President Donald Trump is trying to put a happy face on the overwhelming embarrassment he suffered last week in Congress. While he attended D-Day anniversary ceremonies abroad, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill were delivering a resounding rejection of his plan to impose escalating tariffs on imports from Mexico.
The tariff threat was a dud from the start, and the unusually outspoken GOP opposition made clear that if the White House proceeded, it would be legislatively rebuffed. Trump did what he usually does to protect his fragile ego: He declared victory, then unleashed a Twitter storm against his critics.
The most pronounced rejection came from Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, two Republicans who have long preferred stoic silence to public criticism of Trump. On Mexico, however, they could no longer stay quiet. Mexico accounts for 35% of Texas’ exports, worth $110 billion, and $27 billion of the state’s imports.
“We’re holding a gun to our own heads by doing this,” Cornyn stated last week.
“I will yield to nobody in passion and seriousness and commitment for securing the border,” Cruz told reporters. “But there’s no reason for Texas farmers and ranchers and manufacturers and small businesses to pay the price of massive new taxes.” Cruz was referring to the fact that tariffs wouldn’t have been paid by Mexico but rather by U.S. importers, which ultimately pass those expenses to consumers in the form of higher prices.
Trump’s tariffs were never clearly defined. He failed to state how they would be implemented and what specific actions Mexico had to undertake to avoid them. Free trade between the two countries involves complex manufacturing scenarios requiring that unfinished manufactured goods contain components and labor inputs from both sides of the border. Some goods, such as cars and apparel, can go back and forth multiple times across the border before they are finished. Manufacturers scrambled to calculate the astronomical tariffs that could have resulted.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Myron Brilliant argued Monday on CNBC that the policy would have harmed the U.S. economy and created global uncertainty among U.S. trading partners.
Trump happened to be watching the show and phoned in to respond, “If we didn’t have (the threat of) tariffs, we wouldn’t have made a deal with Mexico. We got everything we wanted” in terms of winning unspecified pledges from Mexico to slow the flow of northbound immigrants.
In fact, Mexico made those pledges before the tariff threats and had already begun deploying troops along its southern border with Guatemala. It also had introduced job-creation programs and other measures to encourage migrants to stay in Mexico.
Trump’s victory campaign rings as hollow as his threats against Mexico, sending a sad message to the world that a paper tiger, rather than a president, occupies the White House.