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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Trump is as jazzed as ever about hitting foreign-made cars with steep tariffs. Just about every member of his senior economic team besides Peter Navarro believes this is a terrible idea. But they haven’t swayed him.

What's happening: With each passing month, his zest for car tariffs only swells.

Between the lines: Trump now views the threat of car tariffs as his best leverage over negotiating partners. He has privately told aides that he got a better trade deal with Canada because he threatened Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with car tariffs. And he says the same about the Europeans, according to sources briefed on his thinking.

  • "Trump says gleefully that the moment he started talking about maybe tariffs on cars, that [European Commission President Jean-Claude] Juncker got on the fastest plane known to mankind, comes straight over to Washington and starts offering deals," a senior European official told me. "This tells Trump that car tariffs is real leverage."
  • But, but: The Europeans haven't made any serious concessions to the Americans, and Trump is bound to get frustrated as the talks sputter on. Trump's lead trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, hasn't yet persuaded the Europeans to open their markets to U.S. agricultural products.
  • European officials walked away from their conversations with Trump at the UN General Assembly meeting with the impression that he was fixated on auto tariffs and unhappy about America's trade deficit with the EU.

What we're hearing: Trade law dictates that Defense Sec. James Mattis must provide a national security justification for any new auto tariffs. A source who spoke to Mattis more than a month ago said he was deeply skeptical about the idea, worrying that big new car tariffs could further strain relationships with allies. Mattis has not, however, made any final decision.

  • Reached for comment, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said, "We do not discuss internal deliberations."

Behind the scenes: There's no sense in the top ranks of the White House that these tariffs are imminent. But Trump still talks about them, so some aides worry he could get impatient one day and force their hand like he did with the steel and aluminum tariffs.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Empire State Building among hundreds to light up in Biden inauguration coronavirus tribute.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.