Trump cited national security to slap tariffs on close U.S. allies. His tweets don't even pretend to play along.
President Trump spent a not insignificant part of the weekend complaining on Twitter about America's trade relationships with its closest allies, including Germany, NATO, and especially Canada. In fact, he and his economic advisers lobbed several personal, false attacks at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with Trump focusing on Canada's steep tariff on certain dairy imports. "Fair Trade is now to be called Fool Trade if it is not Reciprocal," Trump tweeted. "Our Tariffs are in response to his of 270 percent on dairy!"
But Trump was actually able to unilaterally impose 25 percent tariffs on imported steel and 10 percent tariffs on aluminum "because — and only because — of a Kennedy-era special exemption to normal trade law for national-security purposes," David Frum notes at The Atlantic. Congress wouldn't have approved those tariffs, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) won't allow Congress to try to block them. Frum continued:
Trump has signed documents attesting that he imposed tariffs — to protect vital defense interests of the United States. Now he has changed his story. The tariffs on steel and aluminum from Germany, the U.K., Mexico, and all the others were not a national-security measure, but a retaliation for Canada's restrictions on dairy imports. Whatever you think of Canada's milk protectionism (and few Canadians who don't directly profit from it will defend it), it is not a threat to U.S. national security. [The Atlantic]
The tariffs are a good example of an emboldened Trump having "ignored the warnings of some advisers" and "instead sought out people who will find ways to get done what he wants accomplished," The New York Times reports. "When the president could not quickly enlist the support of Robert E. Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, to find a way to make national security an issue with regard to imported automobiles, he circumvented his trade expert and asked Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, to carry out an investigation." Ross delivered.