“Cancel the order!” Donald Trump, the incoming president of the United States, tweeted ominously about a contract with Boeing to build Air Force One, the state-of-the-art airplanes he and future presidents rely on.
It took a matter of hours for Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg to get on the phone with the president-elect and smooth things over.
On Wednesday, two weeks after the kerfuffle, he made his way south to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate to meet face to face.
Trump had slapped a $4 billion price tag on the program to build two more of the next generation of planes, and he had pronounced it a waste.
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Analysts said that while the Air Force had budgeted $2.7 million for the Air Force One program, the costs would likely grow to about $4 billion after the planes were actually manufactured. The planes are expected to be operational by the mid-2020s.
The tweet shook the political and defense contracting worlds, as Trump challenged the aviation giant and threatened to pull a contract responsible for hundreds of American jobs.
But after his meeting with Trump on Wednesday, Muilenburg faced the media, hat in hand, so to speak.
“We’re all focused on the same thing here. We’re going to make sure that we give our warfighters the best capability in the world and that we do it in a way that is affordable for our taxpayers,” Muilenburg said. “And his business head set around that is excellent. It was a terrific conversation. Got a lot of respect for him. He’s a good man. And he’s doing the right thing.”
As for that $4 billion price tag, Muilenburg promised taxpayers would get a break —though by the time the contract is finished and the planes are flying, Trump is not likely to be still in office.
“We’re going to get it done for less than that, and we’re committed to working together to make sure that happens,” he said. “And I was able to give the president-elect my personal commitment on behalf of The Boeing Company.”
Trump on Wednesday named a strident critic of China, Peter J. Navarro, to lead a new White House office that will oversee U.S. trade and industrial policy, in the latest sign the president-elect is moving to reshape relations between the world’s two largest economies.
Trump also said that billionaire investor Carl Icahn would serve as a special adviser on regulatory issues, another area in which Trump wants big changes.
The appointments reflect Trump’s ambitions to increase economic growth by hammering at what he regards as critical roadblocks. He has promised to support U.S. manufacturing by reducing federal regulation and by preventing what he has described as unfair competition from Chinese manufacturers. The choices of Navarro and Icahn also show that Trump will press forward with his agenda, regardless of the criticism almost certain to come.
Navarro, the only credentialed economist in Trump’s inner circle, helped to shape Trump’s concerns about China through a series of jeremiads. Among them was a 2012 documentary film, “Death by China,” that includes an animation of a Chinese knife stabbing a map of the United States, causing blood to run freely. He has said that China is effectively waging an economic war by subsidizing exports to the United States and impeding imports from the country. Trump has described this as “the greatest theft in the history of the world.”
Icahn, a brash New York billionaire who vocally supported Trump during the campaign, made his fortune as a corporate raider, buying large stakes in corporations and demanding changes intended to increase profits for shareholders. Trump said Wednesday that Icahn, one of the nation’s largest private investors, would also play a role in the selection of a new chairman for the Securities and Exchange Commission, which oversees his activities.
The New York Times contributed to this report.