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Week In Politics: Chinese Tariffs


OK, let's continue the conversation about Chinese tariffs with our regular Friday political chat. Our guests this week are E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution - hi, E.J...

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

SHAPIRO: ...And Bethany Mandel, who writes for publications including The Jewish Daily Forward and Acculturated. Hi, Bethany.


SHAPIRO: So the tariffs went from 10 to 25 percent on a bunch of Chinese goods just after midnight. So far the trade war has not really been felt by most American consumers - yes, soybean farmers, carmakers. But E.J., do you think that it could be felt more widely if these higher tariffs stay in place?

DIONNE: I think the short answer is yes. I mean, President Trump is not wrong to say that China engages in unfair trade practices, and he's not wrong to go after them. But he should not take steps as part of a pressure campaign that may well have higher costs to us than to China, and he should certainly not lie and say that these tariffs will be paid by China. No, as Jim Zarroli's piece just suggested, the tariffs are a regressive tax that at the end of the line usually end up being paid for by consumers. And they could have a negative effect on the economy and create inflation. I still hope he gets a good deal, but so far it doesn't look like he's doing a great job of it.

SHAPIRO: Bethany, what do you think of this tactically? The trade talks seemed to have been moving in a positive direction before President Trump raised the tariffs from 10 to 25 percent. Do you think that was a smart move?

MANDEL: No, I think that from what I'm hearing sort of among people who have been sort of following this story is that this end of negotiations kind of caught the administration by surprise and that they didn't necessarily realize that they were pretty much out of time. And what is worrisome is not necessarily this round of tariffs but subsequent rounds of tariffs that really will hit the American consumer quite hard.

SHAPIRO: And potentially President Trump's base voters.

MANDEL: Yeah, absolutely, yeah.

DIONNE: There are studies that show that Republican areas are getting hit harder by his policies than Democratic areas - so yes, his voters.

SHAPIRO: Another big standoff in Washington this week is between Congress and the White House over special counsel Robert Mueller's report, testimony, documents. Let's listen to the voices of the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and also House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler all speaking this week.


MITCH MCCONNELL: Case closed, case closed.


NANCY PELOSI: Trump is goading us to impeach him.


JERRY NADLER: We've talked for a long time about approaching a constitutional crisis. We are now in it.

SHAPIRO: We are now in it. Bethany, do you agree with the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, that we are now in a constitutional crisis?

MANDEL: Not remotely, no. I think this is a massive miscalculation on the part of House Democrats to step up sort of the rhetoric about a constitutional crisis where one does not yet exist because one might become - we might get to that point at one point, and they are blowing every ounce of their credibility on this story.

SHAPIRO: You're saying it's the boy who cried wolf.

MANDEL: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I don't think that the Trump administration is beyond pushing us to a constitutional crisis, and I am afraid that House Democrats are blowing all of their authority on a story that is just politicking. This is just Washington as usual.

SHAPIRO: E.J., do you see this as a crisis?

DIONNE: I do, and I don't think it's politics as usual. The law says the Treasury secretary is supposed to turn over Trump's taxes when they are asked for by a congressional committee. He says no. The Congress has a right to hear witnesses. Usually there are - there's a give and take, but usually the witnesses show up. They're saying no Don McGahn, no one else, no unredacted Mueller report. They are pushing Congress to act because if Congress doesn't act, then they are saying, we give into this; we give into our power under Article 1 of the - give in our power under Article 1 of the Constitution. They can't do that.

SHAPIRO: Well, so what about this line from Speaker Pelosi that the president is goading Democrats towards impeachment? Do you think that's true?

DIONNE: He's becoming self-impeachable, she said very memorably. I think he is pushing Democrats in that direction. I think over the last week, a lot of Democrats who broadly agree with Pelosi - let's not rush into this - are much more inclined toward impeachment today than they were a week or two ago.

SHAPIRO: We are going to hear about that elsewhere in the program. I want to end by asking you both about abortion laws that are moving through Republican-controlled state legislatures. In Georgia this week, Governor Brian Kemp signed a law that effectively outlaws abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy. Republican governors in Mississippi, Kentucky and Ohio have signed similar laws this year. And this week, the Alabama State Senate nearly voted on a more restrictive version of a heartbeat law, but things descended into chaos when an exemption for rape and incest was removed from the bill.

Bethany, many abortion rights supporters have said this is part of an effort to get the Supreme Court to overturn Roe versus Wade. Is that how you see it?

MANDEL: I mean, I think that it is, but it's not going to - it's not going to happen. The Supreme Court blocked a Louisiana abortion law back in February. The next step really for pro-life voters is to re-elect Donald Trump, fill more Senate - fill more SCOTUS seats and then hope to do that. But as it stands now, these...

SHAPIRO: You think these laws will be struck down by the current Supreme Court.

MANDEL: Probably, yeah. I mean, if they struck down the Louisiana law, I don't see why they're not going to strike these down.

SHAPIRO: E.J., what do you see when you look at these laws moving through the state legislatures?

DIONNE: Well, first I'm afraid Bethany pointed to something that's exactly right, which is that Republicans clearly want to use this as a political issue in the next election to re-elect Trump and say, well, let's fill the Supreme Court so they will overturn Roe v. Wade. And I think there's no doubt that these laws are being passed because right-to-lifers are hoping that Brett Kavanaugh might go with them on this.

The question I have for my right-to-life friends - and I do take the moral seriousness of their position very seriously - is what - do they honestly think that outlawing abortion will actually end abortion? There are 20 million unsafe abortions around the world. Most of them happen in countries where abortion is illegal. So making abortion illegal is not going to reduce the number of abortions anywhere near to the point that right-to-lifers believe.

I would say I'd rather go two routes. One is, let's have better family planning so there are fewer unintended pregnancies so there are fewer abortions. And two, abortions are most common among the poorest women among us. So lifting up the poor, it seems to me, is the best way to reduce the number of abortions, not to make it illegal.

SHAPIRO: Bethany, if it's possible to make this distinction, how much of this debate in the states do you think is about a heartfelt policy desire, and how much is about political, electoral politics trying to turn out voters, et cetera?

MANDEL: I don't think it's an either/or conversation. I think that it's both. I think that they truly believe - and I truly believe - that life begins when a heartbeat begins, and ending that heartbeat is - should be criminal. And the conversation - I mean, you could say, you know, ending abortion won't end abortion. You could very easily extrapolate that to the gun control conversation; making all guns illegal on actually take guns off the street. So there's - you can't say that you can't legalize something or not legalize something and but not sort of see that policy implication for other issues that are your pet issues.

SHAPIRO: All right, Bethany Mandel and E.J. Dionne, thank you for joining us on this Friday afternoon.

DIONNE: Thank you both. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.