America’s lead trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer had an awkward encounter with Donald Trump in the Oval Office Friday as he tried to calmly school the president on legal terminology in front of reporters and a chuckling representative from China.
Lighthizer finally stopped trying, and instead deftly switched the term for the exact same document when he realized he wasn’t making any headway with the president.
It started when Trump was asked by a reporter what period of time “memorandums of understanding” being worked out on trade with China would last.
Trump shot back: “I don’t like MOUs because they don’t mean anything.”
Lighthizer calmly corrected the president, and turned to explain to reporters in the room: “An MOU is a contract. It’s the way trade agreements are generally [established]. It’s an actual contract between the two parties. A memo of understanding is a binding agreement.” He added: “It’s detailed, it covers everything … It’s a legal term; it’s a contract.”
“I disagree,” said a scowling Trump, causing top Chinese negotiator Vice Premier Liu He to laugh. “A memorandum of understanding is exactly that: It’s a memorandum of what our understanding is,” he added, circling his hands in the air. “How long will that take to put into a … contract?”
In a flash, Lighthizer switched gears without breaking a sweat: “From now on we’re not using ‘memorandum of understanding’ anymore (causing several people in the room to laugh). We’re going to use the term ‘trade agreement.’ We’ll have the same document; it’s going to be called a trade agreement. We’re never going to have an MOU again.”
Nuff said. Check it out in the video above.