If You Think This Election Won’t Have Consequences, Think Again

Heather Cox Richardson

Today the White House announced tariffs on certain products imported from China, including steel and aluminum products, semiconductors, electric vehicles, batteries and battery components, solar cells, ship-to-shore cranes, syringes and needles, and certain personal protective equipment (or PPE). According to the White House, these higher tariffs are designed “to protect American workers and businesses from China’s unfair trade practices.” Tariffs are essentially taxes on imported goods, and altogether the tariff hikes cover about $18 billion in imported goods.

In 2018, Trump abruptly ended the economic era based on the idea that free trade benefited the global economy by putting tariffs of 25% on a wide range of foreign made goods. This was a cap to a set of ideas that had been sputtering for a while as industries moved to countries with cheaper labor, feeding the popular discontent Trump tapped into. Trump claimed that other countries would pay his tariffs, but tariffs are actually paid by Americans, not foreign countries, and his have cost Americans more than $230 billion. Half of that has come in under the Biden administration. 

Trump’s tariffs also actually cost jobs, but they were very popular politically. A January 2024 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper by David Autor, Anne Beck, David Dorn, and Gordon H. Hanson established that the trade war of 2018–2019 hurt the U.S. heartland but actually helped Trump’s reelection campaign. “Residents of regions more exposed to import tariffs became less likely to identify as Democrats, more likely to vote to reelect Donald Trump in 2020, and more likely to elect Republicans to Congress,” they discovered.

Now Trump is saying, that if elected, he will impose a 10% tariff on everything imported into the United States, with a 60% tariff on anything from China and a 100% tariff on any cars made outside the U.S. 

In contrast, the administration’s new tariffs are aimed only at China, and only at industries already growing in the U.S., especially semiconductors. Tariffs will rise to 50% on semiconductors and solar cells, 100% on electric vehicles, and 25% on batteries, a hike that will help the Big Three automakers who agreed to union demands in newly opened battery factories, as well as their United Auto Workers workforce. “I’m determined that the future of electric vehicles be made in America by union workers. Period,” Biden said.

The administration says the tariffs are a response to China’s unfair trade practices, and such tariffs are popular in the manufacturing belt of Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Democratic senators from that region have asked Biden to maintain or increase tariffs on Chinese imports after “[g]enerations of free trade agreements that prioritize multinational corporations have devasted our communities, harmed our economy, and crippled our job market.” 

In other economic news, a new rule capping credit card late fees at $8, about a quarter of what they are now, was supposed to go into effect today, but on Friday a federal judge in Texas blocked the rule. The new cap was set by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the brainchild of Massachusetts Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren, and was part of the Biden administration’s crackdown on “junk fees.” 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Bankers Association sued to stop the rule from taking effect, and U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, appointed by Trump, issued a preliminary injunction against it. His reasoning draws from an argument advanced by the far-right Fifth Circuit, which oversees Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, arguing that the CFPB itself is unconstitutional because of its funding structure. “Consequently, any regulations promulgated under that regime are likely unconstitutional as well,” Pittman wrote. 

On Friday, major airlines, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, and Alaska Airlines—but not Southwest Airlines—sued the U.S. Department of Transportation over its new rule that requires the airlines disclose their fees, such as for checking bags, upfront to consumers. The department says consumers are overpaying by $543 million a year in unexpected fees. 

The airlines say that the rule will confuse consumers and that its “attempt to regulate private business operations in a thriving marketplace is beyond its authority.”

The other big story of the day is the continuing attempt of the MAGA Republicans to overturn our democratic system. 

This morning, House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), second in line for the presidency and sworn to uphold the Constitution, left his post in Washington, D.C., to appear with former president Trump at his trial for falsifying business records to deceive voters before the 2016 election. The House was due to consider the final passage of the crucially important Federal Aviation Authority Reauthorization Act, but Johnson chose instead to show up to do the work the judge’s gag order means Trump cannot do himself, attacking key witness Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer. Johnson described Cohen as “clearly on a mission for personal revenge” and, citing his “history of perjury,” said that “[n]o one should believe a word he says in there.” 

“I do have a lot of surrogates,” Trump boasted this morning, “and they are speaking very beautifully.” Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), who was also at the trial this morning, later said on Newsmax that they had indeed gone to “overcome this gag order.” 

Johnson went on to call the trial “corrupt” and say “this ridiculous prosecution…is not about justice. It’s all about politics.” He left without taking questions. Meg Kinnard of the Associated Press called out the moment as “a remarkable moment in modern American politics: The House speaker turning his Republican Party against the federal and state legal systems that are foundational to the U.S. government and a cornerstone of democracy.”

Peter Eisler, Ned Parker, and Joseph Tanfani of Reuters explained today how those attacks on our judiciary are sparking widespread calls for violence against judges, with social media posters in echo chambers goading each other into ever more extreme statements. According to her lawyer, Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, wore a bullet-proof vest as she came and went from court, an uncanny echo of the precautions necessary in mob trials.   

In a different attack on our constitutional system, House Republicans are trying to replace the administration’s foreign policy with their own. Over the weekend, they introduced a bill to force President Biden to send offensive weapons to Israel for its invasion of Rafah, overruling the administration’s decision to withhold a shipment of 2,000-pound and 500-pound bombs after Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his government would invade Rafah despite strong opposition from the Biden administration. 

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters: “We strongly, strongly oppose attempts to constrain the president’s ability to deploy a U.S. security assistance consistent with U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives.”

The Constitution establishes that the executive branch manages foreign affairs, and until 2015 it was an established practice that politics stopped at the water’s edge, meaning that Congress quarreled with the administration at home but the two presented a united front in foreign affairs. That practice ended in March 2015, when 47 Republican senators, led by freshman Arkansas senator Tom Cotton, wrote a letter to Iran’s leaders warning that they would not honor any agreement Iran reached with the Obama administration over its development of nuclear weapons. 

The Obama administration did end up negotiating the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and several world powers, under which Iran agreed to restrict its nuclear development and allow inspections in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. In 2018 the extremist Republicans got their way when Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal, largely collapsing it, after which Iran resumed its expansion of the nuclear enrichment  program it had stopped under the agreement.  

Now extremists in the House are trying to run foreign policy on their own. The costs of that usurpation of power are clear in Niger, formerly a key U.S. ally in the counterterrorism effort in West Africa. The new prime minister of Niger, Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, whose party took power after a coup d’état threw out Niger’s democratically elected president, defended his country’s turn away from the U.S. and toward Russia in an interview with Rachel Chason of the Washington Post. Recalling the House’s six month delay in passing the national security supplemental bill, he said: “We have seen what the United States will do to defend its allies,” he said, “because we have seen Ukraine and Israel.”

Leave a Reply