Exclusive: Trump vents in Oval Office, "I want tariffs. Bring me some tariffs!"

August 28, 2017

The following is a rare account of President Trump in a small Oval Office meeting, venting at senior staff for sometimes resisting his hawkish trade agenda.

[Jonathan Swan | August 27, 2017 | Axios]

This account — confirmed by sources with knowledge of the meeting and undisputed by the White House — hints at where Trump may be heading with his trade agenda. And it shows he believes some of his top economic advisors are resisting his agenda because they are "globalists."

The scene: The Oval Office, during Gen. Kelly's first week as Chief of Staff. Kelly convened a meeting to discuss the administration's plans to investigate China for stealing American intellectual property and technology. Kelly stood beside Trump, behind the Resolute desk. In front of the desk were U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, senior trade adviser Peter Navarro, top economic adviser Gary Cohn, and Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Trump, addressing Kelly, said, "John, you haven't been in a trade discussion before, so I want to share with you my views. For the last six months, this same group of geniuses comes in here all the time and I tell them, 'Tariffs. I want tariffs.' And what do they do? They bring me IP. I can't put a tariff on IP." (Most in the room understood that the president can, in fact, use tariffs to combat Chinese IP theft.)

"China is laughing at us," Trump added. "Laughing."

Kelly responded: "Yes sir, I understand, you want tariffs."

Gary Cohn, who opposes tariffs and the protectionist trade measures pushed by the Bannonites, had his shoulders slumped and was clearly appalled by the situation.

Staff secretary Rob Porter, who is a key mediator in such meetings, said to the president: "Sir, do you not want to sign this?" He was referring to Trump's memo prodding Lighthizer to investigate China — which may lead to tariffs against Beijing.

Trump replied: "No, I'll sign it, but it's not what I've asked for the last six months." He turned to Kelly: "So, John, I want you to know, this is my view. I want tariffs. And I want someone to bring me some tariffs."

Kelly replied: "Yes sir, understood sir, I have it."

At one point in the meeting, Navarro pulled out a foam board chart. Trump didn't pay attention to it, saying "I don't even know what I'm looking at here."

Trump made sure the meeting ended with no confusion as to what he wanted.

"John, let me tell you why they didn't bring me any tariffs," he said. "I know there are some people in the room right now that are upset. I know there are some globalists in the room right now. And they don't want them, John, they don't want the tariffs. But I'm telling you, I want tariffs."

Kelly broke up the meeting and said the group would work things out and reconvene at the appropriate time.

A White House official responded to the above account by telling Axios: "The president has been very clear about his agenda as it relates to trade. Discussions pertaining to specific tariffs and trade deals are ongoing and have already resulted in many positive developments."

Be smart: The nationalists in the White House took public credit for the China IP policy, arguing at the time that it would lead to a much-needed crackdown on Beijing. But now that he's outside of the White House, you should expect Bannon and his allies to argue that what's been done so far isn't enough, and that Trump needs to treat China as an adversary in an economic war.

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  • Mark Sanguinetti
    The above is a basic overview as it relates to the US Constitution and US taxes. This is something that can and should be learned from. As an example, when you do a Google search and type in US Constitution Foreign Trade the article shows up high on the first page.

    When the above article says, “Trump needs to treat China as an adversary in an economic war.” Instead they or we can simply follow what China already does today. They charge tariffs on imported goods coming from the U.S.A. They also charge V.A.T. taxes on imported goods. This results in more revenue for the nation of China government. If followed by the USA, with the USA also charging import taxes this would also result in more revenue for the USA federal government. However, for the globalists more revenue for the US federal government is not important. Instead they would promote instead selling China US government bonds, with the goal of trying to get people to ignore that the purchase of US government bonds by China, for China is an asset. For the US federal government it is a liability or increased debt. I hope the globalists can at least pass fourth grade math.
  • James Crawford
    The United States needs to balance its trade in manufactured goods. It should do so by optimizing the mix and size of its domestic industry. And the decision making process has to begin in Congress.

    The impact this has on any of our trading partners must also be considered, which would be a logical point for the Administration to weigh in on.

    Framing the entire exercise as economic warfare is unlikely to generate the cooperation of any other nation with us.

    What you need to do is demonstrate a new business model that other countries admire, respect, and would consider emulating. Focusing on healthy nationally oriented competition is a better choice than war for the dominant theme.

    Trump wants tariffs. If it were Congress delivering them he would be the most rather than the least popular president in modern times.

    The place for the council of disgruntled macroeconomic advisors in this discussion is to establish the criterion for "optimizing " the domestic economy, as a push back on the overtly political considerations.

    Beyond that macroeconomic tinkering with the operations of financial markets would be helpful; i.e. the Money Access Charge that Hansen proposed.

    There will be no revolution of thought within the mainstream economics profession no matter how compelling the intellectual argument / critique that is advanced. The historical process that boiled American economic thought down to mathematical form was driven by finding ways to reject every criticism ever advanced, legitimate or otherwise.

    This is what makes Free Trade an ideology, which in the name of objectivity has turned economics into the most biased and unscientific of all the social sciences.

    The pragmatic bent of the CPA has enabled the organization to flourish. Now is the time for the organization to build on its accomplishments. This, however, will require a more expansive intellectual architecture.