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House speaker defends Donald Trump's Taiwan call as 'much ado about nothing'

House speaker Paul Ryan has defended President-elect Donald Trump's phone conversation with the Taiwanese president, calling it "much ado about nothing".

The Taiwanese president called Mr Trump last Friday.

Mr Ryan told reporters that it is "prudent" for Mr Trump to accept congratulatory phone calls. Mr Ryan said he himself spoke to President Tsai Ing-wen two months ago.

He said not taking the call would be "considered a snub".

Taiwan split from China in 1949, but China still considers the island part of its territory and would consider it unacceptable for the US to recognise Taiwan's leader as a head of state.

Trump advisers have made conflicting statements about whether the call was a congratulatory conversation or a signal of a new policy towards China.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump has said he wants the government to cut some costs by cancelling its order for a new Air Force One - the plane that carries presidents around the globe.

The government is contracted with Boeing to build two or more new planes, which would go into service around 2024.

That means Mr Trump would not fly on the new planes unless he pursued and won a second term.

But the Air Force has pressed for a faster schedule, saying the current planes are becoming too expensive to repair and keep in good flying shape.

The contract for the planes was to be about 3 billion US dollars (£2.35 billion), but costs have been reported to be rising.

Mr Trump tweeted: "Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!"

Asked for a comment, Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher said: "We are going to have to get back to you after we figure out what's going on."

Mr Trump now uses his own plane, also a 747, but as president he would travel aboard the Air Force jet, which is equipped with special safety, defensive and communications equipment.

Later, Mr Trump is making the second stop of this "thank you" tour in North Carolina, less than a week after his bombastic return to rallies at an Ohio appearance that felt more like a raucous campaign stop than a traditional speech by a president-to-be.

At that Cincinnati stop, Mr Trump disparaged the media as "dishonest," inspired loud "build the wall" chants, took swipes at fellow Republicans and stunned his own aides with his surprise announcement from the stage that he was appointing retired general James Mattis as secretary of defence.

His selection was being formally announced on Tuesday, and Mr Mattis will appear with Mr Trump at the evening event in Fayetteville, vice-president-elect Mike Pence said.

Later this week there will be rallies in Iowa and Michigan as Mr Trump salutes supporters who delivered the victories in the battleground states he needed to capture the White House.

The North Carolina rally comes a day after Mr Trump chose retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson to be secretary of the department of housing and urban development, raising fresh concerns about the lack of experience some of Mr Trump's cabinet picks have with agencies they are now being chosen to lead.

Mr Carson, who opposed Mr Trump in the Republican primaries, has no background in government or running a large bureaucracy.

Mr Pence defended Mr Carson's selection, saying he was "absolutely qualified" for the post.

South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, Mr Trump's choice to be ambassador to the United Nations, has no foreign policy experience.

Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner and Hollywood executive, is Mr Trump's man to lead the treasury department but has never worked in government.

And Mr Mattis, a widely praised battlefield commander, spent decades in the Marines but now is tapped to run the nation's largest government agency, the defence department, with 740,000 civilian employees in addition to 1.3 million service personnel.

Democrats swiftly criticised Mr Carson's qualifications for his job. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called him a "disconcerting and disturbingly unqualified choice".

In a statement, Mr Trump said he was "thrilled to nominate" Mr Carson, citing his "brilliant mind" and his passion "about strengthening communities and families within those communities".

AP

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