Chuck Schumer successfully baits Trump into committing to Mexico tariffs

Has there ever been a simpler demonstration of reverse psychology?

Schumer taunted him in a Senate floor speech yesterday, noting that “President Trump has a habit of talking tough and then retreating, because his policies often can’t be implemented or don’t make sense,” no doubt hoping to provoke exactly this reaction. Dems would love love love to see Trump do something economically self-destructive like starting a trade war with Mexico while taking full ownership of it politically. The roaring economy is almost the entirety of the case to swing voters for reelecting him next year. Republicans know it too, which is why there’s a rebellion against the new tariffs brewing in the Senate. Schumer’s afraid that McConnell will talk Trump out of the tariffs before they take effect, averting economic self-sabotage and a GOP civil war over tariffs and immigration.

So he decided to bruise Trump’s ego by calling him a cuck and a blowhard, expecting POTUS would conclude that “strength” required proving Schumer wrong by implementing the tariffs over Republican objections. Mission accomplished, it seems.

McConnell’s best hope now of dodging an ugly fight between Trump and his caucus over the tariffs: The judiciary.

“[The International Emergency Economic Powers Act] was not designed for the imposition of tariffs,” said Jennifer Hillman, a Georgetown University law professor. “It was intended to give the President the power to impose economic sanctions when the President finds an ‘unusual and extraordinary threat’ to the national security, foreign policy or economy of the U.S. from foreign sources,” she said in an email.

“There is no reference” in the law to “presidential authority to impose tariffs,” said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It has been used for economic sanctions of various sorts against enemy countries, Iran, Iraq and Sudan and Libya. It’s never been used against a close ally.

“This is a considerable step beyond anything the president has done before in terms of abusing the authority delegated to him by the Congress. I think that’s why you’re seeing a reasonably significant reaction on the Hill.”

Right, but the wrinkle there is that knocking down Trump’s tariffs on grounds that they’re not sanctions might just lead him to turn around and impose sanctions on Mexico instead. Then he’ll have a real fight in Congress, not the potshotting that’s happening over trade. Presumably Marco Rubio will be Team Trump on that one too:

If the tariff power rightly belongs to Congress and Congress (i.e. the Democratic House) doesn’t want to use it to punish Mexico for America’s immigration problem, why should the president use it instead? I thought we hashed this out after DACA. The fact that the president is frustrated with divided government, because the other party won’t enact his agenda, doesn’t grant him special power to enact it himself. Rubio would say that the two situations are different because Congress has already delegated some tariff powers to the president, which wasn’t true in the case of Obama temporarily granting a mass amnesty for DREAMers. But it’s a cinch that majorities in both houses of Congress disapprove of the Mexico tariffs and will say so when this comes to a floor vote. Why doesn’t Rubio believe the will of his own branch should govern rather than the will of another?

The fact that two-thirds majorities in both chambers will be required to undo Trump’s policy rather than simple majorities to enact it is actually Trump’s ace in the hole here. It may be that the Senate will get to 67 votes in opposition, although I remain skeptical about it. But what about the House?

Pelosi would need dozens of Republicans to clear the two-thirds threshold. As nervous as House Republicans are about a tariff-driven economic downturn, they also know that primary challenges are considerably easier for smaller elections like House races than for statewide Senate races. They’ll be more reluctant to cross Trump than the Senate will. How does she get to 290 votes?

Maybe this is all academic. If even a hardcore protectionist Trump advisor Peter Navarro thinks it won’t be necessary to implement the tariffs, maybe Trump will back down after all. He understands as well as Schumer does how heavily his reelection depends on the economy. In fact, contra the conventional wisdom, a border crisis that lingers into 2020 may help Trump electorally more than it harms him despite the fact that it happened on his watch. Read Dan Drezner for more on that.