The president and his aides have uttered a laundry list of variations of “close” for years when promising a China trade deal that remains an elusive trophy missing from the the kept promises from the 2016 campaign he intends to tout as he seeks a second term.

Here was Trump on Tuesday at a NATO meeting in London: “And, by the way, I’m doing very well in a deal with China, if I want to make it.” He used the same “very well” assessment in a gaggle with reporters on Nov. 26.

After touring an Apple facility in Texas on Nov. 20, here was Trump: “We’re doing very nicely with China.” Reporters traveling with him seemed skeptical as they peppered him with pointed questions about the “phase one” pact he assured journalists on the White House’s South Lawn was done, save some “papering.”