President Trump defends tariffs on steel, aluminum imports

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," March 5, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're not backing down. We've had a very bad deal with Mexico, a very bad deal with Canada. It's called NAFTA.

I don't think so. I don't think you're going to have a trade war.

PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL TRADE COUNCIL DIRECTOR: I understand if we get -- if we get a great NAFTA agreement, and Ambassador Lighthizer is trying to do that, that would be a great thing for the American people. But at this point in time, 25 percent on steel, 10 percent on aluminum, no country exclusions, firm line in the sand.

JOSHUA BOLTEN, BUSINESS ROUNDTABLE CEO: Nobody wins a trade war especially in these globalized days, the United States when we're so dependent on goods coming in and going out for our competitiveness.


SHANNON BREAM, FOX NEWS: The voices across the spectrum there on the idea of these new tariffs. Let's bring in our panel to talk about it: Mike Allen, co-founder of Axios; Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, and Tom Bevan, Real Clear Politics co-founder and publisher. Welcome to all of you.

OK, so the president says today there's no way we're backing down. And yet there's pushback domestically and internationally. Tom, do you think that when we get this official announcement from him it's going to be what he's outlined so far. Do you think he moderates it in any way.

TOM BEVAN, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: It is Trump, so who knows, right? We don't know exactly what he's going to do and even people around him don't necessarily know what he's going to do. I think he might, a little bit. This is a campaign promise. In fact this is something that Trump talked about for decades about America getting ripped off and needing to have the kind of good deals put in place and have fair trade. So I think by and large he looks like he's not going to back off. I expect he probably won't. He may moderate a little bit on the margins, maybe on the numbers. But this is the first real break that he's had with his parties on economic issues. They've been with him on tax cuts, on deregulations. But now you have Speaker Paul Ryan coming out and basically blasting this. He's got almost no support in his party for this. But I think that doesn't matter to him. I think he's still going to push forward with it.

BREAM: Yes, something he has talked about it for decades. You mentioned the speaker, Paul Ryan. We know that last week Senator Cornyn, one of the top Republicans in the Senate, said basically we may have hearings on this who tariff thing because we have some oversight of the executive branch on these issues. Speaker Ryan's spokesperson today, Ashlee Strong saying we're extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this plan. Here's what Sarah Sanders had to say in the briefing room response to that.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have a great relationship with Speaker Ryan. We're going to continue to have one, but that doesn't mean we have to agree on everything.


BREAM: What do you make of it, Mollie?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: This is certainly an area where Donald Trump deviates from traditional Republican orthodoxy, and it's really weird because the first year of the presidency was really marked by a commitment to free market economics. You had corporate tax reform. You had individual tax cuts. You had broad deregulation. And now you have the opposite. You have an increase in spending. You have plans to increase spending even more. And now a belief that regulation, not deregulation is not good for international markets.

And that first year you saw the stock market really do well. There was a 30 percent increase in the first year. And recently you've seen a six percent decrease in the stock market. Now that's not to say the only thing that matters is corporations' bottom lines, and I think Donald Trump has been consistent that he believes this is part of some larger philosophy in that he needs to show strength here. I don't know if the market is going to allow that.

BREAM: What do you make of that, Mike, because, yes, the market is all over the place since this announcement?

MIKE ALLEN, AXIOS: It is, but the president is now tweeting about other indicators. He's now found other favorites. And the president is going to have the last word on this. He's going to have his way. Congress can have all the hearings and they can be as worried as they want to be. But that's what this is all about. The president has been saying since he was elected, literally he would say, bring me tariffs.

And Axios over the weekend had amazing reporting from Jonathan Swan saying that there was a showdown in January in the Oval Office where the president had the aides fight it out, Gary Cohn for the free trade and the commerce secretary Wilbur Ross on the other side. The president called Gary Cohn a globalist in front of others. Gary Cohn moves over to a couch in the Oval Office, and him moving over to the couch, that's when this was really settled. The president knew he was going to get what he had been saying. He was going to get his tariffs.

HEMINGWAY: Congress really does have authority here, though. The constitution says this should be set by Congress, any type of tariff or thing like this. You saw that the president was appealing to national security concerns, saying you need factories and steel resources out of national security concerns. It's not to say there's not an argument for that, but this is a way of, because our laws permit you to enact tariffs for national security concerns by the president, this is his attempt to do an end run around the constitution.

BREAM: You saw how that went over with Canada, one of our best allies. They said for him to invoke the idea of national security with respect to products that we import into the U.S. is completely unacceptable. Tom, it didn't go over well in Canada among many other places.

BEVAN: No, and it's not going over well around the globe in general. And the thing is, if Trump is using this as a negotiating tactic, it sort of undermines the argument it was a national security threat to begin with.

HEMINGWAY: And it is also true that the U.S. really does have lower tariffs than every other country out there, and for everybody to be acting like this is unacceptable for us to do. Well, if it is unacceptable for us, it's also unacceptable for all these other countries that punish U.S. corporations and whatnot, and they should understand that they don't get to do whatever they want and that we won't do anything in response, even if we know from broad economic research that tariffs are just a tax on people and so they're not generally a good idea.

ALLEN: I really did think, Shannon, there would be more cut-outs than there were. I thought maybe Canada, maybe Europe. Now they are saying individual companies, can you imagine, that's like waving a red cape a K Street over here. Imagine what a lobbying freefall that will be.

BREAM: That's going to be incentive. And to this idea whether it is negotiating, the president is talking about this now in the context of NAFTA negotiations. He had a three-part tweet. We're just going to read you the first one. He said we have large trade deficits with Mexico and Canada, NAFTA, which is under renegotiation right now, has been a bad deal for USA, massive relocation of companies and jobs. Tariffs on steel and aluminum will only come off if new and fair NAFTA agreement is signed.

He then goes on to talk more about Canada and Mexico, but do you think the NAFTA negotiations may buy Canada and Mexico some relief on these tariffs, and is that what this is all about, or in part?

HEMINGWAY: I actually think a lot of this is trying to reposition ourselves versus China. I think Donald Trump really understands that China is this economic powerhouse and there needs to be some kind of economic actions taken against China, and that all this other stuff is kind of a precursor to that much more important, larger debate.

BREAM: And what about the fact that it seems to be pitting U.S. industries, some of them against each other, because we heard from farming and bottling companies, agriculture last week saying, listen, if you help steel in some way you're going to end up hurting us.

BEVAN: Again, typical Republican sort of philosophy on this is you're not supposed to pick winners and losers in the economy, protecting some and not protecting others. And this does generate an opportunity to go down a slippery slope where you'll have all these other industries, Mike mentioned K Street, getting involving, lobbying for protections for their industries as well.

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