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President Trump announces tariffs on steel and aluminum earlier this month, flanked by Steven Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, Robert Lighthizer, and Peter Navarro. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
For months, President Donald Trump has been badgering his economic advisors to give him broad, unilateral authority to raise tariffs — a move that would all but break the World Trade Organization.
His favorite word: “reciprocal.” He’s always complaining to staff about the fact that the U.S. has much lower tariffs on some foreign goods than other countries have on the same American-made goods. The key example is cars: The European Union has a 10 percent tariff on all cars, including those manufactured in America, and China hits all foreign-made cars with 25 percent tariffs. But the U.S. only charges 2.5 percent for foreign cars we import.
Trump and ascendant nationalist economic advisor Peter Navarro think this is wildly unfair. So the president wants Congress to pass a bill to let him raise tariffs to reciprocal levels, according to three sources with direct knowledge.
Trump's idea would effectively break the WTO. One of the core WTO principles — which has underpinned globalization and trade for 70 years — is an idea called "most favored nation status." Countries that belong to the WTO have all agreed to charge the same tariff rate for imports from all other WTO members.
This is probably dead-on-arrival in Congress: Most Republicans on the Hill are free-traders and nearly universally opposed to Trump's tariffs. They won't get behind this. And a source familiar with Trump's legislative affairs team's thinking says such a bill has little chance of success. Trump, however, thinks the idea is a no-brainer. He mused aloud to staff in an Oval Office meeting last week, "Who could be against reciprocal?"
Why it matters: Trump is just getting started on his hardline trade mission. Gary Cohn and Rob Porter were among the few in the White House who would fight for free trade policies. Once they’re gone, the most influential voices on trade will be economic nationalists (with the possible exception of Larry Kudlow; we’ll have to wait and see if he’ll start off his tenure as chief economic advisor by going to war with the president over trade.)
What else to watch for: Aggressive tariffs against China. As Politico first reported, when Trump's team presented him with a package of tariffs that would target the equivalent of $30 billion a year in Chinese imports, Trump told them he wanted even bigger tariffs.
Sens. Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell walk to the Senate chamber last month. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
The House and Senate need to pass their massive 2018 spending bill before the government shuts down on Friday. Senior sources from both parties on Capitol Hill tell me they expect they'll get the deal done — though there's plenty of last minute haggling.
Big picture: This spending bill will cost more than $1 trillion and will further add to the deficit, which is likely to reach at least $800 billion for the 2018 fiscal year. Republican leaders and Trump will sell the spending package as a much-needed boost to military spending. House defense hawks, led by House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, campaigned aggressively for this boost. And Democrats will rightly be thrilled that they've forced Republicans to capitulate to fund so many of their domestic priorities.
Behind-the-scenes: During a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill last week, a deeply frustrated conservative House member said he wanted to introduce a motion to rename this week's spending bill the "2018 base voter suppression bill," according to a source in the room. We expect that the ultra conservative House Freedom Caucus members will vote against the bill, and that the deal will ride through with Democratic votes. (A common view within leadership and the administration is that the Freedom Caucus was never going to vote for the bill anyway.)
What's next: According to three sources with direct knowledge, House Republicans have scheduled a conference meeting tomorrow at 5:45 p.m. where they will share the details of the spending bill with members. They expect to post the bill text tomorrow night after that meeting.
Sen. Lindsey Graham appeared on CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper this morning. Screenshot: CNN
If Trump TiVos the Sunday shows after his round at his Virginia golf club today, he'll find some prominent Republican senators urging him to cool it with his attacks on Robert Mueller, Andrew McCabe and the broader FBI:
However, White House director of legislative affairs Marc Short sought to lower the temperature, telling Margaret Brennan on CBS' "Face the Nation": "I don't think that the president or anybody right now in our White House is suggesting not cooperating — any way with the Mueller investigation."
Why this matters: Lindsey Graham put it most succinctly, telling Tapper today that if Trump tried to fire Mueller, "that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency..."
Rep. Mike Conaway on NBC’s Meet The Press this morning. Photo: William B. Plowman / NBC / NBC NewsWire via Getty Images
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who's leading the House Intelligence Committee through the Russia investigation, tells Mike Allen and me he's worried Vladimir Putin could "test some things" in the 2018 midterm elections that he "would want to fully develop and blow out in a bigger way... in the presidential [election] in 2020."
Conaway, previewing the Republicans' coming findings and recommendations during an interview in his Capitol Hill office, said that given the Russians used a nerve agent in Britain and penetrated the U.S. power grid, he doesn't "put anything past this guy [Putin]."
What's next: The House Intelligence Committee expects to release some of its findings from the Russia investigation on Thursday. And they also expect to release some of their recommendations to better secure the U.S. electoral system against foreign enemies.
AT&T’s $85 billion attempt to buy Time Warner and its way into the content business goes to trial on Monday, kicking off a courtroom battle with the Justice Department that could stretch on for two months.
Why it matters: My colleagues David McCabe and Sara Fischer write that when the deal was announced nearly 18 months ago, it was viewed as a fairly sure thing. But its prospects gradually dimmed as President Trump criticized it from the campaign trail and DoJ moved to block it. The outcome of the case will not only determine AT&T's future, but also the future of tech, media and telecom deals in general.
Go deeper: The high stakes for AT&T's courtroom showdown.
The House and Senate expect to vote this week on the "omnibus" — the more than $1 trillion spending bill that will fund the government until the end of the 2018 fiscal year. They need to pass the bill before the end of the week to avoid a government shutdown.
President Trump's schedule, per a White House official:
President Trump and his personal lawyer, John Dowd, draw their commentary from very different influences. While the president is fond of live-tweeting Fox & Friends, his attorney quoted Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at length when he told The Daily Beast he thinks it’s time to end the Mueller probe.
An eagle-eyed source noted that the film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ classic play aired on Turner Classic Movies the night before he sent that email. Here’s the trailer for the film, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. There’s no Tennessee Williams films on the line-up for tomorrow, but you can catch another potentially relevant classic: Bonnie and Clyde.