Week Ahead In Politics

Jul 29, 2018
Originally published on August 1, 2018 3:08 pm
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

An economic turnaround of historic proportions. President Trump took a victory lap on Friday over the latest GDP numbers. The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 4.1 percent in the second quarter. Also on the economic front this past week, the president announced a tentative trade truce with the European Union. Joining us to talk about all of this is NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: The president was pretty happy touting the state of the economy. How much credit does he really get for that? Because, of course, presidents don't always totally control the economy.

LIASSON: No. Presidents don't always control the economy. But the fact is that presidents get the blame when the economy goes bad, so they should be able to take the credit when the economy is good. 4.1 percent is a really good number. The economy was on an upward trajectory before Trump took office, but economists say this is good. The economy looks solid. The one concern is whether this can be sustained as Trump has promised. A lot of economists say this number is a blip because it was spiked upwards, boosted by foreign buyers rushing in to stock up on American goods before Trump's tariffs took effect.

MONTAGNE: Well, speaking of tariffs, let's talk about President Trump's announcement with the European Union on trade.

LIASSON: We don't know a lot of the details. But so far, what we understand is that both sides have agreed to put on hold further tariffs, like the 25 percent tariffs on European cars that Trump had threatened. This is something that Europe was really worried about, so that's on hold. They're also going to work toward lowering the tariffs they've already put on each other's goods. They're going to negotiate and hopefully get rid of those steel and aluminum tariffs and then all the retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products that Europe put in place. And one of the most important parts of the deal for the president is that the EU said that European companies would buy a lot more U.S. soybeans, liquefied natural gas and possibly beef.

MONTAGNE: As we know, the president has been very big on tariffs, right? I mean, he recently tweeted, tariffs are the greatest - one of many tweets like that. What has - what changed here?

LIASSON: This was an amazing turnaround. It was a real victory for the free traders in the White House and for those who argued that it's not good for the president to be in a circular firing squad with our European allies. Instead, he should work with them to pressure China at the WTO about intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. The other thing that caused this turnaround was the president really needed a win. He was facing a wall of opposition from his own constituents, from Republican members of Congress, from farmers, from people who work in small manufacturing plants.

The other thing that made a big difference, according to a senior White, House official that I talked to, was that the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, came in with a specific deal. He said we're going to buy this many more soybeans, this much more liquefied natural gas. This is a very transactional president. And, apparently, Canada, Mexico, China - none of them have come in with specific deals the way the EU did last week. So the president went from saying privately, I don't need Europe to making a deal.

MONTAGNE: And how, Mara, will this deal announcement affect his all-important base?

LIASSON: The White House was worried that there could be some political erosion if the trade war continued, even though we hadn't seen any polling that suggested his base was deserting him because of this. But I think that if the negotiations go well, and that leads to lifting the steel and aluminum tariffs and the retaliatory European tariffs that were causing farmers so much economic pain, that will help the president keep his base happy.

MONTAGNE: Well, just finally, the president will be holding campaign rallies this week in Florida and Pennsylvania, both battleground states. What is he saying here?

LIASSON: President schedules tell you a lot. He's going to Pennsylvania and Florida. Both of them have suburban districts where the House races will be fought. Those are districts where he is much less popular. And the question is, when he goes to places like Florida and Pennsylvania, will he only stay in the red part of those states, or will he venture into places where he is less popular?

MONTAGNE: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Nice to talk to you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.