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NATO summit braces for friction after bruising first day

LONDON — Parties always have the potential for messy drama and NATO’s 70th birthday gathering has been no exception.

After a bruising first day, the septuagenarian alliance kicked off day two of its summit Wednesday with more scope for friction between President Donald Trump and his counterparts.

They will gather in the unassuming London commuter town of Watford for talks, one-to-one meetings and press conferences among the leaders of the 29 NATO member states. Trump will give his end-of-summit press conference at 10:20 a.m. ET.

The day got off to a bumpy start with Trump making British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and NATO Sec. Gen. Jens Stoltenberg wait 15 minutes for a photo with him.

An aide came to tell the pair that the president’s arrival was delayed, leaving them to stand around making small talk. When Trump did arrive, the trio posed for a photo together before the president tried to leave out of the wrong exit. The summit is being held at the Grove, a luxury hotel and golf resort 15 miles outside central London.

Trump arrives at The Grove hotel and resort in Watford on Wednesday.Evan Vucci / AP

On Tuesday, Trump grabbed the headlines with an impromptu 53-minute news briefing, in which he called a previous statement by French President Emmanuel Macron “very, very nasty” and later said that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif. was “a maniac.”

In the evening, during a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, several world leaders, including Macron, Johnson and Canada’s Justin Trudeau, were caught on video having an informal chat.

The context of the conversation is not clear, and it is not known who they are discussing, but Trudeau was overheard saying, “He was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top.”

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Macron and Johnson’s offices declined to comment on the video, and Canadian officials were not immediately available for a response. It has been widely shared on social media and reported by major news outlets.

Earlier, the U.S. president’s remarks alongside Stoltenberg ran for almost three times the allotted 20 minutes, according to the White House transcript.

NATO leaders and the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, join Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles for a group photo at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday.Reuters

Back in Washington, Trump faces his own drama.

The first impeachment hearings by the House Judiciary Committee begin today, with constitutional scholars testifying about the purpose of impeachment, and the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors as it relates to Trump’s conduct.

The president has scheduled his own counterprogramming, holding a press conference here in the U.K. around the same time the hearing is set to begin.

When it comes to British politics, the president appeared to do his best not to wade into the U.K.’s pivotal nationwide election being held next week. He is deeply unpopular in the U.K. and Johnson’s team has seemed coy about being associated with the president so close to polling day.

Aides to the British prime minister briefed Tuesday that he and Trump would not be holding a head-to-head meeting, raising eyebrows considering the historically close relationship between London and Washington.

In the event, the pair did meet, although it was away from the cameras and Johnson did not greet the president at the iconic front door of his residence, No. 10 Downing St.

On Wednesday Johnson said, “We had a very good meeting and we discussed … the future of NATO, we discussed what’s going on in Syria and various other security matters.”

If the U.K. did want Trump to downplay the meeting, the president did not stick to the script early Wednesday, tweeting that he “enjoyed” seeing Johnson, and that the pair “talked about numerous subjects including NATO and trade.”

The subject of trade is particularly sensitive in the U.K. as it prepares to exit the European Union.

After Brexit, Washington and London want to sign a new trade deal. One of the most contentious aspects of this is healthcare, with Washington wanting “free market access” for drugs sold by American pharmaceutical companies into the U.K.’s publicly funded system, according to to White House trade objectives.

Although Johnson and Trump have both denied that healthcare would be under threat, the opposition Labour Party has sought weaponize this as well as Trump’s unpopularity during the campaign.

All of this has made for a fractious week for NATO, which is often referred to by supporters as the most successful military club in the world.

In recent years Trump has been its loudest critic, suggesting he might walk away if smaller countries do not pay more toward their militaries. But recently the focus has shifted to Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Macron called the alliance “brain dead” and suggested it should pivot its focus away from Russia, and Erdoğan has riled the U.S. by purchasing a Russian missile defense system.

Alexander Smith reported from London and Shannon Pettypiece reported from Watford.