- Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
If there’s anything we’ve learned in the last week or so it’s that losing Steve Bannon didn’t seem to mean anything for the Trump administration.
The most dangerous parts of the former White House adviser’s anti-globalist agenda still live on, and Americans should get ready to pay for that soon.
That’s because Trump has shown a willingness to shake off his other staff members and continue on with two very crucial, very Bannon parts of his agenda – on trade and on immigration.
It’s unclear whether or not Bannon was making policy headway outside of these two areas. Trump went with “his generals” – not Bannon – on Afghanistan. And, when it comes to issues like infrastructure or drug prices – two things Bannon was interested in – there’s been no progress at all.
But recent reports of the president’s intransigence with China, and his continued NAFTA bashing, indicate that he’s going to Bannon pretty hard on trade. As for immigration, Trump’s pardoning of Joe Arpaio also shows that he’s willing to keep taking the hardline. If he does the same thing with funding for his wall next month, Americans may find themselves wondering if Steve Bannon really ever left.
Perhaps you’ve read the story about President Trump demanding that his staff bring him tariffs to sign.
That happened during White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly’s first week, while Bannon was still at the White House. But since then Trump’s tone on trade hasn’t changed. The very day Bannon left, Trump fired the first shot in a trade war with China by signing off on a Section 301 investigation into China’s theft of US intellectual property.
China is especially angry about this because any tariffs that could follow the investigation (which is expected to take nine months to a year) would be unilateral. That is to say, the White House wouldn’t need Congress or the World Trade Organization (WTO) to put them in place. It is the absence of the latter’s involvement that has riled China. Because of the WTO, the US hasn’t used Section 301 in 15 years. Even our friends and ally nations were complaining that it was too aggressive.
And then there was Trump’s speech in Arizona where he mentioned over and over again that he might throw out the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Now, Trump can’t do that without Congressional approval, but his language isn’t making negotiations easier. Last weekend Trump was bashing the trade deal so hard on Twitter that the Mexican government was forced to announce that it would not negotiate NAFTA via social media.
Trump’s own advisers, like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have warned that this is a delicate situation because of the timing. Mexico will hold elections next year, and if anti-Trump politicians win the day a tenuous situation could worsen.
Trump has proven himself intransigent, and his team less than competent, and securing these trade deals. The Financial Times reported that Trump rejected a deal from China that would’ve seen the country cut its steel output by 100 million tonnes. Meanwhile, the Treasury’s trade talks with China all but collapsed, as Secretary Mnuchin was unable to get all sides on the same page.
Bannon probably loved all that.
In pardoning Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio for obstruction of justice, Trump showed that he still has not only Bannon’s flare for causing controversy but also Bannon’s willingness to flout the GOP and the rule of law to take a stand against immigration.
I won’t get into all the ghastly things Arpaio allegedly did here. The Phoenix New Times offers a pretty solid roundup here.
What I will say is that Trump is clearly willing to go to bat for this aspect of his agenda in a way he hasn’t for say, tax reform or repealing Obamacare. If that is the case, he may make funding for a border wall an issue next month as Congress tries to work out the budget, raise the debt ceiling, figure out some kind of tax cut and hopefully help people in Texas and Louisiana whose lives have been destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.
In other words: Trump would be throwing another wrench onto a legislative agenda already jammed full of wrenches.
It was going to be a delicate dance without Harvey. The bond market is puking over the prospect of a fight over raising the debt ceiling, and up and down Wall Street analysts have all but given up on tax reform. Adding paying for a wall to the budget fight is something this GOP Congress and President can hardly afford, but in Arizona last week Trump said he was willing to shut down the government to do it.
Bannon probably liked that too.