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Little enthusiasm found for Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on Mexico

Updated May 31, 2019 - 7:05 pm

WASHINGTON — The challenge Friday was to find politicians, economists, business interests, associations or investors enthusiastic about President Donald Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on Mexican imports.

Trump announced his plan on Twitter on Thursday night as a means to pressure Mexico to stanch the flow of undocumented immigrants from Central America into the U.S. The president said he would impose a 5 percent tariff on all goods from Mexico starting on June 10, and threatened to increase the tariff by 5 percent each month up to 25 percent.

Tea Party Patriots honorary chairman Jenny Beth Martin hailed the move as a “bold action” meant to address an “out of control” southern border.

“It’s refreshing to see a president who’s willing to get tough, even with an ally, when our border is threatened,” she said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was the rare GOP senator to declare strong support for the plan.

“I support President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on Mexico until they up their game to help us with our border disaster,” he said. “The illegal flows from Central America must stop and Mexico needs to do more.”

But other Republicans broke ranks with the White House. Iowa’s two Republican senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, criticized the move. Grassley slammed it as “a misuse of presidential tariff authority” that runs “counter to congressional intent. I support nearly every one of President Trump’s immigration policies, but this is not one of them.”

Ernst expressed fear that the new tariffs would kill the U.S.-Mexico-Canada pact to modify the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“If the president goes through with this, I’m afraid progress to get this trade agreement across the finish line will be stifled,” she said.

There also was little love for the tariffs among Democrats.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Trump‬⁩’s “threat to place tariffs on Mexico is not rooted in wise trade policy but has more to do with bad immigration policy on his part.”

“Slapping tariffs on one of our largest trading partners to stop immigration from other countries is irresponsible,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said on Twitter. “The US should not be setting economic policy by tweet or engaging in brinksmanship that will only hurt US businesses and consumers.”

In a letter released in translation, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador schooled Trump: “You can’t solve social problems with taxes or coercive measures.”

The letter concluded with a proposal that administration officials meet with Mexico’s secretary of foreign relations, who was heading to Washington. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard later announced on Twitter that he will meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Wednesday.

David Bier, immigration policy analyst of the Libertarian-leaning Cato Foundation, warned that tariffs would undermine economic gains made on both sides of the border under free trade.

“Mexico is already bending over backwards to accommodate this administration’s anti-immigrant agenda, and stabbing them in the back is unlikely to help,” Bier said.

National Association of Manufacturers President Jay Timmons warned that 2 million manufacturing jobs are at stake.

“Intertwining difficult trade, tariff and immigration issues creates a Molotov cocktail of policy, and America’s manufacturing workers should not be forced to suffer because of the failure to fix our immigration system.”

The stock market stumbled Friday primarily due to Trump’s decision. Both the S&P 500 index and the Dow fell more than 1 percent.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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