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Week In Politics: A Tariff Cease-Fire With EU And A Push To Impeach Rod Rosenstein


For more on this week in politics, we turn to our Friday commentators. This week we're joined by Matthew Yglesias, columnist, editor and co-founder of Vox. Welcome back.


CORNISH: And Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor of the National Review, columnist for Bloomberg View, welcome back.


CORNISH: So we heard about this victory lap President Trump is taking with this new GDP number. There are also a couple other things that happened this week, and I want to start with the meeting with the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. Trump said he wouldn't impose tariffs on EU cars. Juncker said that European countries would buy more soybeans. I mean, basically this is an instance of what Trump has been saying that he wants to do - is bring people to the table to renegotiate deals. Here's Brad Kremer, a soybean farmer from Wisconsin.

BRAD KREMER: I think there's still overwhelming support for the president because of his intent. What we're really afraid of is slipping into a long-term situation here, where I think farmers and agriculture are willing to shoulder across here for a little bit of time. But it has to be somewhat short-lived and well-thought-out so that we're not having this conversation a year from now.

CORNISH: So Ramesh, the White House ended up launching an emergency aid program with direct payments to farmers. What do free market conservatives think (laughter) - make of all this in this moment?

PONNURU: Well, I think that the de-escalation of trade tensions with Europe is a good thing, and I think markets have responded accordingly. But we shouldn't make too much of it. What we have is essentially an agreement to talk rather than an actual agreement, and the kinds of commitments that the EU have made are not real commitments. So increased soybean imports from the EU, for example, are something that was likely to happen anyway because of things that are happening elsewhere in the world. So that's a little bit just letting the rooster take credit for the sunrise.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

PONNURU: And LNG, liquefied natural gas, exports were likely to rise as well. The promise there is just that they'll take more American imports as their capacity to import expands, which, again, is not much of a promise. So the main advantage that we've gotten this year - this week for the economy is simply that we're not going to be imposing new tariffs on Europe. Europe's not going to be imposing new tariffs on us for the time being.

CORNISH: Let me jump in here because of what Brad Kremer, our soybean farmer, had to say, which is that there's still overwhelming support for the president in his community, right? He's not put off by what's going on. Matt, what do you make of that?

YGLESIAS: Well, you know, I mean, I think obviously people vote based on a wide variety of factors. Trump is popular in rural America, I think will continue to be for quite some time. But, you know, it's true. The soybean industry is taking a big hit here. If you look at the volume of American exports, of soybeans in particular, to China - is about four or five times as large as it is to Europe. There's no way the European market is going to make up for the loss of Chinese markets. Price of that crop has fallen.

You know, it's a real political problem for the president because clearly a lot of those people - they want to like him. I mean, you heard what that farmer said. But, you know, if your livelihood is ruined, it becomes difficult to continue supporting a politician.

CORNISH: I want to talk more this time about Russia. As we heard in Ayesha's story earlier, the threads from that investigation into the 2016 election and - kind of persists. Today Vladimir Putin said he's ready to go to Washington. He's invited Trump to Moscow if there are certain conditions in place. The White House in a statement said Trump would be open to going to Russia. Ramesh, what is the president getting out of pushing these summits?

PONNURU: You know, one sometimes wonders whether there are some psychic (laughter) benefits that he's reaping from this that are not visible to the naked eye.

CORNISH: Because each time he does, it follows a cascade of headlines about Russia (laughter) and, like, whether he's standing up to Russia and talking about meddling.

PONNURU: It brings up the story - right.

CORNISH: Like, it doesn't go away.

PONNURU: That's right. And it causes a lot of agitation from his congressional allies and from Republicans who are running. And a lot of people, I think, took Trump's earlier announcement that he was going to wait until the, quote, "witch hunt" was over...

CORNISH: Yeah. After the midterms.

PONNURU: ...Until after the midterms to suggest that he wasn't going to be making this into a bigger story than it already is between now and then. But as is often the case with Trump, he's mercurial. And you can't take that to the bank.

CORNISH: And this comes as lawmakers this week had grilled secretary of state Mike Pompeo about what happened with the president when he met one-on-one with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Matt, what did you make of that performance?

YGLESIAS: I mean, it's clear that large sections of Donald Trump's own administration don't really know what he is doing with Russia and don't really agree with his Russia policy. Mike Pompeo is - he's a sophisticated politician. And he is trying to thread the needle between being a loyal ally of the president who appointed him and being a fairly conventional, conservative Republican foreign policy hawk.

And it's simply very difficult. I mean, he was in a tough position. And I think it really showed at those hearings that there's no way to sort of be true to the values he stood for his whole career and also to the president. And, you know, that's tough for him.

CORNISH: The thing I don't want to forget is this immigration story this week. The administration attempted to reunify hundreds of children with their parents, separations that stem from the now-reversed zero-tolerance policy at the border. Ramesh, what are the lessons for the administration here? I mean, are there limits to where they can take their immigration policy?

PONNURU: I think that they were forced to back down after a bipartisan outcry that...

CORNISH: And they don't like backing down, right? When you think of the travel ban, they kept pushing that legally all the way.

PONNURU: But it - and it wasn't just a bipartisan outcry, but an outcry that included people who were big supporters of President Trump, not just anti-Trump Republicans. And it was - you know, members of his own administration were visibly uneasy with this policy. I think one of the things that this should show the Trump administration, although one wonders if the lesson will take, is that they need to have thought these things (laughter) through beforehand.

This was something that was, first of all, a horrific policy but also chaotically implemented. They weren't on the same page. There wasn't a uniform rationale or explanation of what the policy even was. And that's, I think, a recipe for the kind of humanitarian disaster that we saw.

CORNISH: OK, Matt, Ramesh of the National Review has not left you much in the way of criticism here (laughter) of this policy, right? I mean, it was sort of universally reviled. But what do you think happens from here? I mean, did we learn something about where Americans are on hardline immigration policies?

YGLESIAS: You know, Americans are obviously of two minds about immigration. I think you see that all the time. There was an extreme cruelty involved in this policy that people revolt against. At the same time, you know, there's an ongoing rush of people seeking asylum from Central America. I don't think Americans want to let everybody in who is fleeing violence there.

And so then, you know, the Trump administration will find itself where the Obama administration was, which is in the difficult position of wanting to deter people without wanting to do anything that shocks the conscience. And it - it's legitimately difficult. And it will be interesting to see if they can possibly put together a policy to address the underlying situation in Central America.

CORNISH: That's Matt Yglesias, columnist, editor and co-founder of Vox. Thank you.

YGLESIAS: Thank you.

CORNISH: And Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor of the National Review, columnist for Bloomberg View, thanks for coming back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PONNURU: You're welcome.


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