Trump rolls the dice with a trade war against U.S. allies

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by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /  / Updated 
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President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.Evan Vucci / AP file

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WASHINGTON — Out of all the news from Thursday — President Trump’s controversial pardon of conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza, the possible upcoming pardons of Martha Stewart and Rod Blagojevich, and the ongoing preparations for a summit with North Korea — was an even bigger story: Trump’s trade war with U.S. allies.

Citing protecting national security interests, the United States slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and the European Union, and those nations said they would retaliate in kind. “Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland announced $12.8 billion in retaliatory tariffs, which she called ‘the strongest trade action Canada has taken in the post-war era,’” per NBC News. “Within minutes of the American action, Mexico had detailed a list of goods to target for retaliation, including steel, pork, apples, cranberries and cheeses,” the New York Times adds. “Cecilia Malmström, the EU trade commissioner, is also expected to announce retaliatory tariffs on classic American products, such as Levi’s jeans, bourbon whiskey, cranberries and peanut butter, at a press conference later on Friday,” the Guardian reports.

And Trump’s trade war — ostensibly to give him leverage in the NAFTA renegotiations with Canada and Mexico — represents a gigantic gamble for the president. Right now, the state of the U.S. economy (3.9 percent unemployment rate, steady overall job growth) has politically been the best thing going for Trump.

But does the uncertainty from a trade war — plus higher overall prices for manufacturers and consumers — endanger the state of the U.S. economy, at least in the medium to long term?

“Overall, the idea of imposing tariffs to help the steel and aluminum industries is really misguided,” Dan North, chief economist at Euler Hermes North America, told NBC News. “This will lead to a decline in overall economic activity.”

North adds that the roughly 150,000 jobs that could potentially be saved in those industries is dwarfed by the nearly 2 million jobs at risk in industries that use imported steel and aluminum. “Those expenses will not only destroy jobs, but flow through to consumers.”

Canada’s Trudeau says Pence demand blew up NAFTA negotiations

Meanwhile, “Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said months of intense negotiations between his country, the United States and Mexico imploded Tuesday when Vice President Pence demanded that any deal expire automatically in five years,” the Washington Post writes. “Trudeau said he was prepared to travel to Washington this week to try to finalize a rework of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but Pence, in the phone call, said a meeting would occur only if the “sunset” provision was agreed to in advance.”

“‘I had to highlight that there was no possibility of any Canadian prime minister signing a NAFTA deal that included a five-year sunset clause, and obviously the visit didn’t happen,’ Trudeau said Thursday.”

Kushner friend now under scrutiny from Mueller

NBC’s Carol Lee and Julia Ainsley: “A close friend of Jared Kushner has come under scrutiny by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for his proximity to some key meetings between Trump associates and foreign officials, according to five people familiar with the matter. Richard Gerson, a hedge-fund manager in New York, was in the Seychelles in January 2017, less than two weeks before President Donald Trump's inauguration and around the time Trump associate Erik Prince secretly met with Russian and United Arab Emirates officials, including Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, four of the people said.”

More: While in the remote Indian Ocean island nation, Gerson met with Prince Mohammed — also known by his initials as MBZ — and communicated with a Lebanese-American businessman with close ties to the UAE, George Nader, who had organized the Erik Prince meeting, according to text messages Gerson sent at the time and a person familiar with the meeting. Gerson had met Nader just weeks earlier when Trump officials, including Kushner, gathered for a secret meeting with MBZ at a Four Seasons hotel in New York, four people familiar with the meeting said. Trump's incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn and chief political adviser Steve Bannon, as well as the UAE's ambassador to the U.S., Yousef Otaiba, also attended the meeting. Gerson's presence in the Seychelles and at the Four Seasons meeting has not been previously reported.

Pompeo cites progress in talks with North Korea

“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that progress had been made toward salvaging a historic summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, calling it a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the course for the world,’” the Washington Post says. “After more than two hours of formal talks with Kim’s right-hand aide, Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol, Pompeo spoke as though the summit Trump canceled last week was likely to be reinstated, though he still framed it as an ‘expected’ first meeting.”

More: “Kim Yong Chol will travel to Washington on Friday to deliver a ‘personal letter’ from the North Korean leader, Pompeo said, adding that he does not know whether that means a formal announcement is likely that the summit is back on.”

In addition to California’s “Top 2” contests, here are the other primary races to watch on Tuesday

While the marquee June 5 primaries we’ll be watching are all in California — CA-GOV, CA-SEN, CA-39, CA-48, CA-49 — there are other contests that will be worth paying attention to on Tuesday when eight states hold their primaries. (The eight states are Alabama, California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota.)

IA GOV (D)

In the Democratic race to face off against potentially vulnerable GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, businessman Fred Hubbell is the clear frontrunner, especially after state Sen. Nate Boulton suspended his campaign in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations. But Hubbell will need to clear 35 percent of the vote to avoid a nominating convention.

MT SEN (R)

In the GOP contest to challenge Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., state Auditor Matthew Rosendale takes on former Yellowstone County District Judge Russell Fagg.

SD GOV (R)

This might be the most interesting non-California on Tuesday: Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., faces off against state Attorney General Marty Jackley in a highly competitive GOP primary for governor; a Mason-Dixon poll had Noem at 45 percent and Jackley at 44 percent. Will Noem be the latest congressman/congresswoman to struggle to win a statewide primary in 2018? Jackley’s ads have attacked Noem for being a “DC politician” who’s been changed by Washington.

AL-2

In another interesting GOP primary, incumbent Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., is getting a primary challenge from a crowded field (including former Dem Congressman Bobby Bright) after saying she wouldn’t vote for Donald Trump in 2016.

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