Kimberly Ann Elliott warns about the consequences of the president’s latest tantrum-cum-threat, this time against Mexico:
Even if there is a deal, and the tariffs are averted, American negotiators will have to deal with the consequences of Trump’s bullying around the world. China, the European Union and Japan are all in the midst of trade negotiations with the Trump administration, and their leaders are warily watching what is going on. Under these circumstances, why would any of them sign an agreement with the United States that Trump could undo with a tweet? [bold mine-DL] The chances of successfully concluding trade negotiations with China, in particular, just got a lot harder. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer reportedly wants to keep some of the tariffs on Chinese exports and reserve the option to reimpose others as part of an enforcement mechanism in any deal. Beijing was already resisting that demand and is now likely to harden its opposition.
In the meantime, there is the other constant question of the Trump era: Where is Congress? The Constitution delegates authority to regulate trade to Congress. For good reasons, Congress began delegating some of that authority to the executive branch after its passage of the Smoot-Hawley tariff legislation helped deepen and lengthen the Great Depression. Congress also recognized that the executive branch needed flexibility to respond to international emergencies and national security threats, and it has provided broad authority over the years allowing the president to impose economic sanctions. But Trump has stretched that authority beyond all recognition, while Congress has done nearly nothing in response.
The latest threat to impose new tariffs on imports from Mexico shows that Trump is interested in using economic threats and punishment mainly to pick fights, and then once he has picked the fight he cites the conflict he started as proof of how “tough” he is. He sets conditions that other governments cannot or will not meet, and then seeks to penalize them for “failing” to agree to unrealistic terms. The problem isn’t just that Trump is liable to reverse course and sabotage his own agreements once they are made, but that other governments have absolutely no incentive to make an agreement with him in the first place. Trump never offers positive incentives for cooperation, but relies instead on inflicting economic pain in an attempt to bully the other government into submission. Of course, bullying tactics tend to backfire, especially when the bully’s demands seem impossible or unreasonable.
Congress’ abdication of its responsibilities is an ongoing problem, but Trump’s abuses of power may be starting to wake them from their torpor. Trump keeps exploiting loopholes and exceptions in existing laws that he can use to push through pointless, destructive tariffs or outrageous arms sales to despotic governments. So far Congress has failed to push back and has taken no action to close the loopholes that he has repeatedly abused, but between the bogus arms sale “emergency” and this latest tariff threat that could be about to change. It certainly needs to change before Trump’s preference for waging economic war against everyone else throws the economy into a recession.
There are at least some signs that members of the Senate are serious about fighting Trump’s bogus arms sale “emergency.” Al-Monitor reports:
During the interview in his office, Van Hollen said he “will be working through the appropriations process” on the Senate foreign aid panel to place new restrictions on US support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
He also vowed to close a loophole that the Trump administration recently used to bypass a congressional hold on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates by citing an emergency threat posed by Iran. The Maryland Democrat argued that Trump has not provided “good evidence” to justify the claim.
Opposing Trump on this bogus “emergency” will be a good start, and more members of Congress need to do the same in response to these arbitrary and unnecessary tariffs. The president is not just pushing through bad policies, but he is doing so by committing repeated abuses of power. It is Congress’ responsibility to check those abuses and rein in an executive that has been out of control for far too long.