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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah told a global affairs group in Utah on Friday that President-elect Donald Trump is an extraordinary man who understands global trade but took the unusual step of assuring the crowd that "our country can survive whoever is president of the United States."
Hatch, a Republican who endorsed Trump, said he would have made the same comment had Hillary Clinton won and told the audience that he thinks the incoming president's positions on global trade may change.
He called Trump "a very bright guy" who understands the economy and trade, but said he and his administration may need to be persuaded that open markets are key to America's economic and security interests.
Trump has blamed open markets for American factory jobs shifting abroad and has pledged to tear up existing trade deals, penalize U.S. companies that move manufacturing operations offshore and possibly raise tariffs, something foreign governments could view as the start of a trade war.
"While I understand the President-elect's desire to hold our trading partners accountable, there are definitely better ways to do that than some of the ideas that have been put forward so far," Hatch told the audience of several hundred people at a downtown Salt Lake City hotel.
Hatch, said he thinks the wealthy real estate developer and TV celebrity is "softening a little bit" on some things he said during the election. "I'm going to see that he softens a lot more."
The crowd chuckled at the comment, before Hatch went on: "Don't sell Donald Trump short. The man is an extraordinary man. Very, very bright. He didn't become a billionaire by luck."
Hatch, the longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate and president pro tempore, said Trump caused a shake-up in Washington, the likes of which the lawmaker hadn't seen in his four decades there.
He said some people didn't understand there was a pervasive feeling around the country that things needed to change and some people "just weren't saying that they were going to vote for Trump, but deep down, they thought that they had to."
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