidelines of the NATO leaders' meeting on Wednesday.
More significantly, Trump will face one of the most critical split-screen moments of his presidency near the end of the NATO conference, when he addresses the news media soon after Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., gavels to order the House Judiciary Committee's first hearing in the impeachment inquiry.
The hearing will be on the constitutional grounds for presidential impeachment. "The impeachment is going nowhere. It is a waste of time. They're wasting their time. And it's a disgrace. It's a disgrace to our country," Trump insisted Tuesday as he sat down with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Trump said he remains unconcerned about the unfolding inquiry in Washington with Democrats facing a mountainous climb to remove him from office. While Democrats hold the majority in the House, Republicans control the Senate and not one Republican lawmaker in the upper chamber has signaled support for kicking Trump out of office.
An impeachment conviction in the Senate requires 67 votes out of 100. Democrats argue that Trump acted improperly when he pressed Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son's dealings in the eastern European nation. The vice president's son, Hunter Biden, sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
The US president bantered with reporters for more than two hours Tuesday, sitting casually in a salon of Winfield House, the manicured estate of the US ambassador to the United Kingdom, where he also met with fellow NATO leaders.
He slammed the ongoing Democratic-led impeachment inquiry back in the United States as a "hoax" and professed to be unconcerned about declines in the stock market spurred by his remark that a trade deal with China might not materialize until after the 2020 election.
Trump later paid a call on Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, and attended a NATO welcome reception at Buckingham Palace, before proceeding to an event at the prime minister's residence, No. 10 Downing St.
Trump punctuated the day of diplomacy with a fundraiser for his reelection effort that his campaign said brought in USD 3 million. The gathering of NATO leaders follows Trump's frequent criticism of alliance members as falling well short in doing their financial part through the first three years of his presidency.
After a NATO summit last year, he called for members devote at least 4 per cent of gross domestic product to military spending and took aim at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom he accused of paying Russia '"billions of dollars for gas and energy" while failing to meet her nation's commitment to spend at least 2 per cent of GDP on defense.
But at this NATO meeting, Trump - heading toward an election year looking to showcase foreign policy wins - is offering a more optimistic outlook for the alliance's future.
To that end, he suggested he deserved much of the credit for progress. "I don't think frankly before us that NATO was changing at all, and NATO is really changing right now," Trump said as he sat down for a one-on-one talk with Stoltenberg.
White House officials say that before Trump took office just four NATO members had reached the 2% benchmark set in 2014. Now there are nine, and 18 of the 29 are projected to meet the benchmark by 2024. Trump is set to have a working lunch Wednesday with what the White House called the "NATO 2%ers."
Stoltenberg said that Trump does deserve credit for nudging members. "The reality is that, not least because it has been so clearly conveyed from President Trump that we need fair burden sharing, allies are stepping up," Stoltenberg said.
In his meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump gently ribbed the premier - his country is spending about 1.3 per cent of GDP on defense - as "slightly delinquent."
"Some are major delinquent. Some are way below 1 percent and that's unacceptable, and then if something happens we're supposed to protect them and it's not really fair and it never has been fair,," said Trump.
He added that he's looking at the possibility of imposing unspecified trade penalties against NATO allies that perpetually fall below benchmarks. Trump's talks with Macron were tense at times.
Before meeting with him on the sidelines of the summit, Trump laced into the French president for what he called "very, very nasty" comments in The Economist about NATO's health with Trump leading its most important member. Macron didn't back down when they appeared later in the day, and he renewed his own criticism of Trump for withdrawing US forces from Syria.
That decision by Trump, made without consulting France or other NATO allies, gave Turkey, another NATO member, a green light to launch operations against Syrian Kurdish forces who had played a key role in the fight to clear a huge swath of Syria of Islamic State militants.
Trump and Macron have had an up-and-down relationship in the nearly three years Trump's been in office.