ROBERT COSTA: A migrant surge and a trade standoff. I’m Robert Costa. Welcome to Washington Week.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) Something pretty dramatic could happen. We’ve told Mexico the tariffs go on, and I mean it, too.
MR. COSTA: President Trump vows to impose tariffs on Mexico and dismisses Republican critics.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) They have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to tariffs. They have absolutely no idea.
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): (From video.) Well, there is not much support in my conference for tariffs.
MR. COSTA: Democrats say the president is reckless.
HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): (From video.) This is dangerous territory. It’s not a way to deal with immigration. It’s not a way to deal with humanitarian needs at the border.
MR. COSTA: And global leaders remember D-Day, next.
ANNOUNCER: This is Washington Week. Once again, from Washington, moderator Robert Costa.
MR. COSTA: As migrant issues mount at the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump is pressing ahead with his planned 5 percent tariff on all Mexican imports starting on Monday. Talks continued on Friday between the two nations, and the president in a tweet from Air Force One wrote that there is, quote, “a good chance” of a deal. But Trump administration officials cautioned that the U.S. could still issue notice late Friday and formally begin the tariff process.
Joining me tonight, Mark Landler, White House correspondent for The New York Times; Vivian Salama, White House reporter for The Wall Street Journal; Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent for POLITICO and co-author of The Hill to Die On; and Joshua Green, national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek.
Vivian, where do these talks stand? Will Mexican President Lopez Obrador buckle and cut a deal?
VIVIAN SALAMA: I mean, it certainly seems like they are willing to come to the table to discuss. They’re very eager, obviously, to avoid these tariffs. But really, we’ve been on pins and needles waiting for President Trump to get back in country. He’s been out of the country for this entire week where all of this has been unfolding – meetings at the White House, meetings at the State Department where they seem to be breaking ground on a number of the immigration
issues that the Trump administration is demanding, particularly adhering to the asylum system, the stay in Mexico policy and the safe third country policy. Those are the three major issues. The Mexicans came to the table wanting to put troops on their southern border and make other concessions, but at the end of the day President Trump from Europe said it wasn’t enough and he wanted to see more from the Mexicans, and so –
MR. COSTA: How many troops would be on the southern border for Mexico?
MS. SALAMA: That is a part of the discussion, and they haven’t really even determined that much as far as our reporting has gone. The numbers go back and forth, and it’s not something that the Trump administration has been so focused on as much as it is securing the U.S. southern border. And so that’s where we stand, but a lot of the advisors – including people who were in the room with the Mexicans this week – say ultimately it doesn’t matter where the talks stand because President Trump is going to come back at the end of the day and he’s going to make a decision, and even though he said there has been progress and a number of White House officials have indicated as much, he still says that those tariffs are going into effect on Monday as he said.
MR. COSTA: The metrics don’t seem clear, Mark. What’s the president’s strategy?
MARK LANDLER: Well, the president loves tariffs. Tariffs are his preferred weapon. He’s used them in his view quite successfully with China. He’s gotten China to move further, maybe, than many people thought it would. He’s used steel and aluminum tariffs around the world. He’s in a bilateral trade negotiation with Japan that he would argue was – in a way the door was opened by tariffs. So I think that they – it’s the weapon that he has. It’s a unilateral weapon. It doesn’t depend on congressional support, although it’s worth noting in this case Congress might well override – veto him and then override him. So this is – you know, as Vivian has said, he’s called tariff man for a reason. This is something that he really values. He thinks it works. He makes this rather incredible argument that American consumers don’t pay for it, that it’s money the American Treasury takes in. That’s an argument most economists knock down. But he is really fastened to it. He feels it’s worked for him in the past and I think he figures he has one more chance to show that with Mexico in the – in the coming days.
MR. COSTA: He may like using tariffs as a political tool. Is he also under pressure from his base?
JOSHUA GREEN: I think Trump feels that he’s under pressure from his base, because the thing that really got him elected was this promise that he would build a wall on the southern border and then stop the inflow of migrants, and that very much has not happened. We got reports this week that the migrant border surge is six times as large as it was a year or so ago. Clearly, things are going badly. This is a weapon, I think – tariffs – that Trump thinks he can use to force concessions from the Mexican government, and at least the indications we’ve gotten today – of course, nothing is settled – is that the Mexicans realize there’s some real pain here for them if Trump goes ahead with these tariffs.
MR. COSTA: What would the pain be for the Mexicans?
MR. GREEN: Well, it would be an escalating series of tariffs. So beginning on Monday, if Trump goes ahead with this, it would be 5 percent tariffs, which would certainly spook the stock market and cause a fall. And then they would go up in increments of 5 percent, hitting a top level, I believe, of 25 percent by October. That could be enough to send the Mexican economy into a recession. It could certainly mess up the U.S. supply chain, could slow down growth here. There are all sorts of dire economic effects, and I would argue political effects for Trump, that could stem from this policy. But for right now he’s got the upper hand.
MR. COSTA: And one of those political effects could play out on Capitol Hill because many Republicans, even Trump allies, are speaking out against the proposed tariffs.
SENATOR TED CRUZ (R-TX): (From video.) Millions of jobs in Texas depend on international trade, and in particular trade with Mexico. This is the wrong solution to the crisis.
SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): (From video.) Tariffs, on the other hand, would be a massive tax.
MR. COSTA: Others say the president’s tariffs are necessary.
REPRESENTATIVE MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): (From video.) One more tool to be able to control the flow of illegal immigrants coming across our southern border.
MR. COSTA: According to federal data, more than 144,000 migrants, many of them from Central America, were taken into custody in May. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it was the highest monthly figure in more than a decade. Democrats have sharply criticized the president’s response.
HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): (From video.) This is dangerous territory. It’s not a way to deal with immigration. It’s not a way to deal – meet the humanitarian needs at the border.
MR. COSTA: That’s the scene, Anna, in Congress, but will Republicans actually try to block the president?
ANNA PALMER: I think it’s a real possibility. Mark Meadows, who was speaking there defending the president, is really an outlier. I think what you really need to focus on is the Senate – Mitch McConnell, others saying they don’t want this to go into effect, and this could be the first time that you have Republicans in the Senate issue a veto – override a veto of the president’s. I mean, that would be a pretty stunning rebuke for this president.
MR. COSTA: But we don’t know if the Republicans are just complaining or they’re actually willing to take action. You’ve been on the Hill all week. What do you hear about actually moving on Monday should these tariffs go into effect?
MS. PALMER: It feels different, I will say. I think sometimes the Republicans kind of try to, you know, tap the president a little bit and rap him and say, hey, you know, this is going to be – you know, don’t go that far, right? But this feels like there’s a coalescing, really, of a majority of the majority of Republicans, and when there is that that’s a dangerous, I think, formula for the president because all of a sudden you have Republicans saying we’re going to take him on. And this is an issue where they think they feel they are right on and it’s not just politics; they can go back to their states and say the president’s wrong on this.
MR. COSTA: What does this mean, Vivian, for the USMCA, the new version of NAFTA? You’ve been tracking that.
MS. SALAMA: Absolutely. So U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer was one of the people who was very much against imposing these punitive tariffs against Mexico because he felt like it could jeopardize efforts to get the USMCA through Congress, which has already been a bumpy road so far, Democrats really not cooperating and Republicans raising certain concerns about certain clauses. The vice president was in Canada the very same day that the president made this announcement of tariffs on Mexico talking with Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, to see how they could get it through their parliament, and the Mexicans were doing the same that very same day – everyone, obviously, having to sort of juggle the political elements of this to get it through their own parliaments and our Congress here, and suddenly this happens. It doesn’t – a lot of folks concerned that it doesn’t reflect goodwill in terms of their efforts to negotiate.
One other thing I want to add also to Anna’s point is, remember, all this is coming on the heels of the China tariffs and the escalating dispute with China. And so a lot of these senators already concerned that folks in their states, especially farmers and others in the agriculture sector, were suffering. The U.S. has already – the Trump administration has already offered a form of bailout for farmers, especially soybean farmers, who were hurting from the China tariffs. And now you have the Mexicans threatening to go after certain Republican states and the farming sector, the agriculture sector specifically. It could just really make a bad situation worse.
MR. COSTA: So is there any chance, weighing all those factors laid out Vivian and Anna, you also have the jobs numbers on Friday. Seventy-five thousand up into the payroll, lower than expectations. Does the White House have any chance of delaying the tariffs on Monday?
MR. LANDLER: Well, I mean, the president would have appeared to lock himself in, in terms of when he’s going to start with this. But I think that raising – you mentioned the job numbers. I think that’s important. There’s another fairly arcane thing that has started happening in recent weeks which is called an inversion of the yield on bonds. And that’s important because every time – seven of the last 10 times this has happened it’s been a pretty accurate predictor of the economy going into recession. So there had been for a long time a feeling that the economy was going to continue to grow at a fairly healthy rate well into 2020. Now you’re beginning to hear people say: Well, maybe not. Maybe there’ll be at least a slowdown. I don’t think people are really talking about a recession.
So if you’re the White House and President Trump, you have to weigh, you know, your strategy and your belief that tariffs allow you to make advances against the possibility that you go into your reelection campaign with a sharply slowing economy.
MR. GREEN: Well, one other factor too, you know, today the stock market soared in the wake of this bad jobs report, because in the somewhat perverse logic of market traders, bad news was good news because it increased the likelihood that the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates this year – essentially putting a safety net under what Trump is doing in terms of the trade war, which could be read as ushering Trump along, or at least giving him leeway to pursue these tariffs if he decides he wants to.
MR. COSTA: How would they affect consumers across the country, if they actually are affected?
MR. GREEN: Every economist I’ve talked to says that they will raise prices. And if these tariffs go on Mexico and hit the U.S. supply chain, it could raise auto costs by an average of $1,300 per car. So a real dent in the U.S. economy.
MS. PALMER: It also could be a big deal in terms of the holidays, right? In terms of spending when you have retailers. There’s a lot of goods that go back and forth between the Mexico-U.S. border. So that is another issue where you’re going to have a lot of people are the Trump supporters all of a sudden thinking, you know, what’s actually – what’s this president doing?
MR. GREEN: Well, and the real danger here is we talked about the hit that farmers have taken in some of the western and midwestern states. If the auto industry gets hit, then you’re looking at the upper Midwest states, places like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, that most analysts I think believe are going to be the critical states in 2020, where Trump is already struggling politically.
MR. COSTA: We saw Speaker Pelosi talk about the humanitarian crisis at the border. You have, just according to the Customs and Border Protection Agency, more than 19,000 migrants in custody right now, often in cells that are packed and dirty. Many children are arriving without a parent. And the Trump administration is cancelling English classes, recreational programs, legal aid for unaccompanied minors. Is there anything in motion to address those issues – those real issues at the border?
MS. SALAMA: Well, this is the struggle that the Trump administration continues with. Certainly one of the issues that led him to declare a national emergency late last year, and something that they haven’t really figured out yet. The border wall funding is still an issue that continues to be very contentious between Congress and the president. And in general, you have an acting DHS secretary. And so nothing is really institutionalized there with him still uncertain as to the future of his role. You have a new ICE director. And so there’s a lot of moving parts there.
And just this general consensus that DHS gradually was losing control over the situation because the White House tended to siphon off a lot of the decision-making process with regard to border security during the tenure of Kirstjen Nielsen, the former DHS secretary. There’s a lot of sort of absent communication situation there that DHS and the White House are falling behind on getting that together.
MR. COSTA: We know that Republicans, President Trump, is pushing for the tariffs as a response to this influx of migrants at the southern border. What is the Democratic reaction, the hope, the plan?
MS. PALMER: I don’t think they feel like they have to put up a plan, frankly. I mean, the president needs to lead on this. This is going to be an administration play. The big question to me is going to be what happens with federal funding, as you say. They have not – they are nowhere on the border wall. There’s nowhere on kind of any kind of aid package that is going to add some relief to this –
MR. COSTA: That would add judges or something like that.
MS. PALMER: Right. I mean, there’s really no talk of that right now at all on Capitol Hill. I mean, if anything, the president is tweeting against Nancy Pelosi, you know, when he’s in the air on Air Force One. And Democrats are more unilaterally opposed to him than I’ve ever seen.
MS. SALAMA: Not to mention continuing to fight the courts on a lot of these issues too.
MR. COSTA: And, as you said, Anna, the president returned to Washington on Friday from a weeklong trip to Europe, where he marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day with other world leaders.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) The blood that they spilled, the tears that they shed, the lives that they gave, the sacrifice that they made did not just win a battle. It did not just win a war. Those who fought here won a future for our nation.
MR. COSTA: He also toasted the queen in London and talked trade with outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May. There were controversies too. In an interview with Fox News he called former special counsel Robert Mueller a, quote, “fool,” and Speaker Pelosi a, quote, “disaster.”
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) I think she’s a disgrace. I actually don’t think she’s a talented person. I’ve tried to be nice to her because I would have liked to have gotten some deals done. She’s incapable of doing deals. She’s a nasty, vindictive, horrible person.
MR. COSTA: Mark, you began the day in Paris, and you ended up here at the Washington Week table. (Laughter.) We appreciate it.
MR. LANDLER: I’m still awake.
MR. COSTA: You’ve been traveling with this president throughout this entire trip. And when you listened to that speech in Normandy, what was your takeaway, especially in terms of how he talked about the nation and sovereignty?
MR. LANDLER: Well, you know, this is a – sort of a location, a locale, that American presidents have often delivered some of their most memorable speeches. President Reagan in 1984 talked about the boys of Pointe du Hoc. So this is a very hallowed ground. And President Trump gave a speech that I think his aides hoped would be very presidential. But it bore some very distinctively Trumpian touches. Rather than talk about the alliance system that the U.S. created in the ashes of World War II, he spoke about sovereignty. Rather than talk about the sacrifices that all of these countries made together, he really focused very much on American soldiers.
Now, to some extent that’s understandable. He was standing in the American military cemetery. But what you heard in this speech was no particular reference to the great institutions that came out of World War II. And the reason for that is that President Trump has largely been an enemy of those institutions. He’s ridiculed NATO. He has attempted to sabotage the European Union. And so on this day it fell to Emmanuel Macron, the French president, to actually get up and talk about the legacy the United States had left Europe in the wake of World War II. So that was one very noticeable thing about his time there.
MR. COSTA: Based on that analysis, Josh, you’ve written a book about Steve Bannon. The president met with Nigel Farage, the Brexit Party leader in London. When you listen to his speech in Normandy and see he’s meeting with Farage, are you seeing a president who’s underscoring his nationalism, or is it something a little different?
MR. GREEN: Very much so. I mean, Bannon is long gone from a position of influence in the Trump White House, and yet his ideas seem to resonate more than ever. If you look at what it is that Trump focuses on, it is issues like trade and immigration, precisely the things that Bannon had encouraged him to run on. Listening to Trump’s speech today – yesterday, listening to the way he spoke about Brexit in the U.K., Trump seems to be the same guy he’s been all along and is keyed on the same issues. I don’t think that’s going to change.
MR. COSTA: Constant fights with Speaker Pelosi, the president was even criticized for appearing in front of the graves at Normandy and talking about political enemies.
MS. PALMER: Yeah, and Nancy Pelosi didn’t respond in kind. I think that is the real split screen there, where you have the president continuing his attacks, kind of focused – laser-focused on what’s happening back home. And she basically trying to be the bigger person, be the leader, and say: That’s not what we do on foreign soil. But you can’t underscore how important him attacking her is for her base and getting her caucus behind her. There’s been a lot of friction in the Democratic Caucus about whether to impeach the president, what’s the right strategy? And every time he goes after her, all he does is unify Democrats. And she becomes stronger and stronger.
MR. COSTA: When you think about the president’s fighting with the London mayor, the president’s being compared to a fascist by the London mayor. Where is the special relationship with the U.K. coming away from this trip? There’s a coziness with Theresa May, the prime minister. He’s friendly with Boris Johnson. Yet, a lot of criticism and some protests.
MS. SALAMA: Well, coziness with Theresa May when she’s one foot out the door, let’s put it that way. (Laughter.) But certainly the friction with Sadiq Kahn, the mayor of London, goes back now a couple of years with the president, because he’s been a very outspoken critic. And the president really hammered him this time, saying that’s not how you treat a guest; you know, I’m a guest in your country. Of course, the president also has the tendency to, you know, attack people back, and so it was a little bit ironic. Certainly, the president was very happy to remind people that he was against – that he was promoting Brexit from the start, and he didn’t really feel that Theresa May took his advice, and that’s why the entire thing basically is crashing and burning with her – two days away from her final day in office he reminded that he actually recommended to her that she should sue the EU and then settle with them, and that was the best way to sort out the Brexit issues. And so the special relationship sort of with an inserted element of I am Trump and here is what I have offered to this whole entire thing, so it was interesting to watch.
MR. COSTA: A debatable special relationship, perhaps, but what a moment for history to be there and to see the planes flying overhead, to think about 75 years ago what happened there. Beyond President Trump, what did it tell us?
MR. LANDLER: Well, I mean, I think it really reminded us of the tremendous personal sacrifice the United States made on the behalf of a free and peaceful Europe. I mean, there is really no greater, more glorious demonstration of that. And I think that’s why, when President Reagan went and President Obama and President Clinton, all of whom spoke in the same place, they really presented the United States as being squarely in the center of the European experiment. And I think not hearing that message from President Trump was – once again, it’s not a new thing with him – he’s been very clear on this – but it was really vivid not hearing from him on this hallowed ground.
I think the other major sort of takeaway I had from this week was the degree to which President Trump really valued the relationship he built up with Queen Elizabeth, the rapport they had. In speaking to Laura Ingraham in that interview, he said that folks had told him that people had never seen her so animated before.
MS. PALMER: She was great, great. (Laughter.)
MR. LANDLER: Yeah. And every day he would increase the superlatives he used – she was a great woman, she was a spectacular woman. (Laughter.) And so, you know, clearly that for him was maybe the biggest takeaway.
MS. PALMER: Yeah, I mean, I think it was pretty stunning. I mean, what was also very interesting, too, was just to see he had the trappings of his entire family there, right, something
that you don’t always see, and really saw that kind of friction between, you know, the family and business and all of those things.
MR. COSTA: Thanks, everybody. We have to leave it there.
But stay tuned for a special message from your PBS station, then watch our Washington Week Extra on our website, Facebook, or YouTube.
I’m Robert Costa. Have a great weekend.