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In Asia, Trump Can't Escape America's Problem With Gun Violence


President Trump is in the midst of a five-nation tour of Asia. But even there, he can't get away from America's problem with gun violence. Trump took time out today from talks on trade and security in Tokyo to address the weekend shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president, and he joins us now. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So both President Trump and the Japanese prime minister addressed the Texas shooting today. Can you fill us in on what they had to say?

HORSLEY: Well, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered his condolences to the president, which certainly was on Trump's mind throughout the day. Trump was getting regular briefings about the attack. He was tweeting about it early this morning Tokyo time. The president says all of America is praying with the victims and their families, adding that, in tragic times, Americans pull together. But when Trump was asked what specific policies he might support to try to prevent such attacks in the future, he didn't have much to say. He described the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. as primarily a mental health problem.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries. But this isn't a guns situation. I mean, we could go into it, but it's a little bit soon to go into it. But fortunately, somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise it would have been as bad as it was. It would have been much worse.

HORSLEY: The president is talking there about a neighbor who used his own gun to shoot at the church gunman, who then dropped his weapon and fled.

KELLY: Now, the shooting comes as President Trump and Prime Minister Abe were talking about a different kind of threat, the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear program, which is of huge concern in Japan, of course, and then also in South Korea, which is the next stop on the president's tour. How are talks on that subject going?

HORSLEY: Well, South Korea spends considerably more money on self-defense than Japan does relative to the size of the two countries' economies. And Trump wants Japan to devote more resources to its own defense. That's something he talked about during the presidential campaign. Specifically, he wants Japan to spend more on American-made military hardware.


TRUMP: The prime minister of Japan is going to be purchasing massive amounts of military equipment, as he should. And we make the best military equipment by far. He'll be purchasing it from the United States.

HORSLEY: You can hear there Trump sees this as both an economic issue and a security issue. He also praised Japan for being a big customer of Boeing's commercial jet liners, but he wants to see Japanese consumers buying more American automobiles. So trade is another big issue on the president's mind.

KELLY: Well, speaking of trade, let me ask you about one more thing before we let you go, which is this big trade agreement that the U.S. had made with Japan and 10 other countries that was negotiated under President Obama. President Trump pulled the plug on that deal right after he came to office. So how is that factoring into these meetings?

HORSLEY: Yeah, you're talking there about the Trans-Pacific Partnership...

KELLY: Right.

HORSLEY: ...Or TPP. The president tried to make the case this week that the U.S. can negotiate better deals by working one on one with other countries. And he tried to make that case when he spoke to a group of American and Japanese business leaders.


TRUMP: We will have more trade than anybody ever thought of under TPP. That I can tell you. TPP was not the right idea. Probably some of you in this room disagree, but ultimately, I'll be proven to be right.

HORSLEY: Now, other countries that were parties to the TPP though, including Japan, are not necessarily waiting for the U.S. At a summit meeting in Vietnam later this week, they'll be talking about ways to relaunch the Trans-Pacific pact minus America.

KELLY: NPR's Scott Horsley traveling with the president. Thanks very much, Scott.

HORSLEY: Good to with you, Mary Louise.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIZUE'S "UNNECESSARY PAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.