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President Trump has long praised the use of tariffs, but his new threat to Mexico took many people by surprise. Trump said he will levy a 5 percent tariff on Mexican imports as of June 10 unless the country curbs immigration to the U.S. The proposal drew widespread bipartisan criticism from lawmakers, who predicted U.S. consumers would bear its cost. Yamiche Alcindor joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.
Well, President Trump has called himself tariff man. He has said he likes tariffs, and he's said he likes to use them.
But, even so, few knew what was coming last night when he issued a surprise threat to Mexico, the U.S.' largest trading partner.
Yamiche Alcindor has the latest now and more on the president's plan has stirred concern in this country and in Mexico.
Immigration policy through trade tariffs, that's President Trump's latest idea to stop illegal immigration on the southern border with Mexico.
In a tweet late Thursday, he announced that, starting on June 10, the U.S. will impose a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican imports. He said — quote — "The tariff will gradually increase until the illegal immigration problem is remedied."
Today, at a news conference, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador responded.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (through translator):
We will not fall for any provocation. We will act prudently. We will act with respect for the authorities of the United States, with respect for President Donald Trump. We have to help so migrants do not enter the United States illegally. But we also have to do it respecting human rights.
This comes as the Trump administration seeks to crack down on a surge of Central American migrants in recent months. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 100,000 immigrants were apprehended in April, the highest monthly total since 2007.
And an average of 4,500 people a day have illegally crossed the border or arrived without documents in the past three weeks. U.S. immigration authorities say over 80,000 people are currently in custody.
Today, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders defended the tariff threat.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders:
The number one duty that the president of the United States has is national security and to protect Americans. The president has been crystal clear that we have to take action, we have to step up, we have to do more, and we have to secure our borders.
White House officials say the tariffs would start at 5 percent. They would then increase to 25 percent by October if Mexico doesn't decrease border crossings.
Tariffs would impact all Mexican imports, including produce and cars. Meanwhile, there is bipartisan opposition to the tariff plan. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said in a statement — quote — "Trade policy and border security are separate issues. This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority, and counter to congressional intent."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the plan. In a statement, the California Democrat said President Trump was — quote — "sowing chaos over the border, instead of delivering solutions."
It's a concern shared by others, like Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz. He said the proposed tariffs would hurt his border city.
Well, it's going to be a huge challenge. Our position here is that it's not going to help us. Ultimately, it is the consumer that is going to be hurt or will feel the true impact of this.
The president's move faces opposition in the business community, too. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said today the tariffs wouldn't solve the border crisis, and they would instead — quote — "be paid by American families and businesses."
So, Yamiche joins me now for the latest on this.
Yamiche, these tariffs, if they're imposed, would have an undeniable effect on the U.S. economy, on U.S. consumers. What is the administration saying about that?
The administration is essentially saying Americans might have to bear the burden of some of these tariffs, but that it's really Mexico's fault and not America's fault.
The White House acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, he took a question that said, why should Americans have to pay more for avocados, refrigerators, cars, when it's really a Mexican issue and an immigration issue?
His response, the American economy is already being negatively impacted by illegal immigration, and also Americans are also paying the price of illegal immigration.
The important thing to note here, the American government isn't giving Mexico clear goalposts. It's not saying, if immigration and apprehensions go down by 5 percent, then we will be able to rethink these tariffs. Instead, they're saying, we just want the numbers to go down, but here's some very specific ways that we're going to make sure you feel the pain of our thoughts that you're not doing enough.
You reported there, there is bipartisan opposition to the plan. We have seen statements from lawmakers on both sides all day in response to this.
Other than the White House, other than the administration, who supports this?
The president and the Trump administration are really on an island of their own on this issue of tariffs.
This has been a rare situation here where you have Republican senators going after statement after statement saying that they disagree with the president's move on this. The Republicans have really stuck by the president on issues of health care, immigration.
In this case, we saw Republican senators from Ohio, from Iowa saying, look, you're really going to be putting the livelihood of our farmers and our car makers at risk here.
It's also important to note that the president, he's really saying, you know what, this is the best thing I can do because my back is against the wall because I see a crisis. The 80,000 people in custody, if those numbers actually bear out to be true, those numbers are really, really high.
Those are. Those are taxing the system in unprecedented ways, as you have been reporting.
It's worth mentioning, though, the U.S. is in the middle of a negotiating process on an entirely separate matter, right, what we're calling the new NAFTA, what they call the USMCA.
How is all of this informing that?
Essentially, this is really the president and the Trump administration saying that these are two separate issues.
When White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was asked specifically, how is this going to impact this trade deal, he said, they are two different things. Don't really talk about them at the same time.
Lawmakers on the Hill do not see it that way. Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, she put out a statement that said, look, this was going to be a great trade issue for our farmers, but now we're really scared this is going to stifle the ability for this to move toward and move through Congress.
The other thing to note, people are really saying that this trade deal that was supposed to really replace NAFTA, the president ran on this. It was a really key campaign promise. And now that might actually be slowed down. And the president's been trying through procedural moves to try to force Congress to vote without amendments on the trade deal by the end of September.
That doesn't look like it's going to happen.
A lot to watch. Great reporting from you, Yamiche.
And two weeks now — or 10 days, rather, we will see what happens next.
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