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Trump's Criticism Of Boeing Deal Signals Approach To Business

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President-elect Donald Trump is defending his surprise attack on the Boeing Corporation, which briefly caused some turbulence in the company's stock price yesterday. Trump has suggested Boeing may be overcharging the U.S. government to produce new versions of Air Force One. This morning on NBC's "Today" show, Trump said this is just part of the negotiation.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODAY")

DONALD TRUMP: I spoke to a very good man yesterday - the head of Boeing - terrific guy. And we're going to work it out, but, you know, that's what I'm here for. I'm going to negotiate prices. And its planes are too expensive, and we're going to get the prices down. And if we don't get the prices down, we're not going to order them.

SHAPIRO: Since the election, Trump has not held back from singling out businesses, praising the ones he likes and bashing the others. That's a departure from Republican orthodoxy which largely favors a hands-off approach to business. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now to talk about this. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Boeing is just one of several companies that Trump has singled out in this way. What are some of the others?

HORSLEY: Right. Shortly after the election, the Ford Motor Company announced it was keeping one of its auto assembly operations in Louisville, Ky., rather than moving it to Mexico. Trump took credit for that and praised the company, even though U.S. workers would have kept their jobs either way.

Last week, we saw Trump taking credit for Carrier's decision to keep some jobs in Indiana, rather than moving those to Mexico. The head of Carrier's parent company acknowledged he was worried about losing lucrative defense work with the federal government if they didn't do what Trump wanted.

And then last Friday Trump went after the Rexnord company, which is planning to close a ball bearing factory in Indiana and move those jobs to Mexico. Trump tweeted, this is happening all over our country - no more. And he made that point again this morning on the "Today" show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODAY")

TRUMP: If they want to fire their workers, move to Mexico or some other country and sell their product into our country, they're going to be paying a tax.

HORSLEY: Trump has talked about levying a 35 percent tariff on imported goods, and he says that would make moving jobs overseas an expensive mistake.

SHAPIRO: How is the public responding to this?

HORSLEY: Well, a lot of people seem to like it, Ari. There was a new Politico poll out which found 60 percent of voters say their opinion of Trump improved because of his intervention with the Carrier company. But I think there are some businesses who would prefer that the president-elect stick to tweeting about "Saturday Night Live" or the cast of "Hamilton."

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

HORSLEY: That was - a Boeing spokesman was completely blindsided by Trump's tweet yesterday. He told The Associated Press, we're going to have to get back to you after we figure out what's going on. This is just not the way businesses expect to deal with a Republican president. The conservative Heritage Foundation says government leaders should typically keep an arm's length relationship with business. But at a Heritage event last night, Vice President-elect Mike Pence defended this activist approach, even as Pence also talked about more orthodox Republican ideas for boosting business.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE PENCE: Make no mistake about it - our president-elect and I believe fervently in the free market. But you cannot say you are for free markets and stand by while an avalanche of higher taxes, regulations and big government stifle out the competitiveness of the American economy.

SHAPIRO: Well, Scott, that sounds like the hit list of a traditional Republican talking point - cutting taxes, reducing regulation, big government. I mean, that seems more like what we would expect to hear from a Republican elected official.

HORSLEY: That's right. And those are the parts of the president-elect's agenda that other Republicans here in Washington are trying to focus on - not so much the Twitter attacks or the threats of punitive tariffs. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked this week about Trump's plan for penalizing companies that shift jobs overseas. And he suggested you could meet the same goal with tax cuts rather than tariffs.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PAUL RYAN: We're losing headquarters of companies because of our tax code. If you make money overseas, you can't even bring it back home to reinvest it because of our tax code. So we think the real solution here is comprehensive, across-the-board tax reform.

HORSLEY: So Republicans in Congress sound willing to work with Trump where the president-elect is toeing the party line. And for now, at least, they're sort of tiptoeing around the areas where they disagree. How long that lasts - it's hard to predict, just like Trump's tweets.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.