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Susan Walsh / AP

With the political world distracted by President Trump's media wars, one of the most consequential and contentious internal debates of his presidency unfolded during a tense meeting Monday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, administration sources tell Axios.

  • The outcome, with a potentially profound effect on U.S. economic and foreign policy, will be decided in coming days.
  • With more than 20 top officials present, including Trump and Vice President Pence, the president and a small band of America First advisers made it clear they're hell-bent on imposing tariffs — potentially in the 20% range — on steel, and likely other imports.
  • The penalties could eventually extend to other imports. Among those that may be considered: aluminum, semiconductors, paper, and appliances like washing machines.

One official estimated the sentiment in the room as 22 against and 3 in favor — but since one of the three is named Donald Trump, it was case closed.

No decision has been made, but the President is leaning towards imposing tariffs, despite opposition from nearly all his Cabinet.

In a plan pushed by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and backed by chief strategist Steve Bannon (not present at the meeting), trade policy director Peter Navarro and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, the United States would impose tariffs on China and other big exporters of steel. Neither Mike Pence nor Jared Kushner weighed in either way.

Everyone else in the room, more than 75% of those present, were adamantly opposed, arguing it was bad economics and bad global politics. At one point, Trump was told his almost entire cabinet thought this was a bad idea. But everyone left the room believing the country is headed toward a major trade confrontation.

The reason, we're told: Trump's base — which drives more and more decisions, as his popularity sinks — likes the idea, and will love the fight.

The problem, according to top officials who argued strenuously that the move is ill-advised: The trade war wouldn't just affect China. The collateral damage would include a slew of allies, including Canada, Mexico, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Watch for: Trump was warned — and White House officials anticipate — that an affected industry like automakers is likely to seek a court injunction within hours of any tariffs on steel.

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Go deeper

Democrats drubbing Trumpless GOP on social media

Data: Twitter/CrowdTangle (Feb 24, 2021); Chart: Will Chase/Axios

In a swift reversal from 90 days ago, Democrats are now the ones with overpowering social media muscle and the ability to drive news.

The big picture: Former President Donald Trump’s digital exile and the reversal of national power has turned the tables on which party can keep a stranglehold on online conversation.

Here come Earmarks 2.0

DeLauro at a hearing in May 2020. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The House Appropriations Committee is preparing to announce details of a plan to restore a limited version of earmarks, which give lawmakers power to direct spending to their districts to pay for special projects.

Why it matters: A series of scandals involving members in both parties prompted a moratorium on earmarks in 2011. But Democrats argue it's worth the risk to bring them back because earmarks would increase their leverage to pass critical legislation with a narrow majority, especially infrastructure and spending bills.

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New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

New research is bolstering the case for delaying second doses of coronavirus vaccines.

Why it matters: Most vulnerable Americans remain unvaccinated heading into March, when experts predict the more infectious virus variant first found in the U.K. could become dominant in the U.S.