With the political world distracted by President Trump’s media wars, one of the most consequential and contentious internal debates of his presidency unfolded during a tense meeting Monday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, administration sources tell Jonathan Swan and me.
The outcome, with a potentially profound effect on U.S. economic and foreign policy, will be decided in coming days.
With more than 20 top officials present, including Trump and Vice President Pence, the president and a small band of America First advisers made it clear they’re hell-bent on imposing tariffs — potentially in the 20% range — on steel.
One official estimated the sentiment in the room as 22-3 — but since one of the three is named Donald Trump, it was case closed.
Everyone else in the room, more than 75% of those present, were adamantly opposed, arguing it was bad economics and bad global politics. At one point, Trump was told his almost entire cabinet thought this was a bad idea. But everyone left the room believing the country is headed toward a major trade confrontation.
The reason, we’re told: Trump’s base — which drives more and more decisions, as his popularity sinks — likes the idea, and will love the fight.
The problem, according to top officials who argued strenuously that the move is ill-advised: The trade war wouldn’t just affect China. The collateral damage would include a slew of allies, including Canada, Mexico, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Watch for: Trump was warned — and White House officials anticipate — that an affected industry like automakers is likely to seek a court injunction within hours of any tariffs on steel.
All of this sounds plausible to me; in fact, it reminds me of everyone telling Trump not to fire Comey, and we know how well he took that advice. Trump takes his base seriously, and if he thinks he needs their support, he throws red meat at them. This is probably the reddest meat he has (ew, gross).
I’m not an economist, but an instant 20% hike in materials cost would probably wipe out the profit margins of most manufacturing (I would guess). And not to split hairs, those costs will be passed on to us. If this comes to pass, you can bet that Ross Perot’s giant sucking sound will become a roar.