President Biden is facing public pressure from major U.S. unions over an issue that has divided his top advisers: former President Trump’s China tariff extension on about $300 billion worth of Chinese goods.
Why is this important: The Biden administration is engaged in an intense internal debate over whether to waive some of the so-called Section 301 tariffs to help dampen inflation — the main issue besetting Biden’s presidency.
- By filing a official comment With the office of the U.S. Trade Representative Monday night, union leaders are going public with what they’ve said privately: They expect Biden to keep all of Trump’s tariffs in place.
- “Our government must act in the national interest to strengthen our economy for the future,” wrote Thomas Conway, president of the United Steel Workers, in a comment filed on behalf of the Labor Advisory Commission for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy.
The context: Biden, who enjoys his relationship with organized labor, has been careful not to annoy labor leaders and is deeply reluctant to antagonize them.
- But messing with Trump’s tariffs is one of the few dials the president has that can slightly affect the inflation rate, which currently sits at 8.3% and is clearly scaring Democrats as the midterms approach. .
Driving the news: Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on Sunday it “might make sense” to lift some of Trump’s Chinese tariffs and mentioned specific products – like bicycles – that could be exempt.
- “I know the president is looking at this,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
- Raimondo is joined by other Biden officials, such as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, in arguing behind the scenes that removing some tariffs could ease the pain for Americans fed up with high prices.
- On the other side are officials like US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, who argues that the United States should take a more strategic approach to tariffs – both to protect American workers and to maintain influence over China.
- Fight inflation should not be reduced to a “singular focus” on Chinese tariffs, Tai said Monday, arguing for a “thoughtful, deliberate and strategic” approach to U.S.-China trade relations.
The big picture: As record high gasoline prices remind Americans every day that inflation is skyrocketing, the White House is looking for ways to show voters it’s committed to cutting costs.
- Politically, there’s no debate that it’s taking its toll — just 28% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of inflation, according to a recent poll by ABC News/Ipsos.
- Biden has repeatedly said in recent weeks that tackling inflation is his “top priority,” but officials know they have limited tools to bring it down quickly.
- Senior officials suspect that removing Trump’s tariffs would have only a marginal effect on the headline inflation rate, around 0.26%, according to a study.
- Biden has released oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to drive down gas prices and plans to visit Saudi Arabia soon, which has just announced plans to increase oil production.
- Some Democrats cling to the hope that Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) might agree to a climate and energy package that would also force the pharmaceutical industry to negotiate directly with Medicare, lowering prices for consumers.
Between the lines: The Labor Advisory Committee wants to bolster domestic production and manufacturing, but also needs the U.S. business community to take potential threats from the Chinese Communist Party more seriously.
- “Too many American companies have failed to take the necessary steps to address the threat posed by CCP policies,” Conway wrote in the official commentary.
- “Many continue to outsource production and research and development, undermining US competitiveness and national security interests.”
The bottom line: White House officials — and Biden himself — are always careful to emphasize that the fight against inflation is above all the responsibility of the Federal Reserve.