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Trump Digs In On His Plan To Impose International Tariffs


President Trump has pledged to move ahead with tariffs on steel and aluminum imports despite objections from trade partners, some economists and congressional Republicans like Paul Ryan. A spokeswoman for the speaker of the House released a statement saying he's, quote, "extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war." That is just the beginning of our conversation with NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who's recovering from another dramatic day.

Hi there, Tam.


INSKEEP: OK, so the president talked about tariffs at the White House yesterday. And there is a Tom Petty song that is put into my head by this tape. Let's listen.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, we're not backing down. Mexico is - we've had a very bad deal with Mexico, a very bad deal with Canada. It's called NAFTA.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. Now he's talking about the North American Free Trade Agreement. I thought we were talking about aluminum and steel tariffs.

KEITH: Yes. That is a little bit confusing. But I think that what the president is trying to say there is that maybe these tariffs could be used as a negotiating tactic in ongoing NAFTA negotiations. Like, you could give Canada and Mexico a break on the tariffs if they agree to other things as part of NAFTA negotiations. Mexico has already made it clear they are not interested in talking about that kind of deal.

INSKEEP: What are Republicans, who traditionally had been free traders, saying about all this beyond Paul Ryan's statement of concern?

KEITH: They are not just traditionally free traders. This continues. And across the board, Republicans, Republican-leaning groups are very concerned about this. They're raising a lot of concerns - the idea being that a tariff is a tax, a tax on American consumers, and that retaliation from our allies - not just from China that the president is mostly focused on, but from allies in Europe and Canada - could negatively affect American industries and American products. Europe is already narrowly saying, well, we will target Harley Davidson motorcycles and Kentucky bourbon.

INSKEEP: Although we should be clear here, Tamara Keith. The president has done this before, in fact, on trade, in fact, on NAFTA - letting the word spread that he's going to cancel NAFTA. And then everybody turns to him. Everybody appeals to him. And in the end, he hasn't quite done that. Is there still some hope among his critics that he might back away from this?

KEITH: Well, they're absolutely working it behind the scenes and now very publicly, trying to get the president to change his mind, trying to soften this. You know, they're - the president hasn't signed anything yet, which means that until he does, there is still wiggle room to try to sort of modify what these tariffs would be, maybe make them less across the board, something like that. And that's what they're working on both behind the scenes now and also very publicly.

INSKEEP: So one other thing to ask about - Sam Nunberg. My goodness. A former Trump campaign official gave a series of TV interviews yesterday in which he said he would not cooperate with a subpoena in the Russia investigation. He says he doesn't want to take the trouble to go through many, many, many emails to turn them over. Let's listen.


SAM NUNBERG: I'm objecting to it because I shouldn't have to spend that much time. I shouldn't have to go back down to a grand jury. I've spent - I'm spending a lot of money on legal fees. A lot of other people are. And granted, Donald Trump caused it because he's an idiot.

INSKEEP: He said many other things. What did you learn from those hours of TV, Tamara?

KEITH: It's not really clear what we learned except that the Mueller investigation is ongoing, that it is reaching people, including Sam Nunberg, who left the campaign very, very early on, that they're asking for documents. And Nunberg, by the end of the day, had basically reversed himself and said he probably would cooperate with Mueller.

INSKEEP: OK, NPR's Tamara Keith, thanks very much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.