Trump Orders Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum. Can Congress Stop Him?

A 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum will take effect in 15 days, unless GOP lawmakers take unusual steps to stop them.


Oliver Contreras/Sipa USA/Newscom

Well before he was president, Donald Trump wanted tariffs.

In an April 2011 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump said that if he were president, he would impose a 25 percent tariff on all Chinese goods imported into the United States. "Protectionism?" the future president scoffed when asked about the consequences of tariffs for the American economy. "I want to be protected."

Other aspects of his chaotic 2016 presidential campaign got more attention, but tariffs were always a part of the Trump platform. A tariff on Chinese goods would show that the United States was "not playing games anymore," Trump said at an August 2016 rally in Florida. Shortly after winning the election, Trump's transition team talked about the possibility of a 10 percent tariff on imports. And as his first year in the White House ticked along, Trump seemingly became more impatient. "I want tariffs," he reportedly bellowed during a tense discussion with some of his top economic advisers in August of last year.

On Thursday, Trump finally got his tariffs.

"We're going to be very fair, we're going to be very flexible, but we're going to protect the American worker, as I said I would do in my campaign," Trump said.

A 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum will take effect in 15 days, the White House announced Thursday. Trump said he's willing to exempt Canada and Mexico from the tariffs, and to review other countries on a case-by-case basis. The tariffs would shelter domestic producers of steel and aluminum from some foreign competition, but at the expense of the many steel- and aluminum-consuming businesses in the United States. Consumers would end up paying more for everything from beer and baseball bats, to appliances and automobiles.

Republican leaders in Congress disagree with Trump's tariff plan, and publicly broke with the White House this week to denounce the tariff plans while simultaneously working behind the scenes to limit the scope of the new import taxes.

After Trump's announcement, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) released a statement warning of "unintended consequences" from Trump's trade action. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Reason that he was opposing the tariffs in part because he was "very concerned about retaliatory action from other countries."

Words are one thing. But can Congress stop Trump's tariffs?

The answer is complex. Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the explicit power "to lay and collect taxes, duties," and the like. But Congress is limited in what it can do by law, and maybe more importantly, by politics.

First, the legal angle. Trump's tariffs are being implemented under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which gives the White House more or less carte blanche to impose tariffs on national security grounds. The national security rationale for tariffs on steel and aluminum is pretty weak—the administration says that American weapons of war depend on steel and aluminum supplies, so domestic producers must be protected from international supplies that could be cut-off in the event of a conflict—but it exists and that's enough.

"There's not much they can do to address this particular case," says Dan Ikenson, director of trade policy studies at the Cato Institute. "We're in uncharted waters in a lot of ways."

Handing over those powers to the executive branch might have been a prudent decision in some regards. Congress has, traditionally, been more open to protectionist policies like tariffs (just think about how defensive members of Congress get about anything in their home districts), while the presidency has been more likely to support free trade, in part because the executive branch handles international affairs and because the president gets credit (and blame) for the economy as a whole.

"They never anticipated having a protectionist president," says Ikenson.

But with Trump in the White House, the tariff fight has become another painful lesson about what happens when Congress abdicates its responsibility and hands power to the executive branch.

Last year, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced the Global Trade Accountability Act, which would require congressional approval of any unilateral trade action taken by the executive branch. Had it passed, Trump would have been required to outline the costs and benefits of his tariffs to Congress, instead of taking action on his own.

Trump's tariffs, Lee said Thursday, "would be a huge job-killing tax hike on American consumers." He urged Congress to take action to block them.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is proposing to do exactly that. Shortly after Trump signed the tariff declaration on Thursday, Flake said he was prepping legislation to nullify the order.

"Trade wars are not won, they are only lost," said Flake. "Congress cannot be complicit as the administration courts economic disaster."

Congress has stepped in to stop executive action on trade deals before. In 1980, Congress overturned a Section 232 order from President Jimmy Carter that imposed an agricultural embargo on the Soviet Union. After Carter vetoed the bill, Congress (led by Democrats at the time) overrode him.

"Whether Congressional Republicans grow a spine is a big question," says Clark Packard, trade policy counsel for the R Street Institute, a free market think tank in Washington.

Even Flake seems to recognize the difficulty. He told The Daily Beast earlier this week that "trade votes are tough here." Getting to the 2/3 vote necessary to override Trump's inevitable veto would be harder still.

That's the political limitation on Congress' ability to check Trump. Will Democrats join Republicans in helping save the economy from a Republican president—while they are gearing up to campaign against that same Republican president in the midterms? Even discounting the Democrats' political incentives, there are good reasons to think Republicans won't go to the mat to challenge Trump on this—even if the tariffs trigger a trade war.

For example, there's a new Quinnipiac poll showing that 67 percent of registered Republicans believed Trump's claim that a trade war could be easily won. Democrats and independents strongly doubt that premise.

Source: Quinnipiac University

It's stunning to see such widespread support for protectionist economics—and wide support for a potentially destructive trade war—from members of the party that supposedly defends free trade, but if other polls show similar results, Republicans will have little reason to keep fighting the White House on this issue.

The best chance to stop Trump's tariffs was probably before Thursday. Now, Congress has a chance to act, but White House holds most of the power.

"I assumed that the president was rational and that he wouldn't want to kill his economy," says Ikenson. "It's a disaster."

NEXT: It's Tariff Time in America, ICE Head Complains about California, Scientists Identify Earhart's Bones: P.M. Links

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. There’s only one Donald and several hundred congressmen who’d like to beat the shit out of him. Invite him over to the Capitol “for a talk” and let things sort themselves out.

    1. The mob rules.

      1. The Ides of March are almost upon us.

    2. Time for the old Sumner treatment, eh?

    3. I guess there are a handful of congresscritters who are merely middleaged rather than elderly, so they could have a slight edge.

    4. Just make Rand gets the memo and doesn’t show up with ear muffs on.

  2. I am curious how it turned out when Obama raise the tariffs on Chinese solar panels, and tires.

      1. I like this line.

        “In any case, U.S. tire production recovered but didn’t surge. Instead, U.S. tire imports from all other countries excluding China rose dramatically, Hufbauer found. In other words, the Chinese tire jobs didn’t come to the U.S. — they went to the next cheapest countries. “

        1. Of course, and that’s the obvious outcome of that since he didn’t put tariffs on tires from everywhere. Trump in this case seems to be raising it on everybody… Which means producers with low margins will probably be cut out, and the cheapest foreign importers (like China probably! LOL) will likely pick up some of that slack… But the total volume of imports will likely fall, and there will probably be an increase in domestic production, although total consumption may or may not fall depending on how price sensitive the products being made in the USA that use steel/aluminum are.

          It won’t be the end of the world either way. Plus, it will be more money the Feds take in, so it’s like gonna help with the budget and stuff I guess… Silver lining or something, blah blah blah?

          1. Steel and aluminum are capital-intense fixed-cost industries. ‘Marginal’ economics of production is near useless in analyzing output (except for imported input costs like iron). Marginal costs of opening/shutting capacity is what matters. And that depends more on interest rates and how much the industry is being used to acquire foreign currency (vs supplying domestic demand).

            In the case of steel, my guess is that Japan and Ukraine are the most egregious offenders at keeping excess capacity open via subsidized interest rates and central bank currency games. Followed distantly by China/Russia/Korea. But the US also still has too much capacity so the the only ‘function’ of the tariff is to buy votes in Indiana. Which if other countries retaliate well will be completely offset by them imposing punitive tariffs on every other industry in Indiana.

            Aluminum is different. China is easily the most egregious subsidizer of capacity – and the US has been gutted (60% reduction) over the last 6 years. The tariff prob won’t raise imported aluminum prices much at all. It will simply eliminate the export of scrap which will be fed into smelters here and avoid the destruction of capacity here.

            At any rate, the best way to eliminate excess global capacity is for the US to stop running govt deficits, stop being the world’s reserve currency, and stop subsidizing interest rates – which will eliminate our trade deficits which are the main cause of that excess capacity elsewhere.

            1. I pretty well agree. You sound like you know more about steel/aluminum specifics than I do. I know one of the big steel producers straight up said they would reopen one of their recently closed mills if this tariff went through, so we’ll see. I have read some on the blood bath in aluminum though as well, perhaps that will be reversed slightly.

              As far as the excess capacity thing, I have read several times over recent years, and in several locations that China has gone hog wild with overbuilding production, even after it was already long known the market was flooded. So to say we have excess production, and everybody else has excess production, when China is almost solely responsible for building out half of that global overcapacity… It sounds to me like they’re oversupplying with the intent of losing money in the short term, to take over market share. If your goal is giving peasants jobs slightly better than farming rice, the math works A LOT differently than it does in most of the rest of the world where you need to make money off of producing the product you sell.

              Whatever the case, I definitely agree with that last paragraph!

  3. “I assumed that the president was rational and that he wouldn’t want to kill his economy,” says Ikenson.

    What we need is commonsense economy control.

  4. Will Democrats join Republicans in helping save the economy from a Republican president…

    Democrats against protectionism? Is that a thing?

    1. #DemocratsAgainstProtectionism

      It is now.

      1. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing everyone to completely reverse their party’s platform.

    2. Ask Grover Cleveland.

  5. This afternoon I had to listen, for about the 500th time, to one of my relatives bitching about the fact that the state sent him a W-2 for his tax refund and now he has to pay taxes on his tax refund when he already paid taxes on that money! And for about the 500th time I had to explain to him that, no, he did not pay taxes on that money, he told the IRS he paid X amount of dollars in state taxes but then the state refunded him part of that money so he did not in fact pay X amount of dollars in state taxes so that amount of taxes he said he paid but he did not actually pay has to get added back in to his income.

    So no, it doesn’t surprise me a damn bit that people support tariffs as being good for business. Doubly unsurprising they can’t grasp that if you want to put tariffs on something, put tariffs on consumables and not goddamn manufacturing commodities. They don’t sell 5 pound bags of steel and aluminum at Wal-Mart, the people buying steel and aluminum are using it TO MANUFACTURE SHIT IN THE UNITED STATES, you fucking moron.

    1. “if you want to put tariffs on something, put tariffs on consumables”

      Um… no. The correct statement is “Don’t put tariffs on anything.”

    2. You’re totally right. If you wanted to pursue protectionist policies going after finished goods is a lot more sensible way. And you could of course try to target it intelligently, so industries where the USA is already ALMOST competitive in the market as is. That way you’d get the most bang for your buck with stuff at least. But Trump isn’t the best, as we all know.

      Top Man mentality isn’t the way to run the world… But if you’re gonna do it, having an awesome Top Man really can make it a lot better! History has many examples of pretty awesome dictators who handled shit well, and many examples where they fucked up royally (pun intended).

  6. Nobody likes Jeff Flake. Not even his son N1ggerKiller

    1. Damn, he named his kid Tanner. It’s like he wanted him to be a total douche.

      1. That’s just being Mormon.

    2. Now there’s an angle for Jerryskids’s “Charles Sumner” option above. Just tell N1ggerKiller Flake about the effects Trump’s steel and aluminum tarriffs will have on dirt bike prices. He will beat the crap out of that faggot.

      In other news, Tanner Flake seems to have avoided looking too much like Jeff Flake. If I were him, I’d be permahigh at having dodged that bullet too. So I say give the kid a break.

    3. So, basically like every 15 year old boy ever.

      Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory


    4. Tanner is a lame ass name, but I do have to concede he seems a lot more awesome than his lame ass dad. His dad has done like 3 decent things ever in his political career, and then been a total faggot about almost everything else.

      Oh wait, am I not supposed to call people faggots? Ooops! There’s nothing wrong with insensitive insult words. That is kind of THE ENTIRE POINT of bad words after all.

      I am SOOOOOOO glad when I hear young kids call each other faggots as insults honestly, it means they haven’t ALL been completely brainwashed into the SJW cult.

  7. What the hell kind of economic principles are they teaching at Wharton? Or did Trump sleep through his basic principles of economic classes?

    1. Trump majored in Real Estate

      1. And minored in bankruptcy.

        1. I thought it was the other way around.

      2. No. He majored in MAGA!

    2. I’ve never understood this. How much of a moron do you have to be, once someone has explained it you, to not immediately get the point that tariffs on materials needed to build things harm domestic manufacturers.

      It’s a really easy thing to understand, isn’t it?

      1. Obviously Trump is NOT a moron. He’ not doing favors for cronies either. So what’s his game?

        1. It’s no game. Trump is a businessman and he thinks a country is like a business. He thinks that like in business there are winners and losers in trade. The bottom line is that he is, in some regards, a moron. That doesn’t mean he’s a moron in other areas.

      2. It’s a really easy thing to understand, isn’t it?

        “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

        I’m not endorsing these particular tariffs, but tariffs aren’t quite as simple as you believe them to be.

        1. “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

          The full & correct quote is:

          Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem ? neat, plausible, and wrong.

          — H. L. Mencken

        2. Exactly. Tariffs may have their time and place, to be used sparingly… And if we were using them largely as revenue generators in place of saaaay an income tax, then that’s an entirely different beast again. But I don’t think these tariffs are an especially good idea. But they also won’t throw us into Great Depression V 2.0 like a lot of people seem to be implying.

    3. Has anybody ever asked to see Trump’s transcripts the way they did Obama’s? Has Wharton ever confirmed that Trump actually received a degree or was in fact ever actually enrolled? It’s like Trump’s claim that he was sent off to military school because he was something of a hellion – I suspect the old man sent Donny off to military school because Donny was a lazy, unmotivated, undisciplined little shit and the old man was tired of his shit.

    4. Apart from coopting the phrase ‘free trade’, I’d like to hear your explanation of how our current trade stuff meets anything Ricardian re ACTUAL free trade.

      Because I’m 100% damn sure that Ricardo did not provide his proof of comparative advantage by saying that Britain should buy wine from Portugal in exchange for money thus running structural trade deficits.

  8. What exactly are the tariffs the Chinese charge on American products?

    I assume everything Trump says and does is a negotiating tactic. If he just wanted tariffs, he’d raise them today.

    1. Most of the world has pretty hefty tariffs on US exports. Yes, it’s bullshit, but retaliatory tariffs are a bad idea and would backfire if they aren’t merely being used for leverage. But to use them as leverage, they actually have to be there, which is bad.

      1. Okay. We were idiots to have our corporate income taxes in the high 30’s% when the rest of the world was in the low 20’s. We’re also morons to go along with low tariffs when the rest of the world is in protectionist mode. I hope it results in real reductions across the world, but I can’t see how it happens without the threat and maybe the reality damaging their American market revenue.

        1. “We’re also morons to go along with low tariffs when the rest of the world is in protectionist mode.”

          Nope. Lower tariffs are good for the consumer. “Protectionist” policies are protecting only certain political/economic cronies.

          1. You can play it for brinksmanship. If you win, and the protecting country backs off, you’re better off than even unilateral tariff abolition. That’s the only possible justification. Any other benefit you could get more efficiently from domestic transfer payments, if you really want to pick winners and losers. The tariff exists only to maintain the fiction that the protected industries are actually “earning” the extra revenue, instead of receiving a (rather inefficient) handout on the backs of domestic consumers.

            1. You’re still not better off than unilateral tariff abolition.

              Tariffs are penalties *on your own citizens* – not the other country. So if you do not have tariffs and the other country does, they are cutting their own nose off while you’re raking in sweet goods and services in exchange for that country taking in little slips of paper or financing your government’s debt spending.

              1. Agammamon|3.8.18 @ 8:00PM|#
                “You’re still not better off than unilateral tariff abolition.”

                This should be tattooed on the foreheads of every politico. That way, when they look at each other they can read it.

              2. Of course you’re better off. Tariffs are a drag on your exports as well as net foreign investment because they reduce the level of trade you would have had absent tariffs on both sides. Thinking that tariffs only hurt your consumers is almost as simpleminded as thinking that trade wars are winnable.

                Now if you want to talk subsidies, that’s a different beast altogether.

                And I’m really tired of the “little slips of paper, hyuk, hyuk” argument. You’re paid in little slips of paper. Aren’t you a dumbfuck for accepting that?

                1. Yes, tariffs are a drag on your exports. So now you’re double-fucking your own citizens.

                  And I take those little pieces of paper and then spend them on American goods and services – which every one else in the world taking in dollars is doing because the only alternative to that is stuffing them under your matress.

                  I run a deficit with my grocery store – Should I impose a tariff on myself for buying from it?

                  My employer runs a deficit with me – is he getting screwed?

                2. Those “little slips of paper” are leverage, power, and ownership of American based assets, and the future earnings of said US based assets. We’re not in a bad spot yet, but if we get back up to 900 billion dollar a year trade deficits, and it stays there for a long time, having too much foreign ownership of domestic assets is not a positive thing. No Chinese investor is ever going to care about this country the way most decent Americans do, and when they have the money/power/leverage to do shit that benefits them, but hurts American citizens they will.

                  Again, not there yet, but it is something to consider for the future.

              3. Tariffs are penalties *on your own citizens*

                So are income taxes and debt. What’s your point?

                1. My point is don’t penalize the majority of your citizens to protect a small minority of them.

          2. Nope. Lower tariffs are good for the consumer. “Protectionist” policies are protecting only certain political/economic cronies.

            Well, these “political/economic cronies” are going to get their cut no matter what; so the choice is not cronyism vs no cronyism, the choice is cronyism-via-progressive-income-taxes-and-debt vs cronyism-via-tariffs.

  9. Let me get this straight. Congress, by a 51% majority, can give the President power to raise tariffs. But now that he has that power, it will take 67% to override his veto? Trump approves!

    1. Another fuck up by the framers.

      1. I don’t think the framers ever thought that Congress would cede their enumerated powers to the Executive, or that SCOTUS would allow it. Yet, here we are.

  10. “Trump said he’s willing to exempt Canada and Mexico from the tariffs,”

    Okay, Justin. You can stop pretending to be tough.

      1. How is it that the Frenchies almost charmingly don’t seem to give an utter fuck about being assholes? I don’t see how that fits in with the whole Canadian thing. Help me Rufus!

      2. . . . causing tension with neighbors who say the constant bus traffic causes congestion, noise and pollution

        How does this work?

        1. I thought mass transit (which a school bus is) *reduced* congestion.

        2. How is this any different than the kids getting dropped of by the state’s school buses?

        3. What are these people supposed to do? Walk? Get driven in individual cars? Live somewhere else?

    1. Will Canada accept it though? We must wait to hear back from the 30 Helens.

      1. And the Daves we know.

        1. And the King of Empty Promises

  11. “President Trump has said . . . [blah, blah, blah ]. Do you agree with him?”

    Everybody who thinks the answer to that poll means that 90% of Democrats are pro-free trade is an idiot.

    The poll is a referendum on Trump, just like the midterms will be.

    It doesn’t matter what you think the issues are–the only issue that matters is Trump. It’s almost always that way in the first midterm after a new president takes office. The exceptions only prove the rule.

    Here, eat some history:

    1. Below is the first midterm after a new president takes office going back to 1910.

      First column is House seats won/lost.

      The last column is what I see as the dominant issue(s) of that midterm.

      +9 1934 Franklin D. Roosevelt Great Depression
      +8 2002 George W. Bush 9/11
      -4 1962 John F. Kennedy Cuban Missile Crisis
      -8 1990 George H. W. Bush USSR Falls, Operation Desert Shield
      -9 1926 Calvin Coolidge 1st Midterm in 2nd Term (Death of Harding)
      -12 1970 Richard Nixon Vietnam, Kent State
      -15 1978 Jimmy Carter Energy Crisis, Inflation
      -18 1954 Dwight D Eisenhower McCarthyism
      -22 1918 Woodrow Wilson Broken Promise not to Enter WWI
      -26 1982 Ronald Reagan Recession
      -47 1966 Lyndon B. Johnson Great Society, Civil Rights Act
      -48 1974 Gerald Ford Nixon Pardoned
      -52 1930 Herbert Hoover Smoot?Hawley Tariff, Great Depression
      -54 1946 Harry S Truman Labor Unrest, End of Wartime Price Controls
      -54 1994 Bill Clinton Gun Control, HillaryCare
      -57 1910 William Taft Strife within the Republcian Party (Progressives)
      -63 2010 Barack Obama TARP, ObamaCare
      -77 1922 Warren Harding Strife within the Republican Party (Progressives)

      Doesn’t matter what the issue is.

      Associate most any issue with Trump, right now, and the Democrats are all against it.

      If Trump were pro-ObamaCare, the Democrats might all poll against it if the question were phrased like the one in that Qunnipiac Poll.

      1. Doesn’t matter what the issues are, so here are the issues that led to the losses in the House.

        1. The point is that the first midterm after a new president is almost always a referendum on that President–and a big negative reaction to whatever he’s done–no matter what it is he did.

          See any forest there among those trees? The trend is negative!

          Almost always.

          If there were a Great Depression or a 9/11 (that the voters didn’t blame the president for), then we might expect that Trump would get similar results to FDR in 1934 or George W. Bush in 2002.

          Since that isn’t the case, I’d suggest that we’re more likely to see big negative results due to a Democrat grass roots backlash–regardless of what the issues are.

          You’re not trying to argue that the Democrat grass roots is suddenly pro-free trade, are you? Do you imagine that their support for free trade is somehow divorced from their contempt for Trump?

          1. Which is too bad, because the House has saved our asses a few times this Congress. The Republicans will gain Senate seats no matter what happens, but I don’t think that’s a good substitute for what we have in the House; the Senate is full of pussies. Oh well, maybe the silver lining is that the Freedom and Liberty Caucuses (never could figure out the difference, except that the Liberty Caucus is better) will probably gain power within the Republican caucus. Hopefully Ryan does not pull the plug on the (general) rule that bills have to have majority Republican support to get considered.

            1. They’ll impeach Trump in the House when they win.

              If Pelosi doesn’t impeach Trump, they’ll probably kick her out of the Speaker’s chair.

              1. I am slightly less convinced they will win, in the sense of take the House, than I was before. Probably still will, and indeed we’re going to get all kinds of dumb shit if they do. At least some gun control is currently being blocked by House intransigence, for example. Bump stocks, a clean Fix NICS, all this we’ll probably get after the first mass shooting of the next Congress, even if we can avoid it for now. With the way the NRA’s power is crumbling, we might even get worse–maybe the “gun show” and “boyfriend” “loopholes,” which would be fiascoes. And we’ll get Collins No Fly No Buy for sure if the Democrats decide they want it more than they want to grandstand for the Feinstein version.

                We’re bound to get all of this if the Democrats take the House for sure; I was just wondering how bad it will be if by some miracle they do not, but the Republicans have a narrowed margin. Will the increased power of the Liberty and Freedom Caucuses be enough to make things better? Or will we get a Republican caucus who will finally Work Together with Democrats, to Get Things Done, in a spirit of Bipartisanship instead of Gridlock, like the Good Old Days of Comity, as we’ve been told by all the Serious Adults?

                1. Most of that shit will be blocked in the Senate or by Trump. Don’t get your panties in a knot.

                  1. Yeah, they won’t even be able to stop themselves from impeaching Trump–even if the leadership thinks doing so will make him look like a persecuted martyr.

                    No doubt, a Democrat congress will be run all their favorite SJW issues up the flag pole, and they’ll get shot down–especially if the Republicans hold the senate.

                    Letting the SJWs run rampant is what go the Democrats in the predicament they’re in. Middle America, where the elections are won, finds most SJW issues abhorrent.

                    The SJWs who run the Democratic party hate the white, blue collar, middle class, but the thing the SJWs still don’t realize is that the white, blue collar, middle class knows it. It’s not a secret.

              2. Do you see impeaching Trump as a bad thing for the Republicans or for small government types? … and no, I’m not conflating the two – they are very different, but I think they will both benefit from a Trump impeachment.

        2. Do you not see the way that poll question is worded?

          Do you think that might have made a difference?

      2. Yeah I know getting the “right” poll phrasing is nearly a fool’s errand, but it seems Q-Pac was almost trying to make an utterly worthless question there. Why on earth did they have to begin a question with “As you know, President Trump has…”? Are they even trying here?

        1. I’m almost embarrassed for them, but then I see people who believe this shit is real.

          Any second Tony will show up to tell us that he’s pro-free trade now–just like the progressives have always been–and it has nothing to do with Trump.

          We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

  12. “lol he thinks congress does stuff other than blow taxpayer money on re-election”

  13. The only way I can see “winning a trade war” with tariff threats is getting concessions from the threat, rather than the actual enaction of tariffs.

    (I have zero realm confidence that the President was thinking of that option when he claimed it would be “easy to win” one.

    On the other hand, I don’t have 100% confidence he wasn’t, since I am confident he does natively understand the power of bluster and intimidation far better than he understands decent economics.)

    1. Trump made two demands in the NAFTA talks that ended in Mexico City last week–1) Canada must accept more imported cars manufactured in the U.S. and 2) NAFTA gets a sunset clause.

      If he drops the tariff and get the concession from Canada on cars, I might consider that a win.

      I find the sunset clause better than Ron Paul’s vote against NAFTA, but, then again, Ron Paul’s arguments against NAFTA were crass political pragmatism and stupid as shit.

      1. What was the political calculus? Doesn’t sound like him!

        I am glad to see criticism of Paul from a non, er, Reason perspective! Personally, I find his subsidiarist extremism principled but ridiculous. Sometimes it crosses the line and does not even sound libertarian.

        1. “MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – U.S., Mexican and Canadian trade experts leading efforts to draft new rules for auto content under a revised NAFTA trade deal aim to meet next week, Mexico’s chief negotiator Kenneth Smith said on Saturday.”

          —-March 3, 2018

          “U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, showing impatience at the slow pace of the talks, said Mexico’s presidential election and the looming expiry of a congressional negotiating authorization in July put the onus on the United States, Mexico and Canada to come up with a plan soon.

          “We probably have a month, or a month and a half, or something to get an agreement in principle,” Lighthizer told reporters at the conclusion of a seventh round of talks to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement in Mexico City.

          . . .

          Talks to overhaul the 24-year-old pact are moving slowly, in part because Canada and Mexico have resisted U.S. demands to boost the North American content of autos produced inside NAFTA.

          Freeland declined to give details on a prospective timeline for the next round and said alongside Lighthizer that Trump’s plan to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports was “unacceptable”.

          —-Reuters, March 5 2018.

          1. If you read between the lines–with your 3-D chess vision that only . . .

            Actually, there’s no need to read between the lines. Trump wants Canada to accept more autos imported from the U.S. and the Canadians were dragging their heels, so Trump hit them with a steel tariff to move things along.

            Some people think explaining why a psycho-murderer eats his victims is condoning cannibalism, but you’re smarter than that. I can tell.

            Anyway, they get back together formally in early April.

            Trump wants to get this done before the TPA expires in July, I’m sure.

            1. No, no! I was asking what Paul‘s political calculus was, as you allege, in opposing NAFTA. I had always assumed he was earnest in pretty much everything he did. (Although I think some of his justifications for the earmarking practice were bullshit, if I remember correctly, even though his conclusion was correct.) Thanks though.

              1. Oh.

                In a word, “Perot”.

                “We have got to stop sending jobs overseas. It’s pretty simple: If you’re paying $12, $13, $14 an hour for factory workers and you can move your factory South of the border, pay a dollar an hour for labor,…have no health care?that’s the most expensive single element in making a car? have no environmental controls, no pollution controls and no retirement, and you don’t care about anything but making money, there will be a giant sucking sound going south.
                …when [Mexico’s] jobs come up from a dollar an hour to six dollars an hour, and ours go down to six dollars an hour, and then it’s leveled again. But in the meantime, you’ve wrecked the country with these kinds of deals.[1]

                —-Ross Perot

                Perot was making big inroads among independents in Texas, where he was from, and why Ron Paul didn’t want to be painted as a guy that voted to send Texas manufacturing jobs across the border to Mexico.

                That he had a bullshit rationalization for that vote isn’t surprising. Hell, Rand Paul had a rationalization for voting against a bill to cut $1.022 trillion in entitlement spending–because of what the bill didn’t do. I think that was pretty much for the same reasons, too. That bill cut more than $700 billion from Medicaid, and Kentucky has one of the biggest Medicaid enrollment states by percentage–with a raging opioid epidemic. The first job of a politician is always to get reelected.

            2. Actually, the quote says that Trump wants all sides to agree to increase the required NAFTA content of cars, not necessarily import more US cars.

              “in part because Canada and Mexico have resisted U.S. demands to boost the North American content of autos produced inside NAFTA”

              In other words, to add more burdensome regulations on auto mfrs to require them to source more parts locally. That’s different than “Trump wants Canada to accept more autos imported from the U.S.”

              1. “Actually, the quote says that Trump wants all sides to agree to increase the required NAFTA content of cars, not necessarily import more US cars.”

                Yes, more of the cars manufactured in the U.S. before they’re finished off in Canada, is my understanding.

                Thank you for making that distinction. It changes my perspective on the whole issue.


  14. Can the president unilaterally impose tariffs? Isn’t this something that must go through congress? My high school civics is a bit rusty, but it seems like congress would have to approve this before it went into effect.

    Also, I grew up in a time when Democrats were the big tariff lovers and Republicans were the ones for economic sensibilities. Nowadays black is white, up is down, and tariffs come from the party of small government and low taxes. Sigh.

    1. From the article: “Trump’s tariffs are being implemented under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which gives the White House more or less carte blanche to impose tariffs on national security grounds.”

      Congress turned over most of their power to the president a long time ago, which I would imagine was unthinkable to the founders.

    2. The Reuters story I linked below below says this:

      The U.S. trade promotion authority, or TPA, is authorized by Congress and is needed to implement legislation for new trade agreements such as the renegotiation of NAFTA. The TPA expires on July 1 and analysts expect it to be extended.”

      Trump’s attempts to goose Canada into accepting more cars imported from the U.S. appears to be tied to that. I’m not sure analysts (whoever they are) still expect TPA to be extended. The pants-shitters in congress may withhold TPA after seeing stoopid polls like the Quinnipiac poll in the story above. After all, it is an election year.

  15. Incidentally, for anybody that really wants to know what’s going on and why, you might try this piece at Reuters:

    https://www.reuters.com/ article/us-trade-nafta /u-s-pushes-nafta- talks-pace-warns-of-political- headwinds-idUSKBN1GH0LQ

    I never thought I’d say this but given Reason’s coverage of this issue over the past week, you’d be better informed if you hadn’t read any of it.

    1. Raising tariffs on China is going to help negotiate a NAFTA deal? It’s like 30D chess now!

      1. It isn’t really about China–although, yeah, he’s working on them, too.

        The steel tariff falls on Canada disproportionately, and, yeah, that seems to be leverage Trump is using to get his concessions on NAFTA.

        At some point, the “3-D chess” analogy becomes ridiculous, isn’t it?

        Because Reason offers little more than pants-shitting for a week, doesn’t mean people who notice and point at the facts think Trump is playing “3-D chess”.

        Did you read the article above your comment?

        When the U.S. trade representative says they’re doing something for a reason, and the Mexican trade representative says more or less the same thing, and the Canadian representative says more or less the same thing, and Trump says the same thing they’re saying, then at some point, you might start to suspect that there’s nothing about this that’s 3-D Chess.

        Maybe I’m just reading, you know, like actual news while you’re gobbling up the shit falling out of Reason’s pants.

        1. Try reading Adam Smith instead.

          So what happens when manufacturers who rely on Canadian steel… I don’t know… move to Canada?

          1. They’re going to have to eat poutine.

            1. Poutine is great, it’s what they consider good donuts at Tim Horton’s that boggles my mind.

          2. Do you imagine I support what Trump is doing or that I’m anti-free trade?

            Because I’m as pro-free trade as anybody doesn’t mean I have to buy into ignorant shit. I won’t spout ignorant shit on purpose–even if the ignorant shit is pro-free trade.

            If people want to criticize what Trump is doing, maybe first they should know–at least a little something–about what he’s doing and why. Doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. Just maybe have a clue as to what it is?

            If other people who aren’t convinced that Trump is just doing this just because he got up on the wrong side of the bed the other morning–it is not necessarily because they’re thinking that Trump is playing 3-D chess.

            Fear of God may not be the beginning of all wisdom, but accusing other people of being ignorant because you don’t know anything is the beginning of all manner of stupid shit.

          3. Didn’t Adam Smith write of the potential benefits as well as dangers of retaliatory tariffs?

            People act as though “Trade wars are stupid; they always spiral into losses on all sides” is some sort of theorem of price theory. It’s not. Price theory does say that tariffs benefit certain domestic interests at the expense of others, and are not even an efficient way to do that–just transferring the cash would be better–but it doesn’t really say anything about the retaliatory game. Not that I would play the game if I were President, but it’s not quite as simple as “simple economics says Trump is an idiot” if he is just playing for brinksmanship. (Which I certainly have my doubts that he is, as it happens.)

            1. I see it like betting your life savings on a hand of blackjack.

              For the sake of the U.S., I hope Trump wins.

              Even if he wins, though, it doesn’t mean that betting your life savings on a hand of blackjack is a smart thing to do.

              One of the reasons politicians’ powers should be carefully circumscribed is because they make decisions based on criteria that really aren’t appropriate–like getting reelected.

              Trump won’t lose reelection because he went to bat for manufacturing workers in the Midwest–even if this blows up in his face and is bad for the economy. Trudeau’s concerns aren’t only what’s in the best interests of Canada either–he has to make sure he doesn’t look like Trump’s lapdog if he wants to stay in power.

              It’s bad enough when our politicians makes decisions within their appropriate sphere of power–like in trade treaty negotiations. Why anyone would want them to take such things into consideration that are outside their appropriate sphere is beyond me.

              Either that, or maybe they’re just stoopid.

              1. Wait, you don’t think he’ll pay the penalty if the economy tanks? I figured that is the single biggest factor in re-election.

                Look, even most Midwesterners do not work for industries that will be helped by this or any other tariff on the table. Many work for industries that will be hurt by it. But the protectionist industries still dominate the political atmosphere in those states, so people there think that “keeping our jobs in America” is the red-blooded patriotic thing to do. If it blows up in Trump’s face, they will hurt like the rest of the country–probably worse–and certainly won’t say, “Oh, Trump is a patriot and populist who listened to us, but our request was idiotic.” They’re going to think it was a great idea, but Trump fucked up all kinds of other shit; and the Dems (if they’re smart; yeah I know) will run someone who won’t challenge Trump on trade but will say some other shit did it, like his Tweeting and general insanity spooked the economy or some shit, and the voters won’t really care too much what the supposed reason is and will seize it and run with it.

                1. If the tariffs stick because Canada refuses to budge, then that may hurt the economy.

                  Whether the white, blue collar, middle class voters in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and western Pennsylvania, who made the difference in the last election and put Trump in the White House, will blame Trump for the economy or for that reason is another question entirely. Hell, even if steel tariffs were bad for the rest of the economy, it will presumably help him in western Pennsylvania.

                  It’s by no means certain that the steel tariffs on Canadian steel will hold up. Canada may in fact relent. My understanding is that the overwhelming majority of our imported steel comes from Canada and Mexico, with South Korea a distant third, I believe, and if those first two are exempted from the tariff because they come around on Trump’s changes to NAFTA, then the impact on the U.S. economy may be minimal between now and 2020. (We have a trade treaty with South Korea, but I don’t know if it addresses steel.)

                  None of this means the tariffs should desirable to anyone except Trump’s reelection campaign.

                  Hell, inflation and/or a stock market correction might hurt his reelection chances more.

                  1. Canada is exempted.

                    1. Let’s hope that means they’ve come to an agreement.

                      Incidentally, I found that Canada, Brazil, and South Korea are the biggest importers of steel to the U.S.

                      No tariffs are good, but not hitting the biggest supplier is better than the alternative.

                      Hitting South Korea with a tariff while seeking their support with North Korea doesn’t make much sense either. hopefully they’re either exempt or immune because of our free trade treaty.

        2. So, it’s not for national security? Isn’t that beyond what the law allows for the Executive to impose tariffs?

          In any event, I just don’t get where you’re coming from on this, Ken. Will opening up Canada’s 36 million people to buy some more American made cars make up for what other American industries will lose? And how in the world would anyone know if that would actually happen? And why would anyone who supports free trade think stabbing one (or many, as it were) American industry in the back to help another is good trade policy?

          There are problems out there in trade, but it’s my understanding they’re mired in the details of transactions, etc. for the individuals conducting transactions. Pretty complicated stuff from what I hear. Protecting the steel or auto industry from Canada is not one of those problems.

          I just don’t understand how this can be supported by someone who supports free trade. Help me out here.

          1. “In any event, I just don’t get where you’re coming from on this, Ken.”

            Where I’m coming from?!

            What does any of this have to do with where I’m coming from?

            The simplest explanation for the persistent obtuseness in the comments section here is that you’re all reading Reason on this issue–exclusively–and it’s making you all look like ignorant fools.

            I’m not the genius who came up with the amazing idea that the US, Mexico, and Canada met all last week and into Monday and Tuesday on a planned meeting to renegotiate NAFTA. I’m not the genius who speculated that this might have something to do with the Trump administration insisting on concessions from Canada on automobiles, and when they started dragging their feet and becoming obstinate, Trump hit them with a tariff on steel to light a fire under their asses.

            That isn’t speculation on my part.

            That’s the news as it’s been reported day after day for the last two weeks!

            The Trump administration doesn’t ask me for advice before they hit Canada with a steel tariff. None of this is my doing.

            I’m just somebody who doesn’t rely on Reason for news anymore–since their heads are so deep in the bubble anymore, they don’t know what’s going on themselves other than Trumpity Trump Trump.

            Oh, and don’t be mad at Reason if they’ve written about this story at least once a day for more than a week–and never got around to mentioning the basic facts of this story. Blame yourself.

          2. Whether I agree with Trump’s decisions or the facts is beside the point. The facts are what they are regardless of whether you’re ignorant of them–and my opinion of the facts doesn’t change anything about them either. That’s what the facts are. That’s what the Trump administration did. That’s what their representatives said. That’s what the Canadian and Mexican trade representatives said.

            And if you think that’s got anything to do with what I think, then you’re out of your mind.

            Are you somebody who is so pathetic on free trade that you have to pretend the facts are other than what they are in order to support it?

            Trump did this for those reasons–regardless of whether I support it.

            Is any of this getting through?

      2. Or maybe there’s another possibility!

        Maybe I’m a genius–who can see 3-D chess five moves ahead–and Reuters just happens to have the same time bending perspective.

        Either I’m the 3-D chess, Kwisatz Haderach or I’m just reading the news. Take your pick.

        1. Ken is there any move Trump could make that you wouldn’t defend?

          1. I’m not defending him, you idiot.

          2. Because I won’t say or believe the stupid shit you do means that I’m anti-free trade?

            You and Tony should go bowling.

            1. I never said you were anti free trade.

              On the other hand, I can’t think of a single time that you’ve been critical of Trump. Maybe it’s happened, but I can’t remember it.

              Of all things for libertarians to criticize him for, tariffs seem like an obvious one. Even Republicans in Congress, for the most part, aren’t defending this move.

          3. Easy trap to fall into what with Trump’s obvious intellectual superiority.

            1. Even Tony agrees with you, Leo!

              You must be right.

              1. You know what they say about blind squirrels and nuts…

            2. He hacked western democracy and was able to snag the most Important Job In the World through the shrewd use of magazine-selling Russian kids shit-posting on twitter. I’d be careful before you insult his intellectual capacity.

  16. What’s funny, and sad, is that the results of that poll would be flipped if the question was: “As you may know, President Obama has said…”.

  17. Can congress stop him? Oh, my God! Will Hillary go to jail? Will Nancy tell Chuck about their bastard child? Tune in for next week’s exciting episode!

    Anyone smelling the thick irony that congress gave the president this power and now we have loud wailing that congress needs to do something about it?

    Don’t count on democracy to heal itself.

  18. Nothing says “I love the Humanity and the Environment” more than a tunk full of Lithium Ion batteries.

    1. It’s like GMO crops. Liberals in the US and Europe don’t have to live with the consequences of banning them, the poor in 3rd world countries do

      Out of sight, out of mind.

  19. “Trade wars are not won, they are only lost,” said Flake

    “Never ever fight back” he cucked cuckingly.

    1. Honestly, that whole mindset is simply not true. I would say it is fair to say “Trade wars fuck you royally while you’re in the middle of them.” That’s accurate. But to pretend that you might not come out of the other side in a better position is bullshit. Same as real wars. They suck in the middle, but can be worth the outcome on the other side.

      I’m quite confident that if Trump went to war over foreign countries slapping tariffs on our goods, we would win after a period of it being sketchy for the economy. Then we would be far better off, as American companies would be exporting more to those countries thanks to their newly lowered tariffs.

      We could literally topple the entire country of China easily. Their entire economy depends on exporting to us. We do NOT depend on importing from them. We can also import cheap shit from India, Vietnam, etc. So all the bluster in the world from China would amount to nothing when their economy tanked, and the peasants were calling for politicians heads.

    2. China knows this, which is why I think if we were threatening it, and they thought we were serious, they’d just bend over. Trump is the kind of guy that could convince people he’d be willing to throw the world into a major recession to get his way, which is why they’d cave. And frankly I’d be totally fine if he did in fact do that.

      Or perhaps started with smaller countries, and then did cut them off if they didn’t bend to our demands. That way he could prove the point up front without risking global recession, but proving he would do it if he had to. The current situation of 1 way biased trade deals is horse shit.

      Just because politicians over the last couple decades accepted a horrible status quo doesn’t mean we should accept it forever. Whenever we get around to wanting to force other countries to drop their trade barriers OF COURSE they will fight it and bitch and moan. The thing is we have the juice to force them to do it. So why shouldn’t we? Lower trade barriers are what libertarians really want, the fact that we have to risk minor economic issues to get them should just be a “No shit Sherlock” thing. You don’t get what you want without asking for it, sometimes sternly asking for it.

      1. China does know this, but they’re not going to just bend over without a whole lot of protestations, threats, and eventually begging.

        It’s also a little premature to think they might not attempt to resist us at this point. We are in decline as an Empire, and our Vassals do not know their place. Canada is a perfect example. They’ve somehow convinced themselves that they’re totally not a Vassal State subservient to the American Empire. Most of Europe is in the same boat.

        Better to tackle the Vassals first, reassert our position over those who have knelt for 50+ years, and then with a unified front deal with the rising power that is China.

        1. Yeah, might not be a bad way to go. Or we could do bi-lateral deals with the Indias, Vietnams, Thailands, etc of the world. They’re in a lot weaker position than China, so we could bend them to our will without Europe being involved.

          But whatever the case, we need to get down on this shit soon. We really are slipping in power, and if we wait another 10 years, and China owns trillions more in US assets, we’re going to lose a lot of that leverage. And their domestic consumption will be a lot higher too, so less reliant on exports. It could get to the point where it’s more of a suicide pact versus just taking the wind out of their sails. The time to act is now!

  20. . . . from members of the party that supposedly defends free trade

    The Republicans have not, in my memory, ever defended free trade. They’re pro-“fair trade” – IOW, pro-mercantilists.

    Democrats don’t defend free-trade either – the only reason that there is such opposition to these tariffs is because they come from Trump. If Obama or W Clinton had done this they’d have been all over them as ‘benefiting union members’.

    1. That’s just wrong. They pushed for NAFTA and other trade agreements for decades. It was basically orthodoxy. Trump changed that by bringing in the blue collar dems ejected from the socialist party.

      1. NAFTA isn’t free trade either. Its ‘fair’ trade bullshit. *No* trade agreement is free trade – you don’t need the government involved if its free trade, only if you’re trying to stack the deck in your favor.

  21. I think no economic arguments will sway him because I think this is primarily a political move, not an economic one at all…he is concerned about the upcoming special election in Pennsylvania and that explains his resistance to his own party’s objections…he is probably also concerned with 2018 too, but most of all with 2020…hoping to hold on to the razor-thin margins he eked out in Rust Belt states…

  22. It’s as is Trump never took an economics or a history class. Did Smoot Hawley never happen? I can’t wait to hear what the Trumpsters have to say when we are 2 years into a recession.

  23. Ugh. Again, you people are ridiculous. This is a small tariff, on a small part of the economy. Even if the worst possible consequences happened, which they won’t, it’s not going to be a big deal. He didn’t just slap a 500% tariff on all goods coming from every other country in the world or something.

    Even from a protectionist angle, which Trump definitely is, this is not a great category of items to slap tariffs on, as they are mostly raw materials used to make other stuff, not the end product itself. If he wanted to really screw foreign countries he’d slap a tariff on imported clothing, or auto parts, or electronics or something. This seems to pretty clearly be a stick to show to Canada/Mexico for NAFTA, while offering them a carrot of removing them from it if they agree to other demands.

    So in short, this isn’t going to do much of anything either way. You don’t need to short the entire DOW/NASDAQ over this people! If those tank it’s just because they’re overvalued anyway, not because of a piss ant steel tariff.

  24. “Reason”, do I have to explain this again NAFTA IS NOT FUCKING FREE TRADE, its managed, crony capitalist, regulatory trade. Trump is right, that kind of “free trade” has destroyed the economy, now I am all for free trade and by free trade I mean real free trade, no subsidies, no management, no regulation, no cronyism, these tariffs are to remedy a problem that NAFTA, the fake “free trade” agreement created.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.