Trump Tweets That His 232 Tariffs Aren’t Really About National Security – By Haley Byrd (weeklystandard.com) / June 12 2018
Are Canada’s dairy tariffs a national security threat to the United States?
That’s what President Donald Trump seemed to imply over the weekend when he split with the White House’s official explanation for implementing tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent on steel and aluminum imports this spring. Trump used Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act in order to impose the tariffs without congressional say-so by claiming that foreign steel and aluminum constitute a threat to the United States.
“Current quantities and circumstances of steel and aluminum imports into the United States threaten to impair national security,” the White House said in a release last month.
But on Saturday, Trump said the move was actually in direct response to Canada’s hefty tariffs on foreign dairy products. “Our Tariffs are in response to [Canada’s] of 270% on dairy!” Trump tweeted in the middle of a tirade about Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. It was a new claim: Canada’s dairy tariffs did not come up in the administration’s prior steel and aluminum studies, nor in its explanations when the tariffs were announced. And it remains an open question as to why the president would unleash tariffs globally if they were designed specifically in response to Canada’s protectionist policies.
One international trade expert told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that Trump’s comments were “clearly a post-hoc justification” of the steel and aluminum tariffs, which haven’t proven as popular as the administration hoped they would be. (Read my colleague, Mike Warren, on Trump’s shifting messages on trade.)
Reached for comment on Monday, a White House spokesperson said the president “was pointing out the hypocrisy of critics of the 232 tariffs, in response to national security concerns, when Canada has triple digit tariffs on U.S. goods.”
Most Republican lawmakers on Monday night were skeptical of the tweet. “I don’t really accept that any tariffs really, unless you’re at war with a country, are a national security threat,” Kentucky senator Rand Paul told THE WEEKLY STANDARD. Others said they see Canada’s high dairy tariffs of 270 percent as unreasonable, but added that Section 232 isn’t the best way to solve that problem. Instead, said Kansas senator Jerry Moran, the president “ought to negotiate those things in our NAFTA agreement.”
Trump’s mixed messages lent credibility to the arguments of some Republican lawmakers that the president is abusing Section 232 in order to advance a protectionist trade agenda, rather than for genuine national security reasons.
“Invoking 232 as the justification for putting these tariffs in place is a mistake,” Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey told reporters when asked about Trump’s dairy tweet. “It’s very clear. This isn’t about national security.”
Toomey is a cosponsor of a bipartisan measure that would subject Section 232 tariffs to congressional approval, giving lawmakers a say in the process. Republican leaders in both chambers have poured cold water on the effort, led by retiring Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, but that hasn’t stopped it entirely from picking up momentum among members.
But several GOP senators were just as quick to brush off their colleagues’ concerns that Trump may be abusing Section 232.
“The president is using all the devices he has to try and come up to a fair trade environment,” said North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis. John Barrasso echoed that line of thinking, saying he wants to ensure the president has all of the tools needed in order to improve trade relations. And Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, when asked about Trump’s dairy tariffs tweet, said he had to trust Trump’s judgment, “since he’s commander in chief.”
Others, such as former U.S. Trade Representative (and current Ohio senator) Rob Portman, struck a more balanced position. Portman, who said he is still weighing the pros and cons of Corker’s bill, argued that targeting Canada under Section 232 was inappropriate. He also criticized Canada’s dairy tariffs as a protectionist measure that harms American dairy producers.
“But having said all that, 232 is being misused in my view right now,” said Portman. “I think it’s not being used properly.”