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Trump is all insults and gripes as European trip begins -- until he meets the queen

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 6/3/2019 By Eli Stokols, Los Angeles Times

Slideshow by photo services

LONDON -- President Trump did not act like a man about to be honored by the queen -- until he came face to face with the 93-year-old British monarch Monday afternoon.

For three hours between his morning arrival at Stanstead Airport and a formal welcoming ceremony just after noon, Trump set a cantankerous tone for his five-day European trip, tweeting out a series of attacks and complaints.

In a city and country where he is already deeply unpopular, the president personified a familiar stereotype: the rude American abroad.

Before Air Force One had touched down, Trump attacked London's mayor, Sadiq Khan, as a "stone cold loser."

In a second tweet, he likened Khan to "our very dumb and incompetent Mayor of NYC [Bill] de Blasio" and mocked the London mayor's height -- he's about 5-foot-6 -- before noting that that he was glad to be visiting.

"In any event, I look forward to being a great friend to the United Kingdom, and am looking very much forward to my visit. Landing now!" he wrote.

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Video by Reuters

After being flown from the airfield northeast of London to Winfield House, the U.S. ambassador's residence here, for some downtime ahead of afternoon ceremonies, Trump continued to tweet, claiming that tariffs were forcing China to pay "billions" to the U.S. and carping about his limited television options.

"Just arrived in the United Kingdom," he tweeted. "The only problem is that @CNN is the primary source of news available from the U.S. After watching it for a short while, I turned it off. All negative & so much Fake News, very bad for U.S. Big ratings drop. Why doesn't owner @ATT do something?"

That led to a second tweet in which Trump appeared to recommend a boycott of a major American company, saying that if people "stopped using" AT&T -- a company that employs more than 100,000 Americans -- CNN might be "forced to make big changes."

Once the ceremonies began outside Buckingham Palace, however, the president was all smiles as Marine One delivered him and First Lady Melania Trump to the grand lawn, where he was greeted by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and led up the steps to the greet the waiting queen.

Cannons fired in a ceremonial welcome salute, and dignitaries stood and watched as the Grenadier Guards, wearing the traditional red coats and bearskin hats, marched in formation before playing the U.S. national anthem.

At one point, Trump and Prince Charles walked among the guards for an official inspection.

Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, senior advisor Stephen Miller and U.S. Ambassador Woody Johnson were among those watching the ceremonies from a palace balcony.

The queen presented Trump with the abridged, single-volume version of Winston Churchill's multibook series, "The Second World War," as well as a boxed set of three royal pens. It's commonly known that Trump seldom, if ever, reads books.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II greets U.S. President Donald Trump as he arrives for the Ceremonial Welcome at Buckingham Palace, in London, Britain June 3, 2019. Victoria Jones/Pool via REUTERS © Thomson Reuters Britain's Queen Elizabeth II greets U.S. President Donald Trump as he arrives for the Ceremonial Welcome at Buckingham Palace, in London, Britain June 3, 2019. Victoria Jones/Pool via REUTERS To some watching back in the U.S., the queen's steadfastly apolitical and polite persona stood in stark contrast to her guest of honor, however well mannered he appeared in her presence.

"An important Presidential responsibility is to represent the American people overseas with dignity," tweeted R. Nicholas Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO. "Trump has failed this straightforward duty in the first hour of his State Visit to the U.K. How pitiful."

Trump's day of official festivities also includes a private lunch with the queen, a visit to Westminster Abbey and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, tea with Prince Charles and Camilla and then -- after an additional two hours of downtime -- a return to Buckingham Palace for an official state banquet and a reception to follow.

The pageantry and pleasantries somewhat mask Trump's deep unpopularity with much of the British population. According to a new poll, fewer than one in five people in Britain believe the U.K. still has "the special relationship" with the U.S. that this state visit is meant to commemorate and solidify.

Trump has celebrated the country's 2016 Brexit vote. But even if the U.K. turns away from Europe by leaving the EU and negotiating its own trade deal with the U.S., significant daylight still separates the two nations, which have taken opposite positions on climate change and the Iran nuclear deal, among other things.

Khan, knowing that a quarrel with Trump likely will boost him politically, took advantage of the international platform the president's attack provided him, releasing a two-minute video in which he spoke directly to the camera -- and the visiting American.

"If you're watching this, your values and what you stand for are the complete opposite of London's values and the values in this country," Khan said. "We think diversity is a strength. We respect women. And we think they're equal to men. We think it's important to safeguard the rights of all of us, particularly vulnerable and the marginalized."

The president, who will meet with outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday, has shown little compunction about involving himself in Britain's current political soap opera, a two-month process that will conclude with the election of May's successor.

Over the weekend, Trump referred to the American-born Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, as "nasty" in an interview with the British tabloid the Sun after being informed that she had criticized him during the 2016 campaign, two years before she wed Prince Harry.

Once the article was published, Trump, who also said he thought she would make a "very good" American princess and wished her success, blasted the reaction to his comments and claimed not to have called her "nasty."

The Sun released an audio recording of the interview proving that he had.

Even before these latest barbs, Trump was deeply unpopular in London. He steered clear of the city during his first visit to Britain last July, meeting with May at Chequers, an estate outside the city, and stopping by Windsor Castle to meet the queen.

That visit sparked protests across the city, and this week's trip is seeing more of the same.

Beyond the inflatable "Baby Trump" balloon that Khan approved for flying again over Parliament Square on Tuesday, marchers are expected to fill the streets around Buckingham Palace.

Another group that has risen to prominence with a social-media and billboard-focused campaign criticizing pro-Brexit politicians calls itself "Led by Donkeys." It has made a point of reminding Trump of the criticisms that Conservative Party figure Boris Johnson leveled at him in 2016 by projecting a video of the comments onto the side of Elizabeth Tower, which surrounds Big Ben.

In those comments from a television interview, Johnson, then the mayor of London, categorized Trump as one who, like terrorists, seeks to "divide" people; derided his "stupefying ignorance"; and said he was "clearly out of his mind" and "unfit" to serve as president. Johnson later went on to be foreign minister under May, quit the government in a fight over Brexit policy and is now running to be May's successor.

As Brexit politics have hardened, Johnson and Trump have formed a friendly relationship. Over the weekend, Trump seemed to endorse Johnson's bid to be the country's next prime minister.

"I think Boris would do a very good job," Trump said. "I think he would be excellent."

He added: "He has been very positive about me and our country."

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