Obama to GOP Leaders: Why Do You Continue to Support Trump?

Obama also reaffirmed his commitment to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal

President Barack Obama called Donald Trump "unfit" to be president and challenged leading Republicans to repudiate their party's nominee.

"The question they have to ask themselves is, if you are repeatedly having to say, in very strong terms, that what he has said is unacceptable: Why do you continue to endorse him. What does is say about your party?” Obama said.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday after meeting with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the White House, Obama said Trump's criticism of a fallen Muslim-American soldier's family is the latest evidence that the billionaire businessman isn't ready to lead the country.

"There has to be a point where you have to say, I can't support this for president of the United States," Obama said, adding that otherwise, the denunciations are "hollow."

Trump responded with a statement that summarized talking points he makes in his stump speech: "Obama-Clinton have single-handedly destabilized the Middle East ... released criminal aliens into our country who killed one innocent American after another ... produced the worst recovery since the Great Depression (and) shipped millions of our best jobs overseas."

Obama also reaffirmed his commitment to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, saying that if U.S. were to "pull up the drawbridge" on trade it would hurt American workers.

He said people have legitimate fears about the impact of globalization and being "left behind," but the answer cannot be to back away from trade and the global economy.

"I'm a stanch supporter of TPP because it will reduce tariff's on American goods and make it easier for Americans to export to emerging economies across the the world," Obama said.

Singapore, a close U.S. partner, is one of the 12 nations in the TPP, an agreement key to Obama's effort to boost U.S. exports and build strategic ties in Asia. But Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's Washington visit starting Tuesday comes as opposition to the TPP intensifies in the United States. Both Republican contender Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, who are competing to succeed Obama as president, are against it.

Asked how the president plans on passing TPP under strong opposition by the presidential candidates, Obama said, "Well right now I’m president and I’m for it. And I think I’ve got the better argument."

Lee is urging Congress to ratify the deal as soon as possible, calling TPP "vital for a strategic point of view" and an integral commitment of America's rebalance to Asia.

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama welcomed the leader of Singapore to the White House for a state visit marking 50 years of diplomatic relations between their countries.

Prime Minister Loong was greeted by an elaborate welcome ceremony as his limousine pulled in to the South Lawn of the White House. Hundreds of U.S. military members in blue and white uniforms formed an honor guard, some carrying bayoneted rifles.

Speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce late Monday, Lee urged its ratification, saying the pact would give the U.S. better access to the markets that account for 40 percent of global economic output. He said it would also add heft add heft to Washington's so-called "rebalance" to the Asia-Pacific.

"For America's friends and partners, ratifying the TPP is a litmus test of your credibility and seriousness of purpose," he said.

His sentiments are shared by Obama, who told Singapore's The Straits Times in an interview published Monday that the U.S. can't "turn inward" and embrace protectionism because of economic anxieties that have been drawn out by the presidential election.

The Obama administration says it remains determined to try and win congressional approval for TPP, but the chances of achieving that in the "lame duck" session after the Nov. 8 election and before the new president takes office Jan. 20 appear slim because of the depth of political opposition, not least from Obama's fellow Democrats.

The deal would eliminate trade barriers and tariffs, streamline standards and encourage investment between the 12 countries that include Mexico, Japan, Vietnam and Australia. But critics say the pact undercuts American workers by introducing lower-wage competition and gives huge corporations too much leeway.

Singapore, a city state of 5.7 million people, is heavily dependent on international trade for its prosperity. In 2004, it became the first Asian nation to strike a bilateral free trade agreement with the U.S. Last year, the bilateral trade in goods totaled $47 billion, with the U.S. enjoying a $10 billion surplus.

Singapore is also a strong advocate of the U.S. security role in Asia although it retains cordial ties with China too. Under Obama, the U.S. has deployed littoral combat ships in Singapore, and last December, deployed a P-8 Poseidon spy plane there for the first time, amid heightened tensions in the South China Sea.

Lee's meeting with Obama on Tuesday will be watched for reaction to an international tribunal ruling July 12 that invalidated China's historical claims to most of the disputed South China Sea. The U.S. says the ruling is binding but China has rejected it. Southeast Asian nations have been reluctant to speak out against Beijing.

Lee will be honored with a state dinner Tuesday evening — the first held for a Singaporean leader since October 1985, when Ronald Reagan hosted Lee's late father, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The U.S. and Singapore opened diplomatic relations in 1966, a year after the U.S. recognized Singapore's independence from Malaysia.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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