Republicans in Congress are only hurting the United States’ economic prospects by supporting President Trump’s plan to use tariffs as a bludgeon to get Mexico to help the U.S. fix its broken immigration system.
By now, Republicans should recognize the folly of tariffs, especially as the U.S. falls deeper into a trade war with China. But unlike the China tariffs, the Mexico variety isn’t about unfair trade practices. It’s about illegal immigration, and if Mexico doesn’t reduce the flow of illegal immigrants to the U.S., Trump says he’ll increase the tariffs to as high as 25%.
Tariff Man, as The Wall Street Journal dubs Trump on its Editorial page, is pushing the U.S. to the brink of a recession, and Republicans, in particular Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, need to speak out against tariffs before it’s too late.
Unfortunately, Johnson seemed to back—or at least didn’t oppose—the new Mexico tariffs during his remarks at the Milwaukee Press Club last week.
He stated he opposes tariffs in the long run, but he also deferred to Trump’s judgment. Johnson and other Republicans aren’t objecting to tariffs so long as Trump is using them to gain “leverage” over border security. “I’m hoping that’s what this is. It’s just leverage,” Johnson said.
Many Republicans continue to subscribe to the myth of Trump as a deal maker who outsmarts foreign leaders through deft negotiating skills. But with the exception of a new NAFTA agreement, which Congress hasn’t ratified and might not if new tariffs take effect, Trump has orchestrated few deals to advance U.S. economic interests.
Trump’s defenders act like he has some grand strategy, and maybe he does. It’s the no-strategy strategy.
Amid the widening trade war with China, Trump hasn’t articulated how the U.S. will win concessions, though he says trade wars are “easy to win.” Meantime, a growing number of economists warn a recession could arrive by year’s end unless both sides pull back tariffs.
With each tweet, Trump’s foreign policy objectives become more confusing and contradictory. If the president and Congress are serious about passing a new NAFTA, they should focus on that. If they want to deter illegal immigration, they should focus on eliminating one of the main drivers of illegal immigration: employment opportunities.
As we’ve sought to highlight on this page before, Republicans have been mysteriously silent about E-Verify, one of the few available tools proven to deter illegal immigration. States that require employers to use the federal database to check employees’ legal status have experienced significant declines in their illegal immigration population. But to be effective, an E-Verify mandate must extend to all 50 states.
Republicans and Democrats alike need to ask what the U.S. can do differently on immigration and worry less about what Mexico is or isn’t doing. There are many ways to reform our immigration system, though none should involve slapping tariffs on Mexico.