Criticism for President Donald Trump on trade during the latest round of Democratic primary debates comes even as the White House seemed to be inching towards relieving some of the tensions with China — and it also reveals the challenges both parties will have balancing populist impulses with voters’ desire for a strong economy.
China said on Friday it would exclude American soybean and pork exports from additional tariffs. Earlier this week, Beijing said it would pull 16 American exports from the list of goods on which it planned to impose tariffs. Trump announced on Wednesday that he would delay by two weeks the imposition of an additional 5 percent tariff on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods that had been scheduled for Oct. 1.
“I think there might be less or delayed escalation. Both leaders have an interest in that right now,” said Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, citing the unrest in Hong Kong and the upcoming 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China along with worsening economic indicators in both countries.
Although this would suggest an easing of tensions in the short term, international trade experts say it also is a dynamic that narrows the window of opportunity for the White House to forge any kind of grand bargain.
“As the conflict has gone on over the course of the last year, I think people have gotten a lot more pessimistic,” said Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer at the Independent Advisor Alliance.
As hopes for a resolution that addresses key thorny topics like intellectual property protection fade, investors are just hoping for calm, he said. “At this point in the trade conflict, I think people feel like the best-case scenario is some kind of truce or a thawing in tensions, not a deal.”
“If you’re Xi Jinping, I would say, ‘Why should I cut a deal with Trump?’” Kirkegaard said, suggesting that China might prefer to deal with a less volatile administration. “They’re predictable in a way that Trump is not, and I think that has a lot of value for the Chinese, and other countries.”
The president’s trade policy was blasted as “haphazard” by hopeful Democratic presidential candidates during Thursday night’s primary debate. Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., landed the sharpest dig of the night, accusing Trump of “treating our farmers and our workers like poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos.”
“The big takeaway from the debates is that they didn’t try to mimic Trump on China. They’re realizing, as is the administration, that this trade war is beginning to hurt.”
The characterizations they used, though — and what they didn’t say — reveal an important distinction that could have ramifications for the U.S. economy not only in the near term, but also after the 2020 election, said Michael O. Moore, a professor of economics and international affairs at George Washington University.
“The complaints was about tactics — it wasn’t about the goal,” he said. “The goal seems to be to change the current global trading system and both sides want to take credit for that fundamental shift.”
Traditionally, labor-aligned Democrats have been the party more leery of globalization and free trade agreements, but most are loathe to openly champion a cause that has been a fixture of Trump’s presidency — and that is inflicting increasing economic harm.
“I actually think the big takeaway is that they didn’t try to mimic Trump on China,” Kirkegaard said. “I think it’s because they’re realizing, as is the administration, that this trade war is beginning to hurt. As these new rounds of tariffs come in, people are going to be paying more.”
There are signs that markets and voters alike are growing warier of the potential for damage — raising the stakes for both parties. Earlier this week, a CNN/SSRS poll found that just 48 percent of registered voters approve of Trump’s handling of the economy — a drop of eight percentage points since April, while the U.S.-China Business Council warned that more than a million jobs could be lost in a trade war.
The bipartisan spread of populism is changing the equation and reshuffling traditional alliances. “To a small extent, I think President Trump has broken that mold,” Zaccarelli said.
“There has been that nativist, economic nationalist impulse in the Republican party. It’s just been a fringe traditionally,” Moore said. “All those groups are now much more ascendant in both parties.”
Biden and Warren clash over accomplishments: 'I got votes' for your bill
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Vice President Joe Biden faced off on their past accomplishments and how they could enact change to appeal to voters during the fourth Democratic presidential debate.
AOC, Omar set to endorse Bernie Sanders for president
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is feeling the Bern.
The freshman congresswoman plans to endorse Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president at a rally in New York on Saturday, the Sanders campaign told NBC News.
The endorsement was first reported by The Washington Post.
Another member of “the squad,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, announced on Tuesday night that she is endorsing Sanders. The other two members are Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
Sanders mentioned he’d have a “special guest” at his “Bernie’s Back” rally in Queens during Tuesday’s debate, and the campaign later acknowledged that guest is “Green New Deal” champion and democratic socialist Ocasio-Cortez.
The sought-after endorsement is a blow to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who’s teamed with Ocasio-Cortez on various causes over the past year.
Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders have some history. She was a volunteer organizer for Sanders’ 2016 campaign, and he hailed her long-shot win in the Democratic primary last year. “What she did is talk about the real issues,” he said then.
They also paired on legislation to cap credit card rates this year.
George Kent tells lawmakers he was told to ‘lay low’ after raising concerns about Giuliani
WASHINGTON — State Department official George Kent told lawmakers in a closed-door deposition Tuesday that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney appointed three other Trump administration officials to spearhead the president’s efforts in Ukraine.
According to Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who was present for the deposition, Kent testified that Mulvaney oversaw a meeting where he sidelined State Department officials and tapped three political appointees — Energy Secretary Rick Perry, European Ambassador Gordon Sondland and special envoy Kurt Volker — to oversee Ukraine policy for the United States.
Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state who worked on Ukraine and five other countries, told congressional investigators that the trio called themselves “the three amigos” and elbowed all the other officials at State out of the way, according to Connolly.
This not the first time Mulvaney was mentioned in depositions as part of the impeachment inquiry. President Donald Trump’s former Russia adviser Fiona Hill testified that then-national security adviser John Bolton said he wanted nothing to do with Mulvaney and Giuliani’s objectives in Ukraine, which Bolton said amounted to a “drug deal.”
Just weeks before the May 23 meeting, Marie Yovanovich was told that she was being recalled as the ambassador to Ukraine despite being told that she had done nothing wrong, according to her congressional testimony last week.
According to Connolly, Kent also testified that after the May 23 meeting, he was told to “lay low” by a superior when he raised concerns about Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was working to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.
“The way I took it,” Connolly told NBC News, was that Kent “had just finished describing how he had told people that this is wrong, that Giuliani is out of control.”
Kent also said, according to Connolly, that the Trump allies who pushed for Ukraine to investigate corruption made it clear that “POTUS” wanted cooperation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian government.
Kent, who attended meetings and receptions with Zelenskiy and his advisers, said that Sondland and Volker floated the idea of a meeting with Trump, according to Connolly. Text messages between Volker and Sondland released this month also show that Zeleneskiy’s cooperation was expected in order to meet with Trump.
Volker testified behind closed doors last week that Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to investigate corruption in Ukraine but that there was “no quid pro quo” for military and security aid, which the administration had put on hold for nearly four months. Sondland is expected to testify under subpoena on Thursday.
During his nearly 10 hours of testimony, Kent also told members of Congress and their staff that Burisma, the energy company where Hunter Biden was a board member, was corrupt, according to a separate person who was present in the room. Kent said he told the Obama administration in 2016 that they should not hold an event with Burisma because of the company’s extensive corruption in Ukraine.
Kent was called in to testify because he raised the alarm about the disinformation campaign that Giuliani and his associates pushed regarding Ukraine, according to a emails included in the packet that the Intelligence Community’s Inspector General Michael Atkinson provided to Congress, obtained by NBC News. He sent a series of emails to colleagues alerting them of the “fake news driven smear out of Ukraine.”
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