Irish prime minister makes annual visit to the White House, Capitol Hill

Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images
Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar met with President Donald Trump Thursday before heading to Capitol Hill to take part in the annual Washington tradition of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and the relationship between the U.S. and Ireland.

Varadkar’s visit comes as the United Kingdom is embroiled in chaos over Brexit and Ireland’s concerns over its border and trade with Northern Ireland. During his talks at the White House, the Taoiseach (Gaelic for “leader”) spoke with Trump about Ireland’s position opposing Brexit and the current imbroglio.

“As you know, he’s in a very complicated position right now because of Brexit, you’re going to have to tell me what’s happening, and tell the world what’s happening because I’m not sure anyone knows,” Trump told Varadkar, before criticizing British Prime Minister Theresa May’s leadership on the recent Brexit deal vote she lost by a landslide.

“I’m surprised at how badly it has all gone from the standpoint of the negotiation. But I gave the prime minister my ideas how to negotiate it. I think you would have been successful,” Trump said. “She didn’t listen to that and that’s fine. She has to do what she has to do.”

The president added that the two leaders would be talking about trade with the European Union, and threatened tariffs.

“We’re talking about trade with the European Union. They’ve been very, very tough over the years,” Trump said. “If they don’t talk to us, we’re going to do something that’s going to be pretty severe economically. We’re going to tariff a lot of their products.”

Thursday morning, Vice President Mike Pence welcomed the Taoiseach to his residence in northwest Washington for breakfast. The Taoiseach, the first of Indian-descent, and the first openly gay leader of Ireland, brought his partner Matthew Barrett to visit with the vice president, who is known for his conservative views on homosexuality.

Varadkar touched on his sexual orientation when speaking at the Naval Observatory.

“I stand here, leader of my country, flawed and human, but judged by my political actions, and not by my sexual orientation, my skin tone, gender or religious beliefs,” he said.

“We are all God’s children,” Varadkar added.

Both Trump and Pence said they accepted invitations to visit Ireland at some point this year. Last year, Trump was scheduled to visit Ireland either before or after his trip to Paris. The Ireland leg of his trip was canceled.

The Irish prime minister’s friendly annual trip to Washington involves a visit to the U.S. Capitol for a special Friends of Ireland luncheon attended by the president, vice president, House speaker, the Taoiseach, and members of Congress.

The president, who faces the potential public rebuke of his national emergency declaration in the Senate, is expected to make brief remarks. Later Thursday at the White House, the Taoiseach will present the president and first lady with a crystal bowl filled with shamrock.

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