Trump’s Mexican tariff threat
Defiant Senate Republicans warned President Trump not to follow through with his announced plan to slap escalating tariffs on all Mexican imports this week until Mexico stops Central American migrants from traveling to the U.S. border. After a closed-door Capitol Hill meeting, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said there wasn’t a “single yes” vote for Trump’s plan to impose the tariffs by declaring a national emergency at the border, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said most Republicans hope “these tariffs will not take effect.” Trump replied it’d be “foolish” for GOP senators to take legislative action to block his planned 5 percent tariff, effective June 10. The tariff would rise 5 percent each month until reaching 25 percent by Oct. 1. Trump didn’t specify the steps Mexico had to take to prevent the tariffs, leaving it to “our sole discretion and judgment” as to whether the country was doing enough. In the first three months of 2019, the U.S. imported $86.6 billion in car parts, televisions, beer, avocados, and other goods from Mexico—more than from any other country except for China.
Trump’s threat was reportedly instigated by senior adviser Stephen Miller, who has overseen some of the administration’s most hawkish immigration policies—and was opposed by both Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer as potentially damaging to the U.S. economy. It comes as Customs and Border Protection statistics show that more than 144,000 migrants were taken into custody along the Mexican border in May, a 32 percent jump from April, and the highest monthly tally in 13 years. In response to the possible tariffs, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador dispatched negotiators to Washington, D.C., and said he expected “good results” from the talks.
What the editorials said
This “could become one of the worst errors an American leader has ever made,” said The San Diego Union-Tribune. A 5 percent tariff, economists estimated this week, could eliminate 400,000 U.S. jobs. A 25 percent tariff could mean millions lost. Here, in the San Diego–Tijuana region, cross-border trade is critical to employers and consumers on both sides. “Some goods cross the U.S.-Mexico border 14 times while being assembled.” Trump “is blaming Mexico for a mess it can’t solve,” said The Wall Street Journal. Mexico alone cannot stop the migrants, whose passage north is aided by criminal gangs and corrupt authorities. In fact, Mexico is “already helping by agreeing to hold asylum seekers inside Mexico.” Trump should instead hold Democrats to account for failing to reform America’s broken asylum policy, which requires migrants with children to be released into the country. The tariff plan “is a distraction that lets Democrats off the hook.”
What the columnists said
If Trump imposes tariffs on Mexican goods, he will have “undermined his ability to maintain a hard line on China,” said Josh Barro in NYMag.com. While the economic effects of the China tariffs have thus far been limited, opening a second front in a global trade war makes it far more difficult to avoid real pain. If the economy weakens, Trump loses leverage over China. Trump has also “sabotaged” passage of a renegotiated NAFTA just as it appeared ready for ratification, said Haley Byrd in CNN.com. Facing punitive tariffs, Mexican legislators “will be hard-pressed” to ratify the new trade deal, known as the United States–Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.
The president’s actions may cause some disruption, said Brandon Judd in FoxNews.com, but they are a bold and necessary step to address “the national emergency taking place on our border.” As president of the union representing 16,000 border agents, I can tell you firsthand how dire the situation has become. Our system is overwhelmed. Mexico must enforce its own immigration laws or the wave of migrants will continue unabated.
If Trump follows through, expect Mexico to retaliate in kind “with stark consequences for 2020,” said Shannon O’Neil in Bloomberg.com. “Many of the biggest exporters to Mexico—Arizona, Michigan, Illinois—are already swing states.” Retaliatory Mexican tariffs could throw Texas into recession, and put its 38 electoral college votes into play. “Trump seems to be betting again that hyping the border and demonizing trade and Mexico will rally his political base.” But he may end up alienating so many voters that he’ll win the battle and lose the war.
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from Getty, AP, Getty. ■