Trump reportedly asks Trudeau during testy call on tariffs, 'Didn't you guys burn down the White House?' (It was actually Britain)

Matt Cardy/ Getty ImagesUS President Donald Trump (L) and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

  • President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a testy call about tariffs last week, CNN reported Wednesday.
  • In response to Trudeau’s objection to the recent steel and aluminium tariffs, Trump reportedly joked: “Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?”
  • Soldiers did burn down the White House during the War of 1812 in response to an attack in Ontario, but Canada was still a colony of the UK at the time.
  • Rising trade tensions between Canada and the US threaten to drive the key allies apart.

President Donald Trump mentioned the War of 1812 in an attempt to needle Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a recent conversation focused on tariffs, CNN reported Wednesday.

CNN reported that, during a call with Trudeau, Trump referred to the burning of the White House during the War of 1812 after Trudeau asked about new US tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminium.

The Trump administration used national security grounds as justification for the tariffs, invoking a little-used provision of a trade law from 1962. CNN reported that after Trudeau objected to the national security rationale, Trump replied: “Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?”

The White House was in fact burned down in August 1814 in response to a US attack on York, Ontario, in 1813. But the troops who carried out the attack were technically British, since Canada was still a colony of the United Kingdom until the country gained independence in 1867.

The comment was generally seen as a joke, CNN wrote, but it did not seem to go over well with the Canadian leader.

The apparent historical jest comes at a tense time for US-Canada relations.

The US’s decision to remove Canada’s exemption to the steel and aluminium tariffs, as it did with Mexico and the European Union, pushed the allies into a conflict that experts fear could result in a trade war.

Following the announcement, Trudeau blasted the barriers, calling Trump’s move “totally unacceptable,” and the Canadian government announced retaliatory tariffs on US goods. In particular, Trudeau was incensed with the suggestion that Canada poses a national security threat to the US.

“The idea that, you know, our soldiers who had fought and died together on the beaches of World War II and the mountains of Afghanistan, and have stood shoulder to shoulder in some of the most difficult places in the world, that are always there for each other, somehow – this is insulting to that,” Trudeau said in an interview with NBC.

The harsh words are a dramatic switch from Trudeau’s earlier tactics with Trump. The prime minister appeared to be buttering up Trump during the start of his presidency and even recently was more upbeat on the prospects of a deescalation of the trade fight.

In addition to the tariff fracas, the two countries remain far apart in negotiations over a new version of the North American Free Trade Agreement, with dwindling prospects of a deal getting done anytime soon.

Trump and Trudeau are expected to meet during the president’s trip to Canada for the G-7 summit this weekend.

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