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Trump May Have Sabotaged His Tariff Plans With Anti-Canada Tweets

Slapping tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada is not a matter of national security, the president admits.

The Trump administration has spent months trying to construct a rather flimsy argument that steel and aluminum imports from Canada and other close American allies constitute a national security threat. More than a handy way to drum up public support for trade barriers, the "national security" claim is a crucial bit of the legal rationale for letting the president impose tariffs on those goods without congressional approval.

Then, as he was departing this past weekend's G7 summit, Trump took to Twitter to air some grievences with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In doing so, the president may have significantly kneecapped that legal argument.

The last sentence of Trump's tweet is the one that really matters.

The White House slapped a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum by invoking Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which gives the president legal authority to impose tariffs without congressional approval when it's for the sake of national security. That line of argument, outlined by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a February report, says that America needs aluminum and steel to make weapons of war, and that protecting the domestic steel and aluminum industries is the only way to ensure the country will be able to defend itself if attacked.

That is pretty weak, as I (and others) have written before. But as long as Trump makes that claim—no matter how strained the logic might be—the law seems to be on his side. Invoke "national security" and the president can do what he wants with trade.

Except now Trump seems to have admitted that it's not about national security at all. His tweet plainly states that "our Tariffs [sic] are in response to his of 270% on dairy!"

"This makes plain that it's not about national security and it never was about national security," says Clark Packard, a trade policy analyst for the R Street Institute, a free market think tank in Washington, D.C.

This is more than a rhetorical point. Without the "national security" argument, Trump's authority to unilaterally impose tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum is called into question. It doesn't mean Trump will back down, says Packard, but the tweet could create leverage for other entities—Congress, the courts, perhaps the World Trade Organization—to challenge them.

There are two plausible ways to interpret the tweet. The president could mean exactly what he says: that the steel and aluminum tariffs are a direct, tit-for-tat response to Canadian dairy tariffs. It's also possible that he's implying the steel and aluminum tariffs are a negotiating tactic—something he's using as leverage to get Canada to ease up on the import taxes it charges for American milk. But neither seems to comport with the administration's months-long effort to paint tariffs as a matter of national security.

Will that admission be enough to rouse Congress to action? Even before Trump's weekend tweets, some Republican senators said Trump was abusing his Section 232 authority.

"Making claims regarding national security to justify what is inherently an economic question not only harms the very people we all want to help and impairs relations with our allies but also could invite our competitors to retaliate," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) wrote in a series of tweets on June 6. "If the president truly believes invoking Section 232 is necessary to protect the United States from a genuine threat, he should make the case to Congress and to the American people and do the hard work necessary to secure congressional approval."

Corker has introduced legislation that would require the president to submit proposed Section 232 tariffs to Congress for a 60-day review period before they could be enacted. Corker's bill would grant expedited consideration to tariff proposals, but congressional review would apply not only to future tariffs but to all Section 232 actions taken during the past two years—making this a direct attempt to rein in Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs.

"Imposing them under the false pretense of 'national security' weakens our economy, our credibility with other nations, and invites retaliation," Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) said in a statement.

Corker's bill has garnered support from both sides of the aisle and has been endorsed by a variety of interest groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, and trade associations representing several manufacturing industries. But so far it has not been scheduled for a vote. The legislation could be attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, a major military bill that must be approved by Congress each year, The Washington Post reports.

Even if Congress does not seize the opportunity to act, there's a chance the Trump administration could end up in court or in front of the World Trade Organization and be asked to defend the legal authority for the tariffs.

Could this end up playing out like Trump's so-called travel ban, the first iteration of which was blocked by the court system in part because of comments and tweets from the president himself?

"Yeah, I think that's certainly possible," says Packard. "I hope so."

Photo Credit: Pignatelli/Euc/Ropi/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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  • Zeb||

    If you are going to be dishonest, it's definitely better to be dishonest and strong than dishonest and weak. That's how you get to be president of a real country and not prime minister (whatever that is) of America Jr.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Really it's best to be handsome. That's what Trudeau got.

  • damikesc||

    Is he handsome, though? He fits more as "pretty".

    and anything to kill tariffs is a good thing. But I do like pointing out the tariffs in other countries.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    Especially with those ridiculous fake eyebrows of his.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    It's a wonderful thing. Those photos of him in India dressed in exotic garb also were hilarious.

  • lap83||

    Is he handsome, though? He fits more as "pretty".

    It's all relative. Compared to most politicians, he's an Adonis. But you have to look past the fact that the inside of his skull doubles as a butterfly habitat.

  • mtrueman||

    "and not prime minister (whatever that is) "

    A PM has at least the advantage in controlling the parliament. Trump's command over the congress is nowhere near as assured.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I can't imagine anyone was ever stupid enough to buy the national security rationale.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    You apparently haven't spent enough time with America's "forgotten people" or in our left-behind backwaters.

    The level of gullibility is stunning.

  • Tony||

    No politician ever lost by slathering attention on the forgotten people.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The only thing this article proved was that Boehm doesn't understand high level negotiation.

  • mtrueman||

    One lesson I learned is that if things aren't going your way, get the WTO involved. The heights, the dizzying heights!

  • hpearce||

    "Except now Trump seems to have admitted that it's not about national security at all. His tweet plainly states that "our Tariffs [sic] are in response to his of 270% on dairy!""

    Talk about a flimsy argument ?

    He did not say it was about national security ALONE!!!!
    so his statement that there are other reasons is not a contradiction.

    Whether I believe them is a separate issue

  • ||

    Even if Congress does not seize the opportunity to act, there's a chance the Trump administration could end up in court or in front of the World Trade Organization and be asked to defend the legal authority for the tariffs.

    Could this end up playing out like Trump's so-called travel ban, the first iteration of which was blocked by the court system in part because of comments and tweets from the president himself?

    Weird. I can name the Presidents who appointed the Justices who struck down the travel ban. When did I elect someone to the head of the WTO?

    Does Reason generally side with the WTO? If so, do they approve of the fact that the WTO routinely rules *overwhelmingly* in favor of the US? Or is this one of those civil libertarian things where the WTO is good when it's a specter to scare the people we don't like, but good when it ultimately is a body designed to put limits on free trade?

  • ||

    but good bad when it ultimately

    Ugh. More coffee.

  • Zeb||

    Or it could just be a simple statement of fact. It is, in fact, something that could happen. I don't see any commentary here on the legitimacy of any WTO actions.

  • ||

    It is, in fact, something that could happen.

    Let's go with "outlook not so clear" on this one.

  • Michael Cook||

    At present the USA runs a $100 billion trade deficit with Canada. This is not due to the superiority of Canadian products or workers. It is not due to the superiority of Canadian economic practices in a perfect free trade system. It is entirely due to the pathetic agreements that previous American administrations negotiated that disadvantaged our nation.

  • ||

    It is actually due to the fact that the US provides the best investment climate in the world. As a result, the US exports the ability to produce and sell products.

    What that looks like is people selling the US goods in exchange for dollars, and those people then investing those dollars in US enterprises.

    Either that, or Canadians like little green pieces of paper with pictures of famous Americans on them enough to give us real goods and services in their place. Yay US!

  • Set Us Up The Chipper||

    Yup, trade deficits are not an intrinsically bad thing.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    There is NO SUCH THING as a trade deficit even in general terms, there is no such thing in terms commonly used, and there is especially no such thing in regards to a single country when there are more than one trading partner.

    You run a trade deficit with your grocer, unless the grocer is your employer? Does that sound like a legitimate concern or even a valid number or definition?

    The so-called current accounts deficit in goods and services does not include any asset figures. It si a figure for accountants to throw in front of politicians to get ignorant people worked up over nonsense, and you have just proclaimed yourself a member of that ignorant class.

    Dollars out have to equal dollars in, unless someone is just burning them up or using them for toilet paper.

    All trade is voluntary and between people or businesses or governments, not countries or societies or economies.

    Pretending that "trade deficit" is meaningful in any way shape or form is how you show the word how ignorant you are.

  • livelikearefugee||

    The best way to eliminate trade deficits is to stop paying attention to them.

  • Atlas Slugged||

    you should run a trade deficit with a book store in order to obtain an Econ 101 textbook.

  • Ken Shultz||

    If American consumers are living better than Canadians for less because Canada is too stupid to tell its unions and rent seekers to go fuck themselves, then that's Canada's problem.

  • Ken Shultz||

    P.S. Did you know that our GDP per capita in the U.S. is about $15,000 a year higher than it is in Canada?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)_per_capita

  • mtrueman||

    How do they stack up in terms of public and private debt? 15 grand a year sounds great but it doesn't seem to be enough.

  • ||

    Canadians have high personal and public debt.

  • mtrueman||

    Catching up to Uncle Sam has its costs. Maybe if Canadians would only borrow more, that 15 grand gap might shrink down to nothing.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    In a way I find that disappointing.

    I've driven from Montreal to Vancouver a couple different times, taking different roads, and I've been encouraged that Canada's infrastructure spending seems so minimal.

    The provincial parks are generally lightly developed, the highways are mostly two lanes, the few rest areas are marginally serviced.

    That latter isn't as annoying as it seems. Most places between Montreal and Vancouver you could take care of business anywhere along the road and no one would be the wiser.

    So, that all said, how can Canada have such high public debt?

  • livelikearefugee||

    The trade balance between US and Canada is not quite that clearcut. (see Bloomberg Dec. 12, 2017 issue which give conflicting balance numbers depending on source. Whatever it is, it isn't static and bounces back and forth between surplus and deficit)

    That being said, trade balances are meaningless bullshit concepts that just get the yahoos all riled up.

  • Fred G. Sanford||

    Why is a Trumptard on a Libertarian site? We do not have a trade deficit with Canada, we have a surplus. Is that surplus because of a pathetic agreement? I guess we need to reduce our surplus.

  • ||

    There's a 'small' $18 billion deficit. How that happens I don't know. America has more goods and services to sell Canada than vice-versa. There shouldn't be one I think.

    https://bit.ly/2l0lhKh

    Still, all I can say is Trump could have been a 'tad' more tactful about it. I know Canada is run by clowns at the moment but I would think Canada-USA could work things out in a less public-spat manner.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    It's me. I sent my son to college in Canada and I'm still paying. It must be somewhere up around $18 billion by now.

  • Fred G. Sanford||

    Why is a Trumptard on a Libertarian site? We do not have a trade deficit with Canada, we have a surplus. Is that surplus because of a pathetic agreement? I guess we need to reduce our surplus.

  • Dillinger||

    Please stop supporting Bob Corker for anything he does other than retire.

  • Sevo||

    "Even if Congress does not seize the opportunity to act, there's a chance the Trump administration could end up in court or in front of the World Trade Organization and be asked to defend the legal authority for the tariffs.
    Could this end up playing out like Trump's so-called travel ban, the first iteration of which was blocked by the court system in part because of comments and tweets from the president himself?"

    How much does anti-Trump forelock-tugging pay these days? It is certainly a growth industry and the chattering classes are trying to fill the (self-identified) demand.
    Hint: The WTO is not sovereign over the US gov't.
    2nd hint: There is plenty of Trump activities which are due griping; do it without the (non-vintage) whine, and you'll be better off.

  • Dillinger||

    Also, did T walk into G7 and say "if you'll drop your tariffs we'll drop ours. free trade, bitches!" or did I hear incorrectly?

  • Don't look at me.||

    He did say that. There were no takers. How odd.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Your link is broken.

  • Dillinger||

    last time i tried a link here i collapsed an entire star system

  • DenverJ||

    All I've got to say is one word: plastics. Why, a plastic aircraft carrier would be unsinkable!

  • DenverJ||

    All I've got to say is one word: plastics. Why, a plastic aircraft carrier would be unsinkable!

  • Jerryskids||

    It's a pretty flimsy argument that relies on anything Trump says as an indication of anything he thinks or believes or intends. Or says, for that matter. Trump opens his mouth and shit falls out and he has no control over what's coming out. Tourette's may be a serious disease, but it would be wrong to say it's no laughing matter. It's funny as hell if you don't take it seriously.

  • Set Us Up The Chipper||

    Fuck Canada eh? Well fuck PM Zoolander and the French Canadians.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "There are two plausible ways to interpret the tweet. The president could mean exactly what he says: that the steel and aluminum tariffs are a direct, tit-for-tat response to Canadian dairy tariffs. It's also possible that he's implying the steel and aluminum tariffs are a negotiating tactic—something he's using as leverage to get Canada to ease up on the import taxes it charges for American milk."

  • Ken Shultz||

    I can't tell whether Boehm is being willfully obtuse. On the one hand, he's ignoring the obvious (including what Trump's economic advisors are saying), but, on the other hand, he seems to bark up the wrong tree so consistently. It's like he has no sense of context, intended audience, intent, etc.

    Trump's response to Trudeau yesterday was all about North Korea.

    Trudeau did exactly what Trump is afraid Kim might do (make Trump stick his neck out only to turn around and make a fool of his genuine efforts to reach consensus once the summit is over). Trump's tweets were all about taking Trudeau out behind the woodshed--because Trump was on a flight to meet the North Koreans, and he didn't want to show weakness ahead of his summit with North Korea.

    Trudeau's statements were made for Canadian consumption--so he wouldn't seem like he meekly capitulated to Trump.

    Trump's tweets were made for North Korean consumption--so the North Koreans wouldn't think they could get away with saying one thing to Trump's face and then wiping their asses with their agreement the second the summit was over.

    Don't take my word for it. Listen to Larry Kudlow:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4HCULGOxN8

    In short, the suggestion that Trump's response had nothing to do with North Korea is implausible.

  • Ken Shultz||

    In the video above, you might clock in around 4:43.

  • ||

    In short, the suggestion that Trump's response had nothing to do with North Korea is implausible.

    Additionally, the suggestion that Trump's position has nothing to do with the jockeying for control of the WTO going on is similarly implausible.

  • Ken Shultz||

    And yet neither consideration was even mentioned in the article, much less listed with the "two plausible ways to interpret the tweet".

  • ||

    Quite the opposite with regard to the WTO. It's presented almost in a 'rightfully so' manner that Trump should stand before the WTO and answer for his crimes. Like the US answering to 163-ish other nations any time it imposes a tariff (or just a local soda tax or smoking ban as the case may be), none of whom value the trade or freedom the same way the US does is the proper and expected state of affairs.

  • mtrueman||

    "In short, the suggestion that Trump's response had nothing to do with North Korea is implausible."

    Ancient Chinese secret: mention milk to a North Korean, and they fold like a cheap Mao tunic.

  • Atlas Slugged||

    Why do I imagine their exchange to go something like this???

    https://binged.it/2y1YVSG

  • I can't even||

    "there's a chance the Trump administration could end up in court or in front of the World Trade Organization and be asked to defend the legal authority for the tariffs"

    Is there a chance Canada will end up in front of the court for their dairy tariffs or Germany for their protection of their auto industry?

    Seriously Reason - aren't you even a tiny bit tempted to cover the entire story?

  • Ken Shultz||

    "There's a chance the Trump administration could end up in court or in front of the World Trade Organization and be asked to defend the legal authority for the tariffs"

    Not satisfied with seeing the public turning increasingly against NAFTA, I guess Reason wants to turn average Americans against our participation in GATT, too.

    They really do seem to see international agreements as a check on the executive branch, which is fucking un-American.

    No, because I'm as free-trade as anybody doesn't mean I have to pretend that we've sold our sovereignty down the river. Not sure some of the staff at Reason understand that.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    They really do seem to see international agreements as a check on the executive branch, which is fucking un-American.

    It is? If the executive willingly enters into an international agreement, duly ratified by the Senate, which places limits on what the executive may do, how is it "un-American" to observe this agreement?

    It is un-American hubris to consider ourselves bound to what those furriners think, sure. But I don't see why it is "un-American" to honor an agreement.

  • Ken Shultz||

    You seem to be missing the point (generally) that Trump isn't violating any of the agreements we're talking about--and we have sold our sovereignty down the river with precisely none of these agreements.

    International agreements are not a check on the executive branch, and anyone who wants that (for some reason) has already committed treason in their hearts.

    There are legitimate checks on the executive branch:

    The Constitution
    The Senate
    The House
    The courts
    The threat of impeachment
    The American voter
    The laws of economics
    Reality
    . . .

    Our foreign policy is not subject to the approval of any international body, whether it be trade or anything else. Whatever bodies we choose to join have authority because of our sovereignty and because we've chosen to join them--those international bodies offer no legitimacy of their own, and they can't take it away from us either. Rather, suggest that we're somehow subject to them, and you're draining those international bodies of their legitimacy.

    You got the cart before the horse, again.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Whatever bodies we choose to join have authority because of our sovereignty and because we've chosen to join them--those international bodies offer no legitimacy of their own, and they can't take it away from us either.

    But in these agreements, the US has agreed to do certain things, and to refrain from doing certain other things, which the US would otherwise have the flexibility to do unimpeded were it not for the agreement. So if that is not ceding some measure of sovereignty, then I don't know what you mean precisely by that term. I suppose it's true that the only thing keeping the US in those agreements is its own honor to abide by them, and no external force compels the US to abide by them. Is that what you mean?

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    They really do seem to see international agreements as a check on the executive branch, which is fucking un-American.

    It is? If the executive willingly enters into an international agreement, duly ratified by the Senate, which places limits on what the executive may do, how is it "un-American" to observe this agreement?

    It is un-American hubris to consider ourselves bound to what those furriners think, sure. But I don't see why it is "un-American" to honor an agreement.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    I suppose the "pro-American" side of international diplomacy looks something like "we will do whatever we damn well please and you all can just suck it because we have the biggest guns".

  • Nardz||

    Fuck off, global socialist

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Exactly the response I'd expect to receive from you types.

  • Nardz||

    Cool?

  • Nardz||

    Global Socialism is no better than national socialism, merely more passive aggressive.
    Fuck off, global socialist.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Maybe you should try your venting against someone who is actually a 'global socialist'.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Not a national security issue? We'll see what you think when Vladimir Poutine's armies storm our northern frontier.

  • ||

    Could this end up playing out like Trump's so-called travel ban, the first iteration of which was blocked by the court system in part because of comments and tweets from the president himself?

    "Yeah, I think that's certainly possible," says Packard. "I hope so."

    Oh, I very much hope not, as detestable as the president and these two instance of his exercise of authority are.

    It is outright malpractice for judges to imagine that something a president says or tweets has more weight than the plain four corners of an executive order -- especially when it's part of a campaign for office where everyone knows everyone lies and exaggerates.

    At least in the latest instance he's actually president at the time. Nonetheless, we don't want to encourage any more judicial overreach, thank you.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    Isn't the first sin Congress delegating the authority to levy tariffs to the Executive branch? That law should be stricken down along with any other law ceding power to the executive branch from the legislative branch.

  • ||

    SCOTUS has rubber stamped legislation based on "national security" ever since FDR threatened to pack the courts.

    The liberal justices now would be against Trump because they reflexively are. The question is would any conservative justice question the "national security" excuse? My guess is Thomas would be the most likely too. He is not a big fan of stare decisis.

  • Tony||

    You can really see the hotness disparity when Trump and Trudeau stand next to each other. Trump is really a giant potato huh.

  • Stilgar||

    Per Bloomberg: Canadian producers sold C$148.1 million in milk products in the opposite direction, a 2-to-1 U.S. trade surplus.

    There is an enormus glut of all dairy products in the US thanks to the many direct and indirect supports and subsidies. Were the market in the US be allowed to function as a normal market, dairy farmers would reduce production when margins were too low bringing the market back into equilibrium.

    Trump et al are whining that Canada does not want the US to dump, quite literally, the excess milk on their market.

  • JoeB||

    Boehm's TDS is dug in like an Alabama tick. Imagine a Reason contributor siding with Corker and the WTO. Embarrassing.

  • mtrueman||

    "Imagine a Reason contributor siding with Corker and the WTO. "

    It's easy if you try...

    Reason made no secret of their support for Hillary Clinton's TPP. Why should WTO be any different?

  • ||

    I don't know what to think anymore.

  • ||

    Yeah, that'll happen when one person plays 4-dimensional chess while everyone else has gone bowling.

  • Michael Cook||

    In this stream of comments it was alleged that America's $100 billion trade deficit with Canada (or any other nation) is no worrisome thing because all it signifies is that so many nations of the world are happy to bust their butts to send us their natural resources or value added products and be content to accept our paper money in return.

    It was further alleged that this exchange overall is a good thing for the USA because these foreigners take all these Yankee dollars and eventually invest them back in "American enterprises." I put that in quotations because it seems to imply that the returning dollars are financing our American business. Maybe that happens a little bit, but what is really happening is that irresponsibly swelling federal, state, and local government debt is being financed.

    Something else is happening too. These cash-rich foreigners are buying up land, houses, commercial buildings and all kinds of hard to replace valuables, to include intellectual properties.

    So is it really so surprising that folks who voted for Trump did so out of a visceral fear that this country was losing itself--a fear of diminishing hope of any future for our nation other than catastrophic collapse followed by a yard sale of our remains? My vote for Donald Trump was literally a vote against the United States of America facing inevitable economic ruin.

  • Peter Duncan||

    Too bad you wasted your vote. I'm not saying the Bern or the Witch were any better choices, I'm merely pointing out that anyone occupying the office is sure to lead us down a path of economic ruin regardless of any tribal affiliation.

  • DrHubert||

    Amazing all NATIONS THAT trade with U.S. can have tariffs and trade surpluses

    But TRUMP and THE U.S. HAVING the SAME options are not fair

    More fake news

  • Austen Heller||

    I come here regularly for the different view points on what seems to matter. And of course, being a nascent free will pundit, love to read the comments. Often they are hilarious and pointed or blunt and stinky but not simultaneously. WRT to this story about Donnie's mouthpieces (the heart attack 'victim' and the now rolled over on his back 'knife in the back, special place in hell' bitch) and foremost being Canadian, I was hoping for better. Not today. And maybe never, The comments here are breathtakingly ignorant of the facts on US/Canada trade and Fox network-worthy hate filled and some stupid. Very stupid. How stupid? Yahoo news stupid.

    Suggest those including 'facts' in their posts get some first. Then post.

    And for what it is worth, our PM, the one who who has and never will earn the right to be named is a lucky sperm club winner, Unicorn riding dunce who we hope will be un-elected in 2019. One other thing my American friends: Canada is not US Jr. Canada is the best friend you never knew whether you like it or not.

    Good day sir.

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