-- As the White House kicks off its Made in America Week, shining a spotlight on products manufactured domestically, President Donald Trump's spokesman was forced Monday to defend the fact that goods bearing the Trump name are frequently produced abroad.
Made in America Week — continuing a trend of themed weeks, such as Infrastructure Week and Energy Week — saw the White House hosting a product showcase featuring a variety of items manufactured in the U.S., the president delivering a speech encouraging domestic manufacturing and a ceremony commissioning the latest American-built Navy aircraft carrier.
But asked at Monday's press briefing about whether the Trump Organization or Ivanka Trump brands would commit "to stop manufacturing wares abroad," press secretary Sean Spicer shifted the focus to Trump's attempts to cultivate other companies' domestic production efforts.
"I think what's really important is the president's agenda — regulatory relief and tax relief — are focused on trying to make sure that all companies can hire here, can expand here, can manufacture here," said Spicer.
On the matter of Trump-branded items, he added, "I can tell you that in some cases, there are certain supply chains or scalability that may not be available in this country."
Questions about Trump products' creation and assembly abroad have dogged the businessman-turned-president since first announcing his America-first ambitions at the launch of his candidacy for president over two years ago.
During a memorable campaign stop in August 2016, Democratic rival Hillary Clinton held up a Trump-branded tie made China as she assailed the Republican nominee for suits stitched in Mexico, furniture created in Turkey and picture frames made in India.
Trump shrugged off the criticism during the campaign, telling ABC News that Clinton didn't need to raise the issue because he readily took ownership of the foreign items, chalking up the decisions as a financial one, given the costs of U.S. manufacturing. He pointed to the nature of the economy and blamed then-President Barack Obama's policies for forcing his hand.
"Unfortunately, my ties are made in China, and I will say this, the hats — Make America great again — I searched long and hard to find somebody that made the hats in this country," Trump told ABC News in June 2016.
"I pay a lot more money. It is a very hard thing, and it's because they devalue their currency," he added, referring to alleged Chinese efforts to make it less expensive to buy goods from the country.
Trump partially chalked up the production imbalance to "unfair trade practices" as he spoke at the product showcase Monday afternoon. Touting job creation in the manufacturing sector since he took office, he promised that the country would "once again rediscover our heritage as a manufacturing nation."
"We're here to celebrate American manufacturing and showcase all the products of the 50 states made in the U.S.A," he said. "Remember in the old days, they used to have 'Made in the U.S.A.'? 'Made in America' but 'Made in the U.S.A.' — we're going to start doing that again. We're going to put that brand on our product because it means it's the best."
Comments about the Trump Organization's business efforts by the president and his advisers have waned since his election, particularly as critics decry what they view as potential conflicts of interest. Spicer expressed discomfort in fielding the query on the topic Monday.
"Again, it's not appropriate me for to stand up here and comment about a business, and I believe that's a little out of bounds," he said, as the line of questioning wound down at the press briefing. "But again, I would go back to the president's broader goal, which is to create investment here, to bring back the manufacturing base."