News Ticker

Trump’s Picks: Robert Lighthizer for US Trade Representative

Trump scores again on trade

It is a relief to have some good news to report for a change:

“President-elect Donald Trump, who made criticism of foreign trade deals a major theme of his presidential campaign, said Tuesday he has nominated former Reagan administration official Robert Lighthizer to be his new U.S. trade representative.

Lighthizer “has extensive experience striking agreements that protect some of the most important sectors of our economy, and has repeatedly fought in the private sector to prevent bad deals from hurting Americans,” Trump said in a statement. “He will do an amazing job helping turn around the failed trade policies which have robbed so many Americans of prosperity.” …”

As with Peter Navarro, Robert Lighthizer has a strong record on trade issues:

“With Donald Trump getting more TV coverage than Charlie Sheen and rising in the polls among Republicans, it is not a surprise that the knives have come out for him. “He’s just another liberal,” screams the libertarian Club for Growth. “He’s not one of us,” echoes Karl Rove.

All of that may be true, but one piece of cited evidence is quite puzzling. Mr. Trump’s GOP opponents accuse him of wanting to get tough on China and of being a protectionist. Since when does that mean one is not a conservative? For most of its 157-year history, the Republican Party has been the party of building domestic industry by using trade policy to promote U.S. exports and fend off unfairly traded imports. American conservatives have had that view for even longer. …

When viewed in this context, the recent blind faith some Republicans have shown toward free trade actually represents more of an aberration than a hallmark of true American conservatism. It’s an anomaly that may well demand re-examination in the context of critically important questions facing all conservatives on trade policy.

Given the current financial crisis and the widespread belief that the 21st century will belong to China, is free trade really making global markets more efficient? Is it promoting our values and making America stronger? Or is it simply strengthening our adversaries and creating a world where countries who abuse the system – such as China – are on the road to economic and military dominance? If Mr. Trump’s potential campaign does nothing more than force a real debate on those questions, it will have done a service to both the Republican Party and the country.”

This is another pick I support.

At least on the trade front, Wilbur Ross (Commerce), Peter Navarro (Trade Czar) and Robert Lighthizer (US Trade Representative) will likely end up being a strong likeminded team. This will come as a surprise to many of Trump’s critics on the Left who dismissed Trump’s rhetoric on free-trade during the campaign.

There’s always a catch though … in this case, the catch is the Republican Congress:

“Among the first steps being floated by the incoming Trump administration is a 5 to 10 percent tariff on imports, implemented through an executive order. It’s the sort of shoot-first, ask-questions-later action that President-elect Donald J. Trump promised during the campaign. It’s also unconstitutional.

That’s because the path to imposing tariffs — along with taxes and other revenue-generating measures — clearly begins with Congress, and in particular the House, through the Origination Clause. When presidents have raised (or lowered) tariffs in the past, they have tended to do so using explicit, if sometimes wide-ranging, authority from Congress. …

Of course, Mr. Trump doesn’t have to act unilaterally; he has Republican majorities in both chambers that are eager to work with him. One option would be to push for a border adjustment tax, a proposal already being floated in the House as part of comprehensive tax reform, which would forbid tax deductions for imports and exempt exports from taxes. …”

Three questions:

1.) Is the Republican Congress going to pass a small, symbolic tariff – something like a 5 percent tariff on imports, which Reince has floated – which would have no real impact on the economy or relations with China but would be a face saving token gesture to Trump’s base?

2.) Is the Republican Congress going to pass the Paul Ryan agenda and have Trump rubber stamp a bunch of policies that conservative think tanks cooked up years ago? Trump and Ryan want to cut taxes, but Ryan and McConnell oppose Trump on tariffs. Does that mean we get the big corporate tax cut, but not the tariff?

3.) Is this something Trump can do on his own authority with an executive order? I’ve seen that idea floated around the internet, but history suggests otherwise.