May 11, 2024 - Politics & Policy

How Biden is trying to trump Trump on 3 key issues

Illustration of Trump's head profile made from game plan lines, x's and o's, on a chalkboard.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

President Biden is moving to defang Donald Trump on a trio of issues central to his political identity: toughness on the border, aggressiveness with China and closeness with CEOs.

Why it matters: Biden is vulnerable in all three areas. His plans to trump Trump, expected in coming weeks, show the hawkish direction Trump has moved the politics of China and immigration.

  • Both Biden and Trump now support aggressive tariffs on Chinese goods.
  • And both are threatening to dramatically curtail access to asylum at the southwest border.
  • Those are positions that were vigorously pushed only by the fringes of the Republican Party a decade ago.

Driving the news: On China, Biden is preparing to extend and increase Trump's tariffs on some $300 billion of Chinese goods, with an announcement expected Tuesday.

  • The president wants to triple tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum. He also aims to dramatically raise tariffs on clean-energy goods — quadrupling those fees on Chinese electric vehicles, The Wall Street Journal first reported Friday.
  • On the border, Biden is preparing an executive order to try to stem illegal border crossings. He'll rely on the same section of the Federal Code, known as 212(f), that Trump used to slow immigration and impose a so-called Muslim ban.
  • Biden also is needling Trump on the ex-president's core brand as a business-friendly entrepreneur. Biden has launched his own strategy for courting CEOs, encouraging them to make big job-producing investments.

Zoom out: Both candidates still want to contest the Nov. 5 election over issues on which a majority of the public backs them.

  • For Biden, that means focusing on reproductive rights and Trump's role in overturning Roe v. Wade, while also warning of political extremism in the form of a second Trump term.
  • Trump, meanwhile, is trying to steer the conversation toward crime, immigration, inflation and the economy, where polls give him a consistent edge.
  • But Biden doesn't want to cede territory to Trump, even on some of the Republican's key issues. That means moving in Trump's direction — or beyond — on some of them.

Zoom in: In some ways, Biden has become more aggressive — and creative — than Trump was in restricting China.

  • Besides his expected tariff increases, Biden also has imposed new export controls on semiconductor technology, angering Beijing.
  • He also has created a new restrictions on outbound investments, designed to prevent China's military from gaining an advantage over the U.S. on artificial intelligence.
  • Meanwhile, Trump has referred to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a "very good friend of mine during my term."
  • Biden met with Xi in San Francisco last November but also has called Xi a "dictator."

On Trump's signature 2016 issue, building a border wall, Biden even approved part of Trump's barrier. Trump took the win and responded tongue-in-cheek on Truth Social: "I will await his apology!"

  • To tweak Trump's reputation as a dealmaker, Biden has set a two-pronged attack. One, he's privately and publicly cultivating relationships with CEOs.
  • But he's also questioning Trump's ability to close deals, taunting him for promising a Foxconn facility in Wisconsin that didn't materialize.
  • "They dug a hole with those golden shovels and they fell into it," Biden said Wednesday in Racine County, where he announced a $3.3. billion AI investment by Microsoft.

What they're saying: "Joe Biden has governed as the most far-left radical president in history, and trying to plagiarize President Trump's policies ahead of the election because his poll numbers are sinking will not change that," said Trump spokesperson Karoline Leavitt.

  • "Joe Biden is leading the great American comeback: 15 million new jobs, a record run of low employment, and an economy that is outpacing and outcompeting China," Biden spokesperson James Singer said.

Between the lines: Trump is moving further to the right on key issues.

  • He's called for a new minimum of 60% tariffs on Chinese goods, a move Biden has rejected and called inflationary.
  • On immigration, Trump has a habit of using heated rhetoric to stir his conservative base. He's said undocumented immigrants are "poisoning the blood of our country," a comment Biden frequently condemns.
  • And Trump has told oil and gas industry leaders that he'd be happy to fulfill their wish list. He also suggested they give his campaign $1 billion.

The bottom line: Biden doesn't need to win on those three issues. But he's preparing to immunize himself against Trump's coming onslaught.

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