Been thinking about that this afternoon after hearing the news that Cory Gardner is a very likely “no” on the tariffs, should they take effect and the Senate ends forced to vote on whether to block them. Gardner voted with Trump in March on his declaration of an emergency at the border, which was his way of placating Trump fans back home in Colorado ahead of next year’s tough reelection campaign. This time, POTUS seems to have gone too far for him. Now he’s trying to placate swing voters who are worried about the economic fallout from the tariffs.
The Colorado Republican distributed a letter to his 100 colleagues on Friday afternoon warning that “current and proposed tariffs would negate all the economic benefits of tax reform” as Trump prepares to slap a new 5 percent tariff on Mexican goods that could increase to as much as 25 percent…
“I am all for fair trade. I am all for securing our border. But I am not for turning our backs on American workers and consumers. Nor can I turn my back on the free market truths that have made America’s economy the strongest in the world,” Gardner wrote in the letter, obtained by POLITICO. His letter cites a Tax Foundation study showing new tariffs disproportionately hit low-income Americans and that it would “wipe out” the economic benefits of the GOP’s 2017 tax cut.
It’s true — the tariffs on China and Mexico would completely erase the savings from the Trump tax cuts for people of modest means. And then some:
Here’s how the math works: middle earners got an average tax cut of $930 for the tax overhaul passed in late 2017, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. The tariffs already in effect cost the average household about $831, according to research from the New York Federal Reserve…
The full force of the Chinese and Mexican tariffs and subsequent retaliation would mean that consumers are facing an additional $3,994 in costs because of tariffs, more than four times the $930 tax cut for middle earners that the Republican Party touts as its signature legislative achievement under Trump.
What makes the Senate vote intriguing is that opposing political pressures are intensifying ahead of it. On the one hand, Trump’s tariff threat seems to be making Mexico more compliant on immigration enforcement and asylum reform, although maybe not as compliant as the White House would like. If Congress blows up the tariffs while Trump is negotiating with Mexico, all of that leverage goes up in smoke. On top of that, the crisis at the border is deepening, with apprehensions last month reaching a 13-year high. Trump has a very good argument that drastic measures must be taken. On the other hand, today’s jobs report was ominous, suggesting that the escalating trade wars are starting to cut into growth. Lay new tariffs on one of America’s biggest trading partners now and the pain will intensify. Which way do Republicans go?
Let’s count votes. Politico has a tally of how every senator voted on Trump’s border emergency decree in March. Assuming everyone who voted no on that will also vote no on the new tariffs, which seems a safe bet, then Trump opponents start with 59 votes. Gardner’s vote would bring them to 60. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn are likely also to vote no this time given the enormous economic impact tariffs on Mexico would have on Texas, so that’s 62. Things get less certain after that, but Politico notes in the Gardner story that Joni Ernst and John Kennedy have each tried persuading Trump to drop the tariffs. (Ernst is up for reelection next year.) If they’re both nays, that’s 64 — perilously close to the two-thirds majority needed for a veto override.
Where do the last three votes come from? Arizona is one of the biggest importers of Mexican goods and it’s no longer as reliably red as it was so Martha McSally seems a safe bet to cross Trump. Ben Sasse took a beating from his fan base of anti-Trump conservatives in March when he voted with POTUS on the border emergency so he may try to atone this time by opposing the tariffs. (He’ll have plenty of cover from other conservatives like Cruz and Rand Paul to do so.) That’s 66. Who’s willing to provide the fateful 67th vote? It could be Chuck Grassley, Ernst’s colleague in Iowa. Grassley dislikes tariffs and has grudgingly tolerated Trump’s trade war but his public comments lately suggest that he’s reaching his limit. Grassley also wouldn’t be as nervous as his younger colleagues about casting a decisive vote against Trump: He’s 85, isn’t on the ballot again until 2022, and won his last election by 25 points. He might be the man who makes a two-thirds supermajority.
I didn’t think they had it in ’em. Really, I still don’t. They’ll fall short somehow.
Still, it’s strange to me that Mexico has been so willing to compromise with the White House to avert the tariffs given the likelihood that the Senate will vote to spare them from a trade war. They must believe that Pelosi’s going to choke in trying to reach a two-thirds majority in her own chamber. Having the Senate embarrass Trump would be a nice consolation prize for AMLO’s government but it doesn’t mean a thing economically if the House can’t get to 290 votes.
Exit question via Marc Thiessen: What if Trump decides to incorporate the tariffs into his current emergency declaration at the border? There are two ways he can go about doing this, notes Thiessen, issuing a new emergency decree that implements the tariffs or amending his existing decree to include them in that one. If he amends that decree, which also address wall funding, then Republicans in Congress who want to vote no on the tariffs will also be voting no on the wall, a step they’ll be more reluctant to take. Will that save Trump from the humiliation of 67 votes?
Update: Breaking late-ish on Friday evening…
No details available as I write this at 8:30 ET but this is a huge load off of many Republican minds. Suspense builds, meanwhile: Did Trump get Mexico to agree to a “safe third country” agreement for asylum-seekers?